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Do You Have a Fire in Your Bones?

There are moments during worship at Edgewood when I just can’t wait to get up behind the pulpit and start preaching. It often happens when we’re all singing (and the worship through song is great at our church), and true confessions, I just can’t wait for it to be over because I’ve got something that I need to get up and say. At the impetuous risk of mentioning myself in the same breath with Jeremiah, it seems similar to what he describes…

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9 (ESV)

I’m guessing that this is something that God does with His spokesmen and women: He gives them something to say and then they feel like they will die if they don’t get it out. I vaguely remember hearing the story of a pastor who fell ill and was unable to preach anymore, eventually dying. To his great lamentation, he had prepared a sermon that he was, of course, unable to preach. Talk about a bad way to go – he had a fire in his bones, and he couldn’t put it out.

So I think I know what’s happening to John when he says this…

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:4 (ESV)

He’s writing to a congregation of his spiritual children, and some from their midst have left the faith (2:19). Surely that was enough to make those remaining discouraged, so John has a message of truth and encouragement to pass on to them and make them spiritually strong. He’s got a message he needs to get out, and he’s bound and determined to do so.

Apparently, his joy is on the line.

All true believers have probably experienced this phenomenon at some time or another. When you understand that eternity is on the line for someone you love deeply, you get blood earnest to pass on the message. I often run into parents whose children are straying, and who are anxious to correct them with the truth. Oftentimes they aren’t quite sure how to get the truth to them, but they are raring and ready to do it one way or another. Overall, I think this is healthy, though of course there is a way to pass on truth without overwhelming someone, and we need to be careful to heed the Spirit in our communication. Jesus didn’t unload everything all at once on His disciples (John 16:12).

How about you? Do you have a passion to communicate truth to those you love? You’ll know you’re on the right track when you find you can’t be happy until the ones you love know and believe the truth of the gospel.

 

For Monday, November 23rd: 1 John 2

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Kneeling on Hot Coals for Jesus?

For some reason through the years the people of God have gotten the idea that it’s godly to do painful things and give up pleasure. I don’t exactly know why this is, but…it is. So you get the accounts of the saints of old who prayed for hours while kneeling on rocks. Yikes…and this in the days before knee replacements.

It may feel godly to do this sort of thing, but it’s actually a sign of immaturity, and yes, a sign of not understanding the gospel. Now…that said, I’m not talking about fasting. The people of God have sometimes given themselves to fasting from food, or drink, or even sex (1 Corinthians 7:5). But even in the latter category, Paul warned married couples against abstaining for too long, and surely this would be true of other kinds of fasting. Fasting is something that Christians do…for a season, not forever.

Fasting, you see, is different than asceticism, which is what Paul warned the Colossians about…

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)– according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23 (ESV)

For some reason, we think we can grow in self-control and holiness by not dancing or whipping ourselves or wearing polyester underwear. We think giving up our favorite TV show will make us like Jesus. But it’s not so. Such practices have the appearance of wisdom, but they are just self-made religion, also called idolatry, and very dangerous to your soul.

The solution? Stick with the Bible. Stay close to the Word of God, and let your life live within its contours. Be wary of those who say that giving up this or that is necessary for holiness. Look askance at someone who says that you will be like Jesus by inflicting yourself with pain and always, always turn to Scripture as your guide.

And if God’s book is your guide, then the direction of your life will also be set by the gospel, which reminds us that asceticism is unnecessary because perfect holiness was achieved for us at Calvary. Meditating on the love of God displayed there will melt your ascetic-prone heart, and wonderfully, you will become more and more…like Jesus.

For tomorrow, Wednesday, August 12th: Colossians 3

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Jesus Wanted You to Know

PasserottoOne of the tasks of a preacher is to say old things in new ways. And you know why – because it’s a bit like singing old songs. We all appreciate the classics, and they can still move us, but you have to admit that it’s pretty easy to put your mind on auto-pilot when you sing Amazing Grace. Hence the repeated Scriptural admonition to “sing a new song to the Lord.” (Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, 144, 149)

Likewise, while we may appreciate it when we hear from the pulpit, “God loves you,” nevertheless, a good preacher will find a new way to say it or plan on being tuned out.

Now…Jesus was more than just a good preacher, and He found very fresh ways to say the old truths. Take for instance, how He put that particular old truth of God’s love in Luke 12:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7 (ESV)

“Do you see those birds flying around everywhere? God knows every single one intimately, and if He knows them, surely He knows and loves you far more.”

It is indeed an old truth told in a fresh way, but here’s what I find especially wonderful: Jesus wanted you to know it. These verses are an example of the Son of God tenderly communicating His Father’s love to you and me. How wondrous that God not only loves me, but that He also sent His Son to tell me so.

Oh…and even better than telling – He sent Jesus to demonstrate it too:

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (ESV)

 

For Friday, July 17th: Luke 13

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Lesson on Procrastination

"Looks like the U of I!"

“Looks like the University of Illinois!”

It’s been almost 30 years, so I don’t remember his name.  Could’ve been John…so let’s go with that. But I do remember the conversation we had, because he told me something I never forgot. And I remember something else too (read to the end). Here’s the story:

It was circa August 1986, and my third year as an Illini Guide at the University of Illinois. Illini Guides greeted the new freshmen as they moved into the dorms and helped them and their parents carry luggage and furniture into their new home. I loved being an Illini Guide – it fit my extrovert nature, and also provided me with a way to meet freshmen, establishing trust with the hopes that the initial encounter would lead to a conversation about Jesus as the year moved along.

And I’ll never forget John. He was a pretty good-looking guy, brimming with confidence, unlike a lot of scared freshmen moving into the big University in Champaign. So he stood out from the start, but what was really different about John was the painting/artwork he had brought with him to school. It was not a poster like most of us cheap college guys brought along – this guy had class, sort of. You see, John’s painting was a nude of a beautiful woman, and this is really what made him memorable. And you know what I thought?…”I’ve got to talk to this guy.”

You know…about Jesus.

But time and tide…you make plans and you don’t quite get to them, and John was one of those plans. I intended to drop by his room and share the gospel with him, but it never quite happened in the fall, and in fact, the conversation almost didn’t happen that next semester, but it finally did.

Spring had arrived and the school year was coming to a close when I finally dropped by his room and asked him if I could talk to him about Christ. My reputation on the floor was pretty well established as the “religious guy”, so John wasn’t surprised, and he welcomed me in. And so, with the nude overlooking the conversation, I showed him the bridge diagram, my go-to method for sharing the good news (two cliffs, man on one side, God on the other, a chasm of sin and a bridge made of a cross). And when we were finished, I asked him if he wanted to become a Christian. His response was memorable:

“Well, no thanks, I’m not really interested…but, you know what, you should have shown me this at the start of the year. I would have been open to it then…but not now.”

Hmmm. Apparently “better late than never” doesn’t always work. Now, who knows if he really would have been open back then, and who knows why I never made it that first semester, but it was a lesson I never forgot. Believers should preach the gospel now, not later, and unbelievers? Well, you should never wait to become a believer, as if you’ve got all the time in the world. That’s what Paul said, at least:

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2 (ESV)

Now is the time to believe, not later, but now! And if now is the time to believe, now is also the time to share the good news, certainly with lewd college freshmen (who may appear more confident than they actually are), but especially with those we love. For the truth is that you just never know. You never know how they will respond, and you never know about their future. You see, I never saw John again.

I found out the next year that he had been killed in a car accident. And so it was probably at the tender age of 18 or 19 that the one-time U of I freshman…entered eternity.

For Thursday, June 4th: 2 Corinthians 7

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The “Self-Esteem” Problem…Solved

51eREIpo6pL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_“…I do not even judge myself.” 1 Corinthians 4:3 (ESV)

In his very short work, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller offers a wonderful insight on the question of self-esteem from his study of 1 Corinthians chapter 4…

“If someone has a problem with low self-esteem we, in our modern world, seem to have only one way of dealing with it. That is remedying it with high self-esteem. We tell someone that they need to see that they are a great person, they need to see how wonderful they are. We tell them to look at all the great things they have accomplished. We tell them they just need to stop worrying about what people say about them. We tell them they need to set their own standards and accomplish them – and then make their own evaluation of themselves.

“Paul’s approach could not be more different. He cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthians or by any human court. And then he goes one step further: he will not even judge himself. It is as if he says, ‘I don’t care what you think – but I don’t care what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me – but I have a very low opinion of my opinion of me.’ The fact that he has a clear conscience makes no difference. Look carefully at what he says in verse 4. ‘My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.’

“What would Paul say to those who tell him to set his own standards? He would say it is a trap. A trap he will not fall into. You see, it is a trap to say that we should not worry about everyone else’s standards, just set our own. That’s not an answer. Boosting our self-esteem by living up to our own standards or someone else’s sounds like a great solution. But it does not deliver. It cannot deliver. I cannot live up to my parents’ standards – and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to your standards – and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to society’s standards. Perhaps the solution is to set my own standards? But I cannot keep them either – and that makes me feel terrible, unless I set incredibly low standards. Are low standards a solution? Not at all. That makes me feel terrible because I realize I am the type of person who has low standards. Trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer.

“When he says that he does not let the Corinthians judge him nor will he judge himself, he is saying that he knows about his sins but he does not connect them to himself and his identity. His sins and his identity are not connected. He refuses to play that game. He does not see a sin and let it destroy his sense of identity. He will not make a connection. Neither does he see an accomplishment and congratulate himself. He sees all kinds of sins in himself – and all kinds of accomplishments too – but he refuses to connect them with himself or his identity.”

Keller, Timothy (2013-12-06). The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness  10Publishing. Kindle Edition.

You won’t be surprised to find that Keller’s ultimate answer is in the gospel, but how he gets there is a treat.  I highly recommend picking up a copy of this short work.  It’s transformative.

 

For Monday, May 11: 1 Corinthians 5

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

It was probably 10 years ago that I got a call from another pastor in town (since moved away) inviting me to lunch.  He and I had never really connected, so I gladly accepted.  As we sat down at Culvers one early afternoon, he didn’t take too long to get to his point.  He had come to visit Edgewood recently and had liked what I had to say…mostly.

“I appreciate how you tell people how to go to heaven,” he began.  “But…I think you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Yeah, that’s what he said). You’re not telling them the full truth.”

Fascinating. What did he mean? Well, I soon found out. He was upset that I wasn’t telling people that they needed to be baptized in order to be saved. In his tradition, he had come to appreciate grace (Amen!), hence he was glad I was explaining the gospel, but he had also come to believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation. Since I didn’t share his conviction, I guess you can call me wolf pastor.

This particular aspect of theology, called baptismal regeneration, is only held by some who name the name of Christ, but it has always struck me as downright weird. (How’s that for a theological argument?) Later this pastor’s church would take out an ad in a local newspaper for a “community baptism”. How strange. In fairness, they promised instruction in advance, but it was almost as if they felt they could get people dunked and ensure their place in heaven. And how misleading…I wonder how many lost people in the community saw that ad, realized what the church was trying to do, and thought, “I guess I’m good…I’ve been baptized.” Yikes…extremely confusing.

The Apostle Paul, however, was not confused about the subject. His seemingly offhand thoughts on baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 are almost comical…

…were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 (ESV)

It’s not a full orbed theological argument on the subject of baptism, but it’s darn close. First, Paul can’t remember whether he baptized anyone, so it’s clearly not an issue that is in the forefront of his mind. But more than that, he says quite succinctly that he was not sent to baptize.  And finally, as if all that weren’t enough, if baptism were required for salvation, Paul would never have said “I thank God that I baptized none of you except…”

That said, baptism is important.  It is a command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19, 20), and it gloriously envisions the gospel, not only in picturing the washing away of sins, but also in immersion, as the believer is buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4). So if you haven’t been baptized since believing in Jesus, you should be. It’s an obedience issue…but it is not a matter of salvation, and those who say it is are confusing the gospel of grace. And that’s a really, really bad thing to do.

Makes you wonder who the real wolf is…

For Wednesday, May 5th: 1 Corinthians 2

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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If God is Your Hobby, He is Not Your God

Have you ever met a man who says he believes in God, and yet views Him as a relatively insignificant part of life?  The world is full of such men (and women). He may go to church every so often, he may or may not read the Bible, he usually tries to do good.  He may give a little money here or there.  But God or at least the idea of God does not interrupt his world.  God is small, and the man himself is big, or his family is big, or his friends, or his appearance or his career or his money. God does not enter his thoughts very often, and God certainly doesn’t have a significant impact on the way the man lives his life.

The man may even view His Creator as a bit of a hobby, somewhat like working out or collecting stamps or keeping baseball statistics. But of course, if he had to give up the hobby, well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Whenever you meet such a person, you can be assured of one thing: there is a significant chance he is not a Christian, and if in fact he is a Christian, he has definitely not been fully impacted by the gospel.

You see, when we come to the end of the first 11 chapters of Romans, we also come to the end of the most comprehensive description of the gospel in all the Bible. Not surprisingly, therefore, at the end of Romans chapter 11, we encounter a majestic view of God that is the only rational perspective of a man or woman who has been impacted by the gospel. This kind of person can no longer view God as a side note to life.  God is not his hobby, not compartmentalized as a take-it-or-leave-it part of life.

No, no. When someone truly comes to know God and what He has done for them, not to mention the immense wisdom and love with which He has done it, that same person begins to view God as absolutely all-encompassing. Engrossing, beautiful, powerful…wonderful. And He says something like this…

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:34-36 (ESV)

Aside from all the other wonderful things that the gospel does for us, it also gives us new lenses with which we see God.  The Apostle Paul could only see Him one way – as absolutely glorious.  FOR FROM HIM AND THROUGH HIM AND TO HIM ARE ALL THINGS.  In Paul’s eyes, God was simply EVERYTHING.

This is the power of the Gospel of God.

On Monday, April 6th: Romans 12   

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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