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When Facing an Enemy, Remember This…

When I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car almost 25 years ago, one day someone in the office took lunch orders for sub sandwiches and made a run for the whole gang. When I saw the bag full of subs, I grabbed mine and took a bite.

Except it wasn’t mine. It was the sub marked for our assistant manager, Mike. Mike was a cocky, good-looking guy who thought he was all that, busy climbing the Enterprise ladder. He was not much into grace.

So…when he found out I had taken a bite out of his sandwich, he was hot, and he looked at me like I was dumber than a toothpick. And ever after that, he treated me just that way. You know how when someone treats you like an idiot, you end up acting like one? Yeah, that was me. Mike made me nervous, and therefore fouling up got easier and easier around him.

Once I asked him a question about a particular procedure. He replied: “That’s a dumb question. Don’t ask dumb questions.”

Any questions?

Eventually I was transferred to another office, and we lost contact. Some time later I heard through the grapevine that he was demoted…or passed over for promotion, or something along those lines. Whatever it was, he and Enterprise parted ways.

Time passed, and one day at the office, I got a call for a rental…from Mike. I remember the sense that things weren’t going so well for him (surprise, surprise), and I think he needed some sort of a favor in the rental deal. It was within my purview to grant it, and I did. Then, realizing that he hadn’t been so kind to me in the past, he expressed surprise at my helpfulness. I don’t remember how I responded, but Mike knew I was a Christian.

Hopefully he connected the dots.

Maybe you have had an enemy like Mike at the office…or in the neighborhood…or in your own family. If so, you know they can definitely make life horrible. And if you’re going through life facing an enemy lately, I have a thought from Scripture that might just help you to respond like Christ.

It’s a line from the song Moses sang before he departed from the Children of Israel…

For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves. Deuteronomy 32:31 (ESV)

By themselves. Isn’t that stark? Your enemy may be after you, but he or she is…all alone. I think of that classic lyric by Eric Carmen, in his song, All by Myself:

Livin’ alone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
Nobody’s home

All by myself
Don’t wanna be, all by myself anymore
All by myself
Don’t wanna live, all by myself anymore

If you are a Christian facing an enemy, you do not face him alone; you have the Rock! And conversely, no matter how powerful he seems, he is still all by himself. And if it is a group of folks plotting your demise, they receive no supernatural help. All alone…in a cold, dark world. How sad and broken. How hopeless. How much they need Christ.

How much we all do.

…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV)

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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What Did Jesus Say About Sexual Sin?

There seems to be a line of thought in the church that says sex outside of marriage is a small thing, just a peccadillo. It’s almost as if people think, “Yeah, it’s wrong, but God’s not that concerned about it – He’s got bigger fish to fry.” I’m not sure where this idea comes from. Perhaps people think that this was the stance that Jesus took in the gospels with prostitutes and other struggling sinners, in other words, that He didn’t really care about their sin. Actually, however, He cared a lot about their sin, and it was His love for the people themselves that drove this care and concern. Jesus was gentle and caring toward those involved in sexual sin, and yet we can’t forget the message He gave the woman caught in adultery: “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11 ESV)

In reality, we need to think differently about the issue depending on who is engaging in it. There is a stance we take toward people inside the church who are caught up in this sin, and there is a stance we take with those outside the church. The Apostle Paul clarifies this…

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality… 1 Corinthians 5:9 -11 (ESV)

Paul is expressing a version of an important truth: Never expect Christian behavior from non-Christians. But…what should we expect from those who claim the name of Christ? In short, we should expect from Christians a striving toward holiness – to be sure, a faltering striving toward holiness but a striving in that direction nonetheless. Where there is no striving toward purity and holiness, we must firmly and lovingly call the sinner to repentance. If they will not repent, we are to help them see that they are likely not Christians at all.

To more fully understand Jesus’ view of sexual sin, we need to look in another place besides the gospels: the Apostle John recorded the Lord Jesus’ words on the wickedness of sexual immorality in Revelation chapter 2…

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. Revelation 2:20 – 23 (ESV)

I think we can safely say that sexual sin is not a small matter at all to Jesus. In fact, there really are no “small sins”. Like other sin, sexual immorality separates people from God, and even more than that, Paul tells us that it carries a penalty that other sin apparently doesn’t…

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18 (ESV)

In the end, we do well to remember that though Jesus speaks harshly about sexual immorality and those who partake in it, committing sexual sin of any type is not a bridge too far in terms of His forgiveness. For He is also the One Who died so that sexual sinners might know His love.

And as James Montgomery Boice once said, “When sin hit the high water mark, grace flooded the world.”

 

For Friday, December 5th: Revelation 3

 
 

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How To Know If Someone Is Truly A Christian

Membership interviews begin tonight at Edgewood, and it’s always enjoyable getting to know the new folks at our church. If everyone in the class decides to take the next step, staff and elders will be interviewing about 38 people this fall, and we’ll do it over two weeks time. Why do we do membership interviews? Really, we do them for only one reason – we want to make sure our members are Christians.

Now, that said, I suppose we could just ask…Are you a Christian? But if we asked it like that, everyone would simply say yes, and it would be an early night, so we have to ask it in a way that demonstrates something very important: whether they know and believe the gospel. To discern whether someone is a Christian, therefore, we ask them what they are hoping in.

You see, when it comes to getting into heaven, everyone in the world is hoping in one of two things:

They are hoping in their own works; or they are hoping in God’s grace,

They are hoping in their own righteousness; or they are hoping in the righteousness of Another.

Our job as membership interviewers is to find out from the interviewees what they are hoping (or you could say, trusting) in. And so, to this end, we often ask some version of the question, “What would you say to God if He asked you why He should let you into heaven?” (By the way, no one ever gets turned down as a member, but through the years, we have helped many people see their need to hope in the right thing.)

It surprises me, but it shouldn’t by now, to find out how often people answer that question with some version of, “Well, I hope I’ve been good enough…” or “I’ve tried to be a kind person and do what’s right.”

But Peter said our own works were a terrible place to put our hope. He said that when we would see Christ, there was only one thing we should hope in…

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13 (ESV)

The Poker phrase is apt: “All in”. And notice where Peter tells us to put ALL of our hope. He says, “Set your hope fully on the grace…”  The sad truth is that while some people hope a little bit in the grace of God, most don’t trust fully in God’s grace. They know they need at least a little grace, but deep down they hope they have done enough to please the God who “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds…” 1 Peter 1:17 (ESV)

But our hope must be totally in God’s glorious grace, which comes to us only because we…

…were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19 (ESV)

As Peter will say in chapter 3: Christ took our place and “died for our sins” (1 Peter 3:18). That made Him the sacrificial “lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Those who hope in Him as their substitute, receive the undeserved gift of Christ’s righteousness. For as Paul said in 2 Corinthians…

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Now, interestingly, many people today would approach this matter of salvation as some sort of a compromise between the two, a little works, a little grace. But Paul said that…

…if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. Galatians 5:2-3 (ESV)

It’s either/or, you see…one or the other…we hope in our works, or we hope in grace. And by the way, if you hope in your works, you’d better have some serious righteousness to lay down on the table, as Jesus said…

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (ESV)

And yet, according to another word from Jesus, you’d have to do really well to exceed the standards of the scribes and Pharisees…much better than most people could ever imagine…

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

And the result?

And then, one final thought – whoever is fully hoping in Christ alone and not trying to be perfect for acceptance by God will have something else change in their hearts: they will long for righteousness and hate sin. The Bible calls this repentance. People get this confused when they think that repentance is something you do. No. Repentance is not doing anything, but it always results in doing something (called the fruit of repentance).

So tonight, when the interviews begin, we are hoping to hear potential members say what Paul said to the churches in Galatia…

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:21 (NIV)

 For Wednesday, November 11: 1 Peter 2

 

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Deepest Book in the New Testament

Hebrews, that is.

Don’t you think so? The writer, Mr. Anonymous, is not exactly skimming the surface. After all, there’s the question of “Sabbath rest” and Moses and angels. There are high priests and losing your salvation (or not losing your salvation!) and solid food.

And don’t get me started about Melchizedek.

But what is Hebrews really about…really?

When you get right down to it, isn’t it about the Gospel? I mentioned in a previous post that the theme of this letter is, “Jesus is better.” And in the end, that means He is a better way of salvation. And long about chapter 10, this starts to become really clear…

  • the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…    Hebrews 10:1 (ESV)
  • For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…    Hebrews 10:4 (ESV)
  • But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…    Hebrews 10:12 (ESV)

Here’s what I’m driving at – there are those who say that the gospel is only for beginners in the Christian life. That’s what I always used to think. You get the gospel, that Christ died for your sins, and salvation is by grace alone through faith, and then you move on to the deeper stuff, the important stuff, you know, the discipleship type stuff. Grace would therefore only be for entry into the Christian life…doing would be for disciples.

But if Hebrews is really one of the most challenging books in the New Testament, and if Hebrews is really all about the Gospel, then maybe it doesn’t get any deeper than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Maybe the Gospel of Grace is the ultimate discipleship curriculum.

And as someone has said, maybe the Gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z’s. Maybe the Gospel is really what life is all about.

Consider, as a last thought, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones on the Apostle Paul:

“Here is a man writing at the full height of his maturity as a Christian, the great apostle to the Gentiles. At the very height of his experience he says, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ He has not left it to go on to some higher reaches. The cross is still everything to him. Why? Because, he has found that everything proceeds from the cross. It is the source and the fount of everything that he has as a Christian, everything that he has become, everything that he can ever hope for.”

For tomorrow, Wednesday, September 30: Hebrews 11

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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How Christians Think The Law Is Better Than Grace.

Jesus is better. This is the theme of the letter to the Hebrews. The Greek word for “better” and the Greek word for “superior” are found 15 times in the letter. And the theme is throughout. For instance…

  • Jesus is better than the angels. They are only ministering spirits. He is the Son.
  • Jesus is better than any High priest. They have to offer sacrifice for their own sin. Jesus has no such need.

And here in chapter 3, Jesus is better than Moses…

For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses– as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. Hebrews 3:3 (ESV)

Powerful thought, no? Moses is the created one (the house). But Jesus is the Creator (The House Builder). And understanding Jesus to be better than Moses was especially important for the original readers of this letter – many scholars believe they were being tempted to go back into Judaism.

Why does this matter to us?

While Christians today would never be tempted to actually say that Moses is better than Jesus, they are often tempted to think that the law (what Moses represented) is better than Jesus’ way of grace.

How so? Well, no, I’m not talking about the Old Testament Law. I’m talking about new “laws”. Consider the excitement believers give to gathering “principles of living”? When a new teacher (often a truly Christian pastor) comes up with a new and creative way to help us manage our time or money or marriages, we make quite a kerfuffle. These ideas and principles are not themselves bad, but they are basically new “laws”, and while we get excited about new ways to “manage our one and only life”, these ideas often do not lead us to any lasting change. It’s all good advice, often presented in a very entertaining manner, but it has no power.

As Michael Horton writes…

On its own, more advice (law, commands, exhortations) will only lead us to either self-righteousness or despair. Yet the more Christ is held up before us as sufficient for our justification and sanctification, the more we begin to die to ourselves and live to God…So there are really only two religions in the world: a religion of human striving to ascend to God through pious works, feelings, attitudes, and experiences and the Good News of God’s merciful descent to us in his Son. The religions, philosophies, ideologies, and spiritualities of the world only differ on the details. Whether we are talking about the Dalai Lama or Dr. Phil, Islam or Oprah, liberals or conservatives, the most intuitive conviction is that we are good people who need good advice, not helpless sinners who need the Good News.
Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 128). Kindle Edition.
Do you find yourself thinking this – that you just need some better advice to straighten your life out? Don’t buy it. It’s just more Moses. What you really need is Someone else to do the straightening for you…the Carpenter Himself. He’s better, far better. So let me urge you to get excited today, but not about the latest biblical insight on living, but about the One Who lived…and died for you.

For Monday, September 21: Hebrews 4

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Will Make Us Strong?

In EVERY SINGLE LETTER that the Apostle Paul writes, he always begins by wishing grace upon his readers. The way he says it is sometimes different, but he always says something along the lines of “Grace to you…”

This is not a throwaway line.

This is not akin to saying, “How are you?” to the friend you meet downtown. In other words, it is not just the way Paul said hello to folks. Paul started his letters with grace because grace is what the Christian life is all about. Grace is what the Christian life centers around. This is an extremely important thing to understand. Paul began his letters with grace, because the Christian life begins and ends with grace.

And then we read this glorious verse at the start of the second chapter of 2 Timothy:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 Timothy 2:1 (ESV)

We tend to think that other things bring strength, other things like the pointing finger of the law, or resolutions to do better, or commitments to avoid this and follow through on that.

Not so.

What leads me to walk in holiness and obedience is almost strange, but it is nevertheless powerful and true: the grace and mercy of God. You would think that offering grace would make me feel that I could do whatever I wanted, but to the man or woman who understands the grace of God demonstrated at the cross of Calvary, there is no greater motivation for righteousness.

Because of what Jesus has done, God now loves me like He loves His own Son, and that love will never go away. And when I understand that, I become so filled with love for Him, that I am moved and motivated to serve Him with all my strength for the rest of my days.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!

-Julia H. Johnston

There is no reading for Labor Day. So, for Tuesday, September 8th: 2 Timothy 3

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Grace

 

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Pray This Prayer…

2 Thessalonians chapter 1 has a prayer that I have been praying off and on for over 2 decades:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (ESV)

It’s a prayer for four big things:

  1. Though we are saved by His grace and that salvation is guaranteed by His Spirit, the idea that we will live lives that honor Him…is not guaranteed. So Paul prays that we would live lives worthy of our salvation. In other words, either way, we are children of our heavenly Father, but we want to live as if we are His offspring; we don’t want to dishonor Him. We are ambassadors for Him – we pray to represent Him well. MAY I LIVE WORTHY OF YOU, LORD!
  2. All the things you are hoping to do for Him – whatever you are dreaming that He would use you for – pray that He by His incredible power would bring these things about. FULFILL MY DESIRE TO DO SOMETHING GREAT FOR YOU, FATHER!
  3. And all this is for His glory. In other words, the reason we pray that He would fulfill our desires is so that Jesus would be glorified. GLORIFY JESUS THROUGH ME!
  4. And the end result is wonderful too – that we would be glorified in Him – and all this is by His grace. AND I LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY IN WHICH I TOO WILL BE GLORIFIED…IN HIM, BECAUSE OF YOUR GRACE!
It’s one of many prayers of the Apostle Paul, and also one of the best ways to learn to pray for what really matters in life.

For Monday, August 24th: 2 Thessalonians 2

 

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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