Good News | Hopelessness Defeated

29863962483_562ceffb39_zVarying degrees of hopelessness are an accepted part of life in our world. Better stated, hopelessness has marked life since the moment that rebellion against God entered the mortal plane. Hope requires a foundation, and when it is vested in the ever shifting, rapidly changing, only marginally trustworthy structures of the human world, that foundation can crumble in an instant. Claiming hope while secretly wondering when the ground beneath our feet will give way is no hope at all.

True hope is found in the one thing that never changes; true hope is found in the promises and assurances of God. Through the prophet Malachi, God gives hope to the descendants of Jacob saying I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Mal 3:6)  God gave similar assurance in the midst of the words of doom that the prophet Isaiah was charged with proclaiming, God gives this hopeful reminder about the proper placement of hope, The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isa 40:8)

The Savior Jesus Christ, Son of Man and second member of the Trinity, never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb 13:8) Faith in Christ results in an unchanging hope. This is a hope that may be buffeted by the challenges and trials of life but whose roots driven deep in the rock allow it to bend like a reed and not be broken. This is a hope that may be challenged by the many worldviews that swirl about but are ultimately found wanting. Hope rooted in Jesus is hope that will carry you through the worst storm, shine light in your darkest hour and can be counted on when all else inevitably fails.

The gospel of the life, sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ fuels the hope of all those who put their faith in this good news of God’s love through His Son. God’s eternal promises from the seconds after the hope-stealing rebellion in the garden come to fruition in the Savior and remain, unchanging, into eternity. The deeper the good news settles in our soul, the greater our hope. The more the good news defines our lives, the greater our hope.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. An I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)

Be hopeful.

Book Review: Church by A.W. Tozer

We Are the Body

For many Christians, the Church that Pastor Tozer describes in this new collection is almost a foreign entity given the diluted experience that they have each week. Tozer had a deep love for God and His Church, and it pours forth on the pages of this newly published collection. Many of the words have been previously published but Moody Publi418289shers has assembled new topical collections of these and other unpublished works on themes important to the modern church. The ‘Church’ collection is inspiring reading as Tozer speaks of the importance of Christ’s Bride, not criticizing for long, but rather, reminding the reader of the world-changing purpose of the assembled Christians.

For those familiar with Tozer’s writing, each chapter is the expected gem. His holiness and earnest devotion to God’s Church is not sanctimonious, it draws the reader deeper and deeper in an invitation to the same devotion. The Church is not a social organization, a club to which we can give passing notice. It is the living, breathing organization through which God works to affect the spiritual transformation of His world. Tozer can be both gentle and firm as the moment dictates and, in both instances, the reader is encouraged to commit themselves and be likewise.

If you are new to Tozer, consult the classics alongside this volume: The Pursuit of God and  are good primers. If Tozer has long been on your reading list [as he has mine] you will savor his words and be encouraged in your faith and your ministry, as you probably expect

Fitted with the Gospel of Peace

The apostle Paul describes the tools of spiritual warfare in the new covenant world, naming it the Armor of God in the final chapter of Ephesians. In verse 15 we encounter a phrase unique in the Bible when he speaks of feet fitted with readiness, the readiness coming from “the gospel of peace”, a phrase found only here in the Greek New Testament. Paul gives this command as the foundation of our spiritual armor, steadying our life as each of the component parts works together.

This imagery echoes back to the messenger of peace prophesied in Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”.  Though barefoot, this messenger carried the ‘good news’ of peace to those in exile that restoration would be on the way, that their long bondage would be ending. He shouts a message from the mountaintops that peace had been made with the King, enmity had ended. For the reader [hearer] of Paul’s epistle, this imagery could not be missed and was, in fact, amplified by the Apostle’s magisterial writing in Romans.

“For if, when we were god’s enemies, we were reconciled to him though the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved though his life!”  Romans 5:10

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

Those set free by Christ know this peace. The Gospel brought this peace and emboldens the peacemakers. The good news sent from the King to the exiles brought hope and in Jesus, the message came to life. As believers have embraced the message, they have surrendered their sovereignty to the true Sovereign. The announcement of the treaty that followed the Lord’s sacrifice gave definition to peace. Knowing, truly knowing, the peace that comes of the gospel propels the freed soul to share this good news with others. We want those around us to know the same freedom, to enjoy the same peace.

The blessing that comes of the gospel of peace is likewise twofold. We are blessed in salvation and in knowing the peace with God that the forgiveness of sins provides. Blessings are also inherent in the calling to proclaim the good news of peace. To be entrusted with such a precious task and message is to feel the love of God, to know the trust of the King.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…” Isaiah 52:7

Book Review | A Christological Must Read

High King of Heaven Ed. John MacArthur

One of the most difficult tasks in theological writing is to bridge the technical with the practical. Pastors are challenged to do this each week, studying and understanding God’s Word in its language and context and then putting that technical knowledge to use by the hearer of the sermon. Greek forms and cross-references are interesting but the task at hand is help the Christian hear God speak through the Bible. This challenge applies to an even greater degree when it comes to theological literature. Numerous are the excellent technical tomes in the pastor’s library as are the numbers of practical books on the shelf. Few offer a bridge between the two worlds, but “High King of Heaven” succeeds in being one of the small number that offer this link.

Edited by John MacArthur, High King of Heaven is a compendium of articles touching on the person, work and the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ who “after he had provided purification for sins, eh sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The 23 authors of the individual chapters might cause you hesitate to engage the book, thinking that the potential unevenness might not be worth the effort but let me allay your fears. MacArthur has done a wonderful job as editor (no doubt aided by Phil Johnson) and the book reads smoothly from page to page. Though each author has a unique style, the book as a whole speaks of the magnificence of Jesus Christ with a single voice.

Who should read this book? Though labeled as a contribution to the Systematic Theology library, the chapters are accessible by any Christian familiar with the Bible. There are technical points that are explained well enough that almost anyone can understand them and there are practical points that can be filed for later use if they don’t fit the reader’s immediate context today. “High King of Heaven” is a book that invites you to engage it deeply, marking it up, planning for a second full read. This is not a volume that will be read and then shelved with so many others. This is going to become a standard reference volume, even for those theologians outside of the MacArthur-Calvinist circle.

Gospel Blessing | The Gospel Saves

“The time has come” With this announcement, Jesus proclaimed that the single most radical shift in all of history had begun. The plan that God had made for the salvation of His beloved creatures and the redemption of His world was entering the final phase, one that would lead the Savior from Galilee to Cavalry. His announcement was earthshaking, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Mark states in the first verse of his gospel, the good news is about Jesus Christ, the son of God. But the good news is also Jesus Christ, the son of God. The rightful king had come, bringing the kingdom of God near to His creatures in the incarnate form of Jesus. Repent, Jesus says, and believe this incredible news; turn back to God, turn back to home and be blessed by this act of your loving Father.

The gospel is more than an idea, it is a divine force. Among its countless blessings is the power to salvation (Rom 1:16). St. Paul repeats this idea in the first letter that he wrote to the church at Corinth. In that letter he dealt with several disturbing issues that had come to cause weakness in the church and required correction. Having dealt with those issues, rebuking in some cases and gently correcting and others, Paul reminds them of their common foundation, their unity in the gospel. He reminds them that all believers share one common truth; each was saved by the gospel of Jesus crucified and risen again:

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” (1 Corinthians 15:1 – 2)

The power of the gospel is inherent in its content. God in Christ died to pay the penalty due sinful man. Penalty paid, life is restored as Jesus demonstrates his mastery over the grave, removing for all believers the sting of death. And none of this is left to conjecture: three days hence Jesus rose from the tomb appearing to those with eyes to see. All good news, all gospel, but also a call to action.

The gospel calls us to pause and consider the great sacrifice made on our behalf, our undeserving behalf. Because Jesus endured this, because God planned this, because you are hearing this good news the invitation to turn back toward God – to repent – is seen in a whole new light. No longer is it just one man calling another to change their behavior. It is an invitation to turn back toward home, to turn back toward the life that you were created for, to turn back to the one who sacrificially loves you. This is the gospel. This is the gospel that saves.

Book Review: Feels Like Home by Lee Eclove

Let me say this up front, this belongs in every pastor’s library and should be read regularly. Pastor Eclov has given the Church a necessary corrective to the attractive, grow bigger at all costs attitude that can become the dominant outlook in your church. This was not the intent of the Lord when he handed Peter the keys; we were not to adopt the worlds values and methods in the hope that we might be able to ‘share’ the gospel with those who come to the show. The Lord’s plan was to live the gospel, joyful and sacrificially, showing (not telling) what Jesus has brought about in our lives together.

Eclov emphasizes the community of believers over the show. The Church is to be family, celebrating and worshipping and bearing one another’s burdens, all in testimony to what Jesus has done for us. This is the picture of church St. Francis had in mind when gave that famous proclamation to ‘Preach the Gospel at all time times, and if necessary use words.’ Though unsaid in the book, Eclov’s guidance reminds the church that the Gospel is not just for evangelizing, it is for us to give to one another to lift, to calm, to encourage, to love.

Church as home, church as family. Reminders of the sometimes forgotten nature of ministry that Pastor Eclov walks through in encouraging chapter after convicting chapter. Growth for growth’s sake is not a biblical guiding principle, church as family is. Read this excellent book (ignoring the mid 70’s cover art) and then prepare to read it again, little by little. Thank you Lee.

Book Review: The Unsaved Christian by Dean Inserra

A Mission Field Nobody Wants to Engage

The presence of the unsaved thinking of themselves as Christians has been a reality forever. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself warns against putting stock in a false conversion saying, “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says it, but the state of the modern church is often resistant to hearing and heeding the admonishment. As author Inserra relates, cultural Christianity has embedded itself deeply in the Church, its comforting lack of accountability enveloping people in a warm embrace of false belief.

Inserra structures is excellent book along the lines of a missionary guide for an unreached people group. The interaction that he shares at the beginning of the book with his seminary classmate sets a challenging tone. While Pastor Inserra looked at his brother’s assignment to Northern California as an incredible challenge (the land of proud unbelief), his brother turned the table to warn him against the assumptions that came with an assignment to the Bible Belt. This bracing moment is when he began to really examine the reality of faith amongst those who proclaimed a belief in Christ as a part of their everyday life. Examination proved that this belief was anecdotal in some cases, cultural in most of them and simply a part of being a citizen of the South for many. The chapters of the book that follow the analysis give the reader excellent study points for ways in which to approach each of these groups and more.

“Unsaved” is a quick read but not shallow. As someone involved in ministry, I can see a face to go along with each of the belief types that he describes. This personalization gives the reader the opportunity to think through the conversation that you want to have in the way that you want to approach that person. It didn’t begin the book with high hopes because I thought it was simply stating the obvious, but Inserra has performed a valuable service for Christ’s church, saying the hard things that need to be said in love.

 

The Gospel is Grace

The Gospel of IS Grace

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”     John 1:16 – 18

The Gospel is sometimes referred to as the gospel of grace. There is a tremendous amount of truth in that label, but it can also lead to a diminishing of the fullness of the gospel. Our elementary school grammar lessons taught us that a preposition connects a modifying word, an adjective or adverb, to a noun. The purpose of this construct is to give the reader or listener a more detailed definition of that down. This is why it is so important to be cautious in selecting those words that we attach to gospel. The Good News needs no modification. That God, in his great mercy, intervened in history to reconcile humankind to himself is the greatest news that one could ever receive. That this invitation to reconciliation is addressed to everyone takes your breath away.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…”     John 3:36

The Gospel is power; power to save, power to regenerate, power to make holy that which is unholy. (Rom 1:16-17). The Gospel is not just words or an idea or a theological concept, the Gospel is divine power. It is the incarnation of God’s grace, it is alive and growing. The apostle Paul writes to the church at Colosse, “all over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6)

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”     Matthew 6:45

The grace of God is made manifest in his benevolent care for his creation, despite the fact that it has rebelled against Him. The result of this common grace should be the universal recognition that God is present and active in the world. It should result in gratitude as God demonstrates his goodness to all but the rebellious mind is devoted to denying these truths by any means possible.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”     Hebrews 4:16

Our greatest need has been addressed in the Gospel. Salvation comes by grace; salvation comes by the power of the gospel. The Gospel is God’s merciful grace embodied.  The Gospel IS grace.

 

 

 

The First Word of the Gospel

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14 – 15

Repentance is an accepted, but unpopular idea within the modern Church. To ears attuned to having our best life now, repentance sounds somewhat ‘retro’, associated with old-timey fire and brimstone preaching. It’s almost as if repentance is just Hell repellant. This is a sad observation when we talk about the good news, because repentance is the first word of the gospel.

There is so much to be gained for disciples of Jesus when we develop a full grasp of the true meaning of repentance. It is more than being emotionally sorry for sin or the act of simply turning away from those things that dishonor the Cross. Repentance is turning toward God, it is facing our Lord Jesus and keeping Him in sight as disciples.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Jeremiah 17:9

The emotion of sorrow expressed for sin is both good and bad. It is good that we are distressed in heart for those things that fail to bring glory to our Savior. Here the heart does us a favor by making us mindful of our thoughts and actions. Without action however, we can be led astray by that same heart convincing us that we have repented of sin. James speaks to this behavior in chapter 1, verses 22-24 when he describes the man who hears the word but fails to follow it. Sorrow can remind us of the beauty of God’s word but it must be followed by action. We must turn our hearts toward God, recognizing the error of our ways and hope and peace and joy in His.

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds.

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.

Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:1-3

Oh, the beauty of repentance! The act of turning back toward the Lord is so much greater than just averting our eyes from sin. There is no promise of restoration in the sweeping of our vision as our eyes may land on another of the temptations that surround us. No, we must turn our hearts fully in the direction of the Lord, and in doing so, we become the recipients the renewal that our souls groan for (Romans 8:26).

Do we meditate on the privilege of repentance? There is an underlying assumption that the sovereign God of perfect holiness owes us, His creations, a chance at forgiveness, the opportunity to be sorry. How dare we assume on any such thing! It is only by His grace and mercy that those in constant rebellion have a chance to repent. The Father portrayed in the parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) owed no such mercy to the rebellious teen who demanded his father’s treasures and the right to drift headlong into depravity. But such was the love of his father who watched the horizon day after day for any sign of his returning boy, that when the prodigal turned back in humility he was restored as though he had never wandered. The chance to repent of our rebellion and turn back to our Father is not owed to us. But God, who so loves the world, made the sacrifice that does away with the penalty of our sin, and blesses those who repent and believe that He has done this for them with life.

 “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

Repentance, the first step in the receipt of the good news, is to become like a child. It is to recognize that we are immature before God. It is to acknowledge and believe that we cannot have life in full apart from God. Repentance is the act of turning toward God in His grace and believing in our total dependence on Him for life and for salvation. Repent and believe the good news.

* The title of this post was borrowed loosely from Richard Roberts important book, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel.

No Gospel at All

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. Galatians 1:6 – 8

The gospel that is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” is sure and unchanging. The gospel of God’s grace is not subject to the vagaries of history or culture or religious tradition or human desire. It is the sure and steadfast gospel, consistent from beginning to end, that saves. The Apostle repeated the good news to the church in Corinth as pressures threatened to wrest the true gospel from their grasp, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” This is the gospel that saves.

“Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Acts 2:38

A gospel that presents itself as little more than a golden ticket to heaven is only one half of a gospel. A gospel that requires no more than your assent to the idea of Jesus or even that you like His offer of salvation from an eternity in Hell is only a part of the good news. Jesus Christ comes into the world as both Savior (Acts 5:31) and Lord (Rom 5:11), the two not divisible. A gospel then that proposes grace and an eternity in God’s presence without humble repentance is not a gospel that saves.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

A gospel that does not lead the hearer to pick up their cross and follow the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not a gospel that saves. A gospel of “grace” that enables a one-time proclamation of belief (Rom 10:9) but does not require a subsequent adherence to the commands of Jesus to continuing and ongoing repentance, belief and service is a partial gospel. Works! Works! Not at all! Yes, one must “confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” but the requirement continues that this same person must believe this fact “in your heart” in order to be saved. To believe in your heart is to believe in the depths of your soul, to a transforming degree. A gospel that does not result in transformation of the earthly desires to follow ones own will and submit to the Lordship of Christ is but a part of the good news.

The true gospel sets men and women free. Once enemies of God, belief in the true gospel reconciles a person in this most important relationship. The true gospel is an invitation and the power to bring humanity back into right relationship with God, to be restored to a place in the kingdom of heaven (Col 1:21-22). We must not allow any partial or false gospel replace this good news and we who believe must continue in our faith, “not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Col 1:23).