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 | 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.

Gospel By Faith

The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is anchored in faith. This is incredible news for many reasons, not the least of which is that it removes the giving or receiving of this gift of grace from our hands. The apostle Paul speaks about the result of the good news, the power of the gospel and our utter dependence on God for its application; “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 – 9) We must hear the good news in faith, respond to the gospel in faith and continue to believe in faith for the gift of salvation to have its effect on our life.

It is good news that the gospel of Jesus Christ is anchored in faith. This means that on our part we take no action that we can claim as our own. This means that nothing on our part is worthy of note. We hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus by faith alone. This means that

  • we do no preparation to make ourselves worthy of the gospel
  • there are no works that we perform their worthy of the good news of Jesus
  • there is no ritual that we must perfect and perform for the gospel to have its effect
  • there will be no wondering on our part whether we have done enough, or done anything properly for the good news to be good news

In the midst of the magnificent “Hall of Fame of Faith”, the author of Hebrews cements this good news:

“(And) without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

What sets this chapter apart is that the heroes of faith listed all exercise that faith before the gospel of Jesus Christ was realized in full. Their faith was rooted in the promise of the care and the mercy and the benevolence of God, all of these fully realized in the gospel: that Jesus Christ, God incarnate came into the world of man, lived and gave his life as the atonement for sin for those highlighted in Hebrews, those in our day and those who will come after us until that glorious day when Jesus returns again.

The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is anchored in faith. We believe the incredible news that God has dealt with our greatest problem – our separation from him by sin – in Jesus. We believe in the full sufficiency of the Lord’s sacrifice to atone from our sin, no matter its degree. We believe that on that earth-shaking Sunday morning the Lord rose and lives again, continuing to this day his ministry of intercession and care for those who have placed their faith in this good news. We believe and keep on believing.

I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

Gospel Square 1The gospel that the Apostle spoke of is good news, stupendously good news. God had intervened in history, entering personally into the morass of human rebellion against Him and making a way out, a way to be freed from the entanglements that drew them to destruction. Jesus Christ entered the world in purity, lived a life of perfect holiness and died as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death atoned for all sin. When Jesus was then resurrected on that third day, He demonstrated indisputably that He had overcome death and broken the entrapping bonds of sin. The long-awaited promises to Israel were fulfilled and the blessing of God extended to all who would believe that Jesus was their only avenue of freedom from the bondage of the Fall.

That is fabulously good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15

The Apostle quoted the prophet Isaiah in this assuring statement. The prophet communicated to God’s people Israel that their exile would end, that they would be released from their captivity in Babylon, that freedom was imminent. Good news to be sure, fantastic even. Except, the power sin remained and, while physically freed, people were still held in its vise-like grip. Better news was still to come.

The better news is Jesus. Jesus, the savior who died for the “sins of the whole world” 1 John 2:2. The amazing news is Jesus who overcame death and its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) and gives all who will believe that victory. Jesus not only makes the way of atonement, He shepherds believers along the path of life (Hebrews 7:25) until they are rejoined with God in perfect communion.

This is good news. This is the gospel.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For – Roman Road 6

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.   Romans 1:28

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Despite our protestations to the contrary, we human beings want what we want. We invest a lot of energy in trying to be less selfish, or at least appearing to be less self-interested. Sooner or later, however, the reality of who we are comes to the surface. Our greatest desire is for our greatest desire.

On its surface, this doesn’t appear to be a negative trait. And if we are pure in heart and consider the greater good when evaluating our own interests then the probability of a positive outcome is measurably higher. But let’s not fool ourselves; we are not pure in heart and our idea of the greater good takes self into account before other.

This is what Paul has in mind as we begin to walk down the Roman Road. He makes a simple case for our greatest desires to be guided by the will of God rather then our natural self-satisfaction. Without diving into a deep theological morass he makes the case that what can be known about the natural order is self-evident to all people. To put this another way, we can evaluate what is proper according to the natural order and therefore judge when our desires are not in alignment with that order.

It’s here that the awful reality of accountability before God strikes our hearts. If we cannot claim to be ignorant of the way in which God intends for things to be then we will only be left with two choices, align with God’s will or our self-will. The consequence of this decision is clear as well.

When we choose and elevate and exercise our desires contrary to the plain evidence of God’s order and will, the possibility that we will find ourselves in a dangerous position increase exponentially. That dangerous position — that horrific position — is that God may turn us over to our desires. Paul makes this awful proclamation three times in the span of four verses and it catches us off guard. The omnipotent God who could force us to toe the line instead appears to throw up his hands and say “have at it!” Enjoy your desire and the consequence of that choice.

“Not fair”, we exclaim. We want the product of our selfish desire without the consequence but this is contrary to the evidence all around us that Paul has pointed to. You can’t have one without the other. It has never happened and it never will since it contradicts the created order.

The direction of our will sets the foundation for the gospel that Paul unfolds as we walk further down the road together. God does not force us to accept his will in place of our own. He makes the superiority of his ways evident to all. He makes the extent of his love for all transparent. He gives evidence to his desire in Jesus. Then God says choose. This call to choose is put in human language by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:19); “choose life.” Not choosing life can result in nothing but death.

Grace and peace to you.

THERE’S NO I IN INTEGRITY

Integrity is the foremost measure of character between you and me. The dictionary will define integrity as an adherence to a code of values, but even that is ambiguous. Integrity means that you will do what you say you will do and I do what I say I will do. Anything less and the bond between us begins to fray and eventually snap. When it finally breaks it’s much like the rupture of a taut Achilles tendon. The two ends will curl away from each other and must be stretched under great pressure to even come close enough to begin the net back together. There is much pain and a long period of time elapses before the bond is trusted again, if it ever is.

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Well, actually there are two. I and I. You and me. Integrity is the foremost measure of character between you and me. The dictionary will define integrity as an adherence to a code of values, but even that is ambiguous. Integrity means that you will do what you say you will do and I do what I say I will do. Anything less and the bond between us begins to fray and eventually snap. When it finally breaks it’s much like the rupture of a taut Achilles tendon. The two ends will curl away from each other and must be stretched under great pressure to even come close enough to begin the net back together. There is much pain and a long period of time elapses before the bond is trusted again, if it ever is.

In leadership, whether in the church or in a secular setting, surveys have demonstrated over and over that the most important character trait in a leader’s integrity. If people are going to follow a leader into battle or into ministry they must know that the leader’s word is rock solid. They do what they say they’re going to do. Always. Without excuses. Even if it requires sacrifice on their part.

They are often misappropriated verse in the epistle of James speaks to the impact that integrity can have.

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. James 2:18

It is as easy to claim to have faith as it is to pound your chest and claim the solidity of your integrity. Because we do not exist in a vacuum it’s also easy enough for those around us to evaluate our claims of both faith and integrity. If we claim faith in the God of the universe and His Son Jesus Christ but live lives contrary to the obedience and character demanded of a recipient of his magnificent grace that our faith is certainly questionable. In the same way, proclamations of integrity fall on deaf ears when our actions demonstrate that we cannot be trusted. The Christian leader who finds themselves in this position also has a ministry that is over before it starts. God is not going to bless something that begins by bringing dishonor to His name.

Our hope would be to be found like Israel’s leaders Samuel. After having led Israel for decade after decade Samuel stands before all the people and lays himself bare. (1 Samuel 12:1-4) He states without hesitation that if he has wrongly taken anything from anyone he will repay. If he has cheated or oppressed anyone he will make reparation. If he has been less than honest in any of his dealings he will confess and make right any illicit bargain. “I will make it right” are Samuel’s farewell words before Israel and his God.

The people reply “you have not cheated or oppressed us,” and “you have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” Samuel had integrity.