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10.16.2018

Holiness By Grace - Delighting In The Joy That Is Our Strength

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes from a book well worth the time it takes to read: "Holiness By Grace - Delighting In The Joy That Is Our Strength" by Bryan Chapell.  It has to do with God's grace and favor toward us, and the common misconceptions we often have about what it is that causes that grace to come our way.  There are very few who do not desire God's grace.  Few who do not yearn for His favor.  Yet, as Chapell points out, in our attempts to attain it, we often drive it further from us.  We often go astray in the ways we seek to become recipients of it.  I found his instruction in this regard helpful.  I pray that you might also.  Enjoy.
     "Despite the teaching of Scripture, I am at times no less troubled than Christ's disciples were with God's determination to resist human efforts to purchase his love.  I want to believe that God must be good to the organizations I serve, to the family I love, and the career in which I seek to advance, because I have tried to be good. Such reasoning abandons me, however, when I honestly compare my righteousness to Christ's standards... When I face the reality of the inadequacy of my works to merit God's favor, then I recognize that I must depend on his goodness and not my own. At times this dependence (on his goodness) is scary because it lifts control from me, but there is no other choice when I recognize the true character of my good works. For according to Scripture, even my best works are only "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:5). There is too much human imperfection and mixed motives in my best deeds to have them obligate God to do as I wish...
     That does not mean, however, that God never desires or blesses our goodness.  Walking in God's ways is itself a blessing (Ps. 1, Matt. 5:3-10). For example, being faithful to one's spouse brings integrity to a marriage that is a blessing.  Speaking honestly can enhance one's reputation and help secure faltering relationships... Still, no degree of human goodness will lock God into a pah of blessing according to our choosing, as though we have become his master through our merit.  God promises to bless obedience by using it for his purposes, but the blessings that result should be seen less as credit for our goodness, and more as evidence of his faithfulness to his purposes... Divine blessing flows from God's mercy rather than from our merit. Thus, we cannot guarantee that his care will flow according to our plans simply because we conform in some degree to biblical standards. Our works do not obligate God to care for us in the way WE think is best... God blesses according to the wisdom of his eternal mercy rather than in proportion to our works of earned merit...
     [In Luke 17:11-19 ten lepers cry out to Jesus in desperation, "Jesus, master, have mercy on us!"]... What does Jesus do when these desperate people plead with him for mercy? He shows them mercy.  Jesus shows pity to those who have nothing to claim but desperation.  He is moved by their desperate cry for help.  What is the message to us?  Our God is not moved by the deeds we trophy, but by the desperation we acknowledge as our own....
     God's heart is moved, not when we protest our innocence by pointing to our inadequate good deeds, nor when we promise that we will do better in the future. Though there is no reason for God to love us, yet he does.  This is the nature of grace that we must treasure to know the joy that God wants for our lives. Until we recognize that there is no reason God will be moved to love us other than the spiritual need we acknowledge, we have no good news to tell others or ourselves. How could it be good news that God waits to love us until we reach an unattainable standard of righteousness, or that he counts our "filthy rags" as meritorious?  Biblical faith is most evident not when we demand that God honor our flawed deeds, but when we trust that he will mercifully respond when we humbly and helplessly cry out, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
     Those who cry out in desperation have more hope of moving God's heart than any who would trophy their own righteousness before him.  Those who face the hopelessness of their spiritual condition apart from God's mercy are nearer to experiencing his grace than those who pride themselves on their goodness. Not beyond God's mercy is the homosexual dying of AIDS, who says in a broken spirit, "People may condemn me for a life they do not approve, but to tell you the truth, I would have loved anyone that loved me back."  In fact, such a man may be nearer to expressing what melts the heart of heaven, than I am on the days that my preaching, my position (as a seminary president), and my righteousness, swell my pride to make me think I am deserving of God's blessing.
     To experience God's blessing I must readily and repeatedly confess my own hopeless condition. What makes me willing to do this is the knowledge that it is my desperation that inclines God's heart toward my own.  The awareness that he does not turn away from my desperation will actually draw me to confession and deep repentance. The assumption that God only loves the righteous will tempt me to hide from him (and myself) the flaws under the public veneer of my character and my fears of deeper failures... 
     Our Lord's response to the leper's cry for mercy should compel us to confess our sin to him no matter its degree or persistence. We need not have corrected the wrong in our lives to ask him to forgive us We should not attempt to try and compensate for our sin before we ask him to love us. Remember that Jesus cleansed all the lepers when they cried out for his mercy, even though in his divine nature he could have known that only one would return to thank him.  Neither past failing nor future weakness will dissuade our Savior from showing us mercy when we honestly acknowledge our desperate need for his grace."
     One only needs to glance at the any of the four Gospels to see the truth of what Chapell says.  God inclines his ear and opens his heart to the desperate, but resists the proud. He embraces the sinful man who won't even look up to heaven but in shame cries out, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner," yet refuses to listen to the Pharisee who looks down on that heart-broken man and brags inwardly that he is so much better and thanks God he is not like him.  Pride and self-righteousness (that is, thinking we can make ourselves acceptable to God by our personal deeds and efforts) pushes the divine hand of grace away, it does not (as many curiously think) bring God's favor and blessings near.  We must always remember: "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble."   It is the acknowledgment and confession of our sin, deep need, and personal inadequacy that draws close the grace and mercy of God, and the vain illusion that we have all our moral and spiritual ducks in a row that drives it away.
     If you would like to pray for grace, here is a simple prayer I often use: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Eternal God, be merciful to me a sinner." 
For His name's sake,  Pastor Jeff 


10.09.2018

Every Good Endeavor - Connecting Your Work to God's Work

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes to you from Tim Keller's book "Every Good Endeavor - Connecting Your Work to God's Work."   I have not finished it yet (just over half way through), but what I have read is enlightening, inspiring, well-thought-through (as is typical for Keller) and so helpful for those seeking to find meaning and purpose in their jobs or work.  Better yet (as the title suggests), it is helpful for those who would like to connect their work to God's work in this world, and bring redemptive change into their workplace.  In my humble opinion, this book really is a must read.
     We all function according to some type of underlying worldview -- a worldview that guides our choices, priorities and pursuits. "Our worldview," says Keller, "places our work in the context of a history, a cause, a quest... and in so doing it frames the strategy of our work at a high level."  My challenge to you today is to see if your worldview is Christian, non-Christian, or a mixture of competing worldviews spliced together?  Read below and find out...  Enjoy.
The Gospel and Other Worldviews

     "Any worldview consists of posing and answering three questions:  1. How are things supposed to be?  2. What is the main problem with things as they are?  3. What is the solution and how can it be realized?  Leslie Steven's book (Seven Theories of Human Nature) includes Christianity among its "theories," but the author points out how different Christianity is from the alternatives. He observes that "if God has made man for fellowship with Himself, and if man has turned away and broken his relationship to God, then only God can forgive man and restore the relationship." In other words, the biblical worldview uniquely understands the nature, problem, and salvation of humankind as fundamentally relational.  We were made for a relationship with God, we lost our relationship with God through sin against him, and we can be brought back into that relationship through his salvation and grace.
     Plato, Marx, and Freud all identify some part of the created world as the main problem and some other part of the created world as the main solution. The protagonists and antagonists of their respective world-stories are played by finite things.  Thus, Marxism assumes that our problems come from greedy capitalists who won't share the means of economic production with the people. The solution is a totalitarian state.  Freud, on the other hand, believed that our problems come from repression of deep desires for pleasure. The villains are played by the repressive moral "gatekeepers" in society, like the church. The solution is the unrepressed freedom of the individual.  Many people have a worldview that to some degree is indebted to the Greeks or Plato. They think the problem with the world rests in undisciplined and selfish people who won't submit to traditional moral values and responsibilities. The solution is a "revival" of religion, morality, and a virtue in society.  Philosopher Al Wolters writes: "The great danger is to always single out some aspect of God's good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of sin, as the villain. Such an error conceives of the good-evil dichotomy as intrinsic to the creation itself...  Something in the good creation itself is identified as the source of evil.  In the course of history this "something" has been variously identified as the body and it's passions (Plato and much of Greek philosophy), as culture in distinction from nature (Rousseau and Romanticism), as authority figures in society and family (psycho-dynamic psychology), as economic forces (Marx), as technology and management (Heidegger and existentialists)...  As far as I can tell the Bible is unique in its rejection of all attempts to either demonize some part of creation as the root of our problems, or to idolize some part of creation as the solution. All other religions, philosophies, and worldviews in one way or another fall into the trap of idolatry -- of failing to keep creation and fall distinct.  And this trap is an ever-present danger for Christians [as well]."
     Look again at the uniqueness of Christianity. Only the Christian worldview locates the problem with the world NOT in any part of the world, or any particular group of people, but in sin itself (our loss of relationship with God). And it locates the solution in God's grace (our restoration of a relationship with God through the work of Christ).  Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. (And if we did we would certainly have to include ourselves among the latter as well as the former.) Without an understanding of the Gospel, we will be either naively Utopian or cynically disillusioned We will be demonizing something that isn't bad enough to explain the mess we are in, and we will be idolizing something that isn't powerful enough to get us out of it. This is, in the end, what all other worldviews do... The Christian story line, or worldview, is: Creation (plan), Fall (problem), Redemption and Restoration (solution): 
     1.  The whole world is good.  God made the world and everything in it was good. There are no intrinsically evil parts of the world.  Nothing is evil in its origin... You can find this "creational good" in everything. 
     2. The whole world is fallen.   There is no aspect of the world affected by sin more or less than any other. For example, are emotion and passions untrustworthy and reason infallible?  Is the physical bad and the spiritual good?  Is the day-to-day world profane but religious observances good? None of these is true. But non-Christian story lines must adopt some variations of these in order to villainize and even demonize some created thing instead of sin.
     3. The whole world is going to be redeemed. Jesus is going to redeem spirit and body, reason and emotion, people and nature. There is no part of reality for which there is no hope.

     The Gospel is the true story that God made a good world that was marred by sin and evil, but through Jesus Christ he redeemed it at infinite cost to himself, so that someday he will return to renew all creation; end all suffering and death; and restore absolute peace, justice, and joy in the world forever. The vast implications of this gospel worldview -- about the character of God, the goodness of the material creation, the value of the human person, the fallenness of all people and all things, the primacy of love and grace, the importance of justice and truth, the hope of redemption -- affect everything, and especially our work." 
     That's obviously a bit to chew on!  But I hope it helps you see how the worldview one chooses to adopt will have great effect on how they view their work, carry out their work, and choose to live. My question is:  Do you have a Christian worldview?  Or, like many, have you adopted elements of a Marxist, Greek, Capitalist, or Freudian worldview?  Everyone has a worldview that under-girds their life choices and endeavors. Is your a Gospel worldview, or a syncritistic mix of many others with a small element of Christian lingo or references to Jesus added in?
     And I must stress that it is NOT irrelevant.  Since God commands us: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all you soul and all your mind and all your strength," it would seem to lay upon us as believers an unavoidable responsibility to think things like this through as best we possibly can.  For whatever worldview we have has a profound effect on influencing the choices we make, why we make them, and what we will pursue. It will impact how we treat people, why we love and value the things we do, live as we do, and view work the way we do. 
     So my prayer for everyone is this:  If you have come to Christ, yet retained a non-Christian worldview (or elements from various ones), you will seek (by the grace God gives) to root those elements out and replace them with distinctly Christian or Gospel elements -- something Keller's book distinctly aims at helping us with! 

In His Service, Pastor Jeff 

10.02.2018

C. S. Lewis - A Collection of Thoughts

Greetings All!

     Today you get another post of many different "thoughts" rather than one longer continuous thought.  Yet, unlike my last mailing sent out two weeks ago, these all come from one author - C. S. Lewis.  I've been going through three of his books lately and found them all very rewarding. This is just a sampling of short thoughts from him.  I trust you might find a few of these to be helpful as you mull them over, and that one or two might be used of God to encourage, challenge, or comfort you.
     At our men's group this morning we discussed our favorites from my previous mailing two weeks ago, and why each person found particular ones the most helpful. If you get a chance today, and would want to share with me what your particular favorites are from the list below, I'd be interested in receiving your feedback!  Enjoy.

"If everything comes simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment dependent upon God." 
"The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but God will make us good because He loves us."

"It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they will see God, for only the pure in heart want to."

"I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I knew that a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." 

"We are not necessarily doubting God will do the best for us, we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." 
"Don't shine so that others can see you. Shine, so that through you, others can see Him."

"Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbor; act as if you did."

"If God had granted all the silly prayers I've asked in my life, where would I be now?" 

"If you're thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something that will take the whole of you."
"Everyone thinks forgiveness is a wonderful idea until he has something to forgive."  

"A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is... No one knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A man who gives into temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in." 

"If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."

"God cannot give us happiness apart from Himself, because there is no such thing."
"It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God." 

"Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties."

"We must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us."

With prayers for your continued growth in godliness, and your service in Jesus name, Pastor Jeff



9.18.2018

A Selection of Short Thoughts

Greetings All!

     Sometimes you can say a lot in very few words!  Therefore,  today, instead of one longer thought, I offer you many short thoughts -- all which struck me as worthy of sharing.  I trust one or more may hit home for you as well!   Enjoy!
     “Prosperity cannot be a proof of God’s favor, since it is what the devil promises to those who worship him.”
John Piper

     “When we deal seriously with our sins, God will deal gently with us.”
Charles Spurgeon

     “Evangelism must start with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the demands of the law, and the eternal consequences of evil.”
Martin Lloyd-Jones
     “I frequently hear persons exhorted to give their hearts to Christ, which is a very proper exhortation. But that is not the Gospel. Salvation comes from something that Christ gives you, not something you give to Christ.  The giving of your heart to Christ follows after receiving from Christ the gift of eternal life by faith.”
Charles Spurgeon

“I’m just a nobody telling everybody about somebody who can save anybody.”
Anonymous

“Your personal testimony, however meaningful to you, is not the Gospel.”
R. C. Sproul
     “In our day it is considered worse to judge evil than to do evil.”
Os Guiness

     “Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible.  Faith begins where man’s power ends.” 
George Muller

     “Worry is believing God will not get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”
 Tim Keller
     “You will derive far more benefit from a single verse of Scripture read slowly and prayerfully and duly meditated on than you will from ten chapters read through quickly.”
A. W. Pink

     “I must listen to the gospel. It tells me not what I must do, but what Christ the Son of God has done for me.”
Martin Luther

     “If you are really saved, brethren, not a hair of your heads belongs to yourselves. Christ’s blood has either bought you or it has not. And if it has, then you are altogether Christ’s – every bit of you – and you are neither to eat nor drink, nor sleep, but for Christ.”
Charles Spurgeon
     “The doctrine of grace and redemption keeps us from seeing any person or situation as hopeless.”
Tim Keller

     “God has given me everything, forgiven me everything, promised me everything, and I lack nothing except the faith to believe it.” 
Martin Luther

     “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
Elisabeth Elliot

     “You have become blind when you see nothing wrong with something God has called sin.”
Anonymous

Many blessings in Christ, Pastor Jeff