Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sustainer Worshipped

The dripping of the rain down the spouts, the gentile mist kissing your face, the cool air caressing your skin, there is something soothing about a walk; the rhythm to which you walk and the soft thud of your feet on the ground (or loud thud depending on your boots). Often I catch myself daydreaming about long walks down the Riverside lanes.

But here, even in a walk there is something marvelously beautiful. Something, which should astound us and cause us to fall on our knees and worship; something so mundane and so ordinary we look over it time and time again, the simple fact that you can walk.

These boring things that take up most of our time, these easy task we’ve done since we were living. The things that never cross our minds and rarely (if ever) cross our worship, drawing breath and growing hair, talking and seeing, hearing and touching.

Simply put you feel the penny in your hand and the breeze on your face therefore, “…He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3) should take on new life and invigorate your life, which is worship. Worship well your Sustainer.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Letting Go of the Faded Memory

I watched Inception again last night. Honestly, I love that movie. I also love C.S. Lewis who is, I feel, represented well in the movie. Though he is not a character there is a simple truth that he wrote about which is spoken very well in the film.

Memories are funny things. We cherish them and relive them in our minds over and over, they, for lack of a better term become our ‘happy places.’ In fact there are memories floating around in my brain that I often return to because the moments they recount were sweet. There are people that I’ll likely never see again of whom I remember fondly. But they’re just memories.

There is no way to remember the event with all its complexities, faults and imperfections with all its beauties and travesties. A mind cannot recreate a person within itself nor can it perfectly remember a circumstance.

So here’s my point: We… I must not live in memories. However sweet it may be and however golden it may seem it does not nor cannot replace the present. The present reality where God sits on his throne reigning and where Jesus stands interceding on my behalf where there are conversations to be had and God to be glorified.

The memory is not the thing itself.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Hammering Process

“He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head…” Isaiah 59:17

The same breastplate I wear as a believer is the same worn by God, righteousness. And the same helmet is worn by us both, salvation. God has quite literally dressed me in his armor… For the sake of his praise he has done this.

We must comprehend that God is forging us into the image of his Son. Though the hammering process is suffering and the furnace is despicably hot he is refining us. Eventually all pain will stop for the need to refine will be over, and someday the hammer’s thud against our heart will be a distance memory.

But while the process continues we bless the hand that renews us. For the same hand that wields the hammer bears the scares we should forever bear.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Generation's Need for Scripture (pt.1)

My generation needs to see the authority of Scripture as their ruling authority. Though this is true for all generations at all times, it is my generation that needs to learn that Scripture is the authority under which we live and it is the foundation upon which we stand.

The tendency seems to be standing on shifting ideals and broken morals or running from event to event with ear buds in leaving little (really no time) time for reflection and absolutely no time for guilt to well up (I know this because I do it).

Very little time is taken to sit and read the Bible. To, for lack of a better term, meditate on what it’s saying. In silence hearing and feeling the Word of God cut you to your core. But that’s just it, reading the Bible is hard and it hurts.

We run from pain, our fight of flight instinct is always flight. There is no fighting against a book, so we just toss it in the corner and let it gather dust. This is a theme of my generation, if it’s difficult don’t do it.

In the next few posts I hope to outline why Scripture is a necessity for my generation and, as much as possible, use personal examples to reveal my own heart in this matter.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Cleft to Hide in

Last night my roommate, Anthony Fiorillo, sang 'Rock of Ages' to a group of folks. We had all just gone on a rather long walk and played around on the jungle-gym in Riverside Park. The weather was down-right delightful and the company was great. But in all of that to hear these words, this is what was needed.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,

Rock of Ages

Amidst trials, death, tears, happiness, contentedness, and breathing when turmoil and strife are all about or when things are steaming along at their best Jesus is the Rock of Ages. Never changing, always saving it is in this cleft there is peace and rest. In this cleft the burden is light.

At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:25-30)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jesus' Propitiatory Death (complete sermon)

By way of introduction allow me to relate to you the reason this particular passage (Romans 3:21-26) has had, and continues to have a profound impact on and in my life.
Though I did grow up in a devoted Christian home, I very consciously decided the philosophy of my life would be, for lack of a better term, agnostic when I was in middle-school. For I believed there was some sort of higher level of being, some sort of creator, but that any one religion could know him I thought prideful and foolish.
So practically I lived under the thought of, “I’ll just be good, and then whatever god is real will have to accept me.” This was the thought running through my head throughout junior high and High school.
However everything changed when I first read Romans 3:11 which says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” well Uh-oh! The whole philosophy of my life was turned on its head. This text is saying I can do no good, that no one can do good! If this is true than I’m in trouble!
Quite frankly at the time I was devastated, how am I to be enter heaven if I can’t even be good enough to live up to the required expectations? I had no other choice but to keep reading. That is when I came to the passage we are going through this morning. So let’s read it and be encouraged, broken and thankful for and by it.

Romans 3:21-26
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart form the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The righteousness of God manifested apart from the law…

Jesus the God-Man is the righteousness of God manifested apart from the law and the prophets. Our hope cannot be in anything else. Our flesh will wither and die; our mind will forget; and our heart will fail. Our friends will betray us and hurt us; our lover will fail to meet all our expectations; and our cars will rust away. Though the law was given to instruct it was not given to redeem it was given to point to the Redeemer.

The law shows our complete ineptness to carry the law out perfectly. For we constantly place things, creations, in the place that only the Creator should occupy. It is our constant struggle we are fighting desperately and failing in it often, to not have any other gods before God. More often than not, I would dare to say we have other trivial gods before the God. We look to things to save us, to redeem us, to give us hope and peace and comfort.

But when those things break, or fail us we are devastated. You know the feeling well. That sinking feeling in your chest, the one that sucks all joy out of sunny days and happy smiles from dear friends. The one that makes a full room feel empty; the one that makes the cool night bitterly cold; the one that drives you to turn down being with good friends.

And thus here is our desperate plight revealed truer than we ever thought imaginable: The demand that is placed on us is impossible for us to live up to. The demand is clear in Matthew 5:48 says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your Father is perfect.” We MUST be perfect! No gods must ever be placed before our Father, ever! We must for all of our lives, from birth to death, constantly and continuously worshiping the Creator never the creation.

This means never placing your hope in your marriage or special someone. This means never clinging to anything besides Jesus, not your phone, or computer, or skills in speaking. Not your giftings of leadership or humility or faith. You must only ever live in constant hope in the Creator of the Universe and nothing else. But here is the same problem I realized, which brought me to my knees and belief in the Gospel… You cannot do this, I cannot do this; there is no possible way to uphold all of the law from birth to death. I simple man cannot do this. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:11) And thus the law, though itself is good, proves to be death for us, if we are not in Jesus.

For Jesus is perfect as God is perfect, because Jesus is the exact imprint of God the Father (Heb 1:3). Therefore because Jesus is not merely man, and thus subject to the woes of our sinful nature, we may find hope in him. But Jesus is not only God either He is the God-Man.

The only mediator between God and man is the God-Man Jesus Christ. For in his divinity he is able to bear the law on his shoulders and live a perfect life, the life we could not live. Yet in his humanity he was able to bear the just punishment of men, for only a man can pay for man’s sins, and thus he died the death we should be constantly dying.
No bleeding goat, or hyssop, or olive branch, or burnt offering would do, for how could a goat pay for the sins of men? A man must die for men, and only God can uphold God’s laws. Therefore see your need for Jesus. The righteousness of God manifested apart from the law.

… Although the law and the prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

We have seen that the Law points to Jesus in the fact of the impossibility of upholding the law perfectly. But every time I read this passage I remember Rich Mullins’ song ‘My Deliverer.’ The whole idea of the song is the captive Israelites are singing that their Deliverer is coming,

“My deliverer is coming, my Deliverer is standing by.”

But there is one line of this song that, in particular makes this idea of the law bearing witness of Jesus come alive to me,

“He will never break his promise though the stars should break faith with the sky.”

Though the stars will fall from the sky he will not break his promise! Though all this world will rot and die, he will not break his promise! Though friends will fail you, and though toys will break, and though marriage will die with death, and though your body will decay he will not break his promise. The serpent’s head will be crushed. Sin will be put in Christ’s grave. Satan will be thrown in the pit. Righteousness will be given to those who have faith in Jesus. Redemption has come and though all hell will attempt to march against God’s elect there is not chance in hell that those believers will end up there. For his promise he will not break!

To believers God says,

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels not rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:31-39)

His promise he will not break. His Law bears witness to his promise that the Redeemer has come and we are the benefactors of what that Redeemer accomplished and therefore we are free from our sin. Righteousness has come to those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

Not only does the Law bear witness to Jesus but the prophets do as well. Here I could go for hours about different passages that speak to the person of Jesus, but I will suffice with just a few, but be assured that reading for 5 minutes in the prophets of the Old Testament will give you at least one picture of Jesus, the Messiah. For all of Scripture is about this one God-Man.
Isaiah 35:1-7
Psalm 22:1,14,15

The coming of the Messiah was the first thing prophesied after the fall and he is the fulfillment of all the prophecies in the Old Testament. Jesus is the one that all Israel look for.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

First, there is no distinction; meaning there is none that has not fallen short of God’s glory save one. Man is not inherently good, he is not worthy of the love of God, he does not have the ability to be righteous, nor is he free. His intentions are sinful and his idol is himself. Allow me to be blunt, a man’s intentions may be the best in the world, but good intentions do not nor cannot set a man free. Our sin is deserving of eternal punishment.

Why? Why is our temporary sin deserving of an eternal punishment? Because our sin is against an eternal Being, you see when you sin you are defying the eternal God of the universe and therefore because your sin is against him and him alone, the punishment must be eternally long. Thus we face an eternal punishment for our sins.

We all have fallen short of God’s glory, we have all gone astray, and we have wandered away from our God. We are all dead in our trespasses and sins; we are all following the course of this world; we are all sons or daughters of disobedience; we are all living in the passions of our flesh; we are all children of wrath; we are all unable to do good.

Without Jesus our plight is desperate and our future bleak. Without Jesus there is quite literally no hope. Though your job may be successful and your family loving your eternity is made sure by your unbelief. Though ease and comfort may be found now, they are the only peace you will ever know for all eternity. For God must be just, it is his nature and therefore sin must be penalized.

Look around you. Do you see this world, as everything you hoped and dreamed it would be when you were a kid? Murder, strife and decay on every corner. Broken love and broken marriages; shatter hearts and shattered wrists; crippling illness and crippling drugs; fading beauty and fading dreams is this the life all you’ve always hoped for? Are you satisfied by all this disaster? Hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes leaving hundreds dead in a day, civil unrest and deep dark depression, suicide and anorexia do you see it? This world is broken!

We are shattered by the fall unable to do a thing to save ourselves, lying dead on the ground under the cliff of our own destruction. We have all fallen short, the future looks bleak and if there is no Savior there is no hope.

… But God…who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us made us alive together with Christ.

… And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

It is Jesus who justifies us, who makes us worthy of love, who makes us able to do good, who frees us from our sin. In Jesus and in Jesus alone is our hope, our peace, our comfort, our foundation and our salvation. In Jesus alone is the grace that saves you, the mercy that redeems you and the justification you so desperately need.

It is Jesus that gives us a hope for tomorrow. It is Jesus who turns this broken world upside down to show us that he is to be our only satisfaction. It is Jesus that restores us from the fall, who picks us up and carries us before his Father, who saves us from our own destructive nature, who stoops to our level and teaches us to look to the Reward. That there is more to life than all this struggle, that this is just the beginning and that for ever we will be going further up and further in to the wonder of the beauty of the goodness of the greatness of our glorious God.

For in our place condemned he stood. Crucified in your place for you sins. He is the one…
… Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…

Propitiation means: the just removal of the wrath of God.

Because of our sin we justly deserved to have the wrath of God poured out on us forever but Jesus stands between God and believers and takes the punishment we should be constantly enduring. It is through faith that we receive this gift.

But here is an interesting question, where does faith come from? Since faith is how we receive the propitiation that is Jesus, since faith is how we receive salvation. Where does it come from? “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17) We do not choose to have faith. Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ. Our dead ears are awakened by God to hear the word of Christ, AKA the Gospel and in that hearing we understand the necessity of believing the Gospel, because we see our need of it and our desperate situation outside of it.

C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun: not only because I see it, but by it I see everything else.” The idea of it being the sun is extremely biblical that before belief came there was spiritual darkness and deafness but when God said, “’Let light shine out of darkness’ and he shone in our dark hearts to reveal the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6) so that we now live and breathe and have our being because God has made us alive together with Christ. Now we see the beauty of God and run to him. Now we hear our God calling us by name and have fallen in love with the sound of his voice.

Because of Jesus we stand before the throne of God just like Jesus, dearly loved children of the King. The wrath that we so justly deserved has been poured out undiluted on Jesus; Jesus drank every drop of punishment until the cup ran dry. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 5:8)

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

This is a question that needs to be asked, if Jesus had not yet been crucified then how did those who lived before have faith? If faith comes from hearing the word of Christ, but Christ had been to speak them yet, how did those of old have faith?

The simple answer is they had faith in the coming Messiah that would propitiate God’s wrath. God looked forward, so to speak, to the cross and his wrath was appeased there by Jesus. Just as we are saved by looking back to the finished work of Jesus so too those of old were saved by looking forward to the finished work of Jesus. For an example look at Hebrews 11: 24-26,

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ of greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

Moses was redeemed by faith in looking to the Christ, the Messiah who would come to save him. All believers are saved by faith in future grace. That God will in the future look to Jesus as the one who has propitiated his wrath and thus made us sons and daughters of God.

God had passed over sins by looking to the penalty that would be paid by Christ on the cross. If Jesus had not come and God still passed over sins then he would not be just and not be good and therefore not be God. But because Jesus came and paid the penalty God is Just and good and God. Therefore the crucifixion of Jesus was completely and absolutely necessary because God had passed over former sins.

The reason God passed over former sins was because the crucifixion was, from the beginning of the world the plan of God. It is the climax of all history; in fact we separate history by the crucifixion. It is in fact, as John Piper says, “The blazing center of all of creation.” Thus if it is the blazing center of creation then it ought to be our focus; if God has separated all of history by this one event then it is something of immense importance.

In the cross we see the righteousness of God most clearly. For he is bound by his nature to be perfect and therefore to be just; he must, for he is bound by his character punish sin, and we see him do this in two ways, either on the cross of Jesus or in hell.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God is just in the redemption of sinners because Jesus pays the penalty for sin. Sin must be dealt with; it cannot be merely swept under the rug and forgot about. It cannot come into the presence of the perfect God for it is directly against who he is. Therefore it must be put to death. And this is exactly what God does at the cross of Christ. Jesus lived the life no one but God could live, and paid the penalty all believing men should be paying.

God is the justifier of the redeemed because it is he who makes a way for the elect to be redeemed. Therefore we again see the righteousness of God most clearly in the Gospel because in the Gospel he does exactly what he says he will do and crushes the head of serpent like he promised in Genesis. In the Gospel the full righteousness of God is put on display for all creation to see, because by his righteousness he has redeemed his sons and daughters. In the Gospel all of history is divided so as to point directly to the righteousness of God.

So though we have turned away from God and sought to be satisfied by everything else in all of creation, and though we have spit in the face of God by sinning, and though all of life has been one of running away from him, he pursues us and runs to us like the father of the prodigal son and embraces us and covers our sin with his righteous robe and puts a ring on our finger and calls us, “beloved child.” He has created in us a new nature one not of sin, but one that is free to worship him as God; one that has eyes to see him for who he is; one that has ears to hear his voice speaking to us through his word; one that has feet so as to take the Gospel to the ends of the world.

It is here, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that God redeems undeserving sinners. It is here, in the righteousness of God, that all heaven and earth rejoice for it is here that the fall is no more, and it is here that the world will be remade new. It is here that God gives the creation Himself and says, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it from you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isa. 48:9-11)

Therefore come before this throne grace and have your needs supplied by our gracious God; come to the throne of grace, that you might know that God is the Just and Justifier. That He is from first to last. Before all things were, He was God. You must not bring Him anything, just your sinfulness, that He might show you His awesome power in His awesome Son.

“Come then you who are poor as poverty itself, having no merits and destitute of virtues and reduced to beggarly bankruptcy by Adam’s fall and your own transgressions.” (Spurgeon) “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1).”

It is the free gift of God for those that believe. “…Because if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9).”

It is not by works, but by God. Excluding boasting because man does nothing in his own salvation, it is entirely a work that can only be initiated by God and finished by Christ.

“Come, then, you who are not only poor but also wretched, whose miseries make you long for death, and yet you dread it. You captive ones, come in your chains; you slaves, come with the irons upon your souls; you who sit in darkness, come forth all blindfolded as you are. The throne of grace will look on you if you cannot look on it and will give to you, though you have nothing to give to in return, and will deliver you, though you cannot raise a finger to deliver yourself.” (Spurgeon)

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption of Christ Jesus…”(Rom 3:22-24)

Monday, March 7, 2011

News From a Country Never Visited

Maybe it’s the sound of my boots walking down the sidewalk in Riverside. Maybe it’s the feeling you get when the night has just begun yet it feels later than it really is because the clouds reflect back the city lights. Maybe it’s the cool air still holding on to winter’s chill. Whatever it is, I’m not sure.

‘Nostalgia’ is the word we toss out to describe the feeling… but it’s so cheap to describe the depth of that feeling with one word. That feeling that you love to have and hate to have at the same time; the one that makes you want to sit and drink a glass of wine alone.

It’s not a trifle feeling like laughing at a joke, or simple sarcasm, it’s much more. Yearning for the future and the past, reality and immaterial all at once. C.S. Lewis says it like this, “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”

Indeed these things are suggestions of much more, namely the depth of this singular feeling suggesting there is more than this visible stuff to reality. For there is somberness to this feeling, one that makes the young feel old.

Maybe it’s just the sound of my boots walking down the sidewalk, or maybe it’s the subtle suggestion that ripples through the physical whispering of a greater reality; a call that beckons us to more than fleshly lust and games. A call that will change everything.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Armor of God (Sermon)

After some 20 sermons on the greatness of the goodness of God in the book of Ephesians the end is now near. Paul has written to entreat us to attempt at grasping the wonder of the Cross. And not only grasping the wonder of the cross but also the wonder of who God is.

That he has predestined you before the foundations of the world to be adopted as son or daughter. That though you were dead on the side of the road He chooses to redeem you. Though the portrait of you as the necrotic dog makes your mind falter and faint for the image is gross and the imagined smell would well overpower, yet the truth of the matter remains clear, God has saved you by himself and for himself.

It is here; at the end of the book that Paul gives the passage many of you are familiar with, ‘The Armor of God.’ The placement of this part of the book should speak to how we see this armor. This armor is not the main focus, this armor is not for you to read about and be impressed with whom you are when dressed within it. No! It should never be that you are impressed with yourself in this armor. Rather you should see all that Paul has written about before he comes to the armor.

Namely, that the Gospel is the hope of what you are, of who you are, and of who you will be as believers. It will be the thing that transforms you from one degree of glory to another for it is the tool in the Redeemer’s hands, which will be used to mold you into the image of Jesus.

Therefore before we continue on any further realize, get this into your brain, that the armor you wear as a believer is more than something to inspire you, and it is more than something to strike fear in your foes, oh it is much more. It is, as I hope to show you the Gospel. For as you put on the Gospel, by the grace of God so too is the armor of God worn. These two things, the Gospel and the Armor of God are inextricably woven together.

With that said now let’s pray and look to the passage:

Ephesians 6:10-17
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…”

First, it is of worth to see that as a believer you are strong in the Lord, in the strength of his might. Only in God are you strong, for it is only in the Lord that your hope lies and it is only in Jesus that your foundation is built and thus it stands to reason that only in God are you sure of your footing.

You cannot wish to find your strength in your own fleshly arms for these arms will grow arthritic and the use of them will quickly fade away into only remembrance. Soon you who are young will feel the pain of age. Soon you who now “live life to the fullest”, so to speak, will see the ease of late nights quickly fade into the morning of old age. And even now some of you feel the wear of time and understand this subject more completely, that only in God is your strength to be found.

Also your strength cannot be placed in your reason, logic, or intellect for they too will come to nothing when the bitterness of dementia takes firm root within your brain and all is incomprehensible to your waking eyes. Old age is coming quickly and you who are young must understand that the things you now hope in will no longer be the things that can save you.

Neither can you take strength in the morals of this world. For the right thing now may not be the right thing in the future. Indeed the world is changing now as I speak and thus you cannot find your sure footing in morals.

You must, for you are bound by His perfection find all of your strength in the God who is, the God who has been from before there was anything, and the God who will be when all is dead and gone. In him, and in him only is there constancy, consistency and an immovable foundation. Dwelling in his strong salvation must become the theme of your life. For in his strong tower there is hope.

Second, by God’s grace you put on his armor.

The reason you are instructed to put on armor is because you are living in a time of constant war. All of the believer’s life is a fight against sin. From waking up in the morning to falling asleep at night, the fight against sin is continual. For your deepest enemy and you are one.

Let me describe your enemy, he is cunning and knows your weakest moments. He sees your deepest faults for he was your very nature. You see, before you were brought to life in the Gospel your nature was sin, that sin lived so deeply within you that you will be fighting him for all your life. The roots of his life sink so deeply and are entwined so closely with your life that only death will carry you away from him. Your enemy’s prowess in bringing you to your knees in the mire of sin is more formidable than you know. He has been defeated at the cross and knows the war is won by Jesus but he is now more dangerous than before, for he on his last leg and will kill any that come his way.

The devil will use you against yourself. He will tempt you with what you desire and cause you to sin by making a good thing a god thing. His schemes are damnable and his craftiness in the arena of sin is centuries in the making. But Jesus has dealt his death blow so his the stab of his sword will no longer kill you.

Therefore you put on the whole armor of God. So as to, by the grace of God, stand against this foe that much desires to see your failing and falling and to see Jesus made a mockery of in the entire world.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

You do not fight against each other, but the devil, the world and sin. Though there may be temptation in the world around you the sin lies deep within yourself. Thus, as we have seen, you must prepare to battle against your own sin for all your life. Though the battle will be desperate and the fight will consume all of your strength; the sweat and blood shed will be shown to be worth the loss for the glory of God compels you and the war is already won.

But it is critical that you remember that you fight because of the strength of God given to you. You do not fight with your own ability nor do you fight with your own knowledge and wisdom, but with that which God has given and emboldened you to use in this battle.

So, because God has graciously given you His armor in His Gospel put it on, dress yourself for battle, feel His strength pulse through your veins and understand it is God working through you to fight your sin to his good pleasure. And thus any withstanding done against your sin, the world or the devil is a grace and mercy afford by God; and any standing firm in the truth of God is a grace and mercy bought by the blood of Christ.

With all that said let us now look at the armor provided by God to be used solely for his glory. I pray God uses this time to help us better understand each portion of His armor.

“Standing therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…”

John 17:17 says,
“Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth.”

In his High Priestly prayer Jesus makes special mention of your sanctification, the process through which you are made more into the image of Christ. He says that through the word you are sanctified. What is this word?

In John 1:1-5 we read,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Jesus is the truth within which you are tied together as a believer. He is the piece of your armor that keeps your paints up… Though the picture is funny and the connotations interesting the truth of the matter remains there. A warrior of the Most High King will not be frivolously caught with his paints down when there is a battle to fight and an enemy to slay.

Some of you are fooling around with sex like it is a game, thinking that it will bring no harm. Others are more inclined to be satisfied by a 2-D image of naked woman. You call yourself a Christian! You say that Jesus is your all-satisfying reward and then go sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend! Grow up! Put your pants on, the enemy has you in his clutches and he is killing you with your sin! Do you not see the bars all around you? Do you feel the pressure of this sin bearing down on your back like a mountain?

Be free of it! Run to Jesus; find your satisfaction in him and in him alone. Put on his truth; be consumed with the greatness of the goodness of God in the person of Jesus and stand firm in Jesus having put on the belt of truth and place those childish lusts behind you. You’ve been called from the mire of sin to the adopted place of son or daughter so conduct yourself as an adopted one of the King of the universe. Put on the belt of truth, which is Jesus, your Savior.

“… Having put on the breastplate of righteousness…”

Hear Ephesians 4:24,
“… And put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

From one degree of glory to another you are being transformed into the likeness of God in his righteousness and holiness. This righteousness is defined further in Romans 3:21-22,
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it-the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

Jesus is your righteousness. As a believer in the Gospel your righteousness, your goodness is built completely on the person of Jesus. “For he made him who knew no sin to be sin so that [you] might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus’ perfection is given to you the underserved dead. Thus though while you are still underserved you are no longer dead.

It is in this righteousness that your vitals are protected. Your heart is hidden behind the perfect righteousness of Jesus. The lungs with which you draw breath are kept sound in the loving care of your Redeemer. Your life is hidden with Christ on high. In the safety of his perfection you find your comfort and security for his embrace is sure and his strength eternal.

“… As shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the Gospel of peace.”

The Gospel is by its very nature a peace-bringing thing. For, Jesus “… is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

Now because of the finished work of Jesus you have peace with God. The debt you owed is paid, the punishment you ought to be eternally enduring has been taken and the just wrath that should be being poured out on you has been poured out on Christ on the cross. Peace has come between you adopted sons and daughters and God because of the blood of the crucified Lamb.
Now there is peace between your fellow man. For no longer is your wrestle against flesh and blood but against sin, the sin that dwells so deeply within yourself. Strife between your brother and sister must not come to sin for your biggest problem has been taken care of on the cross of Christ. No longer are the thoughts of others your biggest care for you are seen as an adopted beloved child. No longer are the slanderous words of others where your stock is found for you are declared as perfect as Jesus because of Jesus. No longer must the worries and struggles of this life be the things that define you for you identity is solidly found in the Maker of the stars.

Jesus is our Gospel of peace. He is the shoes within which we stand firm in his Gospel. And because he is your peace you are ready for everything, whether it is death or breathing, you are ready because Jesus is your hope.

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith…”

Hebrews 12:2 says,
“… Looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

All of your faith is based in, on and around Jesus. For his claims are outrageous, he cannot simply be a ‘good teacher’ or ‘prophet.’ Though all this world tries to press him into one of these molds he will not fit. For his claim is to be God incarnate! If you do not believe Jesus to be God then you have no faith and there is no foundation for you to put on the armor of God for there is no salvation in your bones.

Similarly you must believe! Many of you sit in your chair this morning and claim to believe that Jesus is God, but you remain the same day after day and year after year. Is not the Christian life marked by transformation? Should not it be evident that you are changing from one degree of glory to another? Should there not be a desire to study and know this God you “love?”

I fear that many will come to the Judgment Day having simply claimed belief. For in that day they must depart from God and forever bear his just wrath on their souls. Either you believe and are changed for you good or you don’t believe and are judged to your destruction, the matter is that simple.

For, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Heb. 11:1-3)

Jesus is your faith. Not your pastor, not your church, not your goodness, but Jesus. So this shield of faith, “… With which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” is none other than Christ your Savior.

Only in him are you able to quench those flaming darts that stick deep in your skin. Those fears which bring you to your knees and cause you to hide in the dark corners. Whether they are complete feelings of inadequacy or the desire to be seen as something you are not it does not matter. Those things, those fears that rock you to your soul are quenched by the person of Jesus, for he is your Great Reward.

All these things you suffer now will be of no comparison in that day when you behold your Savior face-to-face. When that eternal day comes and you walk in glory alongside God your Father all the tears of pain and strife will be wiped away and for all of eternity you will be discovering life as it should be in the person of God.

I pray you all see the Reward I speak of and thus see all things pale in comparison to the glory of God. That you feel the weight of this world leave your shoulders and you behold, with your waking eyes, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“… And take up the helmet of salvation”

Jesus is your salvation. He is the God-Man sent from outside of time itself into time in the form of sinful flesh to bear your sin. In your place condemned he stood. Paying the penalty for your sins. Dying in the most excruciating way possible. With his Father’s back turn on him and God’s just wrath being poured out undiluted on him. At the high price of himself Jesus purchased you. In this Good News your head is protected.

It is in this Gospel that the transformation of your mind occurs. That which at one time seemed folly is now the deepest wisdom you know. What at one time you considered to be the crutch of the weak-minded is now your only hope.

Jesus is the helmet of your salvation. It is only in him that you see the infinite goodness of God and comprehend the vastness of your sinfulness and the unfathomable-ness of God’s grace

Of Jesus we read, “Surely he has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isa. 53:4-5)

Your hope must be built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. For he alone makes you good enough, he alone makes you righteous, he alone rescues you from every drop of death you deserve to drink for all eternity.

“And take up… the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

This thing, this book, is your offensive weapon.
Do you know where yours is?
When was the last time you read its pages?
When was the last time it broke you of your sin?
How often do you run to its pages for comfort?

There are many of you who claim to be Christian but do not care for the Bible. You are no Christian. For how can you love God and not his Word? How can you love God if you have no idea who he is? He is revealed clearly in Scripture but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t read it.

Rather than knowing the Creator of the universe you create your own god from mismatched verses and pithy quotes and call that ‘God.’ You bow your knee before an imagined being. You claim a stake in the righteousness bought by Jesus but you simply want the gift and not the Giver.

“But it is hard to read the Bible.” Some of you may say. You’re right! It’s hard to read something that is, “Living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Before which, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb 4:12-13) But it must be done.

As a believer in the Gospel you must read the Bible, for in its pages is the Gospel spoken of and expounded upon. In its pages has the God you love revealed himself to you. In its pages is sound doctrine; in its pages is your firm foundation. May God convict you and bring you on your knees to your Bible, that he may reprove you and teach you of his greatness. So that above all things you desire to be satisfied by God and nothing else.

Stop wasting your life on frivolous pursuits you warrior of the King. There is a battle to be fought and sin to be killed; there are the weak to protect and the poor to love. There are others still inside the prison to be rescued by the Gospel. You are chosen to be the proclaimer of God’s Gospel. Come out of your drowsy state and see the urgency that is all about, see the smoke of battle in the air, put on the whole armor of God and prepare to strike your foe. Take up the Sword given to you and be taught how to use it by the Great Teacher.

But understand that the battle will not last forever.

The time will come when you may lay down your bloodied sword. When your dented breastplate may finally be taken off. When your splintered shield may be put aside. When your feet may breathe the free air. When your eyes will no longer see through the slits of a helmet but see the full picture. The day is rushing towards us that we may go into the Kingdom and no longer be sojourners in a distant land. When we will no longer have to suffer outside the camp with Christ but rather we will be with our Father in his house. When all will be as it should be, when sin is finally killed and Satan thrown down, when all that has been broken by the fall will be remade anew.

But, my fellow believers my brothers and sisters, that time has not yet come. Now we must stand firm in the Gospel of God. Now we must take up our sword and fight. Now we must wear the armor for our good and the glory of God. Now we must see dimly through the slits of our helmets. Looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross… So too must we joyfully suffer a little while longer.

So be wary for this land is full of dastardly fellows that wish for nothing more than to see the redeemed fall and Jesus mocked. Wear well the armor of you King. Fight well the fight of faith. Stand firm in the righteousness of your Savior. You, oh Christian, are a beloved child and will soon be home.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reproach & Self-Denail

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Heb. 13:12-14)

This passage has been the theme of the past few weeks of my life. That we are to be, quite literally, outside the camp with Christ bearing the reproach he endured. Here in America we do not bear much reproach. But we ought to do more dying to self than any other part of the world.

Toy after toy, girl after boy, friend upon friend and thing after thing, we have it all. As a society we are lavishly rich. I have more books in my room than most churches in Africa have in their whole building. I have money to buy new guitar strings with. Man, we have money to smoke away (very literally). So it is obvious we do not bear much reproach (though mockery may come).

Dying to self however, that should be where we (believers in America) excel. We ought to go outside the camp and be with Christ. Seeing these things that so easily ensnare us as cheap in the face of Jesus.

I’m not saying things are bad, I like things, what I am saying is that things should not define us. The glory of God in the face of Jesus should define us.

Thus we must understand in our brains and hearts that our lives as believers in the west should be marked by unprecedented death to self just as in Asia there is unprecedented Christian killings. Things should be just that, things. Things that are the grace of God to be use to glorify God.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Solid Hope

Often we look into the future for things to comfort us. A new job, a new boyfriend/girlfriend, a new season, a new semester, new friends the list goes on and on for quite some time. But there is more comfort to be had in the things that have already happened, the things in the past.

(This has become my routine looking ahead for comfort rather than looking at what has already been given.)

There is a roof over your head. You’ve eating today. You’re breathing now. And, assuming your reading this post you’re on some sort of technology that 30 years ago was unimagined. Thousands of different, seemingly little things could be listed out to show you that you have a myriad of things to be thankful for.

But these are not the things that should inspire our thankfulness.

There is one event that happened in the past that resounds today; one thing that will forever define who you are; one thing that will break you into continually thankfulness, namely the cross of Jesus Christ. This should draw our attention like the sun. It is the center of all of God’s plan, it is the way you were/are redeemed, it is the power of God for salvation.

Thus it is this good news that makes the present you able to hope in the future. Yet we must not become obsessed with the future but rather we must become obsessed with the cross. That Jesus is the One who gives us our only solid hope.