Sunday, October 25, 2009

Romans Message #62 October 25, 2009

Something More Amazing Than Grace
Romans 5:20 and Selected Texts

Did you know that there was something that the Apostle Paul found almost as amazing as God’s amazing grace? Its found in the first chapter of the Book of Galatians. And as you are turning let me remind you that one of Paul’s harshest criticisms and sternest warnings was aimed at believers who were starting to give in to certain religious teachers in Galatia who were advocating the heresy that the grace of God which saved them and kept them saved was not free. These false religious teachers were teaching that whereas salvation from one’s sins by the grace of God was true—it was not a salvation from one’s sins by grace alone. Rather, this saving grace needed to be accompanied by the Jewish rite of circumcision and the keeping of certain aspects of the Mosaic law if it was to save anyone at all.

Thus, Paul writes to the believers in Galatia this rebuke found in your Bibles in Galatians 1:6-10. And note that what Paul found so amazing in this passage is that believers were giving up the Gospel of Grace for a false gospel of works. Notice as well how Paul describes these believers who are moving toward this false religious system of trying to maintain their acceptability to and with God by their good works—He describes them as those who are “so quickly deserting Him [God] Who called you by the grace of Christ . . .” He calls them “deserters”.

And look at what he calls this “different gospel” they have deserted God for—he basically says it isn’t even another gospel because there is only one gospel. Rather—what this is—is a perversion and a distortion of the Gospel, which amounts to nothing less than heresy. And note as well what Paul says about the false teacher who teaches and propagates a false heretical gospel of works righteousness. Look at verses 8-9. He writes: “He is to be accursed.” And not just once but twice! Now “accursed” comes from the Greek word, anathema. It means to be estranged and separated from Christ and His salvation so as to be in a state of condemnation”.

And what is important to keep in mind here in this situation in Galatia is that these teachers were not teaching a works righteousness so as to get saved but rather to stay saved. You see, they were teaching this heresy to believers and followers of Christ and what they were teaching them was that if they really wanted to be perfected in their faith and be found acceptable to God—they needed to do something—and that something was to obey the Law of Moses. Now look at Paul’s response to this in Galatians 2:16. He writes that no one is going to be saved by keeping the Law of Moses, which if you remember was given to Moses by God so that it is really the Law of God. Now if no one can be saved or kept saved by keeping God’s Law—why in the world would anyone in their right mind think they can be saved or kept saved by keeping their church’s list of traditional do’s and don’ts or their pastor’s list of rules or their own man-made regulations such as Paul talks about in Colossians 2:20-23.

You know, I have never found man-made rules to have ever helped me in my battle with sin—never. In fact, the only thing I have ever found trying to live your Christian life by legalism to do for you is to either turn you into a control freak or a controlled victim. On the one-hand, legalism can turn you into a controlling, critical, judgmental, joyless, and fearful hypocrite who is deathly afraid of seeing others find true freedom and joy in Christ because once they do you will lose your control over them. This is the problem most legalistic pastors have. Or, if you are the victim of Legalism it will turn you into a controlled, fearful, criticized, judged, lying, and joyless Christian who is afraid of your own shadow every time you walk into a legalistic church or among other legalistic people because you know your spirituality is being measured by your performance.

Look over at Galatians 3:3. Listen, to come to Christ for salvation by grace alone only to then think that you are perfected or matured in your Faith by the works of your flesh is—according to Paul—foolish. So, yes…..there is something that is at least as amazing as grace and it is that believers would be so foolish so as to desert it for legalism and trying to maintain their acceptance with God through their works.

Now, why would a true believer even be tempted, after having been saved by grace alone, to think that he is kept saved by his works—or at least to think that his acceptance with God is based upon his or her works? Obviously, we see in Galatians, that one reason is false heretical teaching. Which is why we need to be very careful about the teaching we hear. Hey, if you are listening to a preacher who tells you that your acceptance with God before salvation is based upon grace alone but that after salvation it is based upon your performance in obeying and serving God—then you are listening to a false teacher at worst or—At best—a confused teacher teaching false doctrine. In either case—quit listening to him!

But, there is another reason why believers would be tempted to leave grace for works and it is found in Galatians as well. Look at Galatians 6:12-14. Pride is the other reason why a believer could be tempted to move from the true gospel of grace to the false gospel of works. You see, in the Gospel of Grace—there is only One Who gets the credit and thus, the Glory and that One is God. In a false gospel of works—man gets at least some of the credit and thus, some of the glory. You see, if you want to boast about your spirituality and performance in keeping God’s standards—then the gospel of works might be for you. However, if your boast is only in Christ and His righteousness imputed to your account—then the Gospel of Grace is where you need to stay. And lest you think that this temptation of pride causing you to desert the true Gospel of Grace to embrace a false gospel of works, even if for just a moment—cannot attach itself to you—stay with me.

Pride is a multi-faceted equal opportunity grace-perverter and ultimately a grace-killer. Whereas, most believers, have no problem seeing the problem with the overt kind of pride which thinks God is so impressed with our goodness that He just can’t help Himself in accepting us—We often do struggle with the “covert” kind of pride, which causes us to feel unworthy of God’s grace apart from doing something to earn it or at least make us feel better in receiving it.

You see, covert pride causes me to feel the need to repay grace as well as to feel so ashamed of my need for it that I struggle to freely receive it as it is freely being offered to me. Whereas again I doubt any one of us here would ever even think to tell God about how good he is and how lucky God is to have such a person on His side. We often go to the other side of the spectrum and try and hide our unworthiness and our sinfulness from God so as not to lose His acceptance. In other words, we think that if God really knew how we felt or lived or reacted or acted that we would lose His acceptance in a heartbeat so let’s try and hide it from Him. Or, because you are a much more Bible-savvy believer and realize that there is nothing you can hide from God because God knows everything including how bad you have behaved—instead of trying to hide your sins from God—you just refuse to bring them to Him for forgiveness until you have bettered or reformed yourself—In other words, you put yourself on spiritual probation and determine that until you have conquered your sin—you won’t bother God for His forgiveness again.

Well this too is “covert pride” in action and this is where I think most believers are camped—thinking that God’s continued acceptance of them is based upon their successfully reforming themselves into better and more holy Christians. But because we can’t make ourselves better and thus more acceptable to God—we finally, out of frustration at not being able (in our minds) to please God—just give up and end up living our lives going through the motions of Christianity with no vitality or joy. And a big part of our problem is that when we sin against God our feelings of unworthiness and guilt often lead us to believe that rather than approach God’s throne of grace with boldness to seek His grace and mercy—we should just “go away” and “disappear” so as not to be any more trouble and further embarrassment to the Lord and His people. So, instead of exposing our sin to God and boldly running to Him for grace, mercy and help in our time of deepest need—we run from Him—not wishing for Him to have to see and deal with the mess we have made of our lives, our marriages, our families, our jobs, our reputations, etc. This “covert pride” at its worst.

Turn with me to John 13, where I want to show you how Jesus dealt with this kind of covert pride in Peter who fell into this trap of feeling unworthy to receive God’s acceptance and grace on the very night in which Jesus was betrayed. You all know the story of Jesus’ Last Supper and how before serving it, He washed His disciples feet. There is so much truth we could pull out of this story but what I want you to see is found in verses 5-8.

Peter was used to Jesus doing and saying things that did not fit the religious norm of the day but now the Lord was about to go too far. You see, He was the last person in that room who should be washing feet. First of all, just as in Muslim culture today, a person’s feet were the most dishonorable part of his body. Not only were they dirty, smelly, calloused, and often cut and cached with dried blood—they were the part of the body that was most likely to come in contact with things the Law declared to be unclean. According to Jewish historians, outside of one’s immediate family, feet were to be washed by servants and ideally non-Jewish servants so as not to defile them. Furthermore, one’s feet were never to be pointed toward a person of honor and the soles of one’s feet were never supposed to be made visible to a person you respected. But, here is the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the very Son of God Himself—the most honored person to ever walk the earth—stripped like a slave and intentionally defiling Himself with the unclean feet of his disciples.

Then in verse 6, when Jesus gets to Peter—Peter says: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” As he says this, can't you just imagine Peter pulling his feet away from Jesus and trying to tuck them under his body so Jesus cannot see them and touch them. Now what Peter literally said which is recorded for us in Greek is “Lord, You, My feet, You are going to wash?” In other words, he can’t believe that Jesus is really going to go through with this act of defiling Himself by touching and cleaning his feet.

In verse 7, Jesus tells Peter that he is not comprehending what Jesus is doing now but he will later. In other words, this act is not just about cleaning dirty feet. It has a greater spiritual significance than that which Peter has yet to see. This obviously didn’t satisfy Peter because in verse 8, he declares to Jesus and let me quote this from the Greek text so you get the flavor—“You, shall by no means wash my feet—no, never!”

Now understand why Peter is saying this. It is because his feet are unclean, ugly, smelly, and terribly unworthy to be touched by God the Son. In other words, “covert pride” caused Peter to feel that the best course of action was to hide that which embarrassed him the most—his dishonorable, unclean, and terribly dirty and defiled feet—rather than to simply expose them to God so as to let Him wash them clean. Peter’s sense of unworthiness and quite frankly, his embarrassment over his filthy dirty smelly feet caused him to pull away from the Lord just as we often do when we feel unworthy and ashamed because of our sin.

Now note Jesus’ response at the end of verse 8: “If I do not wash you—you have no part with me.” Now-don’t miss what Jesus said or you miss His point in washing the disciples and especially Peter’s feet. Up until the last part of verse 8 the issue has been Jesus washing Peter’s feet but when Peter so emphatically refuses to let Jesus wash his feet—Jesus turns the focus off of his feet to him when He says: “If I do not wash you—you have no part with me.” You see, Peter’s defiled, dirty, smelly, unclean, shameful, and unworthy feet were simply a picture of Peter’s life.

Jesus was using Peter’s feet as an illustration of the fact that unless he was willing to let Jesus bear all of his unworthiness, uncleaness, shame, and sin—Peter could not be made acceptable to God the Father. And the same is true of us—We weren’t able to make ourselves acceptable to God before we were saved and we aren’t able to keep ourselves acceptable to Him now that we are saved.

Our acceptability to God so that He looks upon us who know Jesus right now as being His beloved children is not and has never been based upon how well we have performed spiritually. Our acceptance with God has always been and will always be based upon Jesus’ life and death on our behalf. There is never a time in your Christian life when God either accepts you more or less based upon how well you are living your life. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior—you are completely and perfectly accepted by God and acceptable to God because your life is hidden with Christ in God. Listen, according to Galatians 2:20 if you are a believer, your life before salvation no longer exists and your life after salvation is so identified with Christ that God the Father only sees Christ in you and thus you are perfectly acceptable to Him.

Thus, it is not us picking up our own stinky, dirty feet and cleaning them ourselves or trying to cover their filthy odor with the deodorant of our good works that make us acceptable to God and keep us acceptable to God. Our acceptance with God and our acceptability to God is all of grace and has nothing to do with our works—good or bad.

Thus, to begin to think that after salvation—it is your responsibility to keep yourself clean and thereby acceptable to God so as to stay saved is to fall away from the Gospel of grace and into the false and heretical gospel of works.
Listen, we are either “accepted in Christ Jesus” or we are not accepted at all for there is no other Name on earth whereby a person can be made acceptable to God.

And knowing all this—what amazes me is how easily it is for us as believers who have been saved by God’s amazing grace to fall away from it into thinking we must keep ourselves accepted and acceptable to God by our works. Oh how foolish we can be.

You know, there are some of you here today who do not know for certain that your sins have been forgiven because you like Peter are unwilling to come to Christ and let Him take your sin and shame away from you. You are afraid that if you expose yourself—who you really are to God that He will reject you and turn you away. Nothing could be further from the truth and Jesus says to you the same thing that He said to Peter—“If I do not wash you, you have no part with me!” Won’t you come to Christ today and trust Him and His finished work at Calvary to wash you clean and to save you from your sins?

And there are others here this morning—who having come to Christ for salvation and to made perfectly acceptable to God—have over the years fallen into the trap of thinking that your acceptance with God has been based upon you and how well you have lived for Him. And because you know in your heart of hearts that you haven’t lived so well as a Christian—you are afraid that perhaps God has no pleasure in you any longer. Quite possibly, you are finding yourself afraid of God--thinking that He is mad at you.

As I have said two other times in this message—nothing could be further from the truth. For you see, when Jesus died on the cross for you—He took all of your sin and all of your guilt and all of your shame and He bore it before the Father at Calvary and paid the price of God’s rejection for your sin so that you would be forever accepted by God in Him. So that, all that is due the believer and all that the believer can expect from God either on this earth or in glory is grace, mercy, and joy! Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Romans Message #61 October 18, 2009

The Key To Spiritual Vitality is Never Getting Over God’s Grace!
Romans 5:20-21

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of taking a couple soldiers who had just returned from Iraq out to dinner. We had a great time together. And what made it good was that these two soldiers were both believers but what made it even better is that they were believers who had still not gotten over their amazement at how amazing God’s grace was toward them in saving them. I mean they were still excited about the Lord and what He had done for them and so our dinner conversation pretty much was focused on the Lord, His Word, His work, and these soldier’s future plans to serve Christ. I mean we didn’t talk about the weather, or politics, or our problems, or each other, or even other people—we just enjoyed talking about the Lord and His amazing grace. And whereas, I was wanting to minister to them—I have to tell you—they ministered to me because they were just so amazed by their salvation.

What a joy it is to be with believers who haven’t gotten over their salvation and who are still amazed by the fact that God’s grace is greater than their sin and that where their sin increased—grace superabounded to them all the more.

This past week, I also read about two other men who never got over God's amazing grace toward them in salvation. They were John Bunyan and John Newton. If you’ll remember, John Bunyan wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress” while in prison for preaching Christ and John Newton, wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”, after having been saved by the Lord as a very wicked and vile man who earned his living as a slave-trader. Both of these men had in common the fact that they were great sinners who once they were brought to the point of grace in salvation never got over the fact that God completely forgave them all of their sin.

They never got over “God’s Amazing Grace”. And as a result they lived their lives joyfully for Christ and His glory even when undergoing severe trials and tribulations. They never lost their zeal for the Lord or their joy in serving the Lord or their diligence in remaining faithful to the Lord or their excitement in worshipping the Lord or their power in proclaiming the Lord and His Gospel because they never got over their amazement at how amazing God’s grace was to them as great sinners.

I wonder if the reason why so many believers today quickly tire of serving the Lord and often quit isn’t because they have gotten over God’s amazing grace toward them. I wonder if this isn’t why we often worship so passively and sing so poorly. I wonder if this isn’t why we don’t fight sin with all of the gusto we can muster and if this is why we rarely take the time to share the Gospel with the people God puts right in front of us. And I wonder if the reason so many believers are so content to maintain the status quo and never step out of their comfort zones and take great risks for the sake of Christ and making His Name known to those who have never heard of Him isn’t because we have gotten over Him and His work of amazing grace in our lives?

You see, I think that there is a sense in which when we lose sight of how amazing God’s grace is and how amazing God’s grace is toward us that we become weak, anemic, irritable, pessimistic, grumpy, callous, critical, convenience worshipping, and pleasure-loving Christians who while perhaps can recite the Gospel aren’t doing such a good job reflecting it—for the simple reason we’re no longer impressed and excited by God’s amazing grace. Therefore, I think it is good for us to look and to gaze long at God’s amazing grace toward us so that we might be so amazed at God’s amazing grace toward us that we would live amazing Christian lives that God uses in amazing ways to bring amazing glory to Himself and amazing joy to us. So this morning, lets go back to Romans 5:20-21 and take another look at God’s grace and see a few reasons why it is so amazing because I think one of the keys to maintaining spiritual vitality is to never get over God’s amazing grace.

1. God’s Grace is amazing because it is never withheld or reduced because of our sin. (20)

Note that according to verse 20, an increase in sin did nothing to negatively impact grace so that it would be withheld, reduced, limited, or depleted. In fact, the more sin multiplied and that is really what the word means—the more grace abounded so that it is impossible for a person to out sin God’s ability to forgive him.

Now I realize there are some of you here this morning who are thinking—“Man, this is so basic. I wish he would move on and quit with the ‘grace is greater than all our sin and shame’ thing because I’ve got this truth nailed down.” Well, I understand that this is a basic Gospel truth and that any of our teens and probably most of our children could rattle off. But, just because we are so familiar with the truth that God’s grace is never withheld or reduced or depleted because of our sin does not mean we apply it to our lives. Let me illustrate this for you. Just the other day, I struggled with a sin issue of mine and quite frankly failed in obeying God in the moment of my struggle with temptation. I just decided I knew what was best for me and disregarded God’s Word and plain out--disobeyed God. Well, the Holy Spirit of God convicted me of my sin, so I confessed my sin to the Lord and as He promised, I was forgiven. Now for most of you that would be the end of it….right?! But you see, I sinned smack dab in the middle of preparing this message that I am preaching right now. And after getting things squared away with the Lord again, I came to a part of this passage that was throwing me for a loop and so I did what I always do when I run into a tough passage…….I began to ask God for His help. As I was in the middle of voicing my request to God…..the thought hit me…….”how can you be so arrogant as to be asking God for His help to understand the very Word of God you so blatantly disregarded and disobeyed only a few minutes ago?” After that thought registered in my mind, I actually apologized to God for asking Him for His help to understand His Word after having disrespected His Word by my sin.

Now understand what I was doing…….I was sinning again. Only this time I was disrespecting God’s grace by thinking that somehow my sin earlier in the day had caused me to become unworthy of asking for and receiving God’s help in understanding His Word. I, in effect, was thinking that my earlier sin had rendered me unworthy of God’s grace in my time of need. In other words, I, for just a moment fell into the unbiblical thinking that God’s grace is withheld from the believer because of sin.

Now, I am not the only who does this am I? I mean we sin and after we sin we believe that God’s grace is no longer fully available to us and that our acceptability with God is no longer the same and we have no right to approach Him for anything…….and so we don’t until we feel worthy of His good pleasure. That’s legalism in its purest form……the idea that you need to perform well enough after sinning to make up for your sin so as to come to God.

Listen, if God’s grace super-abounds so that it is exceedingly greater and far more effective to make me acceptable to God than my sin is to make me unacceptable to God—then I must never fall into the trap of thinking God will withhold His grace from me because of my sin. If anything, His grace increased rather than decreased because of my sin!

2. God’s Grace is amazing because it is never granted or increased because we are good. (20)

Just as God’s grace is not withheld or reduced because we are bad—neither is it granted or increased because we are good. Grace is not dependent upon our performance in any way at all. Again, you are saying: “Come on Mark, we already know this—so let’s get on to the meat of the Word.” Well, if you already know this why do so many of you—when you are asking God for something really important to you…..begin to add up all your merits and demerits for the day?

It goes something like this: Lord, I really need your help right now and I know that I haven’t had my devotions in a few days and that I didn’t witness to John yesterday when I had the chance and Lord I admit I have been pretty selfish when it comes to my giving the last couple months but I did stop smoking and I have gotten a lot better with my cussing so could you help me out on this one….please?

Now the reason we pray like this is because we believe God won’t work on our behalf unless we are good and because we know we haven’t been as good as we should we tally up all our bad and good deeds—hoping God will see the good as outweighing the bad and answer our prayer. In other words, we think that the key to receiving God’s grace and to even having it increased in our lives is to live a life that is pleasing to Him. Now I don’t know about you—but if this is how you deal with the Lord—you’re really no different than a good works-oriented Catholic who believes God's grace toward them is based in some way upon their good works and good spiritual perfromance before God.

You see, the minute you begin to think that God’s grace toward you is dependent upon your good works and your solid spiritual performance you have fallen away from grace and into a legalistic works righteousness performance trap that is dishonoring to God irregardless of how spiritual all the rule-keeping makes you feel. See what Paul has to say about this in Colossians 2:20-23. Oh, rules and regulations make a person appear spiritual but they are of no spiritual value in the fight against sin. Only God's grace has spiritual value in the fight against sin because only God's grace has value in His eyes when He is looking at us.

God’s grace toward you the believer is not granted to you in greater measure because you are performing well just as it is not reduced because you are performing badly. As one theologian, B. B. Warfield put it: “There is nothing in us or done by us at any stage of our earthly development because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake or we cannot ever be accepted at all.” God’s grace is not based upon you—it is not dependent upon your own righteousness but rather as verse 21 will teach us—it is based upon an amazing righteousness.

3. God’s Grace is amazing because it is dependent upon an amazing righteousness. (21)

Verse 21 explains God’s purpose in causing grace to super-abound toward all who believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus. The reason why God purposed that His grace, which superabounds toward the believer would be greater than the believer’s ability to sin is “so that, just as sin reigned in death, grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, the purpose of God’s super-abundant and abounding grace was to rescue the believer from the reign of sin, which leads to death and transfer him to the reign of grace, which leads ultimately to eternal life. And if you look at verse 21 carefully—you will see that God accomplished this purpose of removing the believer from the reign of sin and placing him under the reign of grace through righteousness. In other words, the means or the agency by which God’s grace overcomes all of our sin and all of our shame and rescues us out from under the control and reign of sin is through righteousness.

Thus, grace is dependent upon righteousness. Now, we have already established that our righteousness or lack of righteousness has nothing to do with God’s grace being granted or withheld from us. So, whose righteousness is in mind here? Upon whose righteousness is grace based and in fact, placed in effect by? It is Christ’s righteousness, which was given to us the moment we believed in Him and were justified—which is to be declared righteous.

You see what verse 21 is pointing out is that the grace of God that saves us has been earned and merited—not by us—but by Christ. God’s grace, which is unmerited and unearned by us was merited and earned by Christ on our behalf when He went to the cross in our place as our sin substitute so as to take all our sin upon Him and grant us all of His perfect righteousness. And because of the imputed righteousness of Christ toward all who believe--God sees the believer as being completely clothed in Christ’s righteousness and thus worthy of His acceptance. Thus, whereas our salvation was not merited or earned by us—it was earned and merited by Christ Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from the slave market of sin. As Peter put it in 1 Peter 1:18-19—“Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers but with precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless—the blood of Christ.” Titus 2:13-14 makes the same point in saying: “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” And then in 1 Corinthians 6:20 we read: “For you have been bought with a price—therefore glorify God in your body.”

In other words, our salvation—our redemption, was not unmerited or unearned or unpaid for. It most certainly was not earned, merited, or paid for by us but it was indeed earned, merited, and paid for by Christ Whose very righteousness was imputed to our accounts so that we might be received and accepted by God. Thus, grace while free for us cost God the Son greatly—which is why the old preacher Phillips Brooks used to say: GRACE is an acronymn that stands for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense!


Now, it was these truths about God’s grace that drove men and women like John Bunyan, John Newton, Martin Luther, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Mary Slessor, Jim & Elizabeth Elliot, Martin & Gracia Burnham, and a host of others to attempt great things for God that others were afraid to try . . .

to be sent to prison, to serve in hard places, to endure great hardships, to take their families to new and distant lands, to accept great challenges, to lose loved ones for the sake of Christ, and to even be martyred . . .

because they never got over their amazement at how amazing God’s grace was and thus, they desired to live lives that demonstrated how amazed they were at God’s amazing grace by living lives which demonstrated that Jesus Christ was their greatest treasure and pleasure in life.

Listen, if you want to live an amazing life for Jesus Christ that demonstrates to all that He is your greatest treasure and pleasure in life, all you need to do is gaze long and hard at God’s amazing grace toward you and before long you too will be living an amazing Christian life that God uses in amazing ways to bring amazing glory to Himself and amazing joy to you.

You know Paul was a great champion of grace because he never got over how great God’s grace was in forgiving him—the chief of sinners.

And those whom God uses in the most amazing ways are people like Paul—who have been forgiven much and have never gotten over it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why Missions? Why Us? Why Now?

These are three great questions that Nancy and I have been asked since making our announcement that we are leaving the pastorate to pursue overseas missions in Cameroon for the purpose of reaching an unreached people group with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The first question is pretty cut and dry. Missions is near and dear to the heart of God and because we love God whatever is near and dear to His heart is near and dear to ours as well. As John Piper puts so well, "Missions exists because worship doesn't." So, if we want to see God worshipped in all the people groups of the earth we will be interested in missions because that is what the great task of missions is all about--engaging unreached people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ so God gets the glory and they get eternal joy.

But what about the second question--Why Us? I mean, why leave a successful pastorate, a church that we love and loves us, people who are growing under our ministry, and the place we call home within 15 years of when most people in the U.S. retire to go to a place that many have never heard of? What in the world would possess a middle-aged couple with four kids still at home to leave all that they know, are comfortable with, and enjoy, not to mention their three older kids who are out on their own to go to an unreached people group to tell them about Jesus, see people come to Christ, disciple them, and start a church multiplication movement among them?

Well, I think the answer is in the question. We wouldn't be asked the question if we didn't want to go and that's the answer--we want to go! Listen, if you want to do something that not very many people want to do and in fact would not give a second thought to--maybe you should. Maybe the fact that you want to do it is indicative that God has given you a desire that is not, for lack of a better word, "natural" or "normal". Our desire to go to Cameroon and give ourselves to this challenge of reaching an unreached people group with the Gospel for the glory of The NAME is the driving force behind our going.

Secondly, we have the ability to go. Many people at our age are saddled with any number of encumbrances that prevent them from considering missions. We aren't. We are not in debt. We are not caring for aging parents. We are in excellent health and we have no binding commitments that would tie us here. All-in-all, we are free to go.

So, we have the desire to go, the ability to go, and finally--the tools to go.
We have ministry training, education, skills, experience, and the battle scars to go with it. Whereas, we have a great deal to learn about Cameroon and Missions in the 21st Century, we do have some life and ministry experience that we have been told is invaluable. Therefore, why not us?

The last question--Why Now?--is not hard to answer when you consider that I just turned 50 last January. What that practically means is that the time we have to invest in missions is realistically between 15 to 20 years. Given the fact that it can take anywhere from one to three years to raise support and at least a year to pursue language school and hopefully pass I am looking at being almost 55 years old by the time we would get to Cameroon. While Nancy and I are hopefully getting "better", we sure aren't getting younger and thus the reason why now.

So with all this in mind, the real question we were left with was "Why Not Missions, Why Not Us, and Why Not Now?"

Monday, October 12, 2009

What David Letterman Can Teach Us About the Gospel

When I read this article written by Dr. Russell Moore who is a vice-president at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky I wanted to share it with all of you. Dr. Moore has beautifully captured what it means for the believer to have died with Christ at the cross so as to no longer be susceptible to Satan's accusations and blackmail if you will.

If you pay a little attention right now to David Letterman, you could learn something critical about carrying the gospel to your neighbors, and to yourself.

I’m not talking about re-tooling some Christian version of the late night comedian’s “Top Ten Lists” or his “Stupid Pet Tricks.” I’m not talking about his cynical humor, or emotionally detached coolness. I’m talking about why he was so scared of a blackmailer’s extortion.

We’ve all been there.

Last week Letterman started off a segment on his nationally-broadcast program “The Late Show” by telling his viewers a “story.” The studio audience, laughing along, seemed not to be able to tell, at first, if this was a set-up for a joke or a skit, but it became clear this wasn’t a gag.

Letterman said that he had gotten into his car at six in the morning one day to find an envelope in his car, an envelope with details and evidence of Letterman’s sexual affairs with women on his staff. The extortionist wanted two million dollars or he’d make it all public in a screenplay or book.

At first glance, this is just another celebrity soap opera, and, frankly speaking, not a particularly shocking one. What interests me, though, is not that Letterman was doing “terrible things.” What else would I expect a man outside of Christ to do?

What’s interesting to me is that the blackmail scared Letterman, and the reasons why.

Letterman said the extortion note was disturbing, first of all, because he feared the mysterious correspondent was watching him. Someone who knew this much about his life, would this figure be tapping him on the shoulder from the shadows? Pulling him into the back of the car?

Letterman also, though, was upset by the note because it was true.

Letterman acknowledged to this viewers that he had, in fact, had sex with women on the “Late Show” staff. He also said that seeing his “terrible things” there in print, with evidence for it all, in front of him, made him feel “creepy.” Even in his deadpan comedic, “aw shucks this ain’t so bad” wink-and-grin performance, we can hear a terror, a terror that is common to humanity.

If the envelope in the car had accused Letterman of being a member of an Islamic terrorist cell, he might have still been worried that the crazed writer was around, but, after getting out of the parking garage, Letterman wouldn’t have been, in his words, “menaced” by the accusations. Why not?

It’s because he knows he’s not a member of an Islamic terrorist cell. There could be no evidence to show it, because it’s not a fact. The power the blackmailer had over the comedian was in the truthfulness of his accusations, and in the cold, rational evidence he had for each of his charges.

You and I once felt a deeper, more primal blackmail, and it scared us to the core. In fact, we often still do. Now, for most of us, it’s not the same kind of transgression or the same type of discovery. But we’re blackmailed just as surely, in fact even more so.

The Scripture says that Satan’s reign over this present order is by holding us captive through the slavery of the “fear of death” (Heb 2:15). And why are all humans afraid of death? Because, like Letterman’s letter in the back of the car, our conscience is pointing us to judgment, with a “black box” of evidence of our guilt (Rom 2:15-16).

That’s why the gospel is such good news for blackmailed creepy people like us.

Jesus says of Satan, in one of the most remarkable passages to me of all of Holy Scripture: “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me” (John 14:30). Jesus’ calm is the same as if I were asked to take a DNA test to prove that I’m not the father of one of Michael Jackson’s children. I know there’s just nothing there.

Jesus knows that, as the one sinless human since Adam’s catastrophe, Satan has no evidence of guilt in Jesus. He’s been tested, and he’s still standing.

Jesus doesn’t fear Satan’s accusations because he has nothing to hide, from the demonic watchers, from his Father, from himself. He is truth, and the truth makes him free indeed. With his tranquil conscience, Jesus marches right to the pole of slaughter, paying the wages of sin for those in the satanic slavery.

That’s why our Lord Jesus shows us, through our brother John, that “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev 12:10). And how do those in Christ triumph over this accusation? It’s “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11).

Satan has nothing left to accuse because at the Place of the Skull “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). If you’ve already been exposed, you can’t be re-exposed. If you’ve already been damned, you can’t be re-damned.

David Letterman said the accusations bothered him because he’s a “tower of Midwestern Lutheran guilt.” But there’s nothing particularly Midwestern or Lutheran about it. It’s a signal of a conscience that points to judgment. But it could also point to the One who has borne all the penalty due at judgment, including the public humiliation of being caught. We’ve all been there.

Let’s remember the gospel, and learn from Dave Letterman how scary blackmail can be. As the accusations come at us, let’s acknowledge the truth of the satanic claims. Let’s find ourselves in Jesus. And let’s point to a bloody cross and an empty tomb where those accusations were verified and crucified.

Poor David Letterman. This extortion is nothing like the one he, and billions more, are facing from a threatening presence who can’t be indicted by a New York grand jury. Let’s pray for him, and plead with those like him in our neighborhood and in cities and villages all around the world, as we remember what it’s like to be that scared.

And let’s remember not to be paralyzed by cosmic blackmail. The satanic powers have the evidence against us; yes, they do. But every accusation comes before an Advocate with a still conscience in his chest, scabbed-over spike-marks in his hands, and a crushed snake skull at his feet.

The satanic accusations are usually true. They wouldn’t bring them up if they weren’t. But if Christ Jesus is raised from the dead (and he is) then they can’t paralyze us anymore.

In fact, if you think about it, they’re just stupid demon tricks.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Romans Message #60 October 11, 2009

Why Grace Super-Abounds
Romans 5:20-21

As we continue to move through Romans 5, and especially as come to this great teaching that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” have you stopped to ask yourself the question……Why? Why does God’s grace abound? How is it that God’s grace is so super-abounding that He is able to forgive me of all of my sins irregardless of whether they were committed before salvation or after salvation and irregardless of what they were or are and how many times I have failed Him in this way and will continue to fail Him in the future? And to compound the question—how is it—why is it—that God’s grace covers not only all my sins—past, present, and future but every single sin of every single believer who has ever lived and will ever live?

Is it that God just made a decision to let by-gones be by-gones and forgive us of all of our sins? Or could it be that God just decided that our sins weren’t really all that bad? No….neither of those two suggestions are true or could ever be true.

Yes, God does forgive every single person who believes in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ for everyone of their sins but He does so not because of an arbitrary decision He made or because our sins weren’t so bad after all—No, the reason why He forgives those who run to Christ for refuge from the wrath of God for their sins is because in Christ everyone of their sins was paid for by Christ Himself on the cross of Calvary.

Let me take you back to the Cross today to show you why God’s grace is super-abundantly far greater to save you than your sin is powerful enough to condemn you if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. You know, if all you do when you look at the cross is see in terms of the physical sufferings of Jesus—you really miss the whole point of what happened there on that day when Jesus stood condemned in your place before God. You see, whereas the physical torture experienced by Christ was horrific and unbelievably gruesome beyond anything we have ever known—the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual torment far exceeded anything Christ endured physically. And the reason for this is that whereas ungodly men found great delight in torturing Jesus for several hours before hanging Him on the cross—once He was on the cross—His physical torture transitioned very quickly to a much greater and deeper and more horrific torture at the hands of not men any longer but Satan and his demonic horde for the first 3 hours He hung on Calvary’s Tree.

We know from what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:10 that God manifested and even now is manifesting His great wisdom in how He planned out our salvation and continues to keep us saved and note to whom He is displaying His great and many faceted wisdom—angelic and demonic authorities. Thus, it would make sense that they all would have been at Calvary to see God’s great display of wisdom as His plan of salvation was worked out in and through Christ Jesus.

If you go to Psalm 22, you’ll get a first-hand, first-person account of the crucifixion recorded about a thousand years before it occurred. In this Psalm, we get a glimpse of what Jesus felt and saw while hanging on the cross. Look at Psalm 22:12-21. The metaphors being used by the writer are describing both men and demons being at the cross. And in fact, from this psalm we see clearly that Jesus saw Satan and his demons as being very much involved behind the scenes in all that transpired at Calvary. Note the description of the Bulls of Bashan ties them to the description of a ravening and roaring lion in verse 13. Peter actually gave us the literal rendering of this phrase in verse 13 and you’ll find it in 1 Peter 5:8. Thus, Satan and his demons were there.

Jesus told us that Satan would be there in John 14:30 where in warning his disciples of what would transpire after the last supper and warning them that He would be betrayed—He told them that “the ruler of the world is coming”. Instead of saying, that “Judas was coming” or that “the Jewish authorities were coming” or “the soldiers were coming”—Jesus said: “The ruler of this world is coming” and that was Satan.

And Luke 22:53 tells us that when Judas and the soldiers finally did come to arrest Jesus that He says: “this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” In other words, Jesus gave Satan and his demonic horde authority over Him to do whatever they wished to Him for a fixed period of time.

And during this time we also know that holy angels were present at the cross as well because Matthew 26:53 quotes Jesus as telling Peter at this same time when He was being arrested—to put his sword away because if He wanted help God would at once make 12 legions of angels available to him. That would be about 144,000 angelic warriors ready to rescue God the Son at His slightest beckoning. And I am sure that these holy angels were ready and very much willing and probably wondering why God the Father did not release them into battle to rescue the Son of God whom they worshipped and adored. Yet, it was God’s plan that they see all this and that they as well as the demons also see something else far worse…..for at the end of the first three hours on the cross…..Jesus was going to be handed over to a far greater and far more fearful enemy than Satan….but we’re getting ahead of ourselves now… let’s go to Matthew 27:33-46.

Now Matthew is not the only Gospel writer to include this account of darkness enveloping the earth after Jesus had already hung on the cross for three hours with three more still to go before He gave up His spirit and died. Both Mark and Luke also record this phenomenon, which means it was significant to everything that went on that day at Calvary. And whereas, most commentators see the darkness as being connected with God abandoning Christ upon the cross because of the weight of our sin upon Him—the onset of the darkness actually preceded God’s turning away from Christ on account of our sin by three hours.

Look at Matthew 27:45-46 again. Note that Matthew is very specific in his times. He says in verse 45 that “from the sixth hour [that would be noon] darkness fell upon all the land [or enveloped or smothered] until the ninth hour [which would be 3 pm]. Then in verse 46, Matthew moves to another occurrence that takes place at about the ninth hour—or at the end of this period of smothering darkness, in which Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”. Now Mark in His Gospel is a bit more specific telling us in Mark 15:33-34 that darkness did smother the whole land from the sixth hour [noon] until the ninth hour [3 pm] and that at the ninth hour Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me.”

Luke in his Gospel gives us a little more information in Luke 23:44-46. Note that Luke tells us that darkness enveloped the whole land from about the sixth hour until the ninth hour because the Sun was obscured and the veil of the Temple was torn in two. Then in verse 46, Luke records Jesus as then giving up His Spirit and dying. Now, when Luke writes that the Sun was “obscured”, He uses a Greek word which means, to darken by depriving something of light. In other words, the reason why darkness enveloped the whole land, was because something acted in such a way as to deprive the earth of the Sun’s light for three hours.

So what or Who caused the earth to be deprived of the sun’s light so as to be enveloped in a smothering darkness for three hours. Whereas, many affirm that the darkness was caused naturally by a total solar eclipse—this is impossible—because Jesus was crucified at Passover and Passover was always planned around a full moon and a solar eclipse does not occur when the moon is full but rather only when it is dark. Thus, the sun being darkened so as to deprive earth of light for three hours was not a physical phenomenon. Only God could have caused the Sun to be darkened so as to deprive the earth of light for three hours. But why did He do so?

Many Bible scholars see the darkening of the sun as being a phenomenon commonly mentioned in Scripture as a sign of God’s judgment upon people for their sins. Some examples of this are Joel 1:15; 2:1-2; 31; Amos 5:20; and Acts 1:20 in which darkness will shroud the earth on the Great Day of The LORD when Christ Himself returns to judge those on earth who would not turn to Him for salvation. In fact, in Amos 8:9, we read: "And it shall come to pass in that day,' says the Lord GOD, 'That I will make the sun go down at noon, And I will darken the earth in broad daylight”.

Look at Zechariah 14:1-7 and compare it with Revelation 19:11-18. Now, note that on this Great Day of the LORD in which Christ Himself returns to earth to begin the process of judging mankind for its sin that the earth will be covered with darkness beginning at noon according to Amos 8:9 and will remain dark until evening according to Zechariah 14:7. For the Jews in Jesus' time everything from 3 pm on could be considered evening as it was the time approaching sunset, which would then be night.

It is also interesting that in Zechariah 14:6, we are told that “in that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. The word “dwindle” comes from a Hebrew word which means “to cause to loose light” or to “deprive of light”. Thus, on the Great Day of The LORD in which Jesus returns to earth to judge unbelievers, both the living and the dead, the sun will be deprived of its light at noon so that earth is dark from noon until at least sometime after 3 pm.

In other words, this phenomenon, which will take place in the future when Christ returns to judge all those on earth who did not believe that is very similar to that which occurred when He was being judged on the earth for the sins of all who would believe.

Now there is something else I want us to see about this darkness that envelops the earth when God judges sin—at the cross and at the 2nd coming. At the second coming the darkness that envelops the earth is associated with God coming down to earth and the particular member of the Godhead that comes down in this case is God the Son. Now, I don’t know if you realize it or not but there were two other instances in the Bible where God came down to earth and darkness enveloped the earth.

Look at Genesis 15. In this chapter, God is ratifying the unconditional covenant He mad with Abraham in Genesis 12, in which God promised to make His name great, make his descendents into a great nation, and give him a great land-the land of Israel. Well, in ratifying this covenant—the Abrahamic Covenant—God actually comes down to earth, causes Abram to fall asleep and then God fulfills the conditions of ratifying the covenant by Himself as though to say—that this covenant’s fulfillment will be based upon Him and His faithfulness rather than Abram.

When God comes down, according to Genesis 15:17, He does so in the form of a smoking oven and a flaming torch. Now—what is the significance of a “smoking oven” and a “flaming torch”? Well, if you remember how God led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness—you’ll remember that by day He led them by day with a column or pillar of a cloud, which would have greatly resembled “smoke”. By night, He led them with a column or pillar of fire or a huge flaming torch. Well, that is essentially how God appears in Genesis 15 as well when He ratifies this covenant with Abram. But what I want you to notice is that when God comes down to ratify this great covenant—He comes in darkness.

Look at Genesis 15:12 and 17. Literally, verse 12 reads: “Now when the sun was gone, a deep sleep fell upon Abram and behold a terror of great darkness fell upon him.” Now, why would Abram be in terror of darkness—even great darkness—if it were night time? He wouldn’t be. And that’s the point—you see, the verse isn’t saying that this occurred when the sun normally set or was going down. What the verse says, is that when “the sun was gone” a great darkness—verse 17 refers to it as a “mysterious darkness” in Hebrew where in English the phrase “very dark” is used—came upon Abram. And in this darkness, God appeared to ratify or fulfill the conditions of the covenant He made with Abram.

Now, the second time God comes down to earth in darkness is to give another covenant. Look over at Exodus 20:21. In this scene, God has just given Moses the Ten Commandments and was about to give him the rest of the Mosaic Law and notice that when Moses approaches God on Mt. Sinai that God is enveloped in a “thick cloud”. Now the KJV, renders it “thick darkness”. Both are true—because the Hebrew word means a “cloud of thick, ominous, terrifying, and mysterious darkness”.

Now, there are many covenants in the Bible but there are only three that involve the people of God and God’s acting upon their behalf to provide them with eternal spiritual blessings—the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, and the New Covenant. And whereas, the New Covenant which promised that God would forgive His people’s sins and remember them no more, was announced in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 31:31-34—it was not ratified until the New Testament.

Look at Luke 22:20. Here Jesus tells His disciples as He institutes the ordinance of communion that the cup represented His shed blood on the cross which, is the substance of the New Covenant, first announced in Jeremiah 31, in which God promised to forgive the sins of His covenant people and remember them no more. Now, the cup of wine that Jesus held in His hand at this last supper represented the very blood—His life-blood—that He would shed as He died on the cross the very next day for the sins of all who would believe in Him. And if God came used darkness to manifest Himself as He came to earth to ratify the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant—could it be possible that He would do the very same thing in ratifying the New Covenant? I think so.

Listen, before God the Father would turn away from Jesus at 3 pm as He hung on the cross bearing our sin, the darkness had already enveloped Jesus for three hours. And what did God the Father do to Jesus before He ever turned away from Jesus? Well—go with me to Isaiah 53 and I’ll show you. Let’s read verses 3-4 and 10.

Listen, after man had tortured Christ for several hours before ever nailing Him to the cross, and after Satan and the demonic host assailed Jesus for the first three hours on the cross hoping to push Him to the point of calling the 12 legions of angels that surrounded the cross so as to rescue Him and doom us—All of Heaven and Hell held their breath as they could see what man could not see—God the Father approaching the cross under the cover of thick darkness. And what were they about to see? Had the Father come to rescue His Son? Had He come to destroy Satan, the demons, and all those who had participated in the torture of His Son? No—To the utter astonishment of Satan, the demons, and even the holy angels—God the Father approached the cross and once there He beat His Son—not just once but over and over again as He poured out His wrath upon Jesus Who was bearing our sin.

The cross was not a time for praising His Son—or rescuing His Son—it was the time for beating His Son because His Son was bearing our sin and our sin had to be punished in order for us to be forgiven. And this is why God’s grace super-abounds to us and will always be greater than all of our sin because all of our sin was punished by God the Father as He beat God the Son while God the Son hung on the cross because of our sin.

What man could not do to Jesus—what even Satan and his entire cohort of demonic evil could not do to Jesus—God the Father did. He came to the cross in darkness to ratify the New Covenant, which promises us forgiveness of our sins forever, but to do it He had to strike His only begotten Son with violent, fierce, and utterly terrifying divine wrath and vengeance for our sin.

You know, the final wrath of God for sin must come from God. It cannot be mediated through angels, demons, or men. It must come directly from and through God Himself. Thus, in order for Jesus to satisfy His Father’s holy and righteous wrath for our sin had to receive His Father’s wrath from His Father’s own hand. And this occurred during the last three hours on the cross when manifested in complete darkness God the Father poured every bit of His wrath for the believer’s sin out upon Jesus—So that—He could pour out all of His grace and love upon you!

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13