Calvin’s Institutes: The Ten Commandments

Are the ten commandments relevant today? Are they something we only pay lips service to? Or do they still guide and order the moral imperative for Christian living? Calvin says, “[M]an is so wrapped in darkest ignorance that, through natural law, he is scarcely able to savour what it means to serve God acceptably” (110). And that’s the bottom line isn’t it? Without God’s law we would remain in “darkest ignorance” and we would not know (not just sipping kind of know, but the drinking deeply kind of know) that we need the mercy of God. Calvin again, “[W]hen we compare the righteousness of the law with the life we lead and when we see how little we comply with God’s will, we recognize that we do not deserve to keep our place and position among his creatures, still less to be reckoned as his children” (111).

Some might say that this is whole of the law. It shows that we need the mercy of God, but Calvin goes on to make an important point. “The Lord, however, is not content to teach us only to revere his righteousness. He seeks to train our hears to love it and to hate iniquity, and thus adds both promises and threats” (ibid). The law does not exist solely to inspire fear of punishment and despair without the gospel. It does that, but, after it does its first work, God then trains our hearts to love him through loving his law. As David so regularly said in the Psalms, he delighted in the law of God.

Read More

“Jesus wept.” And I Get It Now.

“Jesus wept.” And I get it now.

I was driving home from church slowing down as I exited the highway. My phone rang. I listened silently. Said, “OK thanks for telling me.” Hung up.

Stared straight ahead. Wife asked, “Who was that? What’s wrong?”

Barely got the words out, “Pastor Tom . . . cancer.” Couldn’t hold back the deluge of tears.

We were on our way for lunch at my sister’s house. One of those lunches where more than just family was present. We arrived. I entered the house. It took all my energy to make it to the couch. Where I slouched comatose for a good forty-five minutes.

Ever since I was young I’ve been fearful of death. It was a major hurdle to my faith maturing as I became a husband and father. It also played some role in regular episodes of depression I experienced growing up.

Read More

Grace for Thanksgiving

I sat across the table listening to a friend share his struggle with being thankful for his wife. I realized after he was done confessing this, I had been chewing the same bite of my hamburger for the last five minutes. I was struck by how similar his struggle was with my own.

I immediately thought to myself, “Why is it so difficult to be thankful? Especially for people who we love and should instinctively be thankful for?” Think about your own life. Maybe it’s not your spouse. Maybe it’s your job. Your kids. Your life in general. Your family. Your house.

It’s easy to slip into an attitude that only sees the downside, that only lives in the already, but doesn’t long for the not yet.

At the end of May, my family vacationed in Kansas. My wife had a cousin getting married and her parents needed help moving the rest of their furniture to South Carolina. We had an enjoyable trip despite the eighteen-hour drive.

But on our arrival home (exhausted, zombies for children), harsh air from a humid and un-air conditioned home assaulted us. Our unit had burned out while we were gone.

We lasted a week in our home with no air, mainly because God blessed us with heavy rain almost every afternoon dropping the temperature by a solid fifteen degrees. It was easy to lose sight of the rain and only see the lack of air.

The next week was a scorcher. Over ninety degrees and the rain stopped. I felt like Elijah living in a dried up riverbank. God provided again. My sister and her husband graciously offered us their upstairs. So we lived there for a week.

You may immediately ask, “Why didn’t you fix your AC unit right away?” Three words: home warranty company.

As much as I appreciated staying with my sister, five kids and four adults in one home can get to the best of us.

Just when the stress and fatigue mounted, God provided a Hulk-sized window unit, which allowed us to move back into our home for four days until we finally got our air compressor fixed.

I look back at those three weeks now and understand I was wandering in the wilderness and grumbling the entire way. The Israelites complaints pierced my heart, “It’s better back in Egypt.”

As the temperature in my home dropped, I realized I had missed the manna, water, and guiding cloud as I curmudgeonly moved from my home, to my sister’s home, and back again.

Surely you can relate?

God created this beautiful world and said, “It is good.” He said, “Enjoy everything in the Garden, except this one tree.” But the serpent enters. He deceives.

“God isn’t good. He’s not enough.”

“There’s more joy elsewhere. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“You’ve got it soo bad. This Garden is full of ‘No!’ where’s the fun in that?”

They swallowed these lies stem and core. We fell.

It’s now difficult living in this world. Without Christ it would be mission impossible living a consistently thankful life.

Turn on the news and just watch for a moment. Our world is filled with death, hate, disease, natural disaster, and suffering. Do the little moments of life and happiness out weigh those other things? For many living on the third rock from the sun, the answer is clearly no.

Paul echoes this truth when he says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7-10).

He understands living in this fallen world means suffering. Multiple times in his letters, he writes about the number of times he’s been beaten, cast out of cities, almost killed, or in prison. Yet he says later in 2 Corinthians 4, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (v. 15).

In a matter of five verses, Paul moves from an epic catalogue of suffering to “Grace increases thanksgiving to the glory of God.” How does that happen? How does someone who suffered more than many promise thanksgiving increases?

Paul understands the beauty of Jesus Christ in the gospel. He understands that, just as God said, “Let light shine out of darkness” in the beginning (Gen. 1) and in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6), He will speak those words over all of creation in the end.

Right now we are dying trees. But the moment we see Jesus, the seed planted by our death (1 Cor. 15:38) will transform into a tree of life. That’s not a painless process. You must die first. You must be planted to rise again.

But Paul says, “We do note lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Remember Paul’s catalogue of suffering (vv. 8-10)? That doesn’t sound like “light momentary affliction.” I’ve been meditating on verse sixteen to make sense out of it, but I can’t. I tried to think of a way to explain it, which would places everything in perspective now. That would always allow you to be thankful for your all of suffering now. I can’t.

I’ve found in my own life removing tension isn’t healthy. The gospel is full of it. This statement may be the culmination of it all. In some mysterious way, our current suffering will be feel light in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory” found in Jesus Christ. In the end, the thanksgiving we struggle with now will be ours in spades.

In the meantime, let’s pursue the grace for thanksgiving found in being known and knowing Jesus Christ.

Seeking & Seeing: Lusting After the "Glory" of Idols | Part 2

When man and woman were in the Garden, they possessed everything. They had intimate fellowship with God--walking with Him everyday. How glorious! The only thing God said that they couldn’t have was fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. You could boil this one commandment to “Love the LORD your God.”

First, apart from God, humans can’t refrain from the overwhelming evil desires of their own heart. Eve sinned when she desired the fruit that God forbade more than she desired fellowship with God. Each of us in that same circumstance would have made the same decision. As a matter of fact, everyday we choose something rather than God--sleep, food, relationships, books, TV, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. We are like Israel when Jeremiah reports the Lord crying out: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Next, the Apostle James warns against thinking that God had anything to do with that sin or our sin. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempted he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (Jm. 1:13-15). The word lust is epithumias which in the OT Septuagint is translated “to covet” (Ex. 20:17 epithumeseis). This is the bottom line: Man is drawn away from God when he lusts after anything besides God.

Furthermore, in the decalogue, the last commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17). Coveting is having ungoverned affections. Jesus sums up these commandments under two overarching headings--1) Love the Lord and 2) love your neighbors (cf. Rom 13:9). This principle can also cover things that are not innately bad, but which God has not provided you (cf. Matt. 6:25-34) so rather than seeking everlasting joy in God we try to find it in his gifts.

Last, the Apostle Paul says, “Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Eph. 5:3) and “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5; emphasis mine). Notice that in both of these lists covetousness is associated with sexual sins. Why is this? Because at the root they are the same. Paul is using a synecdoche (the whole for the part). All sexual sin is covetousness--ungoverned passion for something that God forbids. However, not all covetousness is sexual sin. Covetousness is far broader.

Why though in the Colossians passage is covetousness idolatry? Or how is covetousness idolatry? Because idolatry is primarily putting something in the place of God. When we covet, we are saying to God, “You are not enough! I want MORE!” A preacher in a recent sermon I heard commented that the first commandment is “No Idols!” and the last is “No Covetousness!” These commandments form an inclusio of sorts. They are really two perspectives on the same problem. Man seeks pleasure and satisfaction in everything but Christ.

Let’s not get caught up in drinking out of the filthy cisterns of things, but instead let’s drink out of the all satisfying well of salvation. C.S. Lewis says,

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels [cf. 2 Cor. 3:18, 4:4-6], it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us [Jer. 2:13], like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (The Weight of Glory 26).

May we never be satisfied with mud pies when we can have so much more!

Sin a Little to Spite the Devil?

I was searching the web for quotations by Martin Luther and found this:

Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.

Something about it rang true. It intrigued me and challenged my thinking about sin. I have a few questions for you, my readers, and then I will offer my thoughts.

First, I wonder if anyone can place this quotation in its larger context?

Second, what is your gut reaction to this quotation?

Third, if you agree with Luther how do you read him? What does he mean?

Fourth, if you disagree with him, why? What does he mean?

My gut reaction. It seems Luther isn’t diminishing sin but magnifying grace. If I’m reading him correctly Satan is making accusations against the believer for things within his freedom. Notice the “sins” listed (friendship, drinking, merry making, recreation, sport, etc)? Satan “convicts” these believers to avoid these things. To reckon them as their righteousness instead of Christ. Reminds me a lot of fundamentalism’s tendency to make freedoms forbidden.

Luther’s answers? Enjoy these “sins” freely in Christ to spite the devil.

Are We Glorifying Doubt? Or Is It Anchored to Christ?

I grew up in a church culture that didn’t value transparency. Many people I grew up with feared discussing doctrines or even application of Scripture that they had doubts about. Fearing that they might be ostracized. Fearing their family might be singled out. Fearing they might lose the only world they knew.

I have often shared parts of my own story that are painful (“Gospel Wakefulness: My Story,” “From Depression and Suicidal Thoughts to an Unbridled, Blood-bought Joy in Christ,” “How David Bazan Saved Me,” & “A Letter to Myself”). I have shared my own period of doubt (you might call it atheism lite). I shared these stories because there are others who are experiencing and have experienced similar things. These people must know they are not alone.

But I hope I’ve never glorified doubt. I hope I haven’t shared my suffering, sin, or doubt just to share it.  Or worse yet to encourage others who are living their own stories to follow that path. That seems to take place a lot. Suffering, sin, and doubt unanchored to Christ is “terrors and dangers” (a phrase used to described hearing Tolkien read aloud about the monsters in Beowulf).

I encourage transparency and I firmly urge everyone to share their stories--especially the tough parts. When we don’t share these parts, we feel as though we are alone. We fail in comforting others as Christ has comforted us. The Spirit shares Christ’s own struggle in the Garden but he didn’t leave us in the struggle. We hear “Not my will” and then we are driven to the foot of the cross.

I wonder if we are too cavalier about our sin, suffering, and doubt? I wonder if we see those things as ends in themselves and not as a means to drive others to the cross of Christ?

It seems en vogue to question truth, but (as Chesterton put it) “the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” However, many of us who begin to close our mouth find that “truth has rough flavors” (Armgart).

We despise the bitterness of truth. But if we despise the bitterness of truth we despise Christ himself because his death and suffering was bitter. It’s not a pleasant truth that the “very God of very God” was put to death. By sharing our doubts without understanding the depths of suffering in Christ we don’t understand the true darkness and groaning (Romans 8) that results because of the Fall.

We are, in effect, downplaying the sin, suffering, and doubt. Or making them supreme over Christ. Doubt must always be anchored to Christ.

Jesus + Suffering = Everything (An Exposition of Romans 8)

Sin, Suffering, & the Sovereignty of God Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3

From the Archive: I wanted to share this old post with you as we start 2013. Many of you are suffering or will suffer in 2013. You should know that Jesus Christ has already suffered and is prepared to come alongside of you. He’s our trailblazer in suffering. 

An Overview

So far we’ve looked at an overview of the Old Testament narratives relevant to this discussion starting with Joseph moving to Job and then David--demonstrating that God is sovereign over evil, sin, & suffering. Nothing falls outside of his sphere of sovereignty  We also stood in awe as this sovereignty was acted out in the death of Jesus where God once and for all crushed the power of sin, suffering, & evil through the death of his Son. With the shout “It is finished” Satan’s kingdom begins slowly crumbling. We further examined the pattern for suffering through the lens of Jesus’s life (Hebrews 12:1-2) and walked through the New Testament corpus to see that suffering is necessary for Christians. I now hope to strengthen and encourage you by demonstrating that sharing in Jesus’s suffering is for our good (Romans 8).

The Gospel Train

Romans 8 begins with a proclamation of our freedom in Christ:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (vv. 1-2)

Imagine for a moment being stolen from home as a child and sold in the sex trafficking industry. You’ve been beaten into submission and then forced into performing humiliating sexual acts for years. One day your brothel is raided by the police and you’re released from your captors. That’s the kind of freedom Christ offers. This freedom in Christ secures victory over the power of Satan and sin as our slave owners and the power of death as a motivation for fear. We now can live like death is the ultimate good (see Philippians 1:21 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” and Romans 6:8 “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”). We can live victorious lives because we have been justified and given the power of the Spirit to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Paul goes to on to expound on the wonders of the gospel (8:3-8) reminding us: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (v 8) but “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (v. 9). Paul’s argumentation is a train steadily building steam chugging and churning. The implications are astounding. Are you ready? Because of Jesus, we can please God (v. 10 “if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness”).

Adopted: Heirs in Christ

Paul’s next words are the fuse to a stick of dynamite. He lights the fuse: “So then brothers and sisters” (v. 12). He’s preparing our minds here for good news. It‘s like when you’ve purchased your spouse an amazing gift and you’re hinting about it all day long in anticipation. Brothers and sisters. A common appellation among Christians then and now. However, we are not only brothers and sisters with each other; we are brothers and sisters in Christ and children of God.  Paul says,

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (vv. 14-17).

Not only family members but heirs. Remember the story I told of the child sold into the sex trafficking industry and then freed from the captors? Imagine the child again walking into the sun light for the first time in years free, he’s still unsure and he feels ashamed. His liberator walks up to him and says, “You’re no longer a slave. You’re free!” There’s a moment of silence. Tears well in your eyes. You consider what free might mean then you hear “I’ve also adopted you into my family and made you an heir to my fortune with my only son.” At that point you might rightly pass out in unbelief. Heir to a fortune. You would be amazed and overflowing with gratitude.

Sharing in Suffering

Right at the peak of our joy and celebration, Paul elaborates “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (v. 17). It’s ominous suffering with him? Jesus secured this amazing gift of freedom by suffering in our place. Do you recall the pattern for suffering like Jesus?

  • Knowing the joy
  • Enduring the cross
  • Despising the shame
  • Anticipating seeing Jesus

Paul tells the Romans,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (vv. 18-19).

Paul knows the joy (v. 18 “glory that is to be revealed”); he’s already admonished us to endure suffering (v. 17). He despises the suffering (v. 18 “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing”) and these verses are packed full of eager anticipation for a complete revelation of the inaugurated kingdom as seen through Jesus (v. 19 “eager longing” and v. 23 “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”).

It’s interesting that right in the midst of the discourse  Paul says

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (vv. 26-27)

It’s right on the heels of Paul saying we’re groaning for our final adoption “the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23). Paul argues that often in our weakness we pray that our present suffering would be completely eradicated but forget to pray not my will but the the will of God (v. 27). That’s why the Spirit prays so that we would patiently endure through the suffering (v. 25 “wait with patience”). We’ve seen that the present suffering brings our final redemption and adoption but you may find yourself in the midst of suffering still asking why? You may still find yourself losing hope.

Jesus + Suffering = Everything

Paul answers with one of the most beloved text in Scripture. Let it run over you like cool water on a warm summer day. Feel the comfort like a breeze whistling through the trees on your “vacation at the sea” (thank you C.S. Lewis).

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (vv. 28-30).

Stop. Read those verses again and meditate on them. The suffering we experience is for good, namely transformation into the image of the Son who is the firstborn among the brothers. We must share in his suffering. This suffering is not only religious persecution although for some it may be. It’s any suffering experienced as a result of the curse (remember “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth” v. 22). For those persecuted, for those beaten by abusive spouses or parents, for those killed in the name of Jesus, for those spit upon, for those bullied, for those who’ve had shame heaped upon them that wasn’t theirs to bear, for those who have lost a child out of the proper time, for those who have been hurt by a friend, for those who have been betrayed by a spouse, for those who are rightly punished temporally for the breaking of the law--Paul says this suffering is for your good.

Jesus suffered all these things as well and then rose up never to die again. The suffering Jesus experienced guaranteed he would be resurrected without fear of death again and so our suffering works as a constant reminder that we may die but we will surely follow in the footsteps of our trailblazer “the firstborn among the brothers and sisters.”

Further, Jesus walked upon this earth and as God. As God he knew all, but as man he learned. Can you imagine the boy Jesus standing and reading the Old Testament scrolls in the synagogue and coming across this:

Surely he has borne our griefs
   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.
   All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:4-7).

The boy sits down and meditates on the suffering he must experience on our behalf and maybe he prays for the first time “let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). And so from the very beginning of time God would predestine, call, justify, and glorify you through the suffering of Jesus and sanctify you through your own suffering. It’s not that our suffering adds anything to the finished work of the cross. What God did on the cross was a final pronouncement that we are righteous in Christ. However, it was also the power that fuels our sanctification through suffering into the image of the one who suffered for us.

In Conclusion: Don’t Lose Hope

Paul must have realized that this is both wonderful and terrifying because he reminds us “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). Because of Jesus, God is for us. When you feel alone in your suffering, the cross cries out: “God is for you and Jesus has felt suffering with you” (Hebrews 4:12). But Paul doesn’t stop there:

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 any 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? (vv. 32-35).

Stop. Read those verses again and meditate on them. He did not spare his own but gave him up for us all. If he has given us the most gracious gift, why would he not supply the smallest of our needs? God wants you to cry out with Jesus during your suffering “let this pass--yet not my will but your will be done.”  Paul himself cried out for his thorn of the flesh to be removed:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Not only did Paul pray about his own suffering but he reminds us that Jesus prays for us and the Spirit intercedes for us.

Lest you fear that any suffering you experience might separate you somehow from God when you die, Paul cries out “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul continues though. There’s more. God is not only for us, Jesus not only prays for us, not only can nothing separate us from the love that burst forth from the cross, but “we are more than conquerors” through Jesus (v. 37). We march forth warriors from the battlefield--blood spattered, bruised, and staggering but head held high, shoulders squared, blood bought because we not only share the suffering of Jesus we share the victory! We march forth to the City like Aragorn and his army marching towards Gondor after defeating the evil Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.

Now the Captains of the West led their host towards the City, and folk saw them advance in line upon line, flashing and glinting in the sunrise and rippling like silver. . . .

A hush fell upon all as [in the City] out from the host stepped the Dúnedain in silver and grey; and before them came walking slow the Lord Aragorn. He was clad in black mail girt with silver, and he wore a long mantle of pure white clasped at the throat with a great jewel of green that shone from afar; but his head was bare save for a star upon his forehead bound by a slender fillet of silver. (The Return of the King Chapter 5 363-364)

We also have a mighty Captain who led us from victory and will return to lead us into his presence forever. Listen to John the Beloved as he describes him

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. (Revelations 1:12-17)

This entire closing section (vv. 31-39) draws our attention back to the first words of this discourse “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). The final words expound and resound:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (vv. 38-39).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, hope in God and share in the suffering of our mighty Captain Jesus for he means it for your good.

The Gospel and Your Sin

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Isn’t that what Scripture says? That we are all sinners is true enough but it’s not all there is to know. The gospel restores what once was. It’s the rising sun while we long for the full glory of its splendor.

The gospel tells the truth about our sin. It tells us it’s ugly. It tells us it’s dark. It tells us it’s almost beyond hope. But God...

But God tell us Christ died for us. That he rose for us. That he ascended up to heaven and is sitting at the right hand of the Father as our advocate. We are now the bride of Christ. We are participants in Christ. We have been baptized into his suffering and rise into his glory. So when the Adversary rises up  and objects to our marriage with Christ, God commands him to sit down and shut his mouth. He will not hear objections because we have truly died with Christ. We are now new creatures.

So you see the gospel drastically changes the way we respond to sin. It never drives the Christian to despair. It never drives us to hopelessness. It never drives us deeper into the mire. It drives us to Christ. It drives us to the foot of the cross and then to the empty to tomb--where all new life begins. We are born in blood. We are alive in death.

The gospel sobers us to the depths of our sins while simultaneously planting the seeds of a hope and joy that will never be removed. These roots are strong. They are firmly wrapped around the never-failing covenant love of God.

The gospel isn't a sledgehammer; it's a surgeon's knife.

Doubting Christians . . . Taste and Touch

I just finished reading the story of doubting Thomas with my daughter. We were working through the passion narrative in a storybook bible and she asked a question which I failed to consider but that the eyes of a child seeing and hearing the story for one of the first times caught. Before we started reading the story she immediately asked, “What are those marks in Jesus’s hands?”

Those marks are the guarantee of our promises in Christ. They are the marks that Thomas was so concerned with.

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin<sup class="footnote" value="[d]">, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:24-25)

Thomas was steadfast in his protest. In a lot of ways he contrasts and encapsulates our current situation. Many unbelievers doubt who Jesus is but, they say, if they could touch they might believe. However, that inverts the work of the Spirit. First we must lay hold on the promises of God in faith and then he provides a means to touch the marks on his hands. But before we get to the main point notice Jesus’s response.

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (vv. 26-29)

Jesus doesn’t shame Thomas or make him feel guilty. He matter of factly says, “C’mon Thomas touch the wounds in my hand. Feel the price I paid for you.” So many Christians when they doubt have that same longing to just touch but Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” We are blessed. We must make it a our habit to lay hold on the promises of God. We must look back at what God has done in Christ and realize Jesus is our yes and amen.

But God hasn’t left us there. As wonderful as his promises are, he knows our proclivity to touch, taste and see. So he has given us the bread and the wine. Jesus says,

26  Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Carl Trueman points out that the “sacraments were a sign of promise” (Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tommorow. Christian Focus: Scotland, 2012. 72). The sacraments remind us of the promises and are a tangible demonstration of them. So for those who doubt, next time you approach the table to eat and drink the bread and the wine remember these are a sign of the promise made in Christ’s blood for you. Taste and see that the Lord is good. In Christ you will never be cast out.

You’re a Worst Sinner Than People Think

R.W. Glenn says,
One of the occupational hazards of pastoral ministry is that you are often the subject of people’s destructive criticism, gossip, slander, misrepresentation, foolish inferences, ignorant speculations, and the like. And any pastor who’s being honest with himself - even a hard-nosed guy like me - will admit that the hurtful things people say are just that - hurtful. They hurt.

How do you heal the hurt? How do you prevent the hurt from festering, from becoming a root of bitterness toward your enemies?

The answer is to remember this: you are far worse than your enemies make you out to be! They don’t know the half of it.

Now they may not be correct or truthful in what they are saying about you, but you (and your spouse) could tell them things about yourself that would make their mouths hang open in shock and disbelief. You could tell them things about yourself that would make their petty criticisms pale in comparison. After all, what is wrong with you is so wrong, that it took the one perfect person who ever lived to die for you and suffer God's wrath for you.

Read the entire article here