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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving: Our Life of Gratitude In Christ

Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away;the desire of the wicked will perish! - Psalm 112 ESV

"A thankful heart has a continual feast." - W. J. Cameron

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! - 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 ESV


"Thanksgiving is good but thanks-living is better." - Matthew Henry

Happy Thanksgiving...

Soli Deo Gloria,


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How To Kill and Be Killed 101: "You Must Be Born Again..."

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” - John 3:1-8 ESV

The doctrine of regeneration (or being born again) is something that has become muddled, if not altogether forgotten in today's evangelical circles. It is still stated from the pulpits and in the sermons that "you must be born again", but what is often left out is what it means as well as by what means one can actually achieve spiritual regeneration. So we are left with some lingering questions that all too often go unanswered:

-What does it really mean to be born again?
-How does one actually become born again?
-Who does this work belong to? Man or God?

Here in this clip, Pastor Mark Driscoll provides us with a biblical response to what it means to be regenerated by God. We will see by his application to the Word (as well as some added scripture references) that it is more than just walking down an aisle, signing your name on a card, saying a prayer, or being dipped (or sprinkled) with water. This is a divine act performed by a holy and sovereign God. Driscoll also goes on to point out the often misunderstanding of "sanctification (being set apart to do good works) as regeneration" and shows how the two teachings must be properly understood in their proper places. This is important due to the fact that it strikes at the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13).

Mark Driscoll - The Doctrine of Regeneration

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. - Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. - Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV

Soli Deo Gloria,


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Uncomfortably Well Off (Matthew 5: 2-5 applied): Sermon on the Mount Pt. 2

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” - Mark 10:17-31 ESV

Taking into account what has already been discussed (about what Jesus lays out for those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven at the beginning of the SOTM), we need to look no further than scripture itself to see this lesson aptly applied to show the relevancy of the conclusion. To review, let's summarize what has been stated previously:{What Jesus says to his followers in the first three beatitudes (blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, and blessed are the meek) are not statements of kingdom living, but how one must enter the kingdom itself.}The reason that this needs to be stressed is simple; if we don't follow the pattern that Christ sets before us, it becomes perilously easy to accept someone on mere appearances--only putting stock in the superficial. It reminds me of what Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said:"When you see a man with a great deal of religion displayed in his shop window, you may depend upon it, he keeps a very small stock of it within."A Case StudyIn the verses above, we meet the rich young man who is eager to follow Christ. However eager he may be, Jesus does not let him come easily. He doesn't just take the man at face value; he gets to the issues of the heart. There is no "easy believism" when it comes to following the Savior. This young rulers answers show him for what he truly is and not what he presents himself to be. Granted, he may have been sincere in his pursuits, but he pursued them wrongly.

'Why do you call me good?' (and why that's so bad)

While the young man does see Jesus as "good teacher", he does not truly see him for what he really is. He does not recognize Christ as Lord and Savior--only as a teacher of righteousness instead of righteousness itself. Mark records that the man knelt before him, yet at the same time, he fails to bow the knee of his heart. Here is where we can see a lack of poorness in spirit. He wants to gain eternal life, but not necessarily because he is lacking. After all, what do you get the man that has everything except everything? He asks what he must do; he never repents of anything. Basically his question is actually something along the lines of "tell me what to do and I will do it", never realizing that there is nothing that he can do at all. He may have made the intellectual connection to the truth of Jesus' teachings, but his heart remained unchanged.

The Law as Child's Play

Systematically, the next thing that we see is, due to the lack of a poorness in spirit, a lack of mourning for the fallen state of his human condition. When Christ asks the young man about the commandments, he says that he has kept them all, "from his youth". There you have it. No mourning on his part because he obviously has nothing to mourn. The irony of the statement is that he claims to have kept the law from his youth and yet the scriptures attest to him being a young man. His answer is impetuous (we could give him the benefit of the doubt as to whether or not he kept them all, but it is highly unlikely). The failure to see the emptiness of himself in terms of salvation are due largely in part to the fact that he fails to see the proper function of the law in bringing us to salvation (Romans 7:7-25; Galatians 3:19-26). He sees the law as a means of salvation, not as the thing that points to salvation; therefore he sees no need to mourn, for keeping the law for him is something that even a child could do. He is only concerned with what he is doing externally, but Jesus is trying to break him open to reveal the truest nature of his heart (Mark 7:14-23).

Too Hard to be Humble

After all is said and done, Jesus loves the young man enough to tell him what he lacks. What is missing in this young man's plight for eternal life is a heart of total devotion for God. He is unable to give up all of his worldly possessions because he is unable to see the infinite value in the inheritance of Christ himself. Why? Well, if he doesn't see himself as spiritually bankrupt, he won't mourn that loss. This places the means of salvation firmly upon his own ability to accomplish it if he knows what to do. Christ is just the guide--a "teacher" to point him in the right direction. So, it is only right for him to count this cost of absolute submission to God through the giving up of all worldly possessions as to high a cost. He is staring everything he will ever need in the face, yet he can't let go of what he has in order to keep it. Again, he may have liked what Christ was teaching, but doesn't have faith that Christ can sustain him. This will be his ruin (Hebrews 11:6). The truth of this condition definitely causes him grief. However, let's not be mistaken; it's the idea of losing his worldly possessions that cause him mourning, not loss of eternal life. He has chosen his master and for him there was no turning back (Matthew 16:26; Luke 16:13). Christ cuts to the heart of the matter and exposes the true nature of the young man's being, where meekness is nowhere to be found.

Conclusion & Application

Here we see a perfect biblical antithesis of what it is to be in the kingdom of God. There are several key points to be learned even for us in the church today if we want to avoid making some of these faulty assumptions:

1. Salvation is of the Lord. There is nothing that a man can do or say from within himself that can better his position with God. Natural man is an enemy of God whether passive or aggressive in nature. Only God can remove that hostility and bring man into right fellowship and communion with himself (Psalms 65:4; Ezekiel 36:25-27)
2. God sees the heart, not merely duty. We may fool others by actions and lip service (or be fooled ourselves), but never God (1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:9-10).

3. Money and possessions should never be placed as a priority over Christ. Many of today's churches have resorted to teaching a prosperity "gospel", which seeks to make heaven on earth now; placing our greatest value on the inheritance of worldly things and not Christ (the living Word of God) and his kingdom that is to come. To quote Francis Grimke':

"And yet how often we find men in our pulpits searching heaven and earth for something new to preach about, while this treasure-house of wisdom and knowledge, of the things necessary for salvation, is neglected, passed by, and overlooked."

and again,

"They have preached on almost everything except Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God whose blood alone cleanses from sin. The thought of sin, from which we need to be saved, has largely dropped out of most of our preaching."

Money can never save the soul. Having more worldly possessions will never bring you everlasting happiness, nor should this be our chief pursuit. These are things that can only be found in God, through salvation in Jesus, alone. We may certainly have blessings in this world--monetary, as well as others. But those blessings will only come with pursuing a proper devotion to Christ and the Kingdom of God (Proverbs 30:7-9; Philippians 4:10-13; 1 Tim 6:6-10; James 4:1-3).

Let the world their virtue boast and works of righteousness; I a wretch, undone and lost am freely saved by grace--Take me savior as I am; Let me lose my sins in Thee--Friend of sinners, spotless Lamb; Thy blood was shed for me.
Full of truth and grace Thou art; And here is all my hope; False and foul as hell, my heart to thee I offer up--Thou wast given to redeem my soul from iniquity--Friend of sinners, spotless Lamb; Thy blood was shed for me.
Nothing have I Lord to pay, nor can Thy grace procure; Empty, send me not away for thou knowest I am poor--Dust and
ashes is my name; My all is sin and misery--Friend of sinners, spotless Lamb; Thy blood was shed for me.

- Charles Wesley

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6: 19-21 ESV

Soli Deo Gloria,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blessed Assurance for the Broken Hearted: Sermon on the Mount Pt. 1

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." - Matthew 5:2-5 ESV

As we look at the beginning of the Jesus' discourse known as the 'Sermon on the Mount' (SOTM), one can't help but take notice of the first three conditions that he places on his followers:

-to be poor in spirit
-to mourn
-to be meek

Yet he called these conditions "blessed". The actual Greek interpretation of the word means "happy", which may leave one even more confounded than at first glance. These are not conditions by which I would begin to look for happiness in my life, yet this is what the savior asks--better yet, commands--of those who seek to follow after him. From a secular perspective, these are seen as weaknesses; traits of which no one who really wishes to seek out fulfillment in life would gladly heap upon themselves. There has to be something more, right? And there is. So much more.

Within these three verses, we are not looking simply at what it takes for kingdom living. After all, first things first; how am I supposed to live in the kingdom, if I'm not yet in it?! This is what Christ lays before them--we must know how to come to God before we can serve him. Salvation must come before any other action can be taken (
John 3:3,5).

"Blessed are the poor in spirit..."

The first thing that is required for anyone to come to Christ is that we realize that we bring nothing to the table in a salvific sense. Regardless of what talents and abilities we may possess, they serve us no purpose when it comes to entering the Kingdom of God (
Isaiah 57:12, Isaiah 64:6). The act of salvation rests solely with God through Christ alone (Psalm 37:39, John 14:6). Mankind in his natural state is spiritually bankrupt (Romans 3:9-20). To place salvation on anything and anyone other than the grace of God through the person of Jesus Christ amounts to unbelief (John 6:44, Acts 4:11-12). It is only to those who are poor in spirit that the Kingdom of Heaven is promised (Psalm 51:17).

"Blessed are those who mourn..."

As John Calvin states in his Sermons on the Beatitudes,

"Here he affirms more or less what we have already learnt. For if we are poor in spirit, we cannot avoid weeping; we cannot be other than distressed."

One cannot be poor in spirit (that is, made to see his lack of spiritual uprightness) and not mourn his condition. Or to say it better--one can; but this puts him on the same path that Cain went down. Instead of receiving the chastisement of God for his good, he became bitter. He becomes so embittered, in fact, that he receives neither consolation or warning from God. This hardens him to the point that he sinks deeper into the depths of sin (
Genesis 4:3-8). As Calvin again says,

"There may be many who indeed chafe at the bit...Although the Lord Jesus Christ keeps them on a tight rein, still they fume and grind their teeth, and their pride bursts forth worse than before. So God, for his part, has to bear down hard on them so to expel the poison which otherwise might kill them. Not that they improve as a result. They grow even worse, rant and rage and flaunt their devilish fury in the face of God...Does this mean, then, that their poverty, their experience of adversity, serves no purpose? Not at all! It makes their guilt all the worse when they appear before the bar of God. They are examples to us all."

May these examples serve us well. We must learn that our poorness of spirit should bring about our mourning--our repentance. There is a right way and a wrong way to grieve a broken spirit (
2 Corinthians 7:10-13a). We must understand that the revelation of the wretchedness of our natural state and the subsequent mourning are all a part of God's discipline of grace to bring us to salvation and to furthering our sanctification; to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 5:7-8, Hebrews 12:3-11). God hears our cries and promises that those who are his will indeed be comforted (Psalm 13:1-2; Psalm 56:8; Isaiah 42:3; Revelation 6:9-11).

"Blessed are the meek..."

This third key to true happiness actually serves as the culminating point to the first two beatitudes. If anyone is poor in spirit, not to mention mourning that poorness, how can we be anything but meek? As Martin Luther so eloquently states: "We are beggars". We all know that beggars can't be choosers. For a person to come before God as if he is owed is an unholy insult. It is not by our works that we are saved, but through the person and work of Jesus Christ (
Romans 4:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We are to be like the tax collector, not the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). We live in a culture today that rewards the braggart; the more that a man makes of himself, the better. Our society tells us that meekness is weakness. This sort of thinking has even begun to effect the Western Church at large. However, nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Scriptures, we need to turn this paradigm on its head (Habakkuk 2:4). Any form of arrogance before almighty, holy God is sinful. For what does a beggar have to be proud? The only thing that sinful man has earned is death, but God has, through Christ, given us eternal life (Romans 6:23). If we are to boast anything, it should be that--not ourselves (Galatians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). If there is ever any doubt that should creep in and try to prove us wrong, all we need to do is look to the author and perfecter of our faith himself (Hebrews 12:2) as the truest example of what it looks like to live in meekness and submission to God (Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 26:39).
It is through him alone that we find ourselves before God; the risen Christ is our inheritance. We need nothing more. We can be rest assured and comforted to know that if it is this "weakness" that grants us the power, then we thrive on what is greater than all of the world (
Matthew 13:45-46; Luke 17:20-21; John 14:1-3; Genesis 17:4-8; Galatians 3:7-9, 29; 1 John 4:4; Revelation 1:4-6).

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. - James 4:6-10 ESV

Soli Deo Gloria,

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