Monday, June 29, 2015

The Kindness and Severity of God

Romans 11:1-24                   June 28, 2015              Link for audio/video/manuscript 

The fear of God’s severity opens the eyes of our hearts to see the depth of God’s kindness in that we have been painfully and undeservedly chosen and called and saved by God through Jesus Christ to be grafted into the eternal family tree of God – along with the chosen people of God that began with Abraham. God’s Words today should saturate us with profound humility in that the origin of our faith as a gift from God and the nature of our faith in Christ leaves no room for boasting in ourselves, but shifts all the weight of boasting over onto God who through Jesus has given us grace upon grace!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Breaking Free from the Spell of Fantasy - Jon Bloom

While listening to a sermon by Ray Ortlund, Jr., I was struck by a quote he read from Simone Weil.
Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as the good. No deserts are so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive and full of charm.
This statement is gloriously and heartbreakingly true. The real, fresh, surprising, ecstatic, good that God has made is so rich and satisfying, and yet we are so easily duped into exchanging it for charming fantasies that rob us of joy and leave us spiritually barren.
But Jesus has come to set us free from fantasy’s impoverishing enchantment.
Fantasy Turned the Garden into a Wasteland
The garden of Eden was in every way a garden of real delights. Adam and Eve enjoyed the unfiltered fullness of the presence and fellowship of the Triune God, whose radiant glory emanated from every wonderful thing he had made and given to them. And then the satanic serpent showed up and presented them with a fantasy where the ecstatic good was cast as flat and boring, and evil was cast as attractive and intriguing. Our progenitors allowed themselves to be tragically charmed, and they believed the lying fantasy. When they did, their garden of joy — and ours — became a dreary wasteland of monotonous misery.
And since that time, every fantasy that has put a charming, attractive face on evil and deceived a human being has replayed that tragedy. The fantasy markets itself as a garden of delight when it really is a desert. And it robs us of the beautiful good, alienates us from God, and leaves us desolate.
We must come to terms with this truth. Evil fantasies are perversions of the real good — the good we are designed to really enjoy. In creating them, we use our God-like imaginations in a satanic way, fantasizing a world in which we rule as God and indulge our selfish ambition, greed, anger, hatred, violence, covetousness, sexual lusts, and indolence. Their forbidden fruit is so easy to eat — as close as a thought — but their effect is devastating. They accustom our spiritual taste buds to fictional evil and addict us to the drug of titillation till we lose the taste for good and end up with nothing real.
Waking Up from the Longest Dream
“But God, being rich in mercy . . .” (Ephesians 2:4). O, the beautiful, continually fresh, surprising, sweet, perpetually ecstatic good of the gospel of God — of the gospel that is God. In mercy, he did not leave us to eternally endure the wasteland of evil’s fictional fantasies!
Jesus came to destroy the destructive thief and to give us the real good of the real abundant life that bursts out of the fullness of all that God is and wants to be for us (1 John 3:8; John 10:10). He came to set us free from evil fantasy’s bondage with the glorious truth (John 8:32).
It begins with being born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3). The late Keith Green captured this experience in a song titled “Your Love Broke Through” in which he described his life before his conversion: 
          Like a foolish dreamer trying to build a highway in the sky,
          All my hopes would come tumbling down and I never knew just why.
 But when he came to Christ, he said it was,
          Like waking up from the longest dream, 
          How real it seemed,
          Until [Christ’s] love broke through.
          I’ve been lost in a fantasy
          That blinded me,
          Until your love broke through.
When Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) and preached the truth because he was the truth (John 14:6) and died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3–4) that we too might have eternal life (John 3:16), the Real Good broke into the evil fantasy world and the Garden-City invaded the wasteland. Coming to faith in Jesus is our first awakening and liberation.
Breaking the Stronghold of Evil Fantasy
But still having indwelling sin woven into our bodies (Romans 7:23), and still living in a world that lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), we are still susceptible to fantasy’s charming evil.
Having come to faith in Jesus, the way Jesus destroys the addictive stronghold of fantasy in our lives section by section is by calling us to live by faith in his promises (Galatians 2:20).
The garden of Eden was turned into a wasteland by faith, as Adam and Eve put their faith in the serpent’s promise that the fantasy of rebellion against God would make them happy and free. Now the hellish wasteland of the fantasy of sin is turned back into a better garden, the Garden-City, by faith, as we put our faith in every precious and great promise of God to make us free and happy (2 Peter 1:4).
The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4–5) 
Evil fantasy presents itself as a delectable delight. But it is not. It is an argument to be destroyed, not a sweet apple to be eaten. Believing this truth — really believing it — is the key to breaking free from fantasy’s enchantment.
The evil fantasy that tempts you to believe its fictional attractive charm and promises to make you happy is nothing more than an ethereal wraith with a poison apple that will deliver only dreary, monotonous, joy-stealing barrenness. Don’t listen to it. Don’t eat its apple.
Instead, look to Jesus and listen to Jesus. Only he has the words of eternal life (John 6:68) and the power to give you that life in more abundance than you have yet imagined (John 10:10; 1 Corinthians 2:9). Yes, putting your faith in him instead of the enticing, titillating fantasy will be a fight, but it will be a good fight (1 Timothy 6:12) because it will eventually bring you the true, beautiful, continually fresh, surprising good that you really desire.
And the more you cultivate the habit of looking to and listening to Jesus, the more your spiritual taste buds and eyesight for real good will be restored so that you can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Call to Salvation

Romans 10:5-21                    June 21, 2015                   Link for audio/video/manuscript

The Israelites had been separated from God because they continued to hold to the view that their relationship with God was based on their keeping the Law of God rather than putting their faith in Jesus. But Paul put that view to rest by declaring that the goal of God’s law from beginning to end was that Jesus would fulfill the requirements of the law. In Christ God has chosen to grant salvation to those beyond the Jews and include Gentiles as well into God’s eternal family – so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” There is nothing more important than salvation in Jesus Christ!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why Would God Choose Me? - John Piper

Exploring the Mystery of Election
If someone asked me to explain election, I would start by asking this person to describe to me how he got saved. Tell me how you were converted. To make my question more clear, instead of using the passive “got saved,” I would ask, “How did God save you?” What did God do in history to save you, and existentially, what did he do ten years ago, or when you were six, or sixteen, or thirty? Describe to me how God brought you to himself.
I am searching for how a person describes his lostness and the action of God to bring him out of his blindness, to bring him out of deadness to life, to bring him out of insensitivity to spiritual things to being thrilled with spiritual things. I come at the question of election by studying its effects in life. Very few people that I have asked those questions want to take decisive credit for their own conversion.
How Were You Saved?
Now, with their hearts leaning in that direction, I take them to texts that teach what really happened to them, just to affirm that their impulse is, in fact, found in the Bible. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Once, we had no light and God gave it just like on the first day of creation. I would read, “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive” (Ephesians 2:1, 5). You were dead, and God made you alive. That is how you got saved. “The servant of the Lord must be patient and correct with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24–25). How did you come to repentance? God granted you repentance.
God gives sight, God gives light, God gives repentance, and “no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father” (John 6:44, 65). At this point, I ask if they see that God was the decisive cause of their seeing Christ as true, and desirable, and the source of their spiritual life, and their repentance, and even their coming to Christ.
Why Were You Saved?
If they push back and deny this teaching — if they insist that they have ultimate self-determination and that they themselves are decisively responsible for their own conversion — I would stop there and wouldn’t go on to election, because they have already rejected the foundations. If they have to have self-determination as the ultimate cause of their conversion, then election is already undermined and the Bible will not make it plain to them. The passages I have just given about how they were converted are the most plain.
But if they agree, “Yes, God saved me. God was the decisive cause,” then I would ask them, “When did God decide to do that?” And to get the biblical answer I would probably look first at Acts 13:48: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed. As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” There was a prior decision — an appointment, an election — and then faith followed. God decided at a prior time to bring you to believe, to open your eyes, and to give you repentance.
And then I would turn to Ephesians 1:4, “Even as he chose (elected) us in him before the foundation of the world.” God decided to save you before he actually did it. He is not whimsical. He doesn’t get taken off guard. He doesn’t have plan B’s. He saved you sovereignly because he decided to. That’s how I would explain election to someone.
I would write down a few more texts about election for this person to take home and study on their own: Romans 8:30, Romans 9:11, Romans 11:5, and 1 Corinthians 1:23–24.
My aim in explaining the mystery of election would be to awaken in both of us a greater sense of wonder that we are saved, and that we owe it all to God — that apart from him we can do nothing and, therefore, all of our lives should be lived in the constant amazement that we are saved and that he would die for us. My aim is humility in us and all glory to God.
This article is an excerpt from an episode of Ask Pastor John, “How Do I Explain Election over Brunch?”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What is Christian Unity? - John Piper

Unity among two or more people gets its virtue entirely from something else. Unity itself is neutral until it is given goodness or badness by something else. So if Herod and Pilate are unified by their common scorn for Jesus (Luke 23:12), this is not a good unity. But if Paul and Silas sing together in prison for Christ’s sake (Acts 16:25), this is a good unity.
Therefore, it is never enough to call Christians to have unity. That may be good or bad. The unified vote fifty years ago in my home church in South Carolina to forbid blacks from attending services was not a good unity. The unified vote of a mainline Protestant denomination to bless forbidden sexual acts is not a good unity.
What Makes Unity Christian?
Christian unity in the New Testament gets its goodness from a combination of its source, its views, its affections, and its aims.
Paul tells us to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). I take that to mean that the Holy Spirit is the great giver of unity. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Paul says that pastors and teachers are to equip the saints “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). In other words, the unity we pursue is unity in the truth. Of course, Christian unity is more than shared truth, but not less. Paul piles up the words for common-mindedness in Philippians 2:2, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (see also Philippians 4:2). Everything is to “accord with Christ.” “May God . . . grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5).
To be sure, unifying love in the body of Christ includes a rugged commitment to do good for the family of God whether you feel like it or not (Galatians 6:10). But, as difficult as it is for diverse people, the experience of Christian unity is more than that. It includes affectionate love, not just sacrifice for those you don’t like. It is a feeling of endearment. We are to have affection for those who are our family in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). “All of you, have . . . sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
Spirit-rooted, Christ-manifesting, truth-cherishing, humbly-loving unity is designed by God to have at least two aims: a witness to the world, and an acclamation of the glory of God. The apostle John makes the first of these most clear. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).
Jesus’s famous statements in John 17 are rooted in the profound spiritual unity between the Father and the Son, and with those whom God has chosen out of the world (John 17:6). “I ask that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Note the witness to the world is that the disciples are in the Father and the Son so that the world might believe. This is vastly more — deeply more — than being related through a common organization.
The oneness that shines with self-authenticating glory for the world to see is union with the Father and the Son so that the glory of the Father and the Son is part of our lives. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). That glory is owing to this: “I in them and you [Father] in me” (John 17:23). From this union with God, and the glory it gives, shines something the world may see, if God gives them eyes to see. God’s aim for this vertically-rooted, horizontal, glory-displaying unity is that he might “gather into one the children of God scattered abroad” (John 11:52).
The ultimate aim of such Christian unity is the glory of God. Hence Paul prays, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:5–7).
What Implications Follow for Us?
1. Seek the fullness of the unity-creating Holy Spirit.
“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Seek to be led by the Spirit and to bear the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:18, 22–23) for these are the cogs in the wheels of love. If you are a stranger to the Holy Spirit, you will care little for the unity he builds.
2. Strive to know and spread true views of Christ and his ways.
Seek to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Share, by every means you can, what you see of Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16).
3. Love Christians across boundaries.
Cultivate affection across differences for those who are truly your brothers and sisters in Christ. Hate serious blunders, not sincere brothers. Humans have never been good at this. And the philosophical and emotional climate today makes it even harder — since truth claims are only seen as a cloak for power-grabbing. But consider what Spurgeon says and seek to become like him. Notice the intensity of hate and love.
Where the Spirit of God is there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constraineth me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints. Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him. (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. XII, 6)
4. Serve Christians across boundaries.
For the sake of a witness to the world, seek out ways to show love for brothers and sisters across boundaries — both the kind of boundaries that should be removed, and the kind of boundaries which commitment to the truth (and unity in the truth) forbids you to remove. Do this for the glory of God. Let Francis Schaeffer be your guide.
It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father. (Complete Works, vol. 4, 201, emphasis added)
Ambiguity and Hope
When all is said and done, ambiguities remain. What kinds of boundaries should define local churches, schools, denominations, conferences, para-church ministries, city-wide prayer gathering, evangelistic efforts? Nevertheless we are not without anchors. We are not without rudder and sails. We have the stars above and our trusty sextant. In reliance on the word and the Spirit, in humility we will arrive home — together.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Monday, June 8, 2015

“The Sovereign Character of God”

Romans 9:1-29                       June 6, 2015              Link for audio/video/manuscript

God is holy and must punish sin; but God is also loving and desires to save sinners. If everybody is saved, it would deny His justice and His holiness; but if everybody is lost, it would deny His grace and His love. The solution to the problem is God’s sovereign choosing of those who will come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Romans 9 is indeed a glad text which should lead us to rejoice. When understood correctly God’s choosing provides great confidence, great humility, and great gratitude for the Christian. Let us reverently accept the fact that God is greater than we are. God knows more than we know, He knows what He is doing, and everything He does will always be consistent with the glory of His character.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Conquering Love of God in Jesus Christ

Romans 8:31-39                May 31, 2015               Link for audio/video/manuscript

Divine revelation demands a human response. God is for us. Jesus loves us. Jesus died for our sins and he rose from the dead. There is now no condemnation for those in Christ. Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us because when we follow Jesus for the cause of God we will encounter trials, struggles, pain and suffering. But God makes all things work together for good according to His purpose for our good and for His glory. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us because nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. May our response to all these things be a massive, joyful, glorious exclamation mark to the conquering love of God we have been gracefully given in Jesus Christ!