Tag Archives: The Gospel

Introspection: Don’t Go Down There Without the Gospel

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In the Bible we are instructed to examine ourselves to see whether we are truly believers (2 Corinthians 13:5) and we are also called to confess our sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9).  To obey both of these commands requires that we look within ourselves.  We have to know what the sin is before can confess it and we have to see evidence of faith to help us see if our faith is real.  Self-examination is an important practice for Christians as we seek to love and serve our King, but please allow me to give you a warning as you look inside yourself.

Self-examination can very easily move from a humble desire to walk in the light before God to a concentrated effort to find confidence and esteem in yourself apart from God.  If you’re not careful, you can find yourself engaging in something that seems to others as very contrite – the practice of someone who is taking holiness seriously – but is actually fueled by a self-righteous attempt to find evidence of your own worth so you can feel good about yourself.  If you find what you’re looking for (as rationalized and duplicitous as it may be), then you’ll be proud and self-reliant, but if you don’t find what you’re looking for, then you’ll be devastated and insecure.

Some counsel: don’t go spelunking inside your heart without first anchoring yourself to the gospel.  The gospel will remind you that you desperately needed to be rescued…that will keep you from pride when you see your “credentials”.  And the gospel will remind you that you stand before God in the righteousness of Christ…that will keep you from devastation when you see the wretchedness of your sin.

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The Gospel is Not a Second Chance

This week I started studying Galatians in the mornings and I’ve been using Timothy Keller’s book Galatians for You as a tool to help shed images (1)some light on the text.  In the book, Keller says something about Galatians 1:4 that gave my heart fodder for praise.  Let me quote the text, then Keller:

“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver (or rescue) us from the present evil age…”

Commenting on what it means that Christ gave himself to “deliver” us, Keller says,

“[Jesus] did not merely buy us a ‘second chance’, giving us another opportunity to get life right and stay right with God.  He did all we needed to do, but cannot do.”

Do I have to say how profound this is?  What would have become of us if the gospel was simply a second chance to “get life right”?  We would fail miserably again, running from God in rebellion as we claim our own independence and worth!  The truth is that we lack the capacity for obedience altogether.  Even if God gave us a million second chances, we would never reach God’s standard.  It is true that time along with trial and error is what Thomas Edison needed to invent the electric light bulb, but time for us, left to ourselves, will only result in more sin.

This is why we needed Jesus to rescue us.  We are spiritually unable to get life right so we could save ourselves, so Jesus had to get life right for us so he could save us.  It is common for Christians to say that we serve “a God of second chances”.  To that we should ask, “Second chances to do what?”  Is it second chances to get life right or second chances to prove ourselves?  If so, we need to be reminded of the gospel which says, “We would use second chances the same way we used the first chance, therefore, we need Jesus to rescue us – the one who does not need second chances; the one who got life right the first time… for us.”


A Guide to Help Believers Confess Their Sins to God

After preaching Psalm 32 a couple weeks ago, I’ve been thinking more about how to help people confess their sins to Lord on a regular basis.  It’s true, telling someone they need to confess their sins is overly simplistic.  That statement needs explanation and guidance.  With that end in mind, here are five steps (along with Scripture texts) that I think will help us make this discipline a practice for the glory of God and the joy of our soul:images (16)

1) Read Psalm 32:1-5 to remind yourself of the deep agony of harboring sin and the soaring joy of confessing sin:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

2) Ask God to reveal your sins to you.  Praying through Psalm 139:23-24 will help give form to this prayer:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

3) Then, as you begin to recognize your sins, ask yourself, “When I did that, said that, thought that (or didn’t do that, didn’t say that, didn’t think that), what did I want more than God, and what lie did I believe  instead of believing God’s truth?”  This brings you to the root of your sin, so that your confession isn’t merely superficial.  The more you realize the deep rebellion of your sin, the more you’ll realize the transcendent joys of the gospel.

4) Confess your sins to God without making excuses or making them sound better than they really are.  Remember, if you are a follower of Christ, then God does not hold your sins against you.  Read Psalm 51 to give form to your confession (this is David’s prayer of repentance after committing adultery and murder).

5) To remind yourself of the riches of God’s love for you through his Son, read Romans 8 and praise him for what you encounter there.


Redeeming Story Time: Where the Wild Things Are

images (7)I know that Where the Wild Things Are is a classic of children’s literature, but I only just read it to my boys last night for the first time.  You probably remember the story: Max, a young imaginative boy, is making mischief one night and when his mother catches him she calls him “Wild Thing”, to which Max replies, “I’ll eat you up!”  His mother then sends him to bed with no dinner and that’s when Max uses his imagination to sail to a distant land where the wild things are.  He quickly gains the respect of the monsters there and they make him their king.  They have a lot of fun together, but soon Max wants to be “where someone loved him best of all.”

When I can, I try and use the stories I read to my kids as a way to point them to greatest of stories; the true story of God sending his Son to rescue his people from their sins.  So, last night after we read the end of the story where Max returns home and finds a hot meal waiting for him in his room, I asked the boys, “Who do you think brought him that food?”  To which they replied, “His mommy.”  We then proceeded to discuss the reality that Max did not deserve the food that was waiting for him, but that his mommy had mercy on him.  I asked them if their mommy ever gave them something good when they didn’t deserve it, to which they answered “yes”.  Then I asked them why Mommy showed them mercy.  There was no answer, so I explained that Mommy shows them mercy because God showed her mercy when he sent Jesus to die for her sins.

Where the Wild Things Are has unique, eye-catching illustrations and it’s fun for boys to pretend that they are monsters, but I really think the appeal of the story for me is the mercy of a loving mother.  Having said that, it would be really easy to just end the story and appreciate the love Max’s mother has for him, and there wouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with that.  But if there is One whose mercy far exceeds any mercy we find in this world (and there is), then parents, let us tell them of God who “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” (Ephesians 2:4-5).


Redeeming Storytime: From Neverland to the Gospel

For the last few days, my boys have been all about Peter Pan.  We let them watch the live action version from 2003  this weekend and the questions about Neverland and the duels with Captain Hook have yet to cease.  Since Saturday, every night before bed they want to hear another story from the world of the boy who never grows up.

How is a responsible father to deal with this near-obsessiveness?  There are two options I can think of.  On one hand, I could cut them off, telling them, “Boys, now that’s enough of Peter Pan for now, too much of a good thing is bad for you, so let’s talk about something else, okay?”  This tactic is not necessarily wrong, but I think a second option is better.

On the other hand, I could affirm the fun and wonder of Neverland that they latched on to and use it to point them beyond Neverland to a better place; an actual, non-fiction place and the way that will lead them there.

My boys and I talked about heaven last night after my oldest expressed that he wanted to go to Neverland because he didn’t want to get old.  After I explained to him that we must get older in this world, God gave me the wonderful privilege of telling him of the reality that, in heaven, “death shall be no more” (Revelation 21:4), which means we won’t get old there.  Our bodies will be young, strong, and vibrant in heaven and there won’t be an evil Captain Hook there to threaten our joy.  “The reason for this”, I told them, ” is because Jesus is there.”  He is the way to get there and He is the One who makes it all so wonderful!

Parents, our kids may be more enraptured by books, movies, and video games than the things of God, but the reality is that those things are not better.  It is our job to show them the reality that God’s story of redemption exceeds all the competition.  Search for ways to use the things they love to point them to what is supremely fantastic.  Use the shadows of their world to draw them to the substance that is the Gospel.


Maximize Your Mealtime Prayers

I don’t know about you, but I find it way too easy to forget God during the day… even as a pastor.  Sometimes when I get to the office in the morning, I hit the ground running, doing God’s work to the neglect of God for much of the day.  There are days when I’m getting into bed at night and I realize that I have not spoken a word to God other than the quick, perfunctory prayers I pray before meals.  This got me thinking: what mile markers can I put throughout my day that I can use as reminders to meet with God and remember him in the midst of the chaotic busyness of our world?  Well, for starters, I’ve already got some in place that I’m not using to their fullest capacity – those routine prayers I pray before meals.  If I will make those prayers intentional and sincere instead of rehearsed and mindless, then they can become occasions for me to lift my heart to God in praise while pleading my need for his grace.

This may be an exercise you could stand to benefit from as well.  I’m not saying that you have to pray for ten minutes while your food is sitting in front of you getting cold, but I think it is reasonable to maximize the 60 seconds that precede your first bite with some focused prayer.

Here’s one way I suggest you do this: pray in light of the similarity your meal shares with the gospel.  What do I mean?  Every meal is a provision from God for our need to eat.  When God gives us a meal he is providing us with the sustenance and nourishment we need to live in the immediate future.  On a much larger scale, when God sent Jesus to die in our place, he provided us with the sacrifice that was necessary for us to live eternally.  Our food and our Savior are both provisions of God for our needs.  The provision of our food says that God loves us and cares for our bodies as a father who works to put bread on the table for his children.  The provision of our Savior says that God loves us and cares for our souls as a father who gives everything for his children to be set free.  This parallel can help to expand your thankfulness in prayer and give you the confidence you need to ask God for more than just your daily bread.  Church, let’s use our mealtime prayers to move our hearts and minds beyond the temporal provision of food to the eternal provision of Jesus.

 
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How The Gospel Frees Us From the Fear of Awkward Silence: Part Two

Yesterday, in exploring the fear of awkward silence, I mentioned two reasons why I am concerned that this fear is a bigger threat than many of us realize: 1) In the context of local church, this fear can keep us from having spiritually-beneficial conversation with members and visitors, many of whom desperately need such conversation.  2) This fear can also keep us from getting to the meat of a conversation where you get to know a person and opportunities for encouragement and counsel are more numerous.  Bottom line: this fear keeps us from fellowship and ministry.

As I also wrote, this fear often stems from our desire to impress people and be seen by them in a certain light.  When we can’t think of anything to say and awkward silence rears its ugly head, the image or identity we are trying to create with a person quickly begins to dissolve.

How do we escape this fear so we can take advantage of our conversations for the glory of God?  Do we just grit our teeth and push through the silence?  Do we just say the first bonehead thing that comes to mind?  No, we need to remember specific aspects of the gospel so that we take the fight to the root of this fear.  In remembering the gospel, you discover that you have been given a new identity and a new purpose.  Church, this changes everything!

Your new identity – Paul tells us in Romans 8:15, “…but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry ‘Abba!  Father!’”  So often we work and toil trying to create an identity for ourselves (who we want people to think of us as), so we strategically craft our words, our appearance, and, in the in the case of awkward silence, the time when we choose to exit a conversation.  The gospel says that this work is over because we have been given our identity.  We don’t have to work to create an identity for ourselves because, through Jesus’ work, God has already given us one.  And not just any identity, but the identity of sons and daughters of the Most High God!  Is there a higher and more important identity in the universe that we can be given?  We don’t have to be afraid of awkward silence because whether there’s silence in a conversation or not, if we are in Christ, then we will still have the most significant identity that a human being can be given.  We don’t lose our identity as sons and daughters of God because we couldn’t think of something eloquent or funny to say.

Your new purpose – Before we became Christians, our purpose in life was to serve ourselves by any means available, but in Christ, things changed drastically.  In 2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul writes, “…and [Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  If we are simply living to serve ourselves, then leaving a conversation when awkward silence is looming overhead is no big deal because you will feel better by leaving.  But if your purpose in life is now to live for Jesus instead of yourself, then leaving a conversation for fear of silence means walking away from the purpose God has given you.  This doesn’t mean that you now have to accept the miserable burden of continuing to talk to someone even when it gets awkward.  It means that you get to accept the wonderful privilege of fulfilling your God-given purpose by seeking the good of another for Jesus.  See, if you understand what purpose is, then you understand that to fulfill your purpose means to experience joy and peace.

As we seek to live for Christ by building up his body through spiritually-beneficial conversation (even when there’s a little bit of silence), we are acting out of God’s identity and purpose for us… which means we will also experience the joy he has for us.

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