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Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

I have had the opportunity to study of of the most succinct statements of the gospel in the entire Bible, let alone the Old Testament:

“Behold, as for the proud one,  His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

The third and final clause in this verse (“But the righteous shall live by faith.”) is essentially composed of three words, but built on the broad context of Scripture, it contains an ocean of truth.

The first word, translated “righteous” or “justified” is a word with a meaning well established by the Scripture. It has a clearly forensic, legal flavor. In other words, it speaks not of a personal righteousness but of a legal declaration of innocence (Job 13:8, Exodus 23:7, Isaiah 5:23).

The means of this legal declaration is rooted in the reference that this verse has to Genesis 15:6 which states that Abraham  “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” The word for “belief” is the same translated as “faith” by Habakkuk (technically our third word) and refers not to the work of “faithful-ness” but of belief, or trust. The word “righteousness” is the same root used in Habakkuk of the “righteous” man.

Habakkuk’s thrust is on the second word, “live”. God’s answer to the prophet’s inquiry is meant to instruct him how he ought to proceed in light of the evil going on all around  him. Grammatically, the word “live” is attached to faith, as in “the justified shall live-by faith.” faith is the guide post for daily living in a fallen world.

However, the context also clearly implies that the means of salvation is also through faith. This is what Paul was hitting on when he quoted Habakkuk in Romans 1:17. Paul cleverly unpacks both aspects of this passage in his letter to the Romans. In chapters 1-5 he explains how the just-by-faith shall live, and in chapters 6 and following he explains how the justified shall live-by faith. It is a brilliant unpaking of all that God revealed to Habakkuk so many years earlier.

As history has unfolded, so too has the content of God’s revelation ergarding salvation. While Abraham simply trusted in God in obeying His command to move out of his homeland to a land of God’s choosing, so we place our faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ:

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son,born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

and

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

God’s Word is incredible. So much historical and cultural context is established so that the means for eternal life and daily living can be stated in a mere three words. How can we see this and conclude that His Word is anything less than divine. The more I study it, the more I am convinced, as God explains to Habakkuk in the rest of chapters 2 and 3, that our faith is based in Someone real and powerful.

Praise God for His sufficient, holy Word!

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Way to go, mainline evangelicalism!

Seems that the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon’s are among the few religious groups left who believe their message is exclusively true. In this major study just released by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, most major “Christian” groups (in name, anyway)  believe there is more than one way to heaven. Their findings are disturbing but not surprising.

To remedy this alarming finding, I’d like to suggest everyone actually start reading their Bibles. Try starting at Acts 4:12, speaking of Jesus:

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

The exclusivity of the gospel is a bedrock doctrine whose abandonment betrays the dead, rotting corpse that is the visible church here in the US. I could wish that people would think through the implications of ecumenicalism. Ecumenicalism ultimately destroys truth and we depend on truth for even the universe itself to hold together. We don’t want to live in a world where truth is relative. That’s why we have prisons. We are sinners and have to be protected from others who would violate our pursuit of life in the name of their own preferences.

That’s a discussion for another day. Then again, I’ve had it with myself already. Read about it here.

As a side note, while many who have reviewed this poll find it fascinating that many atheists leave room for some kind of universal spirit, I think the issue is simply that many who call themselves atheists don’t know the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Calm down, everyone.

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I’ll never forget meeting a young man in a bookstore coffee shop in Kansas City. My wife and I were on a weekend trip with some friends in a popular shopping plaza, taking a break from all of the walking around. We see this guy reading his Bible, Greek helps out on the table. My wife, being the well-assuming kind of person she is, figures that if he has his Greek helps out, he must be our kind of guy.

As it turns out he was a charismatic who believed that baptism is necessary for salvation. “Believe and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (acts 2:38…uh…sort of).” was all he kept saying. According to this guy, Acts was the ONLY book of the Bible that contained the gospel.

So I asked him, “What about Romans?”

He actually said, “The gospel isn’t in the book of Romans.” That was it for me. At that point I was no longer interested in discussing the nature of the gospel with him. His gospel was a perverted, works-based gospel, and he clearly approached Scripture with heretical baggage. If he didn’t find his twisted message, there was no message at all.

That encounter, among other things, left me with the impression that what you believe about the book of Romans says a lot about you. Time has done nothing to change that.

As my pastor is warming us up to go through Romans, he has been showing us many facets of the book. One things that stands out to me is that Romans makes clear, expansive statements about controversial documents. I can only think that these doctrines are controversial because people don’t take Romans seriously, or the Bible itself for that matter.

Romans teaches at length about such difficult subjects as the total depravity of man, the necessity of faith alone in Christ alone for salvation, the Lordship of Christ, and the perseverance of the saints. Romans is steeped in the doctrines of sovereign grace, teaching that because of the depravity of man, we depend on God to initiate our salvation and carry it out to its end. Romans teaches that the nature of salvation is to glorify God, reflecting His nature in His subjects, meaning that God’s salvation produces holiness and endurance.

Why do people resist the doctrine of Romans? The doctrine of Romans is consistent with the rest of Scripture, and yet Romans is explicit about the gospel of God’s sovereign grace in a way that pushes people’s buttons. What button is that? I’d say the main button pushed is the “pride” button.

The gospel destroys boasting (Rom 3:27). It strips a man of his ability to congratulate himself on his salvation. To tell a man that he not only isn’t a partner in his salvation but an unwilling, resisting rebel can really sting. To tell a man that God alone acts to save can sting too.

Beyond pride, Romans exposes doctrinal laziness. For the professing Christian who does not prize wisdom and learning, Romans is pretty intimidating. Some professing Christians do openly disdain doctrine with a kind of “all head and no heart” criticism of scholarship, but most claim to be interested in learning the Bible. However, Romans is a book that when opened up for discussion draws a lot of blank stares. It reminds me of when Jesus began teaching in parables (Matt 13:13, Mark 4:10-12). By simply covering His teaching with a thin layer of effort, many turned away.

Romans also exposes hardened hearts. Its teaching about the depth of sin and the importance of God’s election has often resulted in the hearers changing their opinion about God. When confronted with the necessity of election, I have personally heard many turn and try to place the blame for their sin on God (Rom 9:19). I think this is because Romans is so direct, so plain, it is like a theological jackhammer that doesn’t let you say “Well, let’s just agree to disagree.” Romans says “It’s my way or the highway.” Sadly, theological push comes to shove.

I’m looking forward to going through Romans, though my participation in the starting of a new church campus will prevent me from hearing most of it. I have been reminded what an exciting book Romans is. The precision of the arguments pt forward have always appealed to be. I love, like in Romans 6:1, Paul keeps anticipating our response (“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”) and crushing our objections with truth, unto the mercy of His gospel.

I am reminded that I was saved during my same pastor’s teaching of the book. I can’t recall an exact moment. There was a period of time in which I came to see that my beliefs had changed; I knew I then understood the gospel, and that I hadn’t understood before.

What a great book. What is your response to the book of Romans? Do you love it? Do you find it difficult? Do you find it dull. Are you indifferent? Have you even read it all the way through, once? My challenge to you is to read through as often as you must to gain an understanding of its meaning and flow. Gauge yourself as a Christian by how you respond to its teaching. I pray that it will direct to glorify God for His gospel of sovereign grace!

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Today was kind of a long day. There are certain patterns that I notice with my children that when broken, bring predictable results. One of those patterns is what happens when we miss the first service at church and go to the later service. Our kids are just more wound up a later time in the afternoon and therefore less likely to take their naps. They’ve never been one to get cranky and just crash like some kids. They get more wound up and have a harder time winding down. We give them an extra measure of grace for their physical weakness, but when they miss their naps (or I should say, when my daughter misses HER nap) the pattern continues through the rest of the day.

All of that is to say that my daughter went to bed early this evening. despite multiple attempts to help her reel herself in, she just needed to go down early. She is nearly four, and very verbal. I’d say she can take in more that most other kids her age. The fact that she was going down early for disobedience was a good stage for talking about the gospel.

It really surprises me how much she grasps. Lately she has been asking a lot of questions about Hell, often without prompting and usually during quiet times when discipline is not in play. The other day she made the remark, “Daddy, in Hell there is no ‘handle’ to turn on the light is there?” She also asked :Are there monsters in Hell?” My wife and I had been trying to de-program her since I’d made the mistake of letting our kids watch the beginning of Monster’s Inc. In this case I had to confess that monsters exist, and they are called demons, and that we can’t see them. That was a step backwards!

What really struck me tonight was how much she grasps about penal substitution. She definitely understands that God is angry at sin because He is holy, and that sinners cannot enter heaven. She also gets that the only way to be admitted to heaven is but having God put the consequences for her sin on Jesus, and that on the cross He bears the sins of those who repent.

What she doesn’t really get is repentance. I’ve instructed her that to have our sins pt on Jesus you have to say “I repent. I will not sin anymore.” I’ve also modeled my own repentance saying “I don’t want my sin anymore” and so on. She has even said ‘I repent.”, but does not understand the implications.

Out of this evening I am seeing that her need is to understand the lasting implications of repentance; that it’s not a magical incantation, it is a commitment and a change of mind, a change of heart. To understand repentance, I think she must understand the biggest obstacle to repentance: sin nature. Right now she definitely understands sin, but doesn’t grasp her nature as a sinner.

I have to say, too, that at times like this it is never sweeter to quote passages like these:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

A verse like this has so much familiarity that it becomes stale to us. When quoting it to a child, it takes on a freshness because you are struck by how it must sound to them; it is brand new. I am struck by the power of quoting simple Scriptures like Romans 5:8 “ But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

I hope that all of you Christian parents out there are laboring to see your children complete in Christ (Col 1:28). It impresses me at what a lifelong task this is, and how many building blocks are laid as children grow into their understanding of the world. I eagerly await the opportunity to talk with my child about the gospel again. My son, who is 2 1/2 is getting his Bible ABC’s down right now, but my daughter is asking questions daily, and our after-dinner Bible studies are growing in their fruitfulness. I can only (only!) pray that this fruitfulness will yield eternal life!

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Robert Hawkin’s emotional wringer

In the days following the killing of 8 persons at the Von Maur department store in Omaha by 19-year-old Robert Hawkins, emotions have run the gamut in my household. As we’ve sorted through our feelings, I wanted to share with you some of the conclusions drawn by my wife, Amy, and I:

  1. Anger and outrage: What Hawkins did was inexcusable. It’s one thing, though sinful, to take your own life. It’s something else entirely to murder eight people that have never met you. Had Hawkins at least attacked people he knew, people he was angry with, it would make more sense. These people were minding their own business. What Hawkins did was sin, and as Christians we are called to agree with God about evil in the world.
  2. Grief: My wife, particularly, was deeply disturbed by what happened. We recognized some of the victims fro our time spent shopping at the store. We are both saddened by the untimely loss of human life. Sometimes I feel that Christians think they aren’t supposed to be brought so low, like their trust in Christ is some kind of invisible shield against heartbreak. The opposite is true: as we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), we are moved even more by violence against His creation.
  3. Humility: Events like these draw me back to the truth that I am a sinner, and that without God’s grace I am capable of the same kind of evil (1 Cor 6:11) committed by Hawkins. This kind of reflection shuts my mouth and makes me hang my head. I am relieved that God has shown me mercy, and yet I am moved by how much I don’t deserve it.
  4. Shame: Honestly, I think that the way that some people react is awful. When I was standing by the perfume counter in Younkers, wondering why the mall entrances were being locked, on of the ladies working at the perfume counter informed me, very flippantly, that there had bee a shooting. After I got out of the mall area, someone I spoke with later joked that the shooter was probably angry about the Christmas shopping rush. What it is that brings the worst out of people at times like this, I don’t know. The human race is pretty sad sometimes.
  5. Pride: I mean the good kind. I mean that the way others selflessly rush to the aid of those in danger, while putting themselves on the line is incredible. As I was escaping the scene, already I saw police, guns drawn, entering the mall at multiple entrances. That man is made in the image of God informs us as to why people have a capacity for self-sacrifice. My heart swells when I consider what these people risk.
  6. Strength: While we grieve, we are not overcome by this tragedy (2 Cor 6:8-10). As Christians we understand life in light of eternity. Death does not remind us of a hopeless fate (1 Thes 4:13). the grace of God holds our head up, and in time of crisis we can glorify God by showing the world the power that we have in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
  7. Hope: I know that times like these have people thinking about what really matters. They consider what their life is for, and wonder if their lives have any meaning. We saw this nationally after 9/11 when people openly questions the role of a good God and the face of so much evil. A customer of mine wondered that aloud on Thursday morning and provided my a chance to share the gospel. I am hopeful in this that for some time tis subject will open the door to examine the hearts of men in our city of Omaha. It makes me think of the way the Christ was crucified on the passover. Here was God made human flesh (Col 1:29, 2:9) hanging on the cross. As the Passover was a Jewish holiday that taught that blood must be shed for judgment to pass-over, there was the Lamb of God (John 1:29) for all the world to see: Our Passover (1 Cor 5:7). In the face of this brutal violence, we are directed to the birth of the Savior, brought into the world to die for our sins.

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Gun violence in Omaha hits too close to home

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As many of you know, nine people were killed and five were injured today at Omaha’s Westroads Mall. A gunman walked in and started shooting. By the end, he took his own life. As yet it isn’t known whether this man had help, or acted alone. A live grenade was found at the mall last weekend. Whether the two incidents are connected is not yet known either. In any case, tis is a tragic day for the city Omaha.

Omaha is the city that I call home. In fact, I had apparently walked into Westroads Mall just minutes after the shooting began. Having stopped in to pick up an order from a mall store, the department store I had entered had just closed both its mall doors. An announcement sounded overhead that there had been and ‘incident’ and that the outdoor exits should be used. I quickly left the store but had difficulty leaving because of the sudden influx of police and emergency vehicles. In the hours to come, the death toll has risen dramatically. I’m still in a bit of shock over what has happen. Von Maur, the department where this violence occurred, is a favorite for my wife and I. Pictured above is an entrance we’ve used many times. We’re both waiting and wondering whether we will recognize any of the victims.

When I got home I watched the local television coverage with my wife. My kids are young and pretty well oblivious. I told my daughter that something bad had happened. She asked what had happened. I didn’t want t tell here where it happened, because that would have meaning for her. I told her that a bad man had hurt some people.

She asked “Are they OK?” I answered “No, they died.” to which she responded, “Did it hurt?” I told her that it probably did hurt. She wanted to know if the bad man got hurt. I told her that he had died, too.

I’ve written on the subject of violence before. With this terrible tragedy, hitting so close to home, in a store that my whole family frequents, I am prompted to explore the subject of discussing sin and death with our children. I don’t want to shield my children from this subject. They don’t need to know details, but I can hide this important topic from them.

This event is a proper occasion to tell your children, who are old enough (my daughter is 3 1/2 and pretty conversant) about death. Death is the consequence of sin (Rom 6:23) and all have sinned (Rom 3:23).

I followed up with my daughter by trying to explain death to her, being like going to sleep and not waking up. She wanted to know if they went to heaven. I said that some of them did, if they believed that Jesus took away the penalty for their sins of the cross. “Consequences” is the word we have come to use when we are trying to connect her discipline with God’s judgment. We discuss the fact that sins have consequences when we discipline our children. When we explain the gospel to our children, we explain that God never sins, and that to go to heaven, you cannot sin. We remind them that everyone has sinned and so nobody can go to heaven. Then we refer to their personal sin and point to Jesus as the way we can have our consequences taken away; that God put our consequences of Jesus on the cross.

Madison (my daughter) doesn’t put all the pieces together. Not yet. Her questions indicate that she grasps some of it, though. She even finished my presentation of the gospel by jumping to the idea of substitution. In her words “I have to give my consequences to Jesus on the cross.” On a dark day, I find that encouraging.

In the meantime, we are busily erecting the context in which the gospel will make sense. On such a dark day for our city, I praise God that it affords me an opportunity to tell others, like my children, about Jesus Christ. After all, none of us are more than a moment away from eternity. I hope that the murders will yield and opportunity to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the city of Omaha, not in judgment of the dead, but for the salvation of the living.

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Turn that frown upside-down.

This morning my pastor was in Matt 26:31-35. He was commenting that Jesus greatness is on display in His perseverance with such weak people. Whether he said it or not, it really impressed me ow the entirety of our Christian faith is based on irony.

For those old enough to remember, there was this movie in the 90’s called “Reality Bites”. It was about our generation, Generation X, and the struggle to find a place in society, and so on. What I keep going back to is this scene where the lead female character is interviewing for a job as a writer of some kind. She thinks she’s failed the interview when her interviewer stops her at the elevator to give her one last chance: “Define irony.” Ironically, the aspiring writer cannot define the word, meaning “opposite of expectation”.

How very ironic.

As I mentioned, Christianity is founded in irony. In fact, this is so much the case that I can define it in even fewer words than the former. I can define irony in two words, to be precise:

The Cross.

How is the Cross ironic?

  1. At the cross, God died (Matt 20:28).
  2. At the Cross, God gave himself up in exchange for sinners. He of highest value exchanged Himself for the valueless (2 Cor 5:21).
  3. At the Cross, Christ achieved supreme honor out of humiliation (Isaiah 53:12).
  4. At the Cross, Satan’s greatest victory was his greatest defeat.
  5. At the Cross, death accomplished the death of death (1 Cor 15:55).
  6. At the Cross, the foolish this of the world are exalted, and the noble things of the world are brought to nothing (1 Cor 1:20).

In this we see the necessity of the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16), because the unbelieving world simply cannot believe that God’s greatest triumph could occur at what seemed to be His most bitter loss. The world cannot get its arms around the idea that what seems like so little could accomplish so much. Every element of God’s plan of salvation runs counter to what the world takes to be power and greatness and wisdom, and that’s exactly why it had to be that way; a fallen, sinful and foolish world could not be left to its own wisdom.

I’ll take the irony every time.

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