Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finishing Well

There have been some events of late that have reminded me of the necessity of finishing well.  I believe it is important for us as believers not just to finish, but to finish well.  In track they teach you to finish the race and to run all the way through the tape, to continue your stride until you are past the finish line.  As Christians, for us to finish well requires that we are still in full stride when we hit the finish line.

I am sure that all of us want to finish well, to be able to say, along with Paul, I have kept the faith and finished the course.  I think it is important that on that day we know that we have done all we could for as long as we could, so that there will be no shrinking back at His appearance.  Let's look at some key things we can do to finish well.

1. Have the desire to finish well.
Finishing well is not accidental, but intentional. We need to understand that our living our Christian life is not just for the here and now, but also for the life to come.  As R.C. Sproul says, "Right now counts forever." Paul was one who finished well.  In II Timothy 4:6-7 he shares this with us, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."  Paul finished his life in full stride, serving the Lord right up until the end; and not only did Paul understand that it was important, he had the desire to do just that. 

2. Avoid a sense of entitlement.
Paul again demonstrates the proper attitude here as we see his words in Philippians 3:13-14, "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Like Paul, we need to not rest on our spiritual laurels, on what we have done or the years we have served, like somehow that entitles us to coast, or has earned us spiritual  points with the Lord.  The Lord also show us how he views our service to Him in Luke 17:7-10 "Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? "But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'?  He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.' "  Listen, when we have served the Lord, by serving His people and His church, we have done only that which we ought to have done; in other words, the bare minimum.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared works beforehand for us to do, so doing those works is only doing what has been laid out for us to do.  Understanding these things should eliminate any sense of entitlement that we have. 

3. Avoid being careless or letting your guard down.
In Luke 22:31 Jesus tells Peter that Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat.  In I Peter 5:8 Peter reminds us that we have an adversary (someone that is not friendly towards us and seeks to do us harm), and this adversary is Satan and he is prowling about seeking someone to devour.  Peter's admonition to us is to be alert, to be on our guard, to be wary and ready.  As Paul says in II Corinthians 2:11, we should not be ignorant of his schemes; for, after all, he left our Lord after tempting him the wilderness to seek a more opportune time.  Satan is not called the tempter for no reason as he knows the weakness of men, knows just how to tempt us, and knows just when to tempt us.

The proactive part of not letting your guard down is to maintain spiritual self-discipline.  Look at Paul's example as Paul also understood what was required to finish the race well.  Listen to him in I Corinthians 9:24-27, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.  Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;  I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself may not be disqualified.

4. Avoid apathy.
Apathy is sneaky, it is a creeping problem and usually develops slowly, almost imperceptibly.  A good example of apathy is found in Revelation 3: 15-16.  Listen to our Lord as He rebukes these people, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."  Apathy always sets in when we quit growing as a Christian, when we start taking our Christianity, our relationship with the Lord for granted.  These people did not intend to grow apathetic, but they did not guard their heart, and they did not continue to grow.  In II Peter 1 there is a list of seven spiritual qualities.  The exhortation Peter gives here is that we we are to continually apply diligence to keep these qualities supplied in our faith, and if these qualities are ours and are increasing, then we will continue to be fruitful and useful.  There is an old axiom that the minute you quit growing you start dying.  Apathy is a slow death, and it renders you useless and unfruitful.

Friends, let us press on together to finish well!  Will it involve work until the end? Yes.  Will it require self-sacrifice? Yes.  Will it take time and thought and care and effort? Yes, of course.  But it will be worth it, because the Lord is worth it.  After all, it is the Lord Jesus Christ whom we serve.  I am reminded of the statement made to Daniel in the book that bears his name.  It came toward the end of his life, when he was already an old man and after spending the night in the lions den, the king called out to him in Daniel 6:20, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?  Here is Daniel, in his seventies, not only serving the Lord, but being known for serving the Lord.  Would that we would finish like a Daniel or a Paul.  Let us make that our goal and pray to our Lord for His strength and power to do just that.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Salvation

Salvation is not a singular event, but is a work of God, a process if you will, whereby God conforms us completely into the image of His Son.  This work starts with justification, continues on in sanctification, and ends in glorification.

Romans 8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the first born among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Philippians 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

I John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

Salvation is the work of God that carries out the purpose of God, which results in the glory of God.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Famine in the Land

As a follow up to my post yesterday on The Great Disconnect, I have provided a link below to Steve Lawson's sermon "Famine in the Land."  This sermon is based on Amos 8:11 and speaks quite clearly to why there is the great disconnect in the church in our land today.  Enjoy the sermon...I believe it will eventually be a Christian classic.  Also, Steve has published a book by the same title, "Famine in the Land."  It is a great read.

http://www.newreformationministries.org/audio/2007/10/famine-in-the-land.php

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Great Disconnect

In the Western church, more noticeably in the church in the US, we are living in a time of disconnection.  A time in which there is a disconnection in so many who claim to be a Christian, and that disconnection is between what they claim to be and how they are actually living; and what is even worse, is that others who claim to be Christian see no problem with the disconnection, and in fact see no disconnection at all.

Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, as Solomon would say, as we see this same issue talked about by Paul as he says in Titus 1:16, They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed."  James also alludes to this problem in James 1:22 as he says, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."  So yes, this problem is not new, it acutally existed in Israel before the New Testament times, but it seems to me that this disconnection in the Western church (especially in our country) has gone from epidemic proportions, to pandemic.  This disconnection is most visibly demonstrated in the area of sexual promiscuity, sensuality, and immorality.

Let me give you three examples that have come to my attention over the last few weeks.

#1. The vote, this week, by the Twin Cities presbytery of the PCUSA to okay the ordination of clergy without regard to sexual orientation.  This was the vote that gave the majority vote in favor of this change to their constitution.

#2. While having lunch with a friend of mine last week he told me of a youth minister in Houston who had moved in with his girlfriend.  His comment to me was that they should know better, and, yes, they should; but what bothered me was that the youth minster and his girlfriend obviously did not see anything wrong with co-habitating outside of marriage.

#3. The latest Youtube buzz about Carrie Underwood singing "How Great Thou Art."  Only a few weeks ago, at the ACM awards, she was provacatively dressed and gyrating around while singing with Steven Tyler.  It was bad enough that I turned off the television.  Obviously she doesn't see a problem with how she was performing at the ACM's or she wouldn't do it.  But does that performance, that activity, square with the profession of being a Christian?  Would she dress and perform like that at church?

Where is the disconnect here?  It is between their profession to be Christians, and their actions.  It is the difference between what the Scripture says and how they live their lives, which is also shown in the choices they make. Let's look at some Scripture that addresses all three of the examples I have listed above.

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk
(live your life, or behave) no longer as the Gentiles walk,
in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding,
excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that
is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they,
having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality
for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard
Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,
that in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside
the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the
lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been
created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Ephesians 4:17-24

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the
kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators,
nor idolaters, not adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,
nor thieves, nor the covetous, not drunkards, nor revilers,
nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  Such were
some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified,
but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ
and in the Spirit of our God.
I Corinthians 6:9-11

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness;
and sin is lawlessness.  You know that He appeared in
order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
No one who abides in Him sins (practices, habitually,
lives a lifestyle of sinfulness); no one who sins has
seen Him or knows Him.  Little children, make sure no
one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness
is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices
sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. 
The Son of God has appeared for this purpose, to destroy
the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices
sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin
(practice, habitually, live as a lifestyle), because he is
born of God.  By this the children of the devil are obvious:
anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God,
nor the one who does not love his brother.
I John 3:4-10
Italics mine for emphasis or explanation

Listen, the Bible is full of verses that speak to this from many different angles, and through many different scenarios.  What is the issue here?  What is the disconnect?  You cannot live the same lifestyle as the world, and be a Christian.  There is no such thing as a carnal Christian, or a nominal Christian (despite the continued misinterpretation of I Corinthians 3:3).  You are on one side of the fence or the other.  You cannot serve two masters.  There must be a consistency between your talk and your walk.  You must prove to possess what it is you profess, unless of course you fail the test. 

Another issue with the types of examples mentioned above, is that in many cases they have been told it is okay to live in this way, that as long as you have made some kind of profession you are covered...like some kind of holy fire insurance...and, if you don't accept these kind of lifestyles in those who profess to be Christians, you are being judgmental.

Scripture is the sole and final judge in these matters; and we must hold up the Scriptures as the standard for behavior for those who profess to be Christians.  We must not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God standing on the authority of Scripture alone.  To be able to do this we must know and have confidence in the Word of God.  In bringing this topic up with those who claim to be Christian it has become painfully obvious that their knowledge of Scripture is woefully anemic.  If we don't know the Scripture, we cannot think Biblically, and therefore cannot apply Scripture where needed.  And, if we do not know the Scriptures it is hard, nay impossible, to speak with any degree of authority on these matters.

The only way to combat this disconnect is for the Scriptures to faithfully, fully, and comprehensibly be taught and preached in our churches.  Yes, doing this might, in fact will, decrease our numbers; but what remains will be purer and then perhaps the church will gain the relevancy in the culture that is truly transforming.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Christian's Greatest Promise

In My Father's house there are many dwelling places;
if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to
prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place
for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself,
that where I am, there you may be also.
John 14:2-3

These words are what make the Christian life worth living, in fact, without these words the Christian life would not be worth living at all.  For Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:19, "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied." 

The truth, stated plainly by Jesus here, is that heaven is a real place, it is the place where God dwells, there are many other dwelling places there, and Jesus will personally prepare a dwelling place for each one of us in the heaven of His Father. Although we cannot get there on our own He is coming back for us to take us there, and we will be with Him there for as long as He is there.  If not for this truth, why on earth would we give up the things of this world?  For without this truth this world is all there is; but with this truth something more glorious, more abounding in riches, more peaceful, more magnificent, more splendid, and more fulfilling awaits us; and that is dwelling with both the Father and the Son for all eternity.

Rejoice, O Christian, for your heavenly Father, the Father of lights, the creator of the ends of the earth, has a place specially prepared for you to spend eternity with Him.  Rejoice, O Christian, that your name is written in the Lamb's book of life, His reservation list, never to be erased.  Rejoice, O Christian, that your heavenly Father has loved you so, so as to provide the way to Him through His Son; and to guarantee that reservation by dipping His pen in the well of the blood of His Son to write it down.  Rejoice, O Christian, for earth recedes and heaven draws ever nearer. Rejoice, O Christian, for what awaits you on the other side of this life.  Rejoice, O Christian, for the certainty of the life to come, given through the promise from Jesus, Himself.

O friends, have you placed your hope for eternity, for the life beyond this life, in the person of Christ?  Have you placed all your trust in what He has done to secure that life for you?  Have you come to God acknowledging your sin, your helplessness, your hopelessness, your absolute need of His mercy, compassion, and grace?  Have you asked Him to forgive you and save you?  Have you cast yourself upon Him as your Savior?  He is not far away, He is near if you would but reach out and call out to Him!  Today is the day, wait no longer to secure your place in heaven, for none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

God bless you all.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In the End

In the end
man will be proven to be utterly sinful,
God will be proven to be utterly righteous.
Both will be proven to be exactly what they are.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Christians and Pornography

Russell Moore deals with the issue of the Christian and pornography in an honest and straightforward way, with accompanying biblical insight.

http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/04/27/arousing-ourselves-to-death/

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

When to Apply Matthew 18

In the latest issue of Themelios, Don Carson has an article on the proper application of Matthew 18, especially in light of how much it gets thrown around in the blogosphere these days.  Follow the link:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/36-1/editorial-on-abusing-matthew-18

Monday, May 02, 2011

Rejoicing in Gladness

I am glad, and my heart is warmed, by the fact that God, our God, is gracious and compassionate and abounding in lovingkindness and truth, that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, that He cries out,"Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of earth."  I am grateful that He has shown all the world His eternal attributes and Divine nature through what has been created.  I am thankful for the power in the gospel to save all who believe it.  I am overwhelmed by the richness of His mercy, the depth of His compassion, and the lavishness of His love for those who are hostile to Him and are His enemies.  I am in awe of His kindness, which even extends to evil and ungrateful men.  Yes, I will rejoice for He has made me glad; and I am glad that He has included me in His eternal plan of redemption.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Knowing God

On my way to bed the other night, I happened to run across an interview on TV.  The person being interviewed is a well known television personality/celebrity.  They were talking about life and its lessons, and they mentioned some final words that someone who was close to death had given them, that in the end it is all about family and friends; in other words, it's all about relationships and it is those relationships that matter most in life, and give meaning to life.  Of course, the interviewer nodded in solemn agreement, and for the next few minutes they both talked about the value of relationships.

It is true that relationships are important, and, for those of us who are common everyday people, our legacy, if you will, is carried on in the relationships we leave behind.  However, there is an eternal relationship, a relationship that we can have both in this life and in the one to come, and that is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  This relationship is what actually guarantees our acceptance into the presence of God when we pass from this life into the next.  To those who professed to be Christians and were relying on their religious works as their ticket to heaven, Jesus had this to say in Matthew 7:23, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew (knew in an intimate personal way) you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"  And in John 17:3 Christ tells us this, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

It is to know God personally, not just know about or have heard about Him; to have a relationship with Him, rather than an abstract knowledge of Him; to know up close and not from a distance; to be familiar and not a stranger to Him and His ways, that makes our faith a living faith.   To have this faith, this intimate knowledge of God, was one of the promises of the New Covenant as God said in Jeremiah 31:34, "For they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them."   It is the knowledge of the Most High that gives substance to our faith.

The command to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul presupposes that we know Him.  We cannot have this kind and depth of love for someone whom we do not know.  In fact, the more we know Him the greater our love shall be for Him, so as we grow in the breadth and depth of our knowledge of Him there is a corresponding growth in our love for Him that will encompass more and more of our heart, mind, and soul. This is one of the reasons we are exhorted in II Peter 3:18 to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This is also part of my personal testimony.  As I was reading an article on Tom Landry in Guidepost magazine while in the waiting room of a doctor's office, he talked about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; and I thought to myself, "How do you have a relationship with someone who has been dead two thousand years."  But this impacted me, for though I had grown up in the church and knew the facts about Jesus and had professed faith in Jesus, I knew that I did not know Him and did not have a relationship with Him.  After wrestling with this for two years, I finally came to the point where one evening I saw myself as the sinner I was and repented.  The next morning when I woke up I knew Him, and knew that I knew Him as He was alive to me; and the relationship has grown deeper and sweeter through the years.

So the question for those of you reading this is, "Do you know Him, and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, not just know about Him, but know Him and have a relationship with Him?"  Do you have fellowship and communion with Him?  Are you intimate with Him?  Do you know that you know Him?  For if you do, then you can know and rest assured that you have eternal life.