Monthly Archives: November, 2012

Grace Abounding–Thank you, John Bunyan

John Bunyan was born today–November 28, 1628.  Most of us know him from his classic, Pilgrim’s Progress.  However, he also wrote a great treatise entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  It serves as an autobiographical account of his salvation and sanctification, as well as his call to full-time ministry.

If John Bunyan understood anything, it was the presence of sin–his sin.  As God began a work of grace in his heart, Bunyan began to change.  First, his change was “outward.”  He wrote,

“Wherefore I fell to some outward reformation, both in my words and life, and did set the commandments before me for my way to heaven; which commandments I also did strive to keep, and, as I thought, did keep them pretty well sometimes, and then I should have comfort; yet now and then should break one, and so afflict my conscience; but then I should repent, and say I was sorry for it, and promise God to do better next time, and there get help again, for then I thought I pleased God as well as any man in England.”

He would later add,

“But, poor wretch as I was, I was all this while ignorant of Jesus Christ, and going about to establish my own righteousness…”

In other words, Bunyan began to grasp the truth that he required an inward change rather than the alteration of particular actions and reactions.  The following account is particularly moving:

“But upon a day, the good providence of God did cast me to Bedford, to work on my calling; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker also myself in the matters of religion, but now I may say, I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach, for their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil. Moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular; and told to each other by which they had been afflicted, and how they were borne up under his assaults. They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief; and did condemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy and insufficient to do them any good.”

Did you find it moving as well?

I wonder–Have you undergone an inner transformation as well?  We are tempted to think that doing certain good activities and avoiding certain bad activities can be enough to convince God that we’re really–when it comes down to it–rather decent human beings.  The fact of the matter is, however, we are anything but decent!  Following in the footsteps of our first parent–Adam–we sin because we are sinners.  And–if sinners require anything–it is a radical transformation, working itself out from the inside.  We need grace abounding in our hearts, changing our lives and the lives of those around us.  It is an absolute must that we experience what the three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun did–new birth.

John Bunyan deeply grasped the concept of regeneration–of being born again.  Is that your testimony too?  Please understand that being born again is a requirement for entrance into heaven.  Jesus made that point very plain in his conversation with one of Israel’s noteable teachers (John 3:3).  A supernatural work initiated by a sovereign God, who produces dramatic effects like the unseen wind (John 3:8) must take place in our lives if we are to know Jesus both now and throughout eternity.

Has God done such a work in your life?

If you do not know whether or not He has done so, ask Him today!  That is a prayer He loves to answer with “Yes!”  And when He does, you will slowly begin to comprehend “grace abounding.”

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Peace with God–A necessary result of justification

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1,2)

 Peace with God can only be appreciated within the context of enmity.  Consider these words from  Matthew Henry:

“It is sin that breeds the quarrel between us and God, creates not only a strangeness, but an enmity; the holy righteous God cannot in honour be at peace with a sinner while he continues under the guilt of sin. Justification takes away the guilt, and so makes way for peace. And such are the benignity and good-will of God to man that, immediately upon the removing of that obstacle, the peace is made. By faith we lay hold of God’s arm and of his strength, and so are at peace…There is more in this peace than barely a cessation of enmity, there is friendship and loving-kindness, for God is either the worst enemy or the best friend” (quoted from e-Sword).

We simply cannot speak too highly of the glorious work accomplished by Jesus for His people!

Charles Hodge writes,

When the soul sees that Christ bore his sins upon the cross, and endured the penalty which he had incurred; that all the demands of the law are fully satisfied ; that God is more honoured in his pardon than in his condemnation; that all the ends of punishment are accomplished by the work of Christ, in a far higher degree than they could be by the death of the sinner; and that he has a right to plead the infinite merit of the Son of God at the bar of divine justice, then he is satisfied. Then he has peace. He is humble ; he does not lose his sense of personal demerit, but the conscience ceases to demand satisfaction.

It is Christ, his righteousness, his obedience, the merit of his blood or death. We look to Him. We flee to Him. We lay hold on Him. We hide ourselves in Him. We are clothed in his righteousness.

It must be admitted, or rather it is fully acknowledged that every believer feels himself unworthy of the least of God’s mercies. He knows that if God were to deal with him according to his character and conduct, he must inevitably be condemned. This sense of ill-desert or demerit, is indelible. It is a righteous judgment which the sinner passes, and cannot but pass upon himself. But the ground of his justification is not in himself. The believer acknowledges that in himself he deserves nothing but indignation and wrath, not only for what he has been, but for what he now is. This is what he feels when he looks at himself. Nevertheless, he knows that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus ; that Christ has assumed the responsibility of answering for him at the bar of God; that He constantly pleads his own perfect righteousness, as a reason why the deserved penalty should not be inflicted.

Friends, if these realities are true for you, continue to give thanks with a grateful heart!  Many of the gifts for which were grateful on Thanksgiving Day pale in comparison to all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ (Eph. 1:3).

The First Thanksgiving: They survived and began to thrive

1621 – The first thanksgiving.  William Bradford and the settlers sat down with some of their Indian friends.  They had survived.  The future was beginning to look bright again.  They were thankful. Lizzy, a young member of the colony, recorded the event:

“To celebrate our first harvest our Governor,  Master Bradford, called for celebration.  Four  men went hunting wild fowl and brought back enough geese, ducks and other birds to last nearly a week! We ate, played at games, and the men practiced shooting their muskets. The Indians came amongst us as well, among them their greatest King Massasoit and more than 90 men! I was most frightened at first, but they stayed for three days and we entertained and feasted them. And they went out and brought us five deer. While they were here I even saw some of their children! One boy, father says he thinks that his name is Po-met-a-comet, threw a ball to me. Of course he could not speak English and I could not speak the Indian tongue.”

It was a memorable experience!

Lizzy concluded that she hoped the town would be “thriving” soon.  Her hope became a reality.  Their success opened the door for hundreds of years of immigration.  A melting pot of a nation was being created.  Today finds me thankful for God’s gracious hand upon my country and upon my life.

He has not treated me as my sins deserve.
He has not treated us as our sins deserve.

Have a great day of giving thanks.  To aid in your celebration, I share this link:

http://www.visionforum.com/news/blogs/doug/2011/11/9746/

 

I Obey Speed Limit Signs on Exit Ramps

I also need to obey warning signs in Scripture.

First the story.

It’s been probably ten years now.  I was driving in Las Vegas on HWY 95 and decided to take the Lake Mead East exit.  Some of you know the exit.  It is pictured above.  When I read the speed limit sign posting 35 mph, I thought that they were surely over-exaggerating the degree of the turn.  They weren’t.  My plan of merging smoothly into eastbound traffic quickly changed to doing whatever was necessary to preserve my life.  Once I lost control of the vehicle, it felt as if I were on ice.  My winter driving skills from growing up in Wisconsin took over.  Instinctively I knew when to grab the wheel and which way to turn it.  I missed the concrete barrier on the left, then on the right, finally skidding into the road at about forty mph.  Within seconds, I went from exiting the HWY to fighting for my life to pulling into a gas station to calm my nerves.  As you can tell, it was a one-minute event I probably won’t ever forget.  The lesson learned will always stick:  Obey Speed Limit Signs on Exit Ramps!

That story came to mind Saturday morning as Jodi and I meditated upon 2 John. In verse eight, the Apostle John wrote,

“Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.”

That’s a warning sign!

If I am not careful, I could allow the enemy to retake the ground I currently possess.  In his short letter, John warns his Christian friends to be on guard against false teachers–teachers he describes as those who deny the truths about Jesus Christ.  Throughout the New Testament epistles,  the Apostles name the world, the flesh and the devil as adversaries as well.   In short, there are formidible forces aligned against me.  As a result, I need to watch out.  I need to be vigilant lest I fall back.

The “How?” is the question I need to answer.  Jodi and I discussed the positives and negatives.  In other words, we considered that which we could pursue and that which we should avoid.  Or–to use sports metaphors–we thought about both our offensive as well as our defensive strategies.

Offense (pursue, positives) includes our private and public worship–our continual pursuit of Christ.  I need to remain proactive in my spiritual life.  “Working out my salvation” (Phil. 2:12) requires my God-infused effort.  I cannot progess too far or too quickly!

Defense (avoid, negatives) includes that which serves to turn our attention from Christ. False teachers are my enemy.  The world (our atheistic culture) is my enemy.  The flesh–my flesh–is my enemy.  The devil–God’s ancient foe–is my enemy.  I must be alert.  I do not want to be suprised on this spiritual road to glory.

Trust me–I obey speed limit signs on exit ramps! I also need to obey the warnings I find throughout Scripture.

We all do.

Thanksgiving Tree 2012

It’s been a tradition now for over ten years.  We call it the “Thanksgiving Tree.”  It begins as a leafless tree on the wall, a trunk with branches–typically made from brown paper bags.  It ends as an autumn tree, filled with colorful leaves.  The transformation of the tree, however, is much more than a week-long art project.  It is a on-going opportunity to “give thanks with a grateful heart.”  You see–every leaf represents something for which we are thankful.  It all began tonight.  Each of us in the family chose one of the leaves we cut out earlier in the day.  On the back of each leaf we wrote out our name.  On the front, we wrote a reason why we are grateful this year.  After thanking God in prayer, we decided where our leaves are placed.  This is how the tree looks tonight:

Trust me–it will look better next Saturday night!  After completing the tree that evening, the children will be free to begin decorating the house for Christmas–the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  But before transitioning to the wonderful season of God walking among us we want to celebrate the wonderful truth of God blessing among us.

He has not treated us as our sins deserve.

He has not treated you as your sins deserve.

You don’t need to adopt our tradition of a Thanksgiving Tree.  Perhaps you have your own tradition.  Maybe it is time to begin one.  My encouragement to you is simple: Thank the Lord for His many gifts.  He deserves your thanks.

Have a great Thanksgiving Week!

Assurance of salvation? Consider this list!

One of my 2012 goals was to read Charles Hodge’s three-volume Systematic Theology.  WIth a little dedication, I should be able to finish by late December.  I found the passage below as I read on Sunday afternoon.  It is worth your attention.  If you know Christ, you surely will be encouraged!

Hodge writes,

To make assurance of personal salvation essential to faith, is contrary to Scripture and to the experience of God’s people. The Bible speaks of a weak faith. It abounds with consolations intended for the doubting and the desponding. God accepts those who can only say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Those who make assurance the essence of faith, generally reduce faith to a mere intellectual assent. They are often censorious, refusing to recognise as brethren those who doe not agree with them; and sometimes they are antinomian.

At the same time, Scripture and experience teach that assurance is not only attainable, but a privilege and a duty. There may indeed be assurance, where there is no true faith at all; but where there is true faith, the want of assurance is to be referred either to the weakness of faith, or to erroneous views of the plan of salvation. Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience. This, except in rare cases, can never lead to the assurance of hope. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards in his work on “The Religious Affections,” and never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt. The grounds of assurance are not so much within, as without us. They are, according to Scripture, (1.) The universal and unconditional promise of God that those who come to Him in Christ, He will in no wise cast out; that whosoever will, may take of the water of life without money and without price. We are bound to be assured that God is faithful and will certainly save those who believe. (2.) The infinite, immutable, and gratuitous love of God. In the first ten verses of the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and in the eighth chapter of that epistle from the thirty-first verse to the end, the Apostle dwells on these characteristics of the love of God, as affording an immovable foundation of the believer’s hope. (3.) The infinite merit of the satisfaction of Christ, and the prevalence of his continued intercession. Paul, in Romans viii. 34, especially emphasizes these points. (4.) The covenant of redemption in which it is promised that all given by the Father to the Son, shall come to Him, and that none of them shall be lost. (5.) From the witness of the Spirit, Paul says, “We …. rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given unto us. That is, the Holy Ghost assures us that we are the objects of that love which he goes on to describe as infinite, immutable, and gratuitous. (Rom. v. 3-5.) And again, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” If, therefore, any true believer lacks the assurance of faith, the fault is in himself and not in the plan of salvation, or in the promises of God (p.106-107).

If you are saved, it is because of Christ.  If you remain saved, it is because of Christ.  It’s all about Jesus!

Musing over Monet

Today is Claude Monet’s birthday.  In my humble opinion, he is one of the greatest painters of all-time.  He was born on November 14, 1840.  According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Monet found subjects in his immediate surroundings to portray on canvas–the people and places he knew best  These scenes included the landscape and leisure activities of Paris and its environs as well as the Normandy coast (see link below).  Join me today in celebrating the amazing gift he received from our amazing God.

Here is the link to The Met, and here’s Renoir’s portrait of Monet!

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cmon/hd_cmon.htm

America’s decline should result in my incline

The recent election in the states caused me to reflect upon my response.  As my nation continues to move away from the values once held dear by the overwhelming majority of her citizens, how am I to react?  Of course, I was saddened to hear of individuals elected and ballot initiatives passed that do not agree with the moral standards put forth by the New Testament.  But I was also motivated to flesh out Romans 12:1 & 2 more and more in my life.  Here’s the passage in several translations:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (KJV).

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”  (The Message)

As I contemplated these issues, I thought about Joshua’s commitment to his God and to his family.  His affirmation of fidelity is known by all Christians.  Many of us have art on our walls containing the verse.

“Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (NASB) 

Do you recall the historical setting for Joshua’s words?  Israel had recently settled in the promised land.  The tribes were ready to plant deep roots in the assigned territories.  But before everyone could become comfortable, Israel’s leader challenged them not to become conformed.  His exhortation was simple.

BE DIFFERENT

With every election, our nation changes.  Regardless of the party, our voters–influenced by the elected and our popular culture–become less discerning and more tolerant.  Standardized-test-driven government schools plant the seeds in our children that iPod songs and You Tube videos shout into the ears of our teens.  The forces are aligned against us in our quest to know and live truth.  Yet our calling to do so has never been revoked.  Paul’s command to the citizens of Rome is ours to obey as well.

The question now is–How?  How must we actively guard against being conformed to the pattern of this world?  What steps should we take to transform our minds?

You know the answer!  You do!  Most of my readers are believers.  Believers are well-aware of what is necessary in this endeavor.  However, there is a great difference between knowing and doing.  One of the purposes of this blog is to spur us on to more consistent doing.

Several years ago, I heard a group of professing believers state that their favorite television show was Desperate Housewives.  That “disconnect” gets us to the heart of this discussion.  That which we profess should be practiced.  Faith should produce fruit.  Knowing must lead to doing.  The Lord and His Word are clear on this matter.

Beloved–we must repent.  We must not allow ourselves to be conformed.  We must do whatever is needed to renew our minds.

And–we must start with me.

I am not here to point fingers in your direction.  Today finds me doing what each one of us is required to do: self-examination.  In his commentary on the book of Romans, Martin Luther wrote, “The Christian life does not mean to stand still, but to move from that which is good to that which is better.”  I am too easily pleased.  I too quickly settle for good when I could have better.  As the year slowly comes to its conclusion, I am thankful for how I have grown as a Christian.  But I could have grown more.  I have spent time in God’s Word and in prayer.  But I could have done more.  I have made wise decisions regarding entertainment options.  But I could have made more.  There is always room for improvement.  I can always glory in Christ more.  I can always glorify Christ more.  Every day, every week, every month, every year is another opportunity to fan the flame of my godly passions.

America’s decline should result in my incline.  That’s my plan.

General Petraeus’ Resigns from the CIA

I trust you have heard the news.  General Petraus, director of the CIA, resigned.  Here is the first paragraph of his letter:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

“I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair”

“Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband…”

Ya think?! 

Fidelity cannot be overrated.  Self-control does not have to be an old-fashioned character trait.  I have repeatedly stressed a very simple message to my kids:  Do the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.  In the context of General Petraus’ moral failure, the lesson is clear.

If you make a vow, keep it. 

It’s really that simple.  Keep your word.  If you say, “I do” do!  ANd when you are tempted, don’t!

I hate the fact that General Petraeus didn’t.  But every time I hear of men not exercising self-control, I am spurred on to greater faithfulness.  Study the photo above in light of the revelation of adultery.  What stands out to you?  Two things stand out to me:  A Bible and a Bride.

May tonight find all men–particularly those who claim to know and love Christ–courageously obeying the Word of God and loving their wives.

Election Results–God wins

This blog entry was written on Sunday, November 4, 2012–Two days before the 2012 general election in the United States.

Which candidate won?

As I write this, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are virtually tied in the polls.  The overwhelming majority of Democrats will vote to re-elect the President while the Republicans will attempt to see the former governor of Massachusetts become our next leader.  Half of the undecideds are leaning to the left.  Half are leaning the right.  By this point, you probably know the outcome.  Two days before I vote, I already know the outcome.

God wins!

God’s choice for President of the United States will be sworn in on January 20, 2013.  Hopefully he will prove to be a leader who loves justice and mercy, walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).  My prayer will be that this man will make wise decisions, striving to glorify God in all of his actions and reactions.

Many, many years ago, Israel wanted to be like all the nations around them.  They wanted a king.  The request did not shock God.  He had predicted it.  In fact, He had Moses write down a list of duties for the kings of Israel hundreds of years before Saul was crowned.  The command which I found particularly striking was that the king was to write out the books of Moses by hand (Dt. 17:18).  To what end?  For what purpose?  So that he would both know God and know about God.  Rather than being conformed to this world, the king was to be transformed by the renewing of his mind (Rom. 12:2).  Here’s how Moses recorded the words spoken by God:

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.”

That’s the kind of leader we all need–a leader who reads God’s Word in order that he might worship and obey the Lord and remain humble among his “brothers.”  Is that the kind of leader we have?  Time will tell.  My hope is that he will glorify God through worship, obedience and humilty.  I should pray to that end.  Join me!  This President needs our prayers.  He needs God if he is going to lead and live well.  Let’s not be negligent in lifting his name to the King of kings!