Friday, February 29, 2008

God is on Our Side

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?--Romans 8:31 (ESV)

When it seems like no one is on our side and our defeat is inevitable, this truth must be our assurance.  Perhaps you remember a time when you felt alone in the world--perhaps you are in this place right now.  For me, this occurs most often in times of strong temptation.  When a powerful pull towards sin strikes my heart, I can forget that God is on my side.

Romans 8:31 begins a passage of encouragement.  From verse 31 through the end of Romans 8, Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians.  He begins with a stunning revelation: God is for us, not against us.  Because of our sin, God should be against us.  We are unholy, unrighteous, depraved people--rebels against God and despisers of His name.  We deserve His just and fearful opposition.  But, through the Cross, God has, in a sense, placed His enmity for us on Christ.  Through His atoning death, we obtain freedom from God's wrath.  Not only that, but through our adoption as sons, we are given God's blessing.

It all comes down to the Cross.  If there was no Cross, God would hate us for our sin--we would die.  Through the Cross, however, God loves us and we shall conquer all.

In fact, we have nothing to fear.  The omnipotent Lord is on our side.  "Who can stand against us?"  When we feel alone, weak, discouraged, or depressed, we can find peace in this truth: God is on our side.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tim Keller on the Church

Tony Reinke quotes Tim Keller:

“A central message of the Bible is that we can only have a relationship with God by sheer grace. Our moral efforts are too feeble and falsely motivated to ever merit salvation. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has provided salvation for us, which we receive as a gift. All churches believe this in one form or another. Growth in character and change in behavior occur in a gradual process after a person becomes a Christian. The mistaken belief that a person must ‘clean up’ his or her own life in order to merit God’s presence is not Christianity. This means, though, that the church will be filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go emotionally, morally, and spiritually. As the saying has it: ‘The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.’"--From The Reason for God

Thursday, February 21, 2008

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.--Romans 8:28-30 (ESV)

What an amazing passage.  Listen to God's promise: "I will work all things together for your good."  The King of the universe will not let even a sparrow fall (Matt. 6).  He will hold us in His hands.  When it seems like we have fallen, we need to remember this truth.

This promise is universal for Christians: All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  (Note that non-believers are not mentioned in this promise.  This is a special privilege of God's children.)  About a week ago, I caught the cold which has been going around Orange County.  Though I could be tempted to think that God could not work through such a small trial, I know that He did.  He works through all things for the good of those who love Him.

James 1 tells us that "trials of various kinds" make us steadfast in the faith.  This steadfastness then makes us "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  Through what seems to us to be detrimental is in reality making us perfect.  When trials hit, and storms crash over our souls, we need to hear this promise in our hearts: God will work this for good.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Feeling Weak? Try This!

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.--Romans 8:26-27 (ESV)

Do you feel weak right now?  The Bible says that right now, no matter how strong you feel, you are weak.  How are we weak?  There are many ways in which we are weak.  Perhaps right now, you have the cold that is going around and your body is weak.  Maybe your mind is weak (mine is).  One example of our weakness which Paul mentions in this passage is that we do not know what to pray for.  We are dense (I know I am).  We are unobservant--we miss obvious needs in our lives.  Our minds are fallen and so we fail to pray as we ought.

But, in our weakness the Spirit helps us.  Isn't that amazing?  When I am weak, God Himself gives me His power.  Now, I believe we should interpret verse 26 widely.  Paul does not tell us the only way the Spirit helps us in this passage; he simply gives an very important example.  One example I could give would be: When I wake up in the morning, one of my first prayers is, "God, help me to get out of bed and wake up."  God is gracious; when I pray this prayer I almost invariably feel energized and ready to wake up.  This is just one of the ways the Spirit helps me in my weakness.

We need to realize that as children of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we have God's power promised to us.  This afternoon, I was having some difficulty dwelling on the Lord and His gifts to me.  However, after I cried out to God for help, I found it far easier to think on the Cross.  I need to think on this fact all the time: The Spirit of the Lord God helps me when I am weak.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit.--Romans 8:23 (ESV)

The word firstfruits refers to a tithe of sorts.  Under Old Testament Law, the Jews brought the firstfruits of their harvest to God as an offering.  It goes without saying that the actual harvest was much greater than the firstfruits.  So it is interesting to me that Paul used the word firstfruits to refer to the Spirit's current indwelling.  Paul seems to be saying, "Yes, this is good.  The Spirit's gifts to us now are excellent.  But when we cross over into eternity, there will be such a difference in our experience of God that this will be like just the tithe of the harvest."  This is a remarkable truth, especially in light of the fact that this entire chapter is discussing the benefits which the Spirit brings to us.  These benefits should impress us with God's grace and mercy to us.  And yet, these are just the firstfruits of His favor on us.  Paul goes through gift of grace after great gift of grace and then sneaks in one quiet phrase, "This is just the beginning."  

This hope should increase our love for God and anticipation of Heaven all the more.  Yes, the Lord has given us a taste of the glory of Heaven by His Spirit.  At the same time, however, we should not be preoccupied with this world but instead be patiently waiting for an far greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Finishing Tape

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.--Romans 8:18-25

Paul ended the last section of Romans 8 by stating that we must suffer in order that we may be glorified with Christ.  We must suffer.  The Lord will allow Satan to afflict us.  We can be one hundred percent sure that, until the Lord returns, we will suffer.  Paul does not shrink away from this truth; he rather lifts our eyes to our glorious hope.  He makes the astonishing statement that "the suffering of this present time is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us."  We would waste our time and energy comparing today's trials with tomorrow's joy.

He then proves this statement by showing how the creation longs for the coming of the Lord and its release from futility.  He argues that the creation, though it is currently beautiful and grand, longs eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  It follows, then, that we have an unspeakably great glory to look forward to.  This is not just a dry theological truth that Christians are glorified in eternity.  This hope gives us a place to stand when trials crush our false foundations in this world.  In the same way that a runner is strengthened by the sight of the finishing tape, we can be strengthened by thoughts of our future joy.  To meditate on our hope of glory will nourish our souls and bring us "peace that surpasses all comprehension." (Phil. 4:7)

Verse 25 of Romans 8 says that we wait for this glory with patience.  When we lift our eyes from our temporary sufferings to our future eternal joy, no trial will be too strong to stand and--though our heart is broken--our faith will stand intact.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Praise Report on Ethan

For those of you had not heard, my older brother and his wife had their first child on the 1st.  Unfortunately, he was a month early and his liver was not up to speed when he was born.  As a result, he contracted jaundice, which can cause mental retardation in infants.  For the last couple days, he's been on a unique treatment plan.  Praise be to God--He answered our prayers and the treatment worked.  With his bilirubin numbers under 12, Ethan is now officially a healthy baby boy.

Holy Kissing in the 21st Century

Greet one another with a holy kiss.--Romans 16:16

Does this sound a little strange to you?  It sure does to me.  A "holy kiss"?  What is a "holy kiss" and why would we ever use them?  This verse caught my attention (perhaps not for the right reasons) as I was reading Romans 16 a few minutes ago.  I have never greeted someone with a holy kiss--and unless I'm mistaken, none of my friends have either.  After reflecting on the fact that a youth pastor who spoke on this verse would be very popular, I decided to do some quick research on one of my favorite web sites:  John Piper's excellent sermon on Romans 16 not only explains what this holy kiss was, but also applies this verse to modern times.

Is the holy kiss simply a cultural phenomenon, completely irrelevant to modern Christians?  It might seem that way.  Indeed, the Gospels contain several references to kissing as a common greeting of the 1st century--similar to a modern-day handshake or a hug.  So, it would not have seemed strange to Paul's hearers to hear, "kiss each other".  In our culture, we simply don't do this.  [Note: kissing is still used as a greeting in other cultures, just not in American culture.]

But, one could also argue that there is a way modern American Christians can apply this verse to their lives.  The motive for the holy kiss was simply to tangibly display the love which Christians held for each other.  Jesus exhorted his disciples to love each other in John 15:12-17.  The holy kiss was a way for Christians to say to each other, "I love you like a brother."  I think this is the key to applying this verse to our lives.  The kiss is not the important element; brotherly affection--being displayed through tangible actions--is the key.  We can apply this verse by trying to find ways to show our love for other Christians.  Whether it's giving them a big hug when we greet them at church, praying for them, helping them when they're in a tight spot, or a thousand other things, we can display our love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ--in effect, we can give each other holy kisses.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.--Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)

Isn't the Lord so merciful?  We deserve Hell; He gives us the glory of Heaven.  We deserve condemnation; He takes the punishment for our sin upon Himself.  We are unholy rebels and criminals--yet somehow, God adopts us. He is pleased to call filthy sinners His children.  All glory to God!

Because of God's gracious adoption, we can call the almighty Lord of the universe "Daddy."  We weak and unrighteous humans can lean on His bosom, find solace in His love, know He hears our prayers, and receive a glorious inheritance in Heaven.

However, in this world, we will "suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him."  We have not yet come into our inheritance.  When we are afflicted with trials, we should think of these verses and (1) hope in our future glory, and (2) know that our suffering is necessary if we wish to be glorified in Heaven.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Simple Evangelistic Message


"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."--Mark 1:15 (ESV)

"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."--Acts 2:37-38 (ESV)

My church has been going through a series on evangelism recently, and so I have been looking for Bible passages which model proper evangelism.  I have been surprised to see not only how many times the Bible exhorts unbelievers to be saved, but also by the simplicity of the message preached.

In Acts 2, Peter preached a sermon which can be read (and, I infer was preached) in just a few minutes.  His oration was not eloquent nor was it long--but through it he convicted thousands of their need for salvation.  In Mark 1:15, Jesus commanded unbelievers to "repent and believe" because "the kingdom of God is at hand"--a very simple and straightforward exhortation.  Obviously, the evangelistic message is not a complicated message.

In my opinion, though, modern Christianity has overcomplicated evangelism.  For example, a few weeks ago, I attended a Christian concert with an evangelistic message.  A pastor spoke at great length on how life is only found in Jesus--a good message.  However, it took him forty-five minutes to get to the main point: "Repent and believe."  In my mind, novel techniques and wordplay and eloquent messages have oftentimes seemed essential to evangelism.  However, the Bible testifies to the contrary--that the gospel is not complicated and the message most needed by the world is simple.

As we look for evangelistic opportunities, let's keep the simplicity of the gospel in mind.