Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Love the Bible? We Desperately Need God's Perspective

I'm tempted to write at length about Jason Ruzek's message from this morning, "A Little Perspective," for it is one of the best intellectual and practical arguments I have heard for why we should read, study, and memorize Scripture. I think it's best, though, for me to refrain from saying too much and rather encourage you to take 30 or 35 minutes of your time and listen to it for yourself. You can access the message here. I pray that the Lord will speak to you through it as powerfully as he spoke to me this morning. 

Thanks, Jason, for your faithfulness to the Word, your dependence on the Spirit, and your love for the people of God.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Ultimate Source of Mercy

Mercy must have an ultimate source. This source must be pure, innocent, blameless, authoritative, offended or sinned against, and willing to create a world in which mercy is possible and preferable. 

Think about it. I may extend mercy to you today, but I myself am in need of mercy, perhaps even from you. What then gives me the authority to forgive you of your sin and release you from the consequences thereof when I am no better than you and hold no higher place than you? A prisoner has no right to release another prisoner. If for some reason one prisoner does acquire such authority, it was granted him from a higher source--a warden, a prison board, or a governor. Meaningful mercy must have a source above and beyond and behind the one extending mercy. 

If we were able to trace every act of mercy backwards, we would eventually come to one who is ultimate in authority, perfectly innocent, and not guilty of any offense. He would, in the most absolute sense, be the offended one who has every right to condemn and also the power to forgive, should he choose to forgive. And if this one should choose to forgive, that massive and mighty act would serve to legitimate every other act of mercy. In fact, without this first act, there could be no further acts. 

As Aristotle meditated on the nature and genesis of the created order, he surmised that every effect has a cause. Simple enough, but as you ponder this fact you see that the cause itself must also have had a cause, and that cause must have had a cause of its own and so on. As we trace the trail of causation backward, Aristotle argued that we must eventually come to some ultimate cause that is itself uncaused. He referred to this as "the unmoved mover." I am not familiar enough with Aristotle's works to know what he thought this ultimate cause might be, but whatever his imaginings he was surely right to postulate that there must be one ultimate cause of everything that is itself uncaused. This Cause is God Almighty--without beginning of days, without end of days, the Alpha and Omega, the one was and is and is to come, forever and ever, amen! He is the uncaused Cause, the unmoved Mover, the uncreated Creator. 

In the same way, mercy must have an ultimate source, an innocent authority that both commences the tide of mercy and legitimates, or puts his stamp of approval upon, every other act of mercy that follows. Without this ultimate source, mercy cannot exist in any meaningful sense. 

Praise be to God, for he is also the ultimate source of mercy. He is the unforgiven Forgiver, for he has committed no offense for which to be forgiven. As such, he is "the Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:5-6). He is perfectly holy and absolutely pure. He, through no fault of his own, was offended once then twice then countless times by sin against his good and gracious commandments. He therefore has every right to condemn and destroy, and yet he is overflowingly rich in mercy and thus chose a different path. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son [Jesus Christ] that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God, knowing that the price of sin was infinitely higher than any or all of us could pay, chose to take the penalty upon himself and pay the price of himself, to himself. And this massive and mighty act of mercy is the source and authority of all other mercies. Were it not for this one solitary act, secondary mercies would not be possible. 

So, the next time you receive mercy from any source, give thanks to God and our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is the Source of all mercy received. And the next time you extend mercy to anyone for any reason, give thanks to God and our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is the Source of all mercy given. All true acts of mercy manifest the glory and graciousness of God. 

"Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13) because mercy flows from the very heart of God (Ephesians 2:4) who is the ultimate Source and the final authority. Praise be to his great and gracious name! 

Jesus is a Spring Song to Me

In the winter of my soul, oh Lord my God,
You are like a spring song to me!
In the midst of all my troubles, trials, and pains,
You are a sweet spring song to me!

Life calls out from death,
Joy cries out from sorrow,
Hope transforms despair,
Mercy triumphs over judgment.

No matter what my circumstances, Lord my God,
You are like a spring song to me!
Reaching out from heaven for to bring me home,
You are a sweet spring song to me!

Two of My Favorite Songs from Les Miserables

Kim and I had a wonderful date tonight. First, we had dinner at the Olive Garden, courtesy of a friend. Then we enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and talked about the power of the good news of Jesus Christ to get to the root of our hearts and transform us from the inside out. Oh how we love to relish in the gospel together. That's what first attracted us to one another, and that's what's still the glue and fire of our relationship, praise be to God. 

Then we decided to go see the new version of Les Miserables starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crow, and Anne Hathway, among others. Wow. Except for one scene that was unnecessarily long and a little too graphic at one point, this version was very powerful. Without going into too many details, it is the story of the redemption of a man who went to prison for a relatively minor crime but then spent many more years there due to repeated attempts at escape, etc. He finally gets out on life-time parole, but ends up stealing some things from a man who promptly forgives him and blesses him with even more than he stole. This act of mercy changes Jean Valjean's life. He himself becomes a successful and merciful man, but one who has also fled from his parole and is thus trying to escape from his past. He has changed his identity, and God has changed his heart, but his predicament gives rise to much drama--you simply must see the movie! 

I already posted these to Facebook, but I just can't help myself, I have to re-post here two of my favorite songs from the play/movie. My favorite song is entitled Bring Him Home. Jean Valjean, the redeemed man, is praying for a young man who is in love with his "adopted" daughter, Cosette, and who is in immanent danger of death by war. Just after singing the song, he saves the young man's life and delivers him home so that he can "live happily ever after" with Cosette, which he does. This turn of events is a fruit of the biblical truth that "mercy triumphs over judgment," that redemption gives rise to acts of redemption. And praise be to God that this truth is more than a twist or turn in a movie. Through Jesus Christ, God has made a way for true and eternal redemption in our lives, the kind that causes us to become redemptive people. 

My next favorite song is entitled Who Am I? I don't like the song itself so much, it's a little choppy and awkward at points, but it encapsulates a masterful moral moment in the story. Jean Valjean has, it seems, escaped from his former life and has become a blessing to others, however, another man is mistaken for him and is now facing judgment in his place. If Jean Valjean confesses that he's the true offender (the one who forsook parole), he will certainly go back to prison and consign his workers to many hardships. But if he does not confess, then he's damned because he then willingly allows another to unwillingly suffer in his place. Thus the question, Who Am I? It's a profound one given the context. 

I want to bring this post to an end by saying, once more, that redemption is not just a theme in a fictional story, it is a living and eternal reality in Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what I mean, check out the real "Story" of life here

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Praising God for our Recently Departed 1990 Honda Accord-LX

It seems like only yesterday, but alas, nearly six years have passed since the day we bought our precious little, rusted out 1990 Honda Accord-LX. We paid $1,500 cash for her, invested another $1,000 along the way, and drove her for some 70,000 miles...but today she died! 

It was sad, yes, but expected. She has been showing signs of age and deterioration for some months, and we knew her time was near. She died as she had lived: serving the Handren family well. We were on the way to work when she had a massive heart-attack (the engine suddenly stopped working). It was painless, and peaceful. 

We will miss her: the lame-goose horn, the key that's been stuck in the ignition for the last five years, the rear left window that won't roll down, the windshield wiper fluid that only squirts out of one side, the metal hood-holder-thingy that has to be wedged in front of the radiator, the constant oil leaks that make a mess everywhere we go and cause the car to smoke when we're sitting still, the heater that's been stuck in the full hot position for the last three years, the carpet on the driver's side door that we finally ripped off because it became so annoying, the visor that one of Rachel's friends accidentally broke off last year, the rear bumper that's held up by high-tech bungee-cords because the quarter panels are too rusty to hold it up anymore, the old squeaking parts on the front-wheel assembly that make it impossible to sneak up on people, the awesome rear spoiler that's been hanging on by way of a miracle for the last two years, the trunk that closes when it's in the mood to close--thank you very much--the bent and rusted front quarter panels that often hooked and ripped my pants, the massively rusted front license plate holder that busted off when I tried to change the plate last month...

Oh, Honda, we shall miss you very much! You served us well. You did your part. Despite all your flaws and weaknesses and wounds, you gave us all you had to give. We bid you adieu and wish you well as you pass on to the next world. Certainly, it will be Honda-heaven for you. And hopefully your many organ donations will help others live, even as you die. 

And praise be to God who provides for all of our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus! Praise be to him who brought us this old Honda, and who has already prepared for us another. May we be pleased to wait on him, and may he be glorified as he provides for us! 

Free E-Book from Desiring God

I received an e-mail this morning from Desiring God about a new free e-book they have just released. The title graphic is above. The book is aimed at pastors and is being published in preparation for Desiring God's upcoming pastor's conference in February. You can download the e-book and find information about the conference here

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Limited Knowledge and Joy in God

Over the last few months, my friend Dave Fergus and I have read several books on the relationship between Christianity and science, and more specifically on the Bible, creationism, and the origins of the universe. I am in the midst of developing a summary of ten or so views on the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 which I will publish here when the time is right, but for now I wanted to share this paragraph from a book by Vern Poythress entitled, Redeeming Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006). 

The chapter is entitled "The Role of Mankind in Science" and the thesis is that, whereas human beings were created in the image of God with the requisite wonder and ability to discover something of the inner-workings of God's creation, we have also been corrupted by sin so that our fundamental perspective and conclusions are necessarily skewed. We may see certain things with a measure of accuracy, but always as through a glass darkly. This applies to Christians as well as non-Christians, and thus we would do well to humble ourselves before the Lord and content ourselves in the knowledge he has been pleased to grant us for his glory and our joy. 

With that, here is the paragraph from Poythress: "Knowing all about how God created matters only if we think we have to have absolute knowledge. We say to ourselves, 'We must know, and not be cooped up under the onerous limitations that our environment may have temporarily forced upon us.' But underneath, that is rebellious talk. We want godlike knowledge, and we make ourselves discontent with the situation in which God in his wisdom has placed us. I would say in reply, 'Get a grip on your ambition, humble yourself, relax, and accept that you are a creature. It is okay not to know, if God does not give us the means of knowing. It is enough that he knows, and he will take care of the rest" (162). 

Amen--may we learn to live in humble faith, content in the knowledge and joy God designs to give us. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lee Strobel - Does Science Point To A Creator?

Good debate between a Christian and an atheist on the relationship between science, the physical universe, and the existence of God. Hope you enjoy!

A Christmas Message from the Gospel of Mark

It can be challenging for a preacher to come up with something new to say about the Christmas story year after year after year, especially when you're preaching to the same church year after year after year! One way that I seek to keep that fresh is by cycling through the four New Testament books that tell the story of the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. 

That's a great idea until you come to the gospel of Mark and discover that Mark is in a bit of a hurry and therefore doesn't say a word about the birth of Jesus. Because of this fact I almost skipped over Mark this year, but something told me, "Don't do that. Be patient. Pray. Preach about the birth of Jesus from a book that doesn't tell the story of his birth." 

It didn't take long for me to see that by going to Mark this year, I could focus on the "why" of Jesus' birth rather than the "what." So that's what I did. It was a real blessing for me, and I hope it was for others, too. I've decided to copy the introduction to the message below. You can listen to it here as soon as my good friend Brett Springfield puts it on-line, probably some time within the next 24 hours or so. 

I pray that the Lord will draw near to you this year as you seek to understand why he was born, and what that has to do with you! 

“Come Let Us Adore Him:
Repent and Believe the Good News of Jesus Christ
Mark 1:1-45
December 23, 2012

Introduction (1:1)
As I explained during the Advent devotional, these first words of the gospel of Mark, “the beginning,” are very important and pregnant. They signal a period of time in which something really big breaks into the world and establishes itself. They signal a new era, a new Kingdom, and in this case a new King who will come to rule and reign forever and ever.

And to be more specific, the thing that’s beginning here is the gospel or the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This word “gospel” which means “good news” was used throughout the Greek world in the days of Jesus to refer to the announcement of something very important. It referred to big news not small news. So it was not used to refer to events like the building of a new structure downtown, or to some taking place at a Greek or Jewish Community Center or whatever. Rather, it was used to refer to something big like the birth of the son of Caesar, the King of Rome, or the beginning of the service of a new High Priest of Israel. When you hear the word “gospel” you should think two things: “really big news” and “very good news.”

And again, this particular really big and very good news centers on Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This phrase “Son of God” does not mean that he was created by God, although at an earthly level he was the Son of God in the sense that he was born of the virgin Mary who was made to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. But this phrase doesn’t mainly refer to that, rather, as we saw in our study of Hebrews chapter 1, it more importantly refers to the position that Jesus Christ holds in the universe. He’s not merely the son of some great earthly king and the heir to his throne. He’s not merely the son of some great high priest and the heir to that position in Israel. Rather, Jesus is the Son of the Most High God and he is therefore the heir to the Throne above all thrones. He is therefore the rightful inheritor of that High Priesthood that will endure forever.

Mark is announcing the inauguration of a new era, a new Kingdom, and a new King who will reign forever because he sits on the very Throne of God. This is great big news, this is very good news, this is life-shaping news, this is earth-shaking news. This is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

And as I said earlier, this “beginning” began at least 1,300 years before Jesus Christ was born, and truth be told it was even earlier than that. From the very moment sin entered this world, God began to point toward the day when his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, would come to take away our sins. But Mark is content to draw upon Exodus 23:20 and Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 in order to get our attention and let us know that God had been planning the inauguration of the reign of Jesus for a very long time.

Jesus didn’t come out of nowhere. His life and ministry and death and resurrection were not Plan B. No, the Lord God Almighty had been planning this infiltration into the world for a very long time, in fact the Bible teaches us elsewhere that planned it from before the foundation of the world. “In the beginning was the Word, Jesus Christ, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And when the time was full, Jesus took on flesh and came to pursue and refine his people for the glory of his name and the blessing of the nations. This is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Severity and Fruitfulness of Jesus' Suffering: A Meditation on Hebrews 5:7-10

"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." 
Hebrews 5:7-10 

I am deeply touched by the depth of Jesus’ emotion as articulated in this passage. It's so easy to live with an unrealistic vision of Him as one who was courageous and strong and untouched by all of the suffering He witnessed and experienced, as well as the weight He carried in life. But in truth, Jesus felt pain. Jesus suffered. Jesus grieved. Jesus felt the crushing weight of life, circumstances, and the sin of others. Jesus found obedience difficult, not in that He didn't want what His Father wanted, but in that doing what His Father wanted required serious suffering and sacrifice. He had to completely depend upon His Father to do the will of His Father, which is at the heart of why he prayed with loud cries and tears. 

I will never forget the night our daughter Rachel was born. Mainly I remember the miracle of life I was privileged to witness that night, but then there was that woman who was screaming in the other room as she gave birth to her child. I don't think I had heard screams like that before, and I'm sure I haven't heard screams like that since. 

As I ponder the "loud cries and tears" of Jesus, this is what comes to mind. They were not Hollywood-like tears--they were the deep, painful, sincere, and hopeful cries of a Savior who was giving birth to all who would believe in him. And in order for that to happen, he had to suffer along with them and become the sacrifice for their sins. Who can imagine carrying such weight? Who can fathom the depths of Jesus' cries? 

It would be a mistake only to ponder the suffering of Jesus in moments like these, because there was also in His heart and life a great, bright hope that could not be overcome by the seriousness of what He was facing. Specifically, His Father heard his heart and received his prayers, every step of the way, and He did so because Jesus cried out with reverence. That is, He cried out with respect, submission, humility, and willingness to do whatever He was called to do, no matter how difficult or costly. Indeed, he endured the suffering of the cross because of the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

Because of His willingness to obey the Father all the way to death on a cross, the Father rescued Him from  death by raising Him from the dead. The Father vindicated His way of life, and His claims about His life, by setting Him apart from every other person who has ever claimed to be a teacher sent from God. How many teachers do you know who've been raised from death? This, indeed, puts Jesus in a class by Himself and validates his claim to be the Savior of all who believe, to be their great High Priest before God the Father. 

One of the reasons why things had to transpire in this way, why Jesus had to suffer, was that, although He was and is the Son of God, he had to learn obedience through suffering. What does this mean? It does not mean that Jesus was ever less than obedient. It does not mean that He formerly lacked moral fiber or experience and had to go through some kind of testing process in order to mature from one kind of person into another kind of person. 

No, the clue to what this means is found in the words "being made perfect." Without going into too much detail, this very word is used repeatedly in the Greek version of the Old Testament, often called the Septuagint or referred to as the LXX. When one looks up and analyzes these usages, one sees that the word often refers to the ordination of a priest, so that after going through a particular God-ordained process a priest, or group of priests, was "perfected" or "ordained." I am certain that this is what the author of Hebrews has in mind. God the Father prepared an ordination process for Jesus so that He could be the one eternal High Priest who would stand as a mediator between a holy God and sinful man forever and ever. So Jesus learned obedience through suffering as part of a God-ordained process by which Jesus himself was "ordained" or "perfected" or "made ready" to serve as the eternal High Priest of heaven. 

And having been so ordained, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. Jesus obeyed the Father unto death, that through simple belief we might obey Jesus unto eternal life. The suffering of Jesus was severe. The positive fruit of that suffering is beyond measure. Perfect obedience led to perfect salvation for all who believe. The pay off for obedience far outweighs the suffering that has to be endured in the process of living it out. 

This is a lesson for all of us to learn. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, the Father made Him the one to be obeyed. The Father exalted Him to the place of the eternal High Priest who entered into the real Holy of Holies, where God dwells, to make a once for all perfect sacrifice for humankind (Hebrews 9:23-28). Having learned perfect obedience through earthly suffering, He has become our Lord and Priest, firm but merciful, because He understands the difficulties and suffering of obedience, because He took upon Himself the penalty for our disobedience. 

We will not be exalted to so high a place because of our obedience, but the lesson still remains: as we learn obedience from what we suffer, God will exalt us to the places He has prepared for us. Fruitfulness in the family of God emerges from heart-felt submission to God. And the only reason we can submit to Jesus in this way is because Jesus submitted to the Father in this way. Obedience to Jesus is a work of Jesus in the heart of the believer. 

So the call upon us in this text is (1) to marvel at the glory and humility of Christ and (2) to submit to Christ on the basis of the work of Christ. May God grant us ears to hear and eyes to see. 

Excellent AND FREE Resource for Knowing and Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ

I woke up very early this morning and so used the extra time to watch a couple of video resources by Don Carson, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and, more importantly, a lover of Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, Don mentioned a book he wrote entitled The God Who Is There, as well as a series of videos that were made to go along with it. The videos are intended to be used in small group Bible studies, especially with non-Christians or with new Christians who want to learn more about God, the Bible, the church, and so on. 

And then he mentioned that all of the videos are available on-line for free! So I looked them up and found them on The Gospel Coalition's website, you can access them here

Don is a well educated man and thus the style of the videos leans toward the "lecture" style, so this resource will not work for everyone. But if you're looking for a way to learn or share the good news of Jesus Christ, here is one FREE resource that's worth taking a look at. One way or the other, let's all take the time to pray for Don and this series, that the Lord would use it mightily to glorify his great name in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Some Purposes of God in the Suffering of Christ: A Meandering Meditation on Colossians 1:15-23

Colossians 1:15-23
(Read the text here

The first few verses of this chapter paint a stunning picture of the glory of Christ, for here we are told that... 

(1) Jesus is the firstborn over all creation; 
(2) Jesus is the Creator of all things in heaven and earth, including the nature and scope of authority; 
(3) All things were created by Jesus and for Jesus; 
(4) In Jesus all things hold together; 
(5) Jesus is the head of the church; and 
(6) Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. 

Paul concludes, “…so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” As I  meditated on this phrase I came to see that the suffering of Christ plays a critical role in His supremacy, for not only is He the God of creation, He is also the Prince of suffering. Not only is He immeasurably high, He is also unthinkably humble. Not only is He the Lion of Judah, He is also the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—through suffering and death. 

Accordingly, verses 19-20 teach us that the reason for Jesus' suffering was that we who believe in Him might be reconciled to God. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Several things here are nearly unfathomable to me: 

(1) That God could, and would, manifest his fullness in human form. If this is a familiar idea to you, stop to think about it for a while. Let it become less familiar. Ask God to escort you into the mystery, the impossibility, the wonder, the beauty, the mercy of this truth. 

(2) That through Jesus' suffering, God reconciled to himself, not only things on earth, but things in heaven, which refers back to verse 16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Hmm, just when I think I grasp the gospel! I'm not sure I'll ever understand the fullness of what this means, but it's sure worth meditating upon. 

(3) That Christ manifested the glory of God and accomplished redemption for humanity through the horror of the cross. The juxtaposition of life and death, of might and mercy, of strength and submission, of beauty and horror are stunning, and will in fact cause the host of heaven to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit forever and ever! 

For the purposes of Paul in the letter to the Colossians, what's the bottom line? That we, who were once alienated from God because of our rebellion against God, have now been reconciled by God to God through Christ’s “physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”—that is, if we continue in the holy faith. Complicated, I know, but worth thinking about. 

Jesus suffered and died that we might enter into eternal and unbreakable fellowship with God. The door to that fellowship is called "by grace through faith"--there is no other door. That is, when we respond to God's gift of grace with simple, heartfelt belief, all of the benefits of the suffering of Christ become ours--forever! The fruit of this is that we, in Christ, become holy in God's sight, we appear before him as though we have no blemish at all, and we are even freed from any and all accusations that can be made against us. Not that a spirit or person cannot voice the accusations, but that the accusations will not stick because "Jesus paid it all, all to Him we owe!" 

I am deeply grateful to God this afternoon, though honestly all of this is far beyond me. All I know is that I have experienced, and am experiencing, the reconciling power of God in Christ and I'm thankful beyond words! Thank you, Lord Jesus, for making peace through your shed blood.Thank you for being willing to suffer, that we might be free. 

I encourage you, my friends, to read Colossians 1:15-23 prayerfully and carefully, and allow the Lord to feed you with the richest of food! Put the phone down for a while, lasting joy is in the good news of Jesus Christ! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ravi Zacharias on the Exclusivity of Christianity

Just watched this clip from Ravi Zacharias on how Christianity can claim to be the one true religion. As usual, he is gracious in disposition, incisive in reason, and true in love toward Jesus and others. I hope this blesses you as it did me. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Suffering, Humility, and Obedience: Philippians 2:5-13

Philippians 2:5-13
(Read the text here

In this passage, Paul is trying to teach the Philippians about sacrifice and being other-centered. To do so, he uses what scholars think is an early hymn about the sacrifice, suffering, and obedience of Jesus Christ. Jesus was in very nature God—he had the ultimate power position, not just in his grasp, but in his very being. But Jesus did not consider ultimate power something to be grasped. That’s not what he was after, that’s not what he valued, that’s not the basis on which he made decisions. Rather, “he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant…” 

Whereas Jesus was in very nature God, he chose to manifest himself as a servant. He became a human being, but even as a human being he did not choose to be a king or a power broker, rather, he “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Jesus understood the principle that God exalts the humble and humbles the exalted, and so he came and gave us a shining example of what it is like to sacrifice everything for the sake of others. 

And in the end, “the very nature of a servant” is obedience. As it says in Hebrews 5:8-10, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” What’s important about Jesus life and example for us is not just that he suffered or just that he died a heinous death, but that he did those things in obedience to the Father. It is Jesus’ perfect obedience that sets him apart from the rest of humanity, and it is from his obedience that we should learn most. This is the “attitude of Christ Jesus” that Paul mentions in verse five. 

Jesus' obedience caused him much pain, but it was not without rewards. “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…to the glory of God the Father.” God exalts the humble, and the humble are marked by obedience. As we are obedient to the Father, as we choose the destiny that He has chosen for us, we too will receive His rewards! We too will be exalted, not to the place of Jesus, but to a place at God’s table! 

Paul concludes the passage like this: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” As we look to Jesus’ example, let us imitate him, but let us recognize that it is God who does the “heavy lifting”! God will give us the will, the desire, and the ability to act according to his calling on our lives and our churches, as we depend upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. His yoke is easy, his burden is light. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Support Sarah Fergus!

Here's a note I just sent to our church about Sarah Fergus, a young lady who is soon on her way to serve Jesus in Madagascar for the next two and one-half years. Check out her blog here

Hello Everyone, 

Sarah Fergus and I have been e-mailing back and forth over the last day, and here's where she's at: 

1. She has bought her tickets, and she will be leaving the country--Lord willing, of course! 

2. She does have enough support to go, but she really needs another $100-150 per month of support to be at an optimal level. Please pray about joining her support team, and feel free to forward her blog address to anyone who might be willing to lift her up in prayer or offer financial support ('s contact information is on the blog-site). 

3. Please consider coming to Sarah's send off party from 4-9 p.m. on December 29 at the home of Dave and Susan Fergus (19352 Carson Cir NW, Elk River, 55330). 

4. Please attend the worship service on December 30 where we will be commissioning Sarah for the glory of Christ. 

5. Please put Sarah on your prayer list and intercede with her as she gives her life for the glory of Christ and the Bara people. I pray that our church will have a real sense that WE are on a mission with Sarah and AIM in Madagascar! 

Thanks so much for reading this note, and for your sincere love for the Lord and his work in the world. Oh how I pray that the Lord will increase the fruitfulness of GCF so that we can send many more across the street and around the world for the glory of Christ! 

With joy and hope in Jesus who gave it all for us, 
Pastor Charlie 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Glorious Outcome of the Suffering of Christ

Ephesians 2:1-22 
(read it here)

Before we believed in Jesus Christ, we were dead in our transgressions and sins. We followed the ways of this world and sought to satisfy our every craving, and we were therefore by nature objects of God's rightful wrath. But because of God’s great love and mercy, he made us alive with Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead, and he seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms so that “he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, we should be mindful of the fact that we were once far off, separated from citizenship in Israel and in God’s kingdom, but “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” 

That is why it is said, “For he himself is our peace.” Jesus abolished the law so that the dividing wall between Jew and gentile would be forever destroyed. In him, the two became one and are at peace, and in this one body he reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God through the cross, “by which he put to death their hostility.” He preached peace to them both, and now both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 

Therefore, we gentiles are no longer foreigners but members of God’s household, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone,” a house which is rising to become a holy temple in the Lord, a house in which “God lives by his Spirit.” 

The severity of the suffering of Jesus is as nothing when compared to the glory of what he accomplished through his suffering. And the glory of what he accomplished was no doubt central to “the joy that was set before him" by which he "endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

So again we see that, for Christ, suffering was not an end in itself but rather it was a path to other things that were much more valuable than suffering. The hope of glory gave him the strength to endure, and such is the case for us. The more we understand about the purposes of God in suffering, the more we are able to keep our eyes fixed on God in the midst of our suffering and enter into the hope of glory he's prepared for us in Christ.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Suffering, Glory, and Hope in Christ

Today's blog post on suffering is a short one. Several passages indicate that Jesus was destined to suffer and then to be glorified through (1) the resurrection and ascension, and (2) the repentance and forgiveness of some people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Jesus was both well aware of the details of his earthly suffering (see the post entitled "Jesus Leads his Followers into Suffering"), and the glory that was to come because of his suffering (e.g., Luke 17:22-25, 22:14-16, 24:25-27, 24:44-49, and Acts 3:17-18). And it was the knowledge of this glory that gave him the hope to endure all his trials. 

As I have meditated on the texts listed above, I've come to see that it's imperative for us to make the connection between our present suffering in Christ and our eventual glory in Christ. The glory that is gained through suffering cannot be compared to the suffering itself, and fixing our eyes on the hope of glory gives us the strength and joy to endure (see Hebrews 12:1-2). 

So if you're going through something right now and you need help, pray for the grace to take your eyes off of yourself and your circumstances, fix them on Christ and your destiny in him by meditating on his word, and then put your hope in the glory that is to come. This is not a quick fix, and it will take time and effort, but it will transform your entire vision of suffering as well as your present experience of it. 

May the Lord be near to you as you fight to fix your eyes on him. 

Genius - The Movie

Today is the anniversary of John Lennon's death, and in honor of the occasion Ray Comfort and "Living Waters Ministries" has released a new movie entitled, "Genius--the Movie." If you have some time, check it out, as it probes into the most important question of life: what will happen when we die? Where is John Lennon now? Where will we be when we die? What does it matter? 

Hope you enjoy the movie...

Friday, December 07, 2012

Gospel Coalition Video

Spent some time this evening watching some of the video resources on The Gospel Coalition website, and I would encourage you to check it out yourself. You can access the video page here. Happy viewing!

Jesus Purposefully Led his Followers into Suffering

"And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, 'See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.'" 

Mark 10:32-34

The Lord knew what he had to suffer, and that is a suffering in itself. He had to die to his own will and desire to avoid suffering, pain, and death. These things were his Father's chosen way for him and he let his Father's  plans shape his decisions and his destiny. Therefore, “They [Jesus and his disciples and followers] were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way…” 

We shouldn’t assume that this was easy for Jesus. As it says in Hebrews 5:7-10, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus had to be shaped by suffering just like the rest of us, and this was not easy for him, but he chose the way of his Father over the way of his flesh. 

Jesus’ closest followers, the twelve, were astonished by his actions. On a human level, they knew what was at stake. Of course, they had earthly ends in mind for Jesus and had set their sights on that, but the point is that they had a clear sense of the likely outcome of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem--his death and possibly theirs. And yet, Jesus led the way and the twelve followed. 

Jesus’ broader circle of followers were also afraid. They understood that going to Jerusalem meant not only suffering for Jesus and the twelve but also for them. Their comfort, health and even lives were at stake, and they must have wondered, “What in the world is Jesus doing?” And yet, Jesus led the way. Understanding what the twelve and his followers were feeling, Jesus took the twelve aside and “told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We ARE going up to Jerusalem.’” It was as if he was saying, “There is not another way. I know that this strikes fear into your heart, but this is my Father’s will and we must follow it. Suffering is not optional for those who follow me, but my Father is good and he is in control.” 

Notice that Jesus knew very specific details about his Father’s will (verses 33-34). Among them were: 

(1) He knew that he would be “betrayed,” which implies that an insider would turn on him--one whom he loved. The pain of betrayal is greater than any other relational pain, and we would be wrong to assume that Jesus was inoculated from that pain. 

(2) He knew that the religious leaders of the Jews would sentence him to death and otherwise facilitate his suffering. These were his people, he had come to his own, but his own would not receive him (John 1:11). 

(3) He knew that he would be handed over to the Gentiles, to foreign peoples who were alienated from the promises of God to Israel and who were without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). 

(4) He knew that the Gentiles would “mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.” It's one thing to suffer; it's a whole other thing to know the details of what you're about to suffer and walk right into it anyway. Again, we should not assume that this was easy for Jesus. This depth and specificity of knowledge only served to deepen his conscious experience of suffering beyond what we can imagine. 

(5) He knew that he would rise again from death--he had a living hope that outweighed the weight of his pain, and this hope led him on and carried him through. 

Can you imagine living with the knowledge that one of the people in whom you had invested for three years—24 hours per day—would eventually turn on you and hand you over to your enemies? Can you imagine living with the knowledge that the leaders who taught you the ways of God, the people to whom you looked up all of your life, would eventually facilitate your death? Can you imagine living with the knowledge that those leaders would not only condemn you to death, but hand you over to their enemies? Can you imagine living with the knowledge that you would be publicly ridiculed, laughed at, abused, beaten, and killed? Can you imagine living with the hope that despite all of your suffering, God would vindicate you in the end and gain great glory for himself? That is suffering. That is submission. That is allowing the Father's plans to shape your decisions and destiny. 

In addition to meditating on these things, ponder this as well: in taking the twelve aside, Jesus was responding to their concerns and fears but notice that he did not necessarily try to comfort them or to ease their fears. He did not give them a way out, or seek to deliver them from the suffering they had to endure. Instead, he  explained to them the will of God and led them right into the heart of that will. He invited them into the kind of suffering that knows the details of our suffering beforehand and chooses to walk into it anyway out of loving obedience to the Father. He wanted them to be shaped by suffering, even as he was being shaped by it, for the glory of the Father, the good of their souls, and the blessing of the nations. 

Jesus was, in essence, teaching them the depths of what this means, “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). May the Lord teach us this lesson as well. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Excellent Resource from The Gospel Coalition: Themelios Journal

Want to grow in the love and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ? If you're answer is yes, then I recommend that you check out The Gospel Coalition's website. It is rich with resources, particularly their free journal, Themelios (meaning "foundations"). The journal touches on a variety of topics that will help you grow in your faith, and includes a very robust book review section that analyzes books from a variety of categories. 

You can access the site, and all it offers, here. I was in a gathering with Don Carson and others from around the Twin Cities yesterday discussing the possibility of forming a Twin Cities chapter of The Gospel Coalition, and he mentioned in his remarks that this site gets 4,000,000 hits per month! Wow, may the Lord greatly increase their fruitfulness in the days to come for the glory of His name and the blessing of the nations. 

Happy reading! 

On the Purposes of God in Suffering

Some years ago, while going through a difficult time of life, I bowed before the Lord and begged him to get me out of the situation. The prayer session literally lasted for about two hours. Near the end of that time, I sensed the Lord's loving reply, by his Spirit, "Charlie, I don't want to get you out of this, I want to develop you in this." I felt a deep peace wash over me at that moment because I knew that my Father was with me, and that's all I really needed to know. The circumstances remained the same, but with the Lord at my side my attitude did not. 

As I moved on with my life, I thought it might be good to conduct a fairly thorough New Testament (NT) Bible study on the subject of suffering, and my mentor at the time, Tom Brindley, agreed and encouraged me to do so. I was surprised by what I found. First, I discovered over 60 passages from the NT that touch upon the subject, some of which are one or more chapters long. The Lord has much to say about suffering! 

Second, I quickly discerned, and slowly learned, that the Lord is neither cruel nor arbitrary nor out of control when it comes to suffering of various sorts, but rather that he has particular purposes in mind which he brings about through suffering. Suffering is, in fact, one of his most powerful and effective tools. Sometimes, of course, the Lord hears our cries and delivers us from trials, persecutions, sufferings, and the like. Take, for example, the many healing stories in the gospels and the book of Acts (e.g., Matthew 4:23-25, 8:14-17, 10:7-8, 15:21-31, 17:14-21, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 14:1-6, Acts 3:1-10 and 28:7-10). But more often than not, it seems, he desires to shape us into his image through these things for the glory of his name. 

Third, I discerned four reasons why we suffer: (1) We live in a fallen world, marred by sin, and thus we must endure earthquakes, hurricanes, disease, death, and the like. (2) We sin and pay the price for our sin. (3) Others sin and we pay the price for their sin. (4) We suffer in the course of exalting the glorious name of Jesus Christ in the world. I'll say more about this in the coming months on this blog, but for now let me just say that the Lord does have particular purposes in mind for each of these "sources" of suffering. 

In my study, I didn't attempt to understand or address the more general problem of evil, that is, how can evil exist if God is perfectly holy and good? This question is above my pay grade, and besides, at the time I didn't need theoretical answers to perplexing ontological questions, rather, I needed "on the ground" wisdom for understanding, enduring, and growing through the trials in my life. And the Lord did graciously reveal much wisdom to me that helped me endure then, and helps me endure now. 

So over the next...who knows how long...I plan to share the details of my study on this blog. My notes are organized by text, so I will just post my thoughts on this or that passage of Scripture and then at the end I'll post a few concluding thoughts. I hope and pray that the Lord will use this series of posts in your lives as powerfully as he did in mine. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Contentment in Christ and Service to Others

While doing some research earlier today, I came across something I wrote a few years ago on the connection between contentment in Christ and service to others. It's been so long since I wrote this, that it almost felt as though I was reading someone else's writing! By the grace of God, it served as a good reminder for me, and I hope it will for you, too. 

Our Father uses every single part of the body to build up the body in love to the glory of his name (Ephesians 4:1-16). There are no extra parts, there are no unnecessary parts, there are no superior parts, there are no inferior parts—rather we who are many become one in Christ as each of us submits to the Father and plays the part he’s given us to play. And in this way God utilizes the differences in gifting and position among us to work for the unity rather than the disunity of the church. What a mighty and gracious and ingenious God we serve! 

So for those of us who are leaders in the church, or who aspire to be leaders some day, we must understand that we’re not called to be big-shots or to make much of ourselves or to lord it over people. As our Lord said in Math 20:25ff, we know that the rulers of this world seek to lord over others and that they take much delight in exercising their authority. But it’s not to be that way among us. Rather, whoever would be great among us must become a true servant and whoever would be first among us must become a true slave. We must die to ourselves, die to our agendas, die to our right to govern our lives, and put ourselves in the hands of the Master for the glory of his name and the good of his church. Power in the church is always power for others and never simply power over others. 

And I think what enables leaders to embrace this way of thinking in the depths of their hearts is this: contentment in Christ. When a person’s soul is not content in Christ, when Christ is not enough for them, they tend to seek after power or prestige or possessions or pleasures or praise in order to fill up the infinite black hole that’s swirling at the center of their soul. But the problem with this pursuit is that the things of this world are finite and they can never fill up the infinite longings of our hearts. They may satisfy for a time but in the end they will always disappoint. They will always fade away. They will always leave us longing for more and feeling like we’re worse off now than we were when we started—that’s just the nature of the things of this world. I remember hearing a famous actor say some years ago, after he had reached the top of the world and gained access to all the things of the world, “Is this all there is?" And that’s the inevitable feeling of hopelessness one always feels when he or she tries to fill the infinite longings of the heart with the finite things of this world. 

But when, by the grace of God, a person turns to Christ and learns what it means to be content in him alone, he simply has no need to clamor for earthly things like power and position and praise because Christ is enough for him. He becomes free to lay his life down for the good of others without thought of himself because Christ has become his all in all. If he’s called to serve as a Pastor, great. If he’s called to serve as an administrative assistant, great. If he’s called to have secular employment and serve the church as a volunteer, great. If he’s called to be a prayer warrior who no one ever sees or recognizes, great. The particular role he plays is completely unimportant because his satisfaction is in Christ alone and his joy is to do the will of God alone. So I say again to those of us who are leaders in the church, or who aspire to be leaders, let us content ourselves in Christ alone and take our joy from being a servant, even a slave, of his people. 

And for those of us who are called to submit to the authority of God’s appointed leaders—which, by the way, is all of us—I would say much the same thing. A person who does not submit to authority is a person who is not content in Christ. A person who rebels against authority is a person who rebels against Christ. I understand that it takes time to build trust and to lay our lives in the hands of others, especially for those who’ve been wounded in the past. But I’m talking about the person who, even over time, is unwilling to submit to authority—that person is not content in Christ and is in rebellion against Christ. 

But a person who’s content in Christ and therefore delights to do his will, gladly submits to whatever authorities Christ places in his or her life. She won’t dwell so much on the particulars of who she’s submitting to and why, rather she’ll look to Christ and trust in him and gladly play whatever role he’s assigned to her. Her joy will be found in being one with Christ and participating with him in the great work of the Kingdom and frankly the details of her particular position will be unimportant to her. So I say again to those of us who are called to submit to authority, which is all of us, may we all learn the beauty of faith-filled, humble submission, knowing that Christ means to build us into one body and one temple and someday take us as his bride.

Rob Bell and the Fallout from "Love Wins"

Alex Chediak, a friend of mine and now professor at California Baptist University (my alma mater), shared an article today on his blog about the fallout in Rob Bell's life and church over his book Love Wins. You can access the article here and Alex's blog here

The commitment to rightly dividing and preaching the Word is SO important. I pray that we will read this story as a cautionary tale because any church that compromises the place of the Word in the life of the church is bound to stray from the Lord to one degree or another. There's no other option, really, when we plug our ears and refuse to listen to the clear speech of our Father in the name of creativity or new expressions of the faith or tradition or whatever. 

Oh that we might return to that simple, child-like faith that clings to our Father and to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) by saturating our minds with His word and inflaming our hearts in prayer. In the effort to reach people with the love of Christ, we must remain faithful to the message of Christ. So please read this article and join me in praying for our own hearts and ministries and churches, praying for Rob Bell and his family, and praying for Mars Hill Church in Michigan. May the Lord use this whole situation for the glory of His name and the upbuilding of His church. 

(For a brief treatment on how Rob Bell came to be a church planter and how his sending church feels about that decision now, see the brief article on my friend Marty's blog here.) 

"Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion'" (Hebrews 3:12-15). 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

He's Always Been Faithful to Me

We sang this song as a closer at church today (you can listen to the message here). It is such a powerful expression of what it feels like to live in the warmth and safety of the faithfulness of God. Hope it blesses you, too.