Saturday, April 19, 2014

Christ's Blood

The Bible contains blood. Blood circulates through every book – from Genesis to Revelation. It pumps through every chapter – large and small. And it runs through every verse – familiar and obscure. When we open the Bible, we behold a stream of blood flowing throughout. Why? The Bible’s principal theme is this: Christ makes peace by the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20).

We must grasp the significance of Christ’s blood. “On the matter of Christ’s atoning death, as the way of peace, truth is only one. If we are wrong here, we are ruined forever” (J. C. Ryle). We must make sure we understand what happens upon the cross when Christ dies. There’s no room for error.

We must also feel the significance of Christ’s blood. “Stand at the foot of the cross, and count the red drops of blood by which you have been cleansed. And if you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross, you have never seen it” (C. H. Spurgeon). We must take to heart why Christ’s blood is shed. There’s no room for indifference.

(1) Consider the Need for Christ’s Blood

We’ve placed ourselves where God alone deserves to be – on the throne. The Bible calls this condition sin. Sin is rebellion: against God’s sovereignty. Sin is arrogance: against God’s power. Sin is unrighteousness: against God’s justice. Sin is ignorance: against God’s wisdom. Sin is stubbornness: against God’s will. Sin is evil: against God’s goodness. Sin is transgression: against God’s law. Sin is hatred: against God’s love. Sin is murder: against God’s being. Sin is our chief problem – not poor health, not broken relationships, not financial woes, and not unfulfilled dreams. Sin make us God’s enemy, and brings us under the sentence of death.

(2) Consider the Intent of Christ’s Blood

Christ’s blood speaks of His substitutionary death. “God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:22). God didn’t spare His Son from what? His wrath – righteously due to us. We placed ourselves where God alone deserves to be (on the throne), and God placed Himself where we alone deserve to be (on the cross). He exchanged a crown of stars for a crown of thorns, the worship of angels for the ridicule of men, the glory of a heavenly temple for the indignity of a wooden cross.

Upon the cross, Christ doesn’t cry out with a loud voice because of what men do to Him. They reject, abuse, ridicule, betray, and desert Him. But those things never cause Him to cry with a loud voice. Christ cries out with a loud voice, because of what His Father does to Him. He bears the judgment we deserve.

(3) Consider the Effect of Christ’s Blood

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). Christ is punished, so that we might be pardoned. Christ is crushed, so that we might be healed. Christ is forsaken, so that we might be accepted. Christ is deserted, so that we might be welcomed. Christ is condemned, so that we might be forgiven.

Because of Christ’s blood, where there’s brokenness for sin, God promises healing . . . where there’s conviction for sin, God promises mercy . . . where there’s weariness for sin, God promises rest . . . and where there’s repentance from sin, God promises forgiveness.

     Guilty, vile, and helpless we; Spotless Lamb of God was He;
     “Full atonement!” can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior!

     Lifted up was He to die; “It is finished!” was His cry;
     Now in Heav’n exalted high. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter - Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the blatantly obvious—even at Easter. Why do I say that? We’re easily sidetracked. To put it another way, we’re easily amused and distracted, meaning we often fill our lives with things that—while seemingly harmless—are detrimental if we don’t keep them in their proper place. I’m thinking about things like tweeting, blogging (not this blog, of course...), shopping, watching movies, playing sports, purchasing another gadget or gizmo, and the list goes on and on. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things unless, of course, they take the place of the main thing. Consider the following story (borrowed from another preacher):

On Monday, Alice bought a parrot. It didn’t talk, so the next day she returned to the pet store. “He needs a ladder,” she was told. She bought a ladder, but another day passed and the parrot still didn’t say a word. “How about a swing?” the clerk suggested. So Alice bought a swing; the next day, a mirror; the next day, a miniature plastic tree; the next day, a shiny parrot toy.

On Sunday morning, Alice was standing outside the pet store when it opened. She had the parrot cage in her hand and tears in her eyes. Her parrot was dead. “Did it ever say a word?” the store owner asked. “Yes,” Alice said through her sobs. “Right before he died, he looked at me and asked, ‘Don’t they sell any food at that pet store?’”


When we try to fill our lives with anything but the main thing (the gospel), we’re just like Alice’s bird—starving in a crowded cage. When the gospel is no longer at the center, we soon feel the effects in every facet of our lives—from the home to the church to the workplace and at all points in between. For this reason, we must constantly orient our lives around the gospel: the good news that God saves sinners from His wrath for His glory through Christ’s substitutionary death.

We can’t save ourselves. It’s absurd to think otherwise. For a moment, let’s imagine I own a famous painting, displayed proudly in my living-room. One day, a dinner guest decides (for some inconceivable reason) to scribble all over it with a black marker. My painting is ruined. Perceiving my displeasure, my guest reaches for the magazine stand, grabs a Cabela’s catalogue, tears out a picture of the latest apparel in hunter orange, glues it to the painting, and assures me that it’s as good as new. What’s my response? For starters, I question my guest’s mental health. Then, I ridicule his feeble attempt to restore the painting. He can’t fix it. It’s ruined!

Likewise, we can’t fix ourselves. There are no Band-Aid solutions because the problem runs too deep. Our sin touches every thought, shapes every desire, corrupts every word, and taints every deed. Because of our sin, we’re “storing up wrath” for the day when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom. 2:5). This expression “storing up” means gradual accumulation. That is to say, God’s wrath is like the water gathering behind a damn. It rises and rises until the damn bursts. That’s what awaits sinners. But the good news is that God saves sinners. In Christ, God’s wrath is turned away. God punished Christ, so that He might forgive us. God condemned Christ, so that He might justify us. In giving Himself, Christ revealed the Father’s love for us. In love, He climbed a shameful cross to bear our guilt and shame, pouring out His soul to death.

Christ declares, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). When our children call for us in the middle of the night, climb into our lap to cuddle, cry for us after falling down, take our hand as they stumble over uneven ground, look to us for protection and direction, call us daddy or mommy, do we realize what we’re witnessing? The way into the kingdom! Before God’s holiness, we’re humbled for our sinfulness. Recognizing our helplessness to save ourselves, we come to Christ in child-like dependence, and look to Him alone to save us. Wonder of wonders! God receives us in Christ—His Beloved. He saves us, so that we can enjoy the beauty of His glory. He saves us, so that we can be satisfied in His incomprehensible greatness and goodness.

This glorious gospel is the main thing—the center around which our lives must revolve.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blunted Joy

“But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers! (Ps. 125:5).

Peering down the corridors of time, the psalmist sees a day of reckoning for “evildoers.” What will happen to them? In a word, “the LORD will lead them away.”

For starters, that means they’ll lose whatever is pleasing and satisfying in this life—all that provides a little happiness. They’ll lose their possessions, families, and friends. They’ll also lose all their hopes, comforts, and delights. But far eclipsing these material losses, they’ll lose God—the only source of true happiness. This is the loss of all losses. It’s a loss that no words can describe—that no mind can conceive. Those whom God will lead away will become the object of His wrath, as He hides his compassion and tenderness. How terrifying will it be to fall into the hands of God with nothing but the soul to bear His infinite anger!

Regrettably, some of us are inoculated against the reality of hell. It doesn’t affect us like it should. For over thirty years, I lived within a two-hour drive of Niagara Falls. Apparently, more than twelve million tourists visit Niagara Falls each year. To be honest, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Why’s that? Proximity and familiarity have dulled my sense of amazement. Sadly, the same thing can happen to our appreciation of the things of God. We’ve heard about our sin so many times that it no longer breaks our hearts. We’ve heard about Christ’s atonement so many times that it no longer warms our hearts. We’ve heard about God’s mercy so many times that it no longer melts our hearts. Or, in the present context, we’ve heard about hell so many times that it no longer overwhelms our hearts. For this reason, John Piper warns:

“If I do not believe in my heart these awful truths—believe them so that they are real in my feelings—then the blessed love of God in Christ will scarcely shine at all. The sweetness of the air of redemption will be hardly detectable. The infinite marvel of my new life will be commonplace. The wonder that to me, a child of hell, all things are given for an inheritance will not strike me speechless with trembling humility and lowly gratitude. The whole affair of salvation will seem ho-hum, and my entrance into paradise will seem as a matter of course. When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news. The intensity of joy is blunted and the heart-spring of love is dried up.”

Piper’s point is well made: “when the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news.” It’s the darkness of night that makes the dawn so uplifting. It’s the torment of pain that makes relief so comforting. It’s the cold of winter that makes spring so encouraging. It’s the loneliness of separation that makes reunion so refreshing. Likewise, it’s the prospect of hell that makes the promise of glory so overwhelming.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Books At a Glance




Why didn’t someone think of this sooner? If you love books, your greatest frustration is keeping up – “So many books; So little time!” we say. Books At a Glance is a new online service designed to relieve this frustration, and in doing so it provides a much-needed service.

“Executive summaries” is a familiar concept in the business world, and this is what Books At a Glance now does for Christian readers. Their book summaries condense the leading argument(s) of a book, chapter by chapter, into a mere 7 – 10 pages. This enables you to keep informed and up to date and widen your learning in minutes, without infringing on your schedule. And of course it will help you know which books you want to purchase for a deeper understanding of the book’s topic. You can check them out at www.BooksAtaGlance.com.

In addition to book summaries, BooksAtaGlance.com also offers book reviews, author interviews, and a blog, and their list of resources grows daily.

You will see on their Board of Reference that Books At a Glance comes with rich endorsements, and I am impressed with the excellent staff of Review and Assistant Editors that have teamed up for the work. I’ve been aware of the development of this website for some time, and now that it has launched I expect this to be a very useful tool for many.

Check them out at www.BooksAtaGlance.com.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mysticism (concluding thoughts)

How do I know if I have mystic tendencies? Here are three indicators:

First, I believe that the indwelling Holy Spirit is the supreme authority for living and thinking.

Second, I believe that some of my inner thoughts, impulses, emotions, and intuitions are the direct work of the Holy Spirit whereby God is communicating to me apart from the Bible.

Third, I believe that I can discern God’s voice in my heart.

Wrapping up these posts on mysticism, I want to issue three words of caution.

First, the practice of “seeking God within” ultimately abandons me in the midst of turbulent waters without compass, anchor, or ship. It leaves me to the mercy of the boisterous sea. Why? It’s purely subjective.

Second, this practice of “seeking God within” – while promising to bring me closer to God – invariably leaves me alone with myself. My relationship with God is now contingent upon my impulses and intuitions. My assurance is now based on a nebulous feeling. As I search deeper within, I plunge into a deeper state of spiritual anxiety.

Third, this practice of “seeking God within” prevents me from really hearing God’s voice. God makes Himself known the way any person makes himself known. He speaks to me from outside my heart. He speaks by way of His Word (an objective reality). “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

     For feelings come and feelings go,
     And feelings are deceiving;
     My warrant is the Word of God,
     Naught else is worth believing (Martin Luther).

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mysticism cont'd

This emphasis on mysticism isn’t new. 

For example, the Quakers (beginning in the mid 1640s) urged people to turn to the light within them.

“The Lord . . . has promised to be present with His people . . . to dwell in them and walk in them . . . Is not this a more full direction to the heart than it can pick out of the Scriptures? . . . The Spirit, which gave forth the words, is greater than the words. Therefore, we cannot but prize Him, and set Him higher in our heart and thoughts than the words which testify of Him, though they also are very sweet and precious to our taste” (Isaac Pennington).

This was typical Quaker reasoning. They esteemed the Scriptures as God’s Word, but they also affirmed that the indwelling Holy Spirit is the supreme authority when it comes to direction for Christian living and thinking. In other words, an individual’s perceived Spirit-led thoughts, impulses, emotions, and intuitions are just as important (if not more important) than the Scriptures.

This represents the default position of the vast majority of evangelicals today. They think revelation is something that happens internally. They think they can discern God’s voice in their minds and hearts. They think God speaks directly to them apart from the Scriptures.

The Puritans (no surprise here) battled the Quakers on this very issue, accusing them of making an unwarranted cleavage between the Spirit and the Word. The Puritans affirmed that the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in the revelation of Scripture was unique. The Holy Spirit now illuminates what He has revealed in Scripture. He speaks to us through the Scriptures. He doesn’t reveal (speak) directly to the human heart.

Christ gave the apostles the Spirit to deliver us infallibly His own commands, and to provide a rule for following ages . . . He gives us the Spirit but to understand and use that rule aright (Richard Baxter).
 
Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mysticism

I’m browsing the books at Barnes and Noble. Here’s what I see:
Proof of Heaven: A neurosurgeon’s trip into the afterlife
My Journey to Heaven: What I saw and how it changed my life
Heaven is for Real: A little boy’s astounding story of his trip to heaven and back
90 Minutes in Heaven: A true story of death and life
To Heaven and Back: A doctor’s extraordinary account of her death, heaven, angels, and life again
Waking up in Heaven: A true story of brokenness, heaven, and life again
9 Days in Heaven: The vision of Marietta Davis
40 Days in Heaven: The true testimony of Seneca Sodi’s visitation to paradise
Flight to Heaven: A plane crash, a lone survivor, a journey to heaven and back
23 Minutes in Hell: One man’s story about what he saw, heard, and felt in that place of torment

I’m listening to a preacher on television. He says, “Many Christians incorrectly believe that everything God wants us to know has already been revealed in Scripture.” He claims to receive fresh words of revelation from God all the time. He explains that God is seeking to establish dominion over the earth through the help of over-comers who submit to the authority of God’s modern-day apostles. These apostles have direct contact with the spirit realm. There’s a unity between these apostles and angelic beings, thereby creating a link by which revelations are conveyed. These revelations are essential for guiding the church in its mission to establish God’s dominion over the earth.

I’m participating in a missions’ trip. I’m with thirty people I’ve just met. We’re travelling by bus from Belgium to Hungary. It’s going to be a long journey. As we leave the parking lot, a woman jumps to her feet, and starts praying. She thanks God for the angels riding on top of the bus. Her hope is that her fervent prayer will impart the necessary energy to these angels, so that they’re able to ward off those demons that want to wreck our bus. (The fun is just beginning.) Later, another woman near the back of the bus is distraught. Her friend has been speaking in “angel talk” for some months, but she herself hasn’t received this gift from the Lord. She’s perplexed as to what she’s doing wrong. She’s perplexed as to why God would withhold this gift from her. She’s perplexed as to what it means about her spirituality. She’s perplexed as to the fact that she obviously isn’t a Spirit-filled woman. She’s becoming increasingly apoplectic.

I’m attending a small-group Bible study. The Scripture text is Matt. 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” The man to my left says he feels this verse is one of the reasons why we should have smaller churches; Christ’s presence isn’t felt as strongly in a group of two hundred as it is in a much smaller gathering. The woman to my right says she feels this verse really means we need to give more attention to what Christ is saying when we’re gathered together; and so, there should be more time for quiet reflection and contemplation. The man across from me is teary-eyed. His face shows his perplexity. He wants to know if this verse means that Christ isn’t with him when he’s feeling alone. Finally, the group leader chimes in; he informs the group that the verse is actually about church discipline. Immediately, a woman cuts him off, saying she just doesn’t feel right in her spirit about this subject because the church is so judgmental. That kills any meaningful interpretation of the text. But for the next half-an-hour, the group has a wonderful time of sharing what the text means to each of them.

I’m sitting under a willow tree, beside a beautiful pond. The temperature is perfect. There’s a gentle breeze. Birds are chirping. Bees are buzzing. Ducks are quacking. A turtle is sunning itself on a log. I’m going to pray. But rather than speak, I’m going to wait for God to speak to me. I close my eyes, allowing nature to surround me and overwhelm me. I wait. I peek at my watch – five minutes have passed. I wait some more. Then, it happens. I have a feeling. No, it has nothing to do with the three burritos I ate for breakfast. I can tell the difference. I have a feeling. God is letting me know how much he cares for me. This is wonderful. I feel a peace I’ve never felt before. God has just shown me He’s real.

I’m counseling a man who says the Spirit is leading him to leave his wife. He knows he has no grounds for divorce, but God has shown him that in this case it’s the right thing to do. It’ll be best for everyone in the long run. He’ll be in better position to get involved in ministry. He’ll be in a better position to serve the Lord. To top it all off, he’ll be happier. Besides, God is sovereign, and God can bring good from evil. I attempt to turn his attention to what Scripture actually says about the subject. He shoots me down. He assures me that he knows what the Bible says, but his situation is unique, different, and exceptional. He tells me I need to step out of my little world, and understand what great things God is going to accomplish through this divorce.

These are six very different scenes, but they share one common denominator: mysticism (gnostic spiritualism) - the belief that we can attain an immediate knowledge of God in this life through personal experience.

Stay tuned . . .