Sunday, September 06, 2015

Hymn of the Week - Complete in Thee

Complete in Thee

by Aaron Wolfe

1. Complete in thee, no work of mine
Could take, oh Lord, the place of thine.
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And I shall stand complete in thee.

Yea, justified, oh blessed thought,
And sanctified, salvation wrought.
The blood hath pardon bought for me,
And glorified I, too, shall be.

2. Complete in thee, each want supplied,
And no good thing to me denied.
Since thou my portion, Lord, wilt be,
I ask no more, complete in thee.

3. Complete in thee, no more shall sin;
Thy grace has conquered; reign within.
Thy blood shall bid the tempter flee,
And I shall stand complete in thee.

4. Dear Savior, when before thy bar,
All tribes and tongues assembled are,
Among the chosen I shall be
At thy right hand, complete in thee.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Goal: Knowing What is Beyond Knowledge

In Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians, he writes this concerning his desire for them: “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:2-3.
When I stopped to meditate on this passage I got to thinking what an amazing goal this is. I’m especially focusing on the phrase “and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding….” Paul’s desire for his people is that reach and discover all the riches of full understanding. How does this take place? I think it takes place on two fronts. The first is in the heart of the person and their desire to grow in their understanding and the second is in the instruction they receive in their local church.

When God saves a person He gives him or her the desire and motivation to grow. God’s seed is in him (1 John 3:9), and he has the Holy Spirit indwelling him. These changes that take place when a soul is regenerated are essentially the giving of spiritual life when there was none before and this life has the natural desire for spiritual food, just like a human infant has a desire for food (1 Peter 2:2). So it is appropriate for Paul to have this as a prayer request and vision for his people.

Second, it’s important for the individual Christian to be regularly attending a local gathering of believers where the Word of God is taught in all its fullness and power. Each one of us needs to have the Word of God opened and exposed to our understanding so that we begin to see the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33). The depth of God’s wisdom cannot be plumbed, nevertheless, Paul frequently prays that people would see the bounds of what is boundless and understand what is beyond understanding (see Ephesians 3:18 for example). 

So for this desire and prayer of Paul to be realized, each of us must eagerly approach the Word with all of the spiritual discipline we can bring to bear and pastors must expound and explain the Scriptures in such a way that the people begin to fathom the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

An Imagined Conservative Liberal Dialogue -- 1

These CL Discussions are imagined conversations between a conservative Christian and a Liberal person. They are not real conversations. They are in my head and I’m the conservative Christian, a fact you would have had no trouble discerning yourself. I make no claim to neutrality and the opinions of the conservative are my own and the opinions of the Liberal are typical of people I have met over the years, but don’t reflect any one persons’ point of view.

L: I agree with the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. And I think Jesus would have agreed. He was one to show compassion and not condemn people, don’t you think?
L: Think about the woman who was arrested while committing adultery. Jesus rebuked people for judging saying, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.”
C: When all of her accusers had left her, Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either.”  This is just what you said. Somewhere else in the Bible Jesus said, “I have not come to condemn the world but to save it.” But Jesus said more than this to the woman. After he told her that he didn’t condemn her, he told her to go and don’t sin anymore.”
L: Yes, but he wasn’t condemning. And that’s the point. Christians today are so condemning. They’re no better than anyone else and yet they are often so condescending.
C: You’re right. Many of us are. But I think you’re missing an important point in what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not willing to let her go and continue in the life style she was engaged in. He called her adultery a sin. That’s different from the way modern people think. To most people today, adultery is not a sin. It’s a life style choice. But Jesus is telling her to stop. Jesus, the person who loves sinners the most does not want people to continue sinning because doing so will lead to eternal destruction.
L: First of all, I don’t believe adultery is a sin. I don’t really believe in sin as such unless you’re talking about abusing the most defenseless among us. That is a sin. It is a sin to not pay people a fair wage and keep people in poverty. But whether someone has sex with someone he’s not married to is a personal matter and I certainly wouldn’t call it a sin. As long as both people are consenting and no one gets hurt, it can’t be a sin.
C: But Jesus thought so, didn’t he?
L: But Jesus lived at a different time. He was under different expectations from his culture.
C: Jesus went against the teachings of his Jewish culture in many ways and he certainly went against the pagan culture of his time. And if Jesus was just acting out a part, and if he wasn’t giving actual true truth, then he must not have been God. Because I don’t think God would have played along with either the religious or the secular culture. God would tell it like it is.
L: Maybe so, but at least he had compassion on this woman and didn’t condemn her.
C: But I think you’re missing the point. He had compassion and so should we. But it is not compassion to let someone go without telling them that the path they are on is sinful. The path of sinning leads to eternal judgment in hell.
L: I don’t believe in hell and Jesus didn’t either.
C: Jesus said that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause is in danger of the judgment and whoever calls someone a fool is in danger of hell fire (Matt 5:22).
L. I don’t believe Jesus said that. He was too loving to have said something like that.
C: It’s in the Bible.
L: But the Bible must not be right at that point. Jesus would not say that!
C: How should we know what Jesus actually said and what he didn’t? Just accept the parts we like and agree with? How are you going to know if any of it is true with that method?
L: No, but I just don’t believe Jesus would threaten someone with hell for calling someone a fool.
C: Jesus also said that if someone causes one of the young believers to stumble, it would be better for that man that a heavy stone be tied to him and be thrown into the sea rather than suffer what he was going to suffer. He went on to say that if your hand causes you to sin, it would be better to have it cut off than to go to hell where the fire is never quenched (Mark 9:42 and following).
C: So it doesn’t sound to me like your Jesus is compassionate in the same way you imagine. Jesus knows that sin is destructive. Sin will keep a person from God. God pleads with people saying, “Turn from your evil ways. Why will you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11).
C: That is true compassion. Someone who knows a course of action will lead a person to certain death and doesn’t do anything to warn them doesn’t love them very much.
More discussions to follow.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Who Will Be Our King

When I listen to and watch what is happening during this debate and legal challenge to the traditional definition of marriage, I'm reminded of what the Bible says regarding our basic problem as human beings. We are in fundamental rebellion against God and against His right to reign. Jesus told a parable in which He describes Himself as a nobleman who goes away to receive a kingdom and in the meantime places His estate in the hands of some servants. The citizens rebel saying, "We will not have this man reign over us" (Luke 19:14). That's the problem in a nutshell. It's not a matter of whose preference wins in some legal debate. It is a matter of submitting or not submitting to the Lord and Creator of the universe as the rightful ruler.

 The writer of the Psalms describes this same thing in Psalm 2, "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,  'Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us'" (Psalm 2:2-3). We are in revolt. We will have our way! We will sever the bonds that tie us down and keep us from having the total freedom we want and believe we deserve.

What's God's response? "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision.  Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure" (Psalm 2:4-5). The passage goes on to explain that the God of the Universe has installed His Son as Lord and has given Him the nations as His inheritance. The earth is the Lord's, not ours and He will govern it in any way He pleases and establish any laws and rules He chooses. Who can say to Him, "What are you doing?" (Job 9:12). Our responsibility is to find out what the King wants and do it.

What does the Psalm writer say is going to happen when God's Son receives the nations as His inheritance?

"You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.  Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth.  Serve the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him" (Psalm 2:9-12).

Notice what the prudent course of action is for the kings and the judges of the earth. Submit to the King of the universe, the one who made the earth and everything and every person in it. But people scoff. They say these are archaic beliefs to be relegated to the past. It reminds me of something St. Peter wrote,

 "...knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,  and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'  For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water,  by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.  But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:3-7)

We cannot flagrantly violate God's created order without paying the consequences-- if not now, later. Peter tells us why there is a delay in the judgment, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

It's time to repent!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Disciple Making

One of the biggest needs I see in our conservative, Bible-believing churches today is the need to be in the business of making disciples. There needs to be a mind-set that is focused on that responsibility. Our Lord said the following  to His disciples,  "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”, Matthew 28:19-20. He has given us the task of making disciples and that should be a primary focus of church life.

A disciple is a follower and learner of the Lord Jesus Christ. A person who would be a disciple is one who desires to learn all he or she can of the life that God would have us live. In order to grow more like Christ, all of us are challenged to teach others what we have already come to know. So in reality each Christian should be a teacher. The writer of Hebrews admonished his readers for not growing enough to teach (Hebrews 5:12).

We find in Scripture that people should teach one another (Colossians 3:16). Faithful men should teach other men (2 Timothy 2:2). Older women should teach younger women (Titus 2:3-4). Husbands should teach their wives (Ephesians 5:26; 1 Corinthians 14:35). Parents should teach their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Everyone should be teaching someone.

God tells us that it is important to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) and to continue in what we have learned (2 Timothy 3:14). If we are not growing and continuing, we will be declining in our walk with Christ. It's a constant struggle to keep learning and growing and we have a responsibility to one another to teach, admonish and encourage such growth. When Paul realized that he wasn't going to depart and be with Christ, which, he said, would have been better, he told the Philippian Christians that he would be staying here for their "furtherance and joy of faith." In other words his mission was to do what he could to help them in their progress in the Christian life. All of us should have the same goal.

The question then becomes, "What should be taught?" Jesus said in Matthew 28:20 that we should teach all that He has taught us. And now that we have the full Scripture that includes everything the Bible teaches. In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul writes, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." He's calling for diligence and right interpretation and application of the Word of God. There is a body of truth that needs to be passed on.

Teaching usually involves 1) Instruction in facts and their relationships, 2) Skills that need to be mastered and 3)Guided practice and application of the facts and skills. This is what needs to occur among Christians through the life of the church. These things must be purposeful and intentional. That is they must be planned. It won't just happen. The cost is somewhat high because it takes time and effort. But it is worthy every bit of the effort.

Let me suggest a few steps that each Christian should pursue. First, make a list of people who are potential individuals for you to impact through teaching. If you are parents, start with listing your own children (even if they are adults) and then grand children as well. Men, you should identify other men who you know to be faithful men, desiring to grow in the faith and who you might be able to help in their growth in the faith. Women should make a similar list of other women on whom they might be able to have a fruitful impact. Some of you may desire to grow in the faith in some particular area. You should seek out an older or more experienced Christian who you could ask to help you in that area.

Begin making a list of the important things you have learned that you think should be passed along to others. For example, dads, what are some of the key truths from the Bible you want your children to know before they leave home? Have you thought about this before? Church leaders should think about what important truths and concepts from Scripture you want your graduating seniors to know when they move on into the adult world. These truths should be the structured focus of your Christian Education program.

Prayerfully consider who on your list you might begin an intentional relationship with so that you can be of help to them and they in turn to you as you begin to build God's truth into each other's life.
Do not just let this thought die. Set some goals for yourself. For example, by the end of this week I will have identified key people with whom I might have an important impact. Begin praying today for how God would have you invest your time and energy into that kind of ministry.
If each of us Christians and our churches could develop a mindset of disciple-making, we would be more obedient to our Lord and we would find our churches strengthened and encouraged in the mutual faith we share.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sin and Forgiveness - Conclusion

Spurgeon writes:
"According to this gracious covenant (the new covenant of Hebrews) the Lord treats His people as if they had never sinned. Practically, He forgets all their trespasses. Sins of all kinds He treats as if they had never been; as if they were quite erased from His memory. O miracle of grace! God here does that which in certain aspects is impossible to Him. His mercy works miracles which far transcend all other miracles. Our God ignores our sin now that the sacrifice of Jesus has ratified the covenant. We may rejoice in Him without fear that He will be provoked to anger against us because of our iniquities. See ! He puts us among the children; He accepts us as righteous; He takes delight in us as if we were perfectly holy. He even puts us into places of trust; makes us guardians of His honor, trustees of the crown jewels, stewards of the Gospel. He counts us worthy, and gives us a ministry; this is the highest and most special proof that He does not remember our sins. Even when we forgive an enemy, we are very slow to trust him; we judge it to be imprudent to do so. But the Lord forgets our sins, and treats us as if we had never erred. O my soul, what a promise is this! Believe it and be happy."

You may be thinking, "Yes, that's all well and good but we do sin. How do we overcome this sinful tendency?" That's a topic for another day. But the short answer is that as we live by faith in the truth of Scripture, and meditate on his Word, God's Spirit will gradually make us more like Christ:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
 2 Corinthians 3:18

Sanctification -- growing in Christlikeness, including the desire for such growth are all part of what Christ purchased for us on the cross and provided in the New Covenant. He gives the new life and the desire to grow.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:33

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Ezekiel 36:27

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—  1 Corinthians 1:30 (Christ is our righteousness and our sanctification.)

Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?  Galatians 3:3 (The question expects an answer of "No".)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sin and Forgiveness - Part 5

Now let's look at 1 John 1 and then we'll sum up this study. In 1 John 1:7 John says that if we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ continuously cleanses us from all sin. This is a description of believers. John had earlier said in verse 3 that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul asks what fellowship righteousness and unrighteousness can have with one another. The implication from the passage is that they cannot. But here John is saying we have fellowship with both God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. If we are to have fellowship with God or better if God is to have fellowship with us, we can't be unrighteous. But why aren't we unrighteous? Because we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ and our sins have been removed from us and the cleansing is ongoing and continuous.
            So 1 John 1:7 is speaking of believers. If on the other hand, we walk in darkness, or deny that we sin, or deny that we have a sin nature, we are lost (1 John 1:6, 8, 10). So we're not talking about two kinds of Christians here but the difference between believers and unbelievers.
            In the middle of these verses we come to 1 John 1:9 which most of us are familiar with. In my opinion, this verse is primarily a verse contrasting believers with the unbeliever mentality mentioned in verses 6, 8, and 10. It is not primarily a verse about daily confession of particular sins. Please don't read this statement as though I am saying we don't need to confess sins. I'm not saying that. But this verse is primarily a verse that tells us the contrast between an unbeliever who doesn't admit he is a sinner and the believer who confesses that he is a sinner.
            If we walk with God in humility, acknowledging our situation as sinners, God is faithful and just to continuously forgive us of our sins and to continuously cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Notice the word "all".  His forgiveness and cleansing are continuous. It doesn't get applied to each particular sin but His blood stands as the continuous cleansing agent for all of our sins, past, present and future, recognized and unrecognized, thoughts, attitudes and actions. We walk in the blaze of his all-seeing holiness and we have fellowship with him because our sins have been removed from us.
            Sir Robert Anderson said, "It is not in order that it may thus cleanse him that the believer confesses his sin; his only right to the place he holds, even as he confesses, depends on the fact that it does thus cleanse him."
            Jesus Christ is our advocate or attorney pleading our case continually because his blood is the propitiation (continual satisfaction before God) for our sins (1 John 2:1-2).

            So we can see from Scripture that God has provided for every aspect of our sin problem. He accepts Christ as our head and sees us as saints rather than sinners. He resurrects our dead spirit and provides the motivation to follow him. And finally he completely and totally forgives and removes all of our sins on a continual basis based on the sacrifice and continuing advocacy of his Son, Jesus Christ.