Saturday, October 26, 2013

(Another) Lesson in Grace

I often tell the congregation that there is a Pharisee within each of us that needs to be killed every day. A legalism that relies on merit for salvation, forgiveness, blessing, love, etc., often lays hidden and only reveals itself with the most insidious subtlety.

I confess that I get discouraged easily. With shocking, pathetic ease. I received a discouraging message yesterday via e-mail. Do you know what my first response was? To think of some other area of ministry over which I have more “control,” and immediately purpose to double-down and try harder in that area. As if my success in ministry or life was based upon outweighing discouraging elements with successes earned through hard work and dedication! This is not grace! This is a form of legalism!

And I stepped right into it in a single minute first thing in the morning.

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector [or senders of discouraging e-mails]. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11,12).


Who I am in Christ has nothing to do with the discouragements I fall prey to (which ultimately come out of things I could done better in communicating or planning or understanding the people under my leadership). Who I am in Christ is not dependent on my bargaining, determination, legalism. Who I am in Christ is not identified by my worthiness (for I have no worthiness – and neither do you).

Through union with Christ by faith I have a place before God as His forgiven, redeemed, saved, blessed, adopted, loved son...not through anything in me, but through all that Christ is as the perfect and totally adequate Savior.

I realized this fairly quickly yesterday, by the way, by the illumination of God the Holy Spirit (not any brilliant pastoral theological acumen in me). I confessed my sin, thanked God for the grace and forgiveness He gives through Jesus Christ, and proceeded to struggle with the issue the rest of the day.

I received a discouraging e-mail yesterday morning so that I would grow in my experience of God’s grace – which is itself grace! It’s not easy to kill the Pharisee in me. He hides well behind all sorts of false godly appearances hidden under the rocks in my head and heart.

SO, I have been given a new assignment by the Lord (which a foundational, original, old assignment). To grow in reliance on this amazing grace, I am considering anew my union with Christ by faith.

“I thank Him Who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

I am united with Christ by faith, and so God pours out His grace through the faith and love I experience in union with Christ. This is not poured out through my hard work, merit, determination, sense of purpose, or masterful engagement of God’s graces as a mature disciple. It happens through the worthiness of Christ, through Whom I receive grace, grace, God’s sweet grace.

I am united with Christ by faith, and so receive mercy so that Christ can display His gracious patience to others through me (which is hopefully happening in the writing of this post). God’s grace is not displayed in a comfortable, easy, successful ministry, but in a ministry that sees folks draw closer to God through Christ despite the incredibly long list of inadequacies that I own in myself.

“1. Those whom God has accepted in the beloved, and has effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, and given the precious faith of His elect, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but they will certainly persevere in that state to the end and be eternally saved. This is because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, and therefore He continues to beget and nourish in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the spirit which lead to immortality. And though many storms and floods arise and beat against the saints, yet these things shall never be able to sweep them off the foundation and rock which they are fastened upon by faith. Even though, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sight and feeling of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet God is still the same, and they are sure to be kept by His power until their salvation is complete, when they shall enjoy the purchased possession which is theirs, for they are engraved upon the palm of His hands, and their names have been written in His Book of Life from all eternity.

2. This perseverance of the saints does not depend on them - that is, on their own free will. It rests upon the immutability of the decree of election, which flows from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father. It also rests upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, and upon the union which true saints have with Him.
- It rests upon the oath of God, and upon the abiding of His Spirit.
- It depends upon the seed of God being within them and upon the very nature of the covenant of grace.
- All these factors give rise to the certainty and infallibility of the security and perseverance of the saints” (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 17.1,2).

These are the things God has called me to think and meditate upon, to pray through, to surrender to the grace of God through Jesus Christ alone by faith. This is the sanctifying work of the Spirit, Who is still teaching me the Gospel after decades of life in Christ.

The lessons of grace do not end in this life, my friends, but are given to us day by day until the day we are finally perfected in glory.

“...the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15-17).

“Much more...abounded...reign...” Not by my works, but by His grace. Further on in this amazing grace that is ours by union with Christ by faith. Further on, beloved.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reading the Psalms with Keach before the Gathering

Benjamin Keach and I were reading the Psalms together before the gathering of the Church this morning, anticipating the corporate enjoyment of salvation in Christ (I was reading with him in obedience to Hebrews 13:7).

One of our elders will call us to worship this morning with this Psalm: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, Who forgives all your iniquity, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s...He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities...for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him...but the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments” (Psalm 103:1-5,10-13,17,18).

One of our Baptist forefathers, Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), left us an adaptation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to help us remember how all the Lord’s benefits are applied to our lives and enjoyed. Since we were sharing a cup of coffee and reading the Psalms together this morning, I asked him to remind me of some of the Lord’s benefits and how we enjoy them together as the Church.

Q. 36. What benefits do they that are effectually called, partake of in this life?
A. They that are effectually called, do in this life partake of justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

Q. 40. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

Q. 41. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory, and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

Q. 42. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the Resurrection?
A. At the resurrection, believers become raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity.

Q. 95. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord's Supper and Prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

Q. 99. Wherein do Baptism and the Lord's Supper differ from the other ordinances of God?
A. Baptism and the Lord's Supper differ from the other ordinances of God in that they were specially instituted by Christ to represent and apply to believers the benefits of the new covenant by visible and outward signs.

Q. 100. What is Baptism?
A. Baptism is an holy ordinance, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, signifies our ingrafting into Christ and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's.

Q. 107. What is the Lord's Supper?
A. The Lord's Supper is a holy ordinance, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ's appointment, His death is showed forth, and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporeal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.

Holy Spirit, move us to remember all the benefits of the Father You apply to us through the Son. Help us remember as we read the Word, sing the great truths of the faith, gather at the Table, and have fellowship with You in the proclamation of the Word. We thank you for this gathering to rejoice in Your great goodness, gracious and giving God!

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Book for the Journey

“For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel...‘And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach’” (Ezra 7:9,10,25; cf. Exodus 18:17-23; Matthew 28:18-20; Titus 1:4-9).

In John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Christian journeys from the City of Destruction (the land of his birth) to the Celestial City, carrying the Book all the Way. “...there are such things to be had which I spoke of, and many more glories besides. If you believe not me, read here in this Book, and for the truth of what is expressed therein, behold, all is confirmed by the blood of Him that made was made by Him that cannot lie.” In Interpreter’s House he saw the portrait of another man who journeyed home with the Book: “It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the Law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men...”

Lord, may Your Book be the sole weight we carry on the journey Home. Give us hearts dedicated to learning it, living it, and teaching it to others on the Way. Bring us Home by Your Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our only Savior and Lord. Bring us Home by the Word You write in our hearts through Your Holy Spirit. Raise up others to walk with us in the Word on the Way. Bring us Home. Amen and amen.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

42 Years, 1 Month, 2 Weeks

I was running the other day and started doing math in my head...the result is tongue-in-cheek and purposefully ridiculous. You have been warned.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), one of the greatest minds America has ever produced, played an important role in the First Great Awakening. But after around 20 years, the church in Northampton voted to bar him from the pulpit...for denying the Lord’s Supper to unbelievers. He was still in great demand as a preacher elsewhere, but his own congregation...

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), called the “Prince of Preachers,” was hugely popular in Britain in the latter half of the 19th century. He pastored the same congregation for 38 years. However, at the height of his influence, he attempted to lead the Baptist Union to adopt a confessional standard to combat the theological “Downgrade” taking over. They rejected any attempt to stand for even the most basic orthodoxy concerning Christ. Spurgeon’s health broke in this failed effort.

These two stories have always weighed heavily on me. How long? A pastor has a faithful, effective preaching/teaching ministry for decades, and ends in heartbreak over basic doctrine. How long must a preacher preach to have a problem-free ministry? I warned you this was a ridiculous line of thought. Just wait. It gets worse.

How long did Paul spend in Corinth“And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). Hmmm...obviously not enough. Ever read 1 Corinthians?!

How about Ephesus? Paul’s letter to the Ephesians doesn’t contain any strong rebukes. He covers some basic things like the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church and the importance of godly speech to each other., no major problems. How long did he spend there teaching? “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:31).

Alright. 3 years. Day and night. Assuming 2 teaching opportunities a day for three years, we’re at 2,190 teaching times. Hmmm...there are some congregants I only see once a week (I’m being generous). To teach them as much as Paul taught the Ephesians, I’d have to teach them for 42 years, 1 month, and 2 weeks. Four decades of Bible teaching, and you’ll surpass both Edwards and Spurgeon...maybe that way you’ll avoid the heartbreak they experienced at the end of their ministries.

Except...I don’t preach like Paul. Or even Edwards or Spurgeon. Not even close. Plus, after 42 years, you have death-birth turnover. After that amount of time you’d be speaking to a very different congregation and might need to start again.

Plus, even though Paul didn’t need to strongly or directly correct the Ephesian congregation, the glorifying Lord Jesus did later (Revelation 2:1-7). Not the perfect Church.


I could hold two services a day for three years...better make that six years, since – again – I am not Paul.

Speaking of Paul, what was his attitude about that problem church in Corinth? Well, even though they broke his heart (I believe the “thorn in the flesh” of 2 Corinthians 12 was messengers about problems in the Corinthian church) he still gave thanks to God for them (1 Corinthians 1:4-8). He prayed for them. He loved them (1 Corinthians 16:24). He corrected them. He continued to teach them.

Well, just as I am not a Paul or Edwards or Spurgeon, neither is the congregation assigned to my care by the Lord a Corinth. Or anything even close. They’re a precious people. There are times looking at them every week over the Lord’s Supper table that my heart feels like it’s going to explode with love for them.

Now I’m reminded of my mentor’s general attitude about church problems: look to the pulpit. Have I prayed for them I even pray enough, period? Have I invested the time in discipling them I should? The little issues that worry me over them, are those issues found in my own life and heart?

I’ll keep preaching to them from the Word with full reliance on the Holy Spirit to do His work in them. I’ll keep seeking my own growth through prayer and that same Word through the same Holy Spirit. They’ll never mature past my own point of spiritual maturity.

And I’ll trust God with what they’ll be in two or three decades, or even 42 years, 1 month, and 2 weeks.

I am thankful for them, and love them. Especially because they so graciously put up with me.

Phew. At least they can’t hear my idiotic mathematical musings while I’m running! That’d be embarrassing!