Friday, November 19, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the first of Martin Luther's famous Ninety-five Theses, the document that catalyzed the Protestant Reformation. I want to revisit that amazing little statement again. Here it is, in a somewhat literal translation from Luther's original Latin. Oh, and by the way, the quote is from Mark 1:15.

“Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said, ‘Pursue repentance’ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” – Martin Luther, October 31, 1517

Really? The will of Christ is that the whole life of believers should be repentance? Yes. Yes, I believe Brother Martin got it exactly right. But think with me about that.

What would it look like if your whole life – everything you think, say and do, and more importantly, everything you are – were entirely composed of repentance; and not merely acts of repentance, but an attitude and heart of repentance? Well, for sure your life would be undergoing constant transformation from the inside out, because genuine, biblical repentance means actively and continually renouncing self-reliance and leaning increasingly upon Jesus Christ. It would make all the difference in the world.

The Middle School guys I work with on Wednesday evenings are learning this. Lately we’ve been memorizing the text in Titus 2:11-12, which says, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No!’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

This text reminds us that there is an inside-out order to how God’s grace works. First, as verse 11 says, His grace brings salvation: it grants us conviction about our sins, creates faith in us, and causes us to be born again. Second, God’s grace teaches us to live in this new life, transforming the way we live. The sequence is crucial: first comes inner rebirth by the gifts of grace that include repentance and faith; second comes outward lifestyle change.

As my Middle School guys discovered, if we approach such matters of life and death in the wrong order, everything goes completely wrong. For example, if you’re in an airplane that’s going down, a parachute can save your life, but only if you employ that parachute in the right sequence: first, strap it on; second, jump; third, pull the rip-cord. Attempt this procedure in any other order, and you will die.

Too many folks attempt a pursuit of salvation in a deadly and unbiblical sequence. They suppose that the first thing they need to do is work at becoming better people. They try on their own to learn how to “say ‘No!’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives,” in the vain hope that they will somehow come to deserve the saving grace of God. These folks reduce the gospel to a moralistic plan for self improvement, which has no power to save.

The biblical gospel is, however, not merely an improved moral code. The gospel is the story of how God saves desperately wicked people from their sin. It is more that the gateway to salvation: it’s the way we live the life of salvation, constantly and perpetually turning from ourselves to God in Christ.

If you're a Christian, you live in a new way, not because you have new rules to live by, but because you have new life to live. Christ changes you from the inside out, creating new life within you that yields a new way of life.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


How many of us can sing by heart the words of the song that starts “Jesus, keep me near the cross”? Can you recall the next few lines? Easy, right?

More than just a song, it’s a much-needed prayer for Christians. Far too many of us have a woefully inadequate understanding of what happened when Jesus willingly embraced the cross and died upon it. We tend to think of the cross as a way for us to get more of God’s goodies, the ticket, as it were, to our best life now.

Of course, there is a modicum of truth in that notion: without the death of God’s Son, you and I would still be in our sins, and therefore rightfully under God’s wrath. But there’s more, so much more to it. As John Piper points out, when Jesus died on the cross, He was not simply dying in our place, but He was also establishing a pattern for our lives.

Christ called us to follow Him in cross-bearing, in dying to ourselves, and in pursuing sacrifice as a strategic part of living out the gospel. We can’t do God’s will if we still want our will. We can’t pray, “Thy kingdom come” without also saying “And my kingdom go.”

And so, we ought to pray to be kept near the cross, saying “O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before” us, to correct our vision of all else that we see, lest spiritual myopia or the dazzle of other things distract us or cause us to stumble from God’s call. Until we see the cross (and see it again), we never rightly comprehend God’s righteousness. At the cross, where the Son of God was broken under the weight of the Father’s wrath, we see that the holiness of God exceeds all our imaginations. He is holy indeed.

Until and unless we see the cross, we can’t accurately understand our sin. The incomprehensible suffering of Christ reveals sin as no mere trifle. Look at the cross and see to what lengths the Son of God went to solve our sin problem! He took sin seriously, and so must we.

Until we see the cross more clearly, we will never appreciate Christ’s love. No sentimentalism here, no sappy “anything goes” tolerance is visible at the cross. Consider the awesome omnipotence of His love, not that He overlooks sin, but that on the cross He dies for it. He was under no obligation to do so; and yet, He died, horribly, all for love’s sake. This, this cross, this death of God’s Son – this is how much God loves sinners.

Finally, until we steadfastly look upon the cross in all its gory magnificence, it will be impossible to realize God’s call upon our lives. Jesus said you can’t follow Him without a cross. The road to the empty tomb still leads squarely over Calvary: you will never experience the power of the resurrection if you reject the pain of the cross.

In what area of your life is Christ calling you to die today? Are you willing for Him to keep you near His cross?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Throughout the week, the world has waited and watched, and endured the agony of anticipation throughout the course of the slow and dangerous rescue of 33 miners trapped by a cave-in at a copper mine in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. We have been gripped by the thought of the indescribable hardships they endured in their more than two months confined in the deep and the dark, over 2,000 feet below the surface. At one point, they were even left for dead.

We have been fascinated by the rescue efforts; and rightly so. The work has been herculean, difficult, costly, and – I’m sure we all believe – well worth it. The devout have prayed. The families have held vigil. And the news has been good.
First, the trapped miners were located and a rescue plan was coordinated. A small emergency shaft was built to provide food, water and air for the trapped miners. Then the long rescue shaft was carefully drilled. Finally, in preparation for bringing the men up, three medics were sent down to get the miners ready to be saved.

And a watching world waited and wondered.

The entire process, from the tragic cave-in through the intricate rescue, all anxiously observed by us, reminds me of what God does to save rebel humanity trapped in the depths of our own sin. By our own efforts, we have tunneled far into the darkness, pursuing wealth and success, only to be trapped by the collapse of our own efforts.

We could have been left for dead. We, like those miners, have no hope of digging our way out. But God has a rescue plan prepared and implemented. At great cost to Himself, He sent the Best of heaven for the least of earth down into the dim abyss of our iniquity to secure our release. Taking our crimes upon Himself, Christ offers the trapped and broken a way up and out of our sin. All that is required is to trust Him, our only Hope of rescue.

Think with me about those Chilean miners. Imagine their excitement as the rescue shaft opened up! Consider their elation upon seeing the escape capsule come down!

And then, try to picture this: as one of the helpers emerges from the capsule to help the miners into it one by one, some of them respond to the invitation, “You know, we’ve decided to stay down here. We’ve grown accustomed to the darkness and discomfort; so, thanks, but no, thanks!”

Unimaginable? Of course it is. People in their right mind would jump at the chance to be saved from certain and agonizing death in the dark.

Jesus has come into the gloom of humanity’s self-made tomb and has called us to trust Him so that we may be delivered from the depths of our depravity and brought out into the light of His salvation. It is unimaginable that some would refuse His call, unthinkable that any would prefer to remain trapped.

Jesus came to rescue you. Don’t refuse His offer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The easiest job in the world is critic. Everywhere you go, you can hear experts and prognosticators of every kind and inclination pronouncing their assessments of what’s wrong with most everything. Quick to point out the problems they see, these self-appointed pundits are generally somewhat slower to jump in and become part of the solutions.

A common object of these critics’ disapproval is the church. It’s easy – even fashionable these days! – to be critical of the church. Composed of sinners, some of whom are saved by grace, and some not yet, the church is kind of a sinner hospital. It is exceedingly odd that a hospital for souls should be criticized for having as its clientele those who suffer from sin’s illness. Jesus did not “come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

So it is that I love the church. And here are a few reasons why.

I love the church, because in the church, those who admit their sin-sickness can receive both the healing provided by God’s forgiveness in Christ and the sustainable health imparted by the sanctifying power of God’s grace. In the church, people can experience wonderful life-changes together, and share the glories of watching one another be transformed.

I love the church, because Jesus promised to make His presence known in a very special way when we gather in His name (see Matthew 18:20). When His people unite to study His Word, or to pray, or to worship Him, the Lord “shows up and shows off His glories,” as one of our members puts it. This means that many of the things of God simply cannot be experienced outside the gathering of the Body of Christ.

I love the church, because the church calls believers to account for their sins. In the church Christians have brothers and sisters who speak the gospel into each other’s lives, reminding one another that Christ died to deliver us not only from the penalty of sin, but also from the power of sin. They urge each other daily to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). And when some stumble and fall, the others bend down and pick them up in love.

Finally, I love the church, because the Son of God died for the church. Indeed, who would dare refuse to love those for whom Jesus hung in agony on a cruel cross? This quirky rag-tag bunch is what “He obtained with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). In other words, we are right to love the church, because Christ loves the church. Despite her many blemishes, Christ still calls the church His Bride, and He’s still passionately in love with her.

Can you imagine someone saying to God’s Son, “I love You, Jesus, but I can’t stand that ugly Bride of Yours”? Indeed, such a sentiment might rightly incur His displeasure! It seems so clear that, if you love Jesus, you have to love His church.

So, let me ask: do you?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Glenn Beck and Christianity

I think perhaps I need to change the title of my blog, because it's been a while since I have been posting once a week. Maybe I should call it "Once in a Blue Moon for God." Anyway . . . this is NOT one of my articles from the local newspaper. A friend of mine sent me a link to an article about Glenn Beck, and said, "Read this article and tell me you think Glenn Beck is a Christian." This little piece is my reply.

In a recent article posted online in Perspectives, Dr. Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, CA, stated that Glenn Beck has made a public declaration that he trusts the atonement wrought by Jesus for his salvation. On the basis of this declaration, some evangelical Christians are rushing to embrace Mr. Beck as one of our own.

Before we jump to this conclusion, it would be wise to raise a couple of important questions. WHICH Jesus is Mr. Beck trusting? Is it the Mormon “Jesus,” whom they believe was once the angelic brother of Lucifer and got adopted into the Godhead because of his willingness to come to earth for humanity’s sake? Or, is Mr. Beck trusting the biblical Jesus? This is the Jesus Who has always been the second person of the Trinity; Who, by His miraculous union with flesh, was incarnate for 33 years both fully God and fully human; Who lived a perfect life to provide righteousness for sinners, died a substitutionary death to remove the Father’s righteous wrath from His people, and rose to new life to impart this life to those Who receive Him. Which Jesus?

In point of fact, the Mormon version of Jesus is not qualified to provide atonement, and cannot save any who trust in him. To trust in the so-called atonement of this Jesus is patently not saving faith as defined by Scripture. Salvation is found only in the atoning work of the genuine, biblical Jesus Christ, and the Bible makes this claim very clearly.

Peter declared in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by Which we must be saved.” When he said this, Peter was referring to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom he had confessed, by the revelation of the Father, to be the eternal Son of God (see Matthew 16:16-17). In other words, only the eternal Son of God has power to save, not an angel who took on the name “Jesus.”

In John 14:6, Jesus declared, “In am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” This is the Jesus, referring to Himself, Who later claimed under oath in a court of law to be the eternal Son of God, as recorded in Mark 14:63-64: “Again the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’.”

Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus, Himself a man.” For Paul, to put the title “Christ” (meaning Messiah) before the name Jesus (read, then “Messiah Jesus”), and then to say He became a human, meant that he understood Jesus of Nazareth to be the human incarnation of the eternal Son of God, the Messiah sent by God.

Perhaps most telling is what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” Mormons proclaim “another Jesus,” not the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels as the incarnate eternal Son of God. The Corinthian church seemed to think that the proclamation of another Jesus was acceptable. Sadly, parts of the evangelical church seem willing to do the same today.

Fascinatingly, the Mormons claim they received their revelation about their angelic version of Jesus from an angel. Listen to what God’s Word says in Galatians 1:8: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (emphasis added).

I believe there is something remaining in most Christians, including me, as a continuing manifestation of our sin nature, that WANTS to be able to call others Christians when we have no solid Biblical warrant to be certain that they are. All of us know people who have testified to a teenage experience of accepting Christ at church camp, or who went forward and prayed the sinner’s prayer at a revival, but who nevertheless bear in their lives no credible evidence of regeneration. They may be nice folks in lots of ways, but there is no fruit in their lives. Do we WANT to believe they are saved? Of course. And because of our desire to affirm their alleged salvation, without any Biblically-defined evidence of it, it is easy for us to give in to the pull of misguided passion or sloppy theology, and declare that they’re Christians.

Perhaps Glenn Beck is a born again believer, and, of course, God knows whether he is or not. In contrast to God, however, I don’t know. Yet, for some evangelicals, the desire to affirm him as a member of our camp is intense. He is popular. He is articulate. He speaks the truth. In contrast to Rush Limbaugh (and a long list of other conservative talking heads), he is neither pompous nor proud. Additionally – and this is inestimably appealing to evangelicals, who have been so often disappointed by our spokesmen-champions! – he is squeaky clean, appearing to some to have the fruit of regeneration in his life. Some evangelicals think it would be wonderful if we could add to his credentials, “And, best of all, Glenn Beck is one of US”! Tempting as it may be to make such an affirmation, I cannot: not until I know for sure which Jesus he is trusting. Because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to that, doesn’t it?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


In our market-driven culture, people learn “comparison-shopping.” That’s where you compare prices and features to get the most for your dollar. It’s not a bad idea when it comes to buying things and investing your hard-earned money.

The problem of comparison-shopping arises when we apply it beyond its intended scope. Take matrimony, for example. If, after some mileage accumulates in their marriage, Mr. Jones begins to compare his fifty-something wife with the twenty-something babe at work, he might end up making a grave error in judgment. The problem could have been avoided if Mr. J. had just refused to “compare” and “shop.”

Being in a church family is somewhat like that. Granted, church membership is not marriage, and none of us has been required to promise, ”Until death do us part,” as a condition to being part of the Body of Christ. Yet, there is a basic similarity.
Both relationships – marriage and church – are based upon committed love.

Committed love is a comprehensive obligation, which is why some find it too far-reaching, too difficult. Someone who occasionally attended my first church explained such a sentiment this way, with a rare honesty: “The reason I don’t come to church much is that it’s too much bother. I just don’t want to get that close to people, because when you get close to them, you have to deal with their messes.”

Yes, committed love has a cost. It’s not easy. It can be messy. In fact, it’s sometimes downright hard. But that’s what makes it so valuable and so vital. If love were easy, it wouldn’t be worth much.

Our model, of course, is Jesus, and from Him we learn that the essential character of committed love is that it is unconditional. There is no “if” in committed love. This means that we actively stand by each other in support and prayer, that we challenge and encourage one another, even when we’re not particularly crazy about each other. It means that nothing anybody does or says could ever keep us from our relationships in the Body of Christ.

This is what the Holy Spirit told the church at Colossae 1,960 years ago, and it’s what the Holy Spirit is telling the church in Sterling today. Here’s how Paul put it in Colossians 3:12-14: “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other. Yes, forgive as the Lord forgave you. And above all, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

There’s no getting around the fact that church can be messy. That’s true, because committed love is messy. The only way to avoid the mess is to neglect the love. However, that’s just not a valid option, because Jesus commanded His people to love each other. Listen to His words: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Listen, beloved, to that commandment. Listen, and then obey.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Christians Must Love the Church

I love the church. I love being the pastor of a church. I love visiting other churches when I have the rare opportunity to do so.

However, let’s admit something: the church is a very imperfect group.

That’s because the church is composed of people. Not just any kind of people, but sinners. Indeed, the primary prerequisite for being part of the church is to acknowledge you are a sinner who needs the grace of God. People who think they’re good enough to reach heaven on their own merits generally don’t qualify for church membership. Only those who know they have no hope of salvation apart from the atoning sacrifice of Christ are suitable for the church.

That is one of the reasons I love the church. On Sundays, when I look out at the congregation God has given me, I see people just like me: sinners learning to live the truth of the Gospel in the context of their sin-tainted lives and this broken world.

To be sure, Christians have been given by God’s grace the miraculous privilege of right standing before God, this is not a standing that is achieved by any works of merit we have done. It is not by their good deeds or religious acts that Christians attain relationship with God.

It is by grace. God’s grace. Only by God’s grace.

Any church worthy of the name is a living declaration to the world that God is merciful, that He pours out His grace to forgive sinners with scandalous abandon. And that’s why I love the church. It is a local gathering of people committed to Christ and to each other, with a mutual desire to become more like Christ as we live out the position we have been given in Christ.

And, of course, that is the heart’s desire of every Christian: to become more and more like our Savior.

And that brings me to the most compelling reason why Christians must love the church.

Let me explain. If you want to become like Jesus, that means you will aspire to think His thoughts, pursue His commands, and love what He loves.

And Jesus loves the church; so much so, in fact that He calls the church His bride. Think of that term for a moment. How does the groom feel about his bride? Does his heart not burst with love for her? Of course it does. Does the fact that she is imperfect dim his passion or reduce his ardor for her? Not at all.

That same kind of passionately committed love is what Jesus has eternally for His bride. God’s Word says that one reason He gave us marriage is so that we could see in it a picture of the love of Jesus for His church (Ephesians 5:25, 32).

Oh, how Jesus loves His church! He is committed to His church!

If you love Jesus, you will learn to love His bride.

If you want to be like Jesus, you will love the church like He does.

Do you?