Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to Defeat Idolatry

 Excerpt from “The Folly of King Solomon” sermon on 1 Kings 11, October 11, 2015

In the first post on idolatry, we have considered what idolatry looks like in the life of the Christian. In the second post, we have reviewed some diagnostic steps that will help us to identify idolatry in our hearts. Now, how do we defeat it?

·         Repent when you recognize these idols, call sin SIN and leave it behind as the terrible evil that it really is. If God is convicting you, don’t turn your back on him. Turn away from idols.
·         Pray. Ask God to reveal Himself as more glorious, more desirable than anything else. Pursue the excellence of Christ in prayer, wrestle with God for joy and satisfaction in Him.
·         Read the Bible. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind – study the Word of God, meditate on it, grow in knowledge and application of the Bible. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
·         Give Thanks to God for everything: Memorize this question from 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?”   Apply this as an antidote to pride, as a guard to your heart, as a reminder to give God thanks and glorify Him.
·         Be a Disciple. Be engaged with your church. Don’t just show up to services, although that’s a good start. Hear the Word preached together, sing, pray, confess and give thanks together. Be in community with other church members during the week – community group, hospitality, prayer meetings, go for coffee, serve one another, study the Bible together. Use your community of believers to help you recognize hidden idols, root them out and smash them!

As you apply these things to your own life, remember to pray for Christian leaders.  Think about the fall of some Christian celebrities in recent times. Dreadful news of spiritual disaster can come from surprising places.

 “We are never doing so well that we are beyond the need of grace. We are never doing so badly that we are beyond the reach of God’s grace.” Jerry Bridges

Do you want a really hopeful word in the conclusion? I said in the introduction to my sermon on King Solomon’s idolatry, “As it goes with the king, so it goes with the people.”

We don’t follow in the Legacy of King Solomon.  Our king is Jesus. Are you feeling better yet?

King Jesus is not only mighty to save, He really is FOR us. He invites us to come to Him and receive full forgiveness because He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. He invites us to come to Him FOREVER because He rose from the dead, defeating the power of sin and death. He has, as the Only Righteous King and Saviour, fulfilled all the conditions of the law that stood against us. We can REST in Him, forgiven, justified and counted righteous in Him by FAITH ALONE. 

Avoiding idolatry is easy in the sense that we simply keep looking to him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Think about Matthew 11:25-30. Take comfort in the Saviour’s invitation to rest. We can’t keep ourselves from idols, but Jesus will help us. Jesus can be our joy and our delight. Desiring and enjoying God will be the only power that will overwhelm the futility of idolatry. Christ will keep us from idols by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is GRACE. Walk in it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Do We Diagnose Idolatry?

Part II of an excerpt from “The Folly of King Solomon” sermon on 1 Kings 11, October 11, 2015

Idolatry begins in our hearts. Our hearts are tricky to diagnose – we are often our own worst judges of what our hearts desire. But here are some warning signs:

·         Obsessive thoughts. What do we think about and worry about more than anything else?  When our heads hit the pillow at night, what are the thoughts that keep us awake? Could these thoughts point to desires and ambitions that are crowding out God in your heart?

·         “If onlys...” can be key threads to pull on. Do you keep coming back to that One Thing that you wish could change – a better job, a nicer house, recognition by your spouse or employer, obedient children, retirement, an ideal marriage?

Regarding our “if only?” idols. Try replacing “if only” with “I covet.”  For instance, I covet a better income. I covet obedient kids. I covet a loving, supportive spouse. I covet a better house for my family. That puts a different construction on some of our desires, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong – not every dream or desire is idolatry. As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to enjoy God’s good gifts, to work hard, to find satisfaction in the goodness of God’s good creation – but not ultimate satisfaction. We must keep created things in their place under our Creator God.

To love God with all our heart is to recognize that our many other legitimate loves are all gifts from the hand of our Good God. Of course it is good to love family, leisure time, good food, the beauty of nature, friendship and many more things, but how do these things measure up compared with God in our hearts? Do we thank God while we are enjoying these things? Does our participation in these other things that we desire and enjoy bring glory to God?

·         Pride. We can recognize this when we begin to be irritated that other people do not recognize our contributions, or even our potential contributions. We feel slighted. We are bothered because things we understand to be our entitlements are not being satisfied. The most common idol that I must fight is the idol that is ME.

Another note of caution here: Idolatry doesn’t always come to us in the clothing of worldly desire. Some of the worst forms of idolatry are legalism in its various forms.

You might see two professing Christians, one who seems to be happy-go-lucky and tuned into enjoying life and the other is spiritually earnest and highly disciplined – apparently consumed with pursuing obedience and holiness. Don’t assume that the easy-going person is in greater danger of falling into idolatry.

READ 1 Timothy 4:1-5 – And remember the Pharisees!

·         Anger and Conflict in our relationships – James 4:1-2. If there is conflict in your relationships, chances are you are fighting an idol of unfulfilled desire. We should see conflict as red warning light glowing on our dashboard. Check your desires, root out your  unfulfilled cravings.

·         Bitterness – an Unforgiving Spirit. Hebrews 12:15, “See that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Bitterness doesn’t stay contained in our heart. It will spill over.  It will defile many, just like all idols do. When we, as redeemed sinners, stand at the foot of the cross, what right do we have to be angry?

·         Complaining. When we complain, we are accusing God of failing to govern his universe up to our standards. Understand that we can be legitimately sad, confused and disappointed and not be guilty of idolatry, but we need to keep a watch on our attitude. We run the danger of accusing God of wrongdoing when we complain.

·         Persistent, Remaining Sin. Don’t be content to call it “my struggle with sanctification.” You need to call it idolatry, recognize what it will cost you and turn away from it. If your particular sin is the “lust of the eyes,” then stop it. Do what it takes to see how destructive this idol is. Get help. Confess this sin and KILL IT. Pornography and sexual idols are a terrible problem in the church. Remember, this is where Solomon first went wrong. Don’t call him a fool if you still succumb to sexual temptation.

·         Loss. We may not be aware that something is an idol until it is taken away from us. How do we respond to God when really bad things happen? We may face a difficult diagnosis at the Dr.’s office. We might lose our job. What if lose a loved one? These are harsh tests for idolatry, but they happen under God’s sovereign providence. Losses  can be a gift from God in terms of diagnosing idols of our heart. Meditate upon the question, “What can truly devastate us when we are hidden with God in Christ?” Letting go of the important things and even people is a great test of our identity IN CHRIST. The Apostle Paul knew what it was to suffer loss. In 2 Corinthians 1:9, he wrote , “...we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

That’s a distressing list. Is there any of us who isn’t challenged by these things?

What are we doing when we fall into idolatry?

Consider this word from the Lord in Jeremiah 2:11-13:

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What is Idolatry?

An Excerpt from “The Folly of King Solomon” Sermon on 1 Kings 11, October 11, 2015

Idolatry is a really big deal in the Bible. It comes up over and over again as the most basic of sins, both for Old Testament Israel and New Testament Christians. Both the presence and damage of idolatry is obvious in much of the Old Testament, but its presence in the New Testament is not as obvious. However, idolatry is no less a foundational sin in the New Testament.

We might be tempted to think that idolatry is for ancients, or pagans – not something that we have to be concerned about. But remember how the Apostle John concluded his first letter:  “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21). John hadn’t mentioned idols in the rest of the book, but these are the words he chose to conclude the book. Why did John warn Christians about idols?

Earlier in 1 John, the Apostle warned against idolatry using different words:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-16

Idolatry is often behind the words “love,” desire” and “passion” in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul called greed, or covetousness, idolatry  (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5). Paul also warned us against various forms of idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10, pointing to the experiences of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness as a warning.

Simply put, an idol is anything that exists in creation – physical or imagined – that we put in the place of God or above God. It might be money, another person, our work, our perfectly imagined future or any number of things.

Idolatry is always a reflection of unbelief. If we believed God, if we knew God, we wouldn’t turn from him to pathetic substitutes. If we walked by faith, we wouldn’t turn to alternative gods that will always fail us.  Consider the warning in Hebrews 3:12: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. “

Practicing idolatry is letting our hearts be more attached to any created thing rather than the Creator. The failure to glorify God and give him thanks (Romans 1:21) is the fruit of this fundamental sin. 

Idolatry begins with our hearts. It is not so much about the object of our affection, but that this object of our affection is a competitor or a replacement for God in our lives.

Evil things can be idols – like the altar to Chemosh or Molech, or pornography or drug addiction.

However, a subtle danger of idolatry is that it may also be something that is good in and of itself. How can a good thing become an idol? If it becomes an “instead of” God – a substitute saviour. When we get things out of proportion to God,  then that created thing will become an idol.

Good, religious people can be just as guilty of idolatry as Solomon was. It might be invisible to others – at least for a time – but idolatry is a destructive, foolish sin. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Come, Lord Jesus

Right at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22:20, we read, “He who testifies to these things (the Lord Jesus Christ Himself) says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ (To which John adds) Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Many professing Christians, let alone the general population, consider the bodily, glorious return of the Risen Christ to be impossible. If this truth is not rejected outright, its neglect in so many churches points to an uneasiness concerning this doctrine.

Perhaps this is because many North American believers engaged in crazy speculation about the future, particularly at the end of the 20th Century. When people looked away from the hype (understandably), they also turned away from the clear teaching of the Bible regarding the return of Christ.

There is a deeper reason for the neglect of eschatology (the study of last things) in the church. Unbelief. Specifically unbelief concerning the "weird stuff" in the Bible.

For instance, I was reading Joshua 10 the other day about “The Long Day of Joshua.” The sun and moon stood still so that Joshua’s army could keep on fighting for an extra day. Accounts like this, or Noah’s Ark or Jonah’s Great Fish or other Bible stories are just that – stories. Or are they? How can we moderns believe such things? How can we believe that the bodily resurrected Christ went up into Heaven (wherever that is) 2000 years ago and will return from there?

Critical theologians have redefined the resurrection over the past 200 years. They teach that resurrection was a spiritual concept, invented by the disciples to keep Jesus’ ideas alive at the dawning of Christianity.

That just won’t do. If we lose the bodily resurrection, we lose everything (1 Corinthians 15). I would also argue that if we lose the long day of Joshua or Jonah’s fish, we lose everything. If the Bible is God’s Word, it either is entirely or not at all (2 Timothy 3:16). If I lose Noah’s ark, I lose the gospel. The same is true regarding the future return of Christ.

When I have thoughts of, “That’s weird!” when I read the Bible, I fight unbelief with the truth of creation. If God made everything out of nothing by the power of his Word, what is too difficult for him? Consider Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Right at the beginning of the Faith Chapter, we have this foundation of creation.

One of the errors that modern skeptics make is to engage in what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. “We modern people can’t believe in such things.” The fact is, the ancients didn’t believe these things either, unless God changed their hearts. Conversely, many people do believe today because God has changed our hearts.

If you are a professing Christian, don’t shy away from talking about the return of Christ. This is our great hope. People will think that we are crazy, but what’s new about that? Jesus promised that as they hated him, they will hate us.

If you are reading this and you are not a Christian, let me thank you for persevering this far through this post! I’m glad you are reading this. What I’m writing might be crazy talk to you, but consider your foundations. If you are a naturalist (no belief in the supernatural), how do you account for anything? Take a good, long look at your presuppositions and your assumptions about the world. Ask God to help you understand what is true, good and beautiful and eternal.

As for us Christians, if we contemplate what the Bible teaches about Christ’s return, we will be motivated to live godly lives (read 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 John 2:29-3:3). The world will hate us for this, too, by the way.

We are called to be ambassadors of God. We bring the Good News that God’s judgment of sin has broken into space/time history at the cross. All who trust in the forgiveness and righteousness of Christ secured for us by his obedient life, atoning death and bodily resurrection are safe from the terror of Christ’s return. We may welcome it and long for it. The question is, how much do we believe in this future reality? Does God’s love compel us to warn those who do not yet know this truth?

“Don’t judge” is the word of our day, but have you considered how genuinely loving it is to warn people of God’s coming judgment? Sure, we are not to be “judgmental,” but we are to be witnesses to the truth of God’s coming reckoning with those who disregard him and his Word. No matter when Christ returns, it will be “soon” in the calendar of Heaven. Consider also that the sure, righteous judgment of God will become immediate and personal at the time of our death, and who knows when that may be?

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.  Hebrews 9:27-28

As you “... grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), don’t neglect what the Bible says about Christ’s return. It is a great, sure hope and a powerful motivator for faithful witness in a world that desperately needs the gospel.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

A New Opportunity

It is Tuesday evening on my first full week on the job at Calvary Grace Church - full-time. I am very thankful for this opportunity. It is a new thing, even though I was a full time pastor from 1990 to 2011 (with two years out for school). I have been an elder at Calvary Grace since January, 2012, so I haven't stopped being a pastor. However, I have a new respect for long-term bi-vocational pastors.

I am one of five elders at Calvary Grace. Pastor Clint Humfrey is the lead pastor and he does most of the preaching, though we all take our turns. That means that I am full-time and not preaching most weeks. That is different. I am the pastoral care pastor, though we are all simply pastors -- we all do each others' job. We each have our area of specialization, either according to gifting or simply the need of the hour.

Our church isn't perfect, what church is? However, I consider this season to be a golden time, a very special blessing. It is a great privilege to work with the other elders here and serve with the other members. We are growing together and the church is maturing and deepening and learning to reach out more and more.

I am looking forward to being more available to the people in our church . I also will have more time for reading and writing -- maybe even on this blog.

I am thankful for my three and a half years at TransCanada Turbines. I won't miss the work, but I will miss the people I worked with. I will keep in touch with some of them. I hope that full-time job gig for that season has made me  a better pastor. God knows. I  know that I am very thankful for the opportunity to go full-time and, to be honest, to sleep-in just a bit later every weekday.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Funeral Meditation for Charles Ray Stauffer – November 10, 2014, Lethbridge, Alberta

For family and friends that were unable to be at the funeral, here is a summary of my message. If you were at the funeral, you may notice some differences and omissions. I speak from an outline, so much of what is written here is rewritten from memory. 

I learned on Saturday that my brother Charles had a favorite verse. It is 2 Corinthians 12:29, which includes the promise from the Lord Jesus Christ, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Are you feeling weak today? Weak with grief? Weak with thoughts of your own mortality and the shortness of life? Weak in comfort as you don’t know what to do about the hurting people around you?

Perhaps you are here today weak with unbelief – thinking that maybe nothing has an ultimate purpose and that God, if there is one, really doesn't care.

Standing before God, before death, before eternity, even the strongest of us are very weak. Being weak is not a problem. Refusing to admit weakness is a problem.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Mighty King David was struck low with guilt when he faced his sin and confessed it before God. He knew at that moment that the only acceptable sacrifice before God is, “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”

If we are feeling week and helpless today and don’t know what to do, we are in a good place before God.

In fact, if we don’t feel small and weak and powerless, we haven’t been paying attention. There is so much evil and hurt in the world – violence, injustice, pain and grief. We should also take a good long look at the remaining sin in our own hearts as we stand before our Holy God and admit our need for His help. It is freely offered. Consider Jesus' invitation in the Gospel of Matthew:

25  At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26  Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 27  "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:25-30).

The way to God is through Jesus Christ alone. That way is barred to the self-righteous, those who are strong and wise in their own eyes. The Kingdom of Heaven is open by invitation only – invitation from God the Father. The Narrow way of entrance is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but this way is for those who come as little children.

Why should we want in? Because Jesus promises rest. Sweet, holy, everlasting peace, security, joy and significance are all wrapped up in this Promised Rest. Our souls are restless until they find their rest in God. Jesus and Jesus alone holds the keys to that rest.

This invitation to rest is given to “ALL who labour and are heavy laden.” If they will come on God's terms, anyone an everyone may come. This invitation is not given to those who have it all together, the carefree and light-hearted. It is offered to those who know they need rest for their souls.

This theme of finding God’s rest is found in many places in the Bible. The restlessness that we all experience from time to time is only satisfied by finding peace with God.

One of the anchor points in the history of God’s people is the Exodus – God’s deliverance of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt through Moses. Their destination was the Promised Land.

This deliverance from Egypt to the Promised Land has become a picture of salvation. Our Egypt is sin and evil. Our Promised Land is the New Heavens and New Earth of Eternal Joy with Christ.

In the book of Hebrews, the big theme is, “Jesus is better – so don’t fall away.” Don’t turn back to empty man-made traditions and “mere” religion. There is no life in these paths. Life is found in the Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The author of the book of Hebrews takes two chapters near the beginning of the book (Hebrews 3-4) to describe the rest of God and the danger of losing it. With all of God’s signs and wonders during the Exodus and all of His supernatural help, most of the Children of Israel failed to enter God’s rest.

The author of Hebrews warns Christians that were tempted to turn away from Jesus to empty religion that entering God’s rest was their urgent need.

He says in chapter 4:11, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (English Standard Version). The King James Version says, “let us labour, therefore to enter that rest.” The New International Versions says, “make every effort to enter that rest.”

When we think of rest, we might find it strange to hear these action words “Strive,” “Labour,” “Make every effort.” Isn't rest just the opposite?

When it comes to trusting God with the most important things, simply believing God’s Word and receiving His grace is really hard work. We want to be strong. We want to earn our acceptance before God and prove ourselves to others by our performance. Trusting the free gift of Christ’s offer of rest in God’s grace is very difficult.Grace is free, but it kills our pride to receive it. 

What’s involved in finding this rest?
  • Repentance. Repentance is a total change of mind that results in a 180 degree change in direction. It is to admit that I am under God’s judgement as a sinner and that I need to turn from my sin and turn to God in faith, anticipating his promised mercy. Repentance is not a work that we get credit for before God, but an honest admission of our sin before our Holy God.
  • Faith. Believe God’s Word. Take it all. Don’t pick and choose to fit in with our culture. This faith is simply believing like a little child. It is a rest in the wisdom and goodness of God, but it puts us at opposition to the world around us:
    • Be willing to believe in the face of ridicule and even persecution.
    • Adopt God’s perspective on morality and truth. Take God at His Word.
    • This is a fight – the fight of FAITH.
    • Compare Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26: The gospel is for the “obedience of faith” among the nations. Taking God at his Word and following Christ as Lord is at the heart of this fight of faith.
  • Confession. “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10
  • “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 3:18
    • Who is this Jesus? Matthew 11 – He holds the keys of access to God the Father. He is greater than the greatest of men. John the Baptist was commended as the greatest man because he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In Matthew 11 we also read Jesus’ warning that to reject the Son of God is to store up greater judgment for yourself than the notorious cities that were destroyed long ago.
    • Our need for rest from God in Jesus Christ does not end when we first confess faith in him. We must keep coming back to Jesus’ offer for help time and time again. The gospel is for Christians, too! It is through him that we come to God for the help that we need.
Listen to this glorious invitation from the same chapter of Hebrews, soon after we are told to "strive to enter that rest." This is what it looks like: 

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

These are the things that we need to fight for. It is hard work to confess that someone else is your Lord. It is even harder to admit that you need a Saviour. In fact, this is impossible without the work of God in you.

Are you weak? Are you burdened? Are you restless? Jesus invites you to come to Him and, though Him, right into the presence of God to find mercy and grace in your time of need.

The eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, left His Father’s side and took on flesh to live among us. This is how we know that God is good, even though the world is full of pain and evil. God did not ignore our need. God came down.

Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, keeping the law perfectly when we failed.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That means that He died in our place for us. He is our substitute – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” There is now no CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Jesus rose again from the dead in his body – not just spiritually. He is the first-fruits for all who believe. The way He rose, we will rise if we believe this good news.

Christ now prays for His people in Heaven. He sent the Holy Spirit to us so that we will believe and keep on believing and growing in holiness for God’s glory. “… he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God though him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

If you are here today and you are in need of rest for you soul, you are invited. Turn to Jesus. Ask Him to receive you and give you forgiveness and life everlasting. He is the Good Shepherd. He will take care of you!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Sure Hope of Good Friday

The people of Calgary and surrounding area have been shocked at the stabbings near the University of Calgary. We ought to pray for the families and friends of the victims. But what should we pray? How should we think about this tragedy? How should we talk about this horror with our friends and family? The stark reality of evil is staring us in the face once again this week. 

We should not speculate about the details. The Bible (and life interpreted through good, gospel theology) teaches us that sin and evil are capable of profound harm. This same theology teaches us that every human being is made in the image of God and is incredibly valuable. God’s creation still bears the marks of His goodness, but it is a fractured, twisted image. We must keep this tension in mind. God is sovereign. He is good. The time for ultimate judgment is not yet. Don’t try to sort out the motives of the perpetrator or any of the other details of that terrible night. Grieve for those whose lives are permanently changed. Pray that those left behind will run to God and “Ask, seek and knock” until He answers them. 

We should talk about this tragedy, however.  Christians, of all people, should be able to face evil and talk clearly about it. Every religion and every human being faces the problem of evil. God’s Word, particularly as it reaches its summit in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, teaches us about evil and about God’s ultimate response of Good. Tomorrow is Good Friday. What does Good Friday have to do with the untimely death of five young people? 

Often the first reaction when something awful happens to people who believe in God is a loss of faith in the goodness of God. They believe that God exists, but they feel that they can’t trust him. They don’t believe that He is good. There are many people who are very conscious of the reality of God but because of some bad thing that happened, they shake their fist at him and will not worship or follow Him. This is why a generic belief in God is not enough. It will not withstand the storms of life. 

The rock under the feet of Christians is the Gospel. When we doubt God’s love, when we question His goodness, we must look to the cross. When the evidence in our own experience suggests that evil is winning or has won, remember that God came down. The Eternal Son did not have to leave the glories of Heaven and perfect, immediate fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, but He did. He took on human flesh out of love. 

What did it cost our Lord to come and not only face evil, but to take up the curse that rests on creation and bear God’s holy wrath in our place? What did it cost the Father to send His only Son as Saviour of the world? What Christ suffered on the cross is not only an answer to the problem of evil, it is the solution to the problem of evil. It is in Christ’s atoning death as the substitute for sinners and through His bodily resurrection on the third day that suffering, death and evil are finally vanquished. It is only through the finished work of Jesus Christ that we can confidently say, “God is Love. God is Good.” If we understand this, nothing can shake this sure hope that we have for all eternity. 

As we talk to people about the terrible events in Calgary this week, pray that God will give us opportunity and courage to declare this truth. There is no hope without it.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Five Years

We didn't do anything special today -- not in relation to the anniversary that September 27th marks, anyway. Juanita went to a piano teachers' conference in Red Deer. I took the day off work to use up my last holiday day before the end of September (a new holiday schedule begins in October). Petra and Anne did their school work and routine Friday activities. Josh is in Toronto at school for his fourth year at Toronto Baptist Seminary, though he took the train to Gatineau for a visit this weekend.

For all of us, though, this sober anniversary is very present. We miss Emily. We are all doing well, by God's grace. We are thankful for the many good things in our lives and we are content. We don't walk around in a fog of grief -- not at all. However, there are reminders - like anniversaries - that get us all thinking. There is a sorrow that returns. Emily should be here, though we trust God that He is working out the best for all of us.

I am reminded today that this world is not our home. There is sin and evil in the world, yet there are glimpses of future glory here and now. God is good. He has proven that to us more than anyone could anticipate or demand. How? By intervening in this sin-soaked world by coming to redeem us. More than that, Christ came to defeat death and Satan. He has already done that by His life, death and resurrection. We have a Sure Hope that Christ will return to make all things new. All will be well.

One of the lessons that I have learned in the last five years is that there are a lot of suffering people out there. There are many reasons: relationship difficulties; loneliness, disease; depression and other mental illnesses; addictions; abuse and the list goes on and on. Even people with the best lives get old, sick and die. We can't hold on too tightly here.

We can't ignore evil and trouble in the world, yet we must not despair. We must look up. We must look to Christ's sinless, righteous life, His atoning death and bodily resurrection. If you don't know what this all means, please ask! Ask God to teach you, ask a Christian that you know to explain this to you. This is where true, everlasting life is found. You can't do an end-run around suffering and evil, but you can be reconciled to God and find forgiveness and eternal life in Christ.

It is such a gift to be given eyes to see - to be granted the "upward call" in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). This is our comfort. Jesus is our life, our hope, our all.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Are the Dead Raised?

1 Corinthians 15 is the Resurrection Chapter. Nowhere in Scripture do we find such an extensive treatment of the importance and extent of the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of believers. However, this second aspect, the resurrection of believers, is often given less emphasis than it deserves.

How could I criticize anyone for holding high the resurrection of Christ - which is indeed writ large in this chapter? I would not do that. Our accent should be upon our Lord's historic, bodily resurrection. For example, Tim Challies just posted on this passage today (his excellent piece prompted me to write this post). I commend his article to you and have no complaint against it.

However, I think that there is some background to Paul's address to the Corinthians regarding the resurrection of the believer that is often overlooked, and it points to a bigger problem in many churches than many pastors know.

I really don't think many people in the Corinthian church were overtly denying the resurrection of Christ, nor were they denying the immortality of the soul. Some flying the banner of "Christian" will always deny Christ's resurrection -- these are impostors that the Apostles warn about elsewhere. However, what prompted Paul to write primarily was faulty doctrine concerning the future bodily resurrection held by some in the church. Of course, Paul addresses other crucial doctrines in this chapter - chief among them being the absolute necessity of Christ's resurrection. However, I can imagine people in the church saying, "You don't really think that these bodies of ours will be raised?"

Consider how Paul writes:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised (15:12, 13). And in case we missed it,

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised (15:16).

It appears that Paul is arguing back to the resurrection of Christ from the necessity of the resurrection of everyone else. In other words, if the resurrection is not true, then it can't be true that Christ has bodily risen from the tomb. The proclamation of Christ risen from the dead was and is essential Gospel doctrine (15:1-4), but if Christians fudge on the doctrine of the resurrection going forward, they are effectively - even if unwittingly -- jeopardizing the truth of Christ's "first fruits" resurrection in the past. 

Is a denial of the resurrection a real problem in the contemporary evangelical church, or am I just doing theological nit-picking? I do believe that there is confusion in evangelical churches among regular attenders regarding the future bodily resurrection of believers. Pastors need to be explicit in their teaching regarding the resurrection of believers because it is dangerous to assume that people understand and hold on to this doctrine. I have heard upstanding church members mock the idea that we will be raised literally. I've heard more than one professing Christian say, "This body? I don't want this one back!" I've heard others say that they hadn't really thought about the future resurrection, even though they'd attended church for decades.

I don't think there is an area that Christians are more tempted to drift into Gnostic (matter bad / spirit good) heresies than in this matter of the future bodily resurrection and the coming New Creation.

Yes, by all means, we must proclaim the reality of Christ's historic resurrection! Soberly consider the consequences of denying this doctrine and shudder. Celebrate the glory of this life-giving, justifying miracle of our Risen Lord. However, don't neglect to trace out the cosmic and personal consequences of our future, bodily resurrection as well.

There is so much more urgent teaching regarding the reality of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 than I have mentioned here. Go and read it carefully. Listen to some good sermons on it. Read the Challies article. All I wanted to do in this post was prompt you to think about the resurrection in a personal, urgent way and think about the consequences of failing to do so.

As Paul argues, if we get the resurrection of believers wrong, we will also distort the reality of Christ's resurrection. Then we will indeed be the ones most to be pitied.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gospel Resources

When I first started this blog, I was amazed at the rich Gospel resources available online. Since then, it has become impossible to keep up. I would like to highlight a couple of messages that are about six years old -- ages ago in the internet economy. They are the opening two plenary sessions from the inaugural Gospel Coalition Conference. I thought they would be appropriate to post on this Resurrection Sunday eve as they are clear, essential presentations of what the Gospel is all about: I have recommended these two messages many times over the years. Even if you have seen them, they are worth reviewing.
- Dr. D. A. Carson, What is the Gospel?
- Dr. Tim Keller, What is Gospel-Centered Ministry? (video only, the link for the audio didn't work at the Gospel Coalition site). 

Resurrection Sunday Update

Wow. It's been almost a year since I've posted anything here. All is well, but the blog has not been a priority, obviously. I have been wondering what to do about this blog. I thought that before I jumped back in I would create a new blog with a new name, maybe a custom URL. That was ambitious enough that it only contributed to my neglect of this old place. I also thought that I might do more on Twitter and Facebook, but  if I'm going to write anywhere, it'll be here at good old New Lumps.

So, for good or ill, I'm back.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

A Forever Body

Other people have risen from the dead. Even Lazarus was in the tomb for longer than Jesus. What makes Jesus' resurrection unique?

Christ rose from the dead in the body that He died with, but, when He arose, it was with a glorified body - a body that would never die again. Jesus did not leave this body when He left the earth. He will return to earth in that same body.

At His return, all who are waiting for Him in faith will share with Him a glorified, forever body. We won't become someone different or an angel. This body will be us, our body, but new, restored, perfected, glorified and fit for eternity in God's presence.

He is Risen!

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:20

Because He has risen, we will rise.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Calvary Grace Conference 2012

We've had a great weekend with Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia. The audio for Friday and Saturday is up already. There is a Sunday School hour interview and a sermon by Dr. Trueman to follow, but the Reformation part of the conference is up. Here is the audio page for Calvary Grace.