Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fishers of Men

My first real attempt at telling a stranger about Jesus Christ was terrifying. It was the first week of my freshman year of college. Newly arrived from my rural home in Western Colorado, I was still getting a feel for the big city and a big campus.

The day I arrived in Denver, I called my mom from a phone booth near my dorm to tell her I got in safely. As I hung up, I noticed a small poster taped in the booth. Underneath a profile sketch of Christ were the words, “Wanted: Jesus Christ,” and a phone number. I called the number, found out there was an active Christian fellowship at the University of Denver, and said I was interested.

Within a couple days the campus minister, a tall man in his 30's, met me in the lounge of my dorm. After very little chit-chat, just enough to ascertain that I was a new Christian, he suddenly stood up, motioned me to follow, and said, “Hey, come over here and share your testimony with the Jehovah Witness janitor I just met!”

I don’t know remember what incoherency tumbled out of my mouth, but I’d hate to think the poor janitor’s eternal destiny depended on it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The gym of our old high school was a floor down from the primary classroom building. Two sets of stairs opened from the main hall down to the small gymnasium.

One morning after P.E., I was walking up those stairs, heading to my next class. To my dismay I encountered a group of upperclassmen, my sometime tormentors, who were walking down the stairs. “Hey, Carp,” one of them taunted, slugging me hard on my left shoulder. Without thinking, I slugged him back.

Which triggered the rest of them, five or six guys, to begin cursing me and hammering the same spot on my deltoid muscle. That pummeling pretty much summarizes my 9th grade.

Lots of people have terrible, scarring memories of bullying. I never experienced the bad stuff. No “swirlies” in the restroom, no really damaging physical violence. My early high school years were not a living hell. A living heck, maybe.

But because I was not a jock, but a “brain,” a nerd, I experienced my share of contempt, ostracism, and various attempts, often successful, to humiliate me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Man in the Wilderness

Long before Richard Harris played Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter movies, he was in a small film called “Man in the Wilderness.” His character is the scout for a group of fur trappers in the early 1800’s. When he is badly wounded in a bear attack, the trappers decide to leave him behind, assuming he’ll die of his wounds.

The movie is a tale of redemption for the “man in the wilderness.” Terribly injured, his will to survive comes first from a desire for revenge. He’s determined to recover, find the men who abandoned him, and wreak havoc upon them.

But he discovers one of the men has left a small Bible in his pocket. As he reads it, the message of the Scriptures transforms him, so that when he finally confronts the trappers, he forgives them.

I thought of the movie as I read these verses:
And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:11-13
 Jesus was the original Man in the Wilderness.

Friday, February 24, 2012

When Bad Dreams Come

The other night I had a disturbing dream in which one of my children was experiencing a devastating trial. I was powerless to help. It grieved me so much that, in the dream, I was shaking and unable to stand.

I woke at 1 a.m., confused and upset, in that state when you’re not quite awake and still under the sway of the nightmare.

I lay there, heart pounding, and tried to tell myself the dream wasn’t real. As I began to pray, a wonderful thought entered my mind. “But they have a Shepherd.” I whispered it over and over. Tears of joy began to flow. They have a Shepherd, a Good Shepherd. And even when nightmares are real, our wonderful Savior is there for us.

I thought of Peter, and the humbling thing the Lord Jesus told him right before His arrest.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31, 32
Jesus told Peter that Satan wanted to sift him. Actually the “you” is plural. Satan wants to sift all the disciples, including you and me. So how did Peter make it? Jesus even lets Peter know that he will stumble badly, but will “turn again.” Why?

The reason Peter turned back again, kept faithful, made it through to the end, was not because of his inner strength. It was because He had a Shepherd who prayed for Him.

What wonderful words from our Savior: “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” This time the word “you” is singular. “I have prayed for you, Peter.” And for you, Jim. You, Karen. You, Ted, and Jose, and Maria. If the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16, NASB), what about the prayer of the MOST righteous Man who has ever lived?

·        Who regulates the heat of our trials so they will purify and not destroy our faith?
·        Who stands guard to blunt the assault of the enemy so that his mischief becomes a tool for our growth and not our permanent ruin?
·        Who keeps watch all through the night?
·        Who gives us faith to persevere when we would have given up?
·        Who comes near to comfort us with His word when we wake from a terrible dream in the middle of the night?
·        Who provides a way of escape when temptation looms to entrap us?
·        Who settles us in peace when the turmoil that swirls around us might otherwise drive us mad?
·        Who bore the lash and the nails and the spear instead of us?
·        Who carries us in His arms through the flood and the flames, safe to the other side? 
·        Who forgives us seventy-times-seven when we stumble again into sin?
·        Who walked ahead of us through the valley of the shadow of death to blaze a trail through that dark place we all must travel?
·        Who prepares a place for us and will come again to take us to that place?
·        Who foils the enemy’s charges against us by His own presence before the Father (Romans 8:34)?
·        Who saves us to the uttermost, because He ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25)?
·        Who prays for us, that our faith may not fail?

Our Shepherd.

Our Jesus. Our King and Savior and Redeemer and Friend. O how we admire Him and love Him and depend upon Him. Whether in the middle of the night, waking from a terrible dream, or on a sunny day when life is calm. He’s the one we look to and depend upon, who will never give up on us or let us down.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Just a Face in the Crowd?

Does Jesus even know who I am?

Have you ever wondered about that? After all, how many people have decided to follow Christ in the last 20 centuries? Millions, probably. Kind of  like when you go to work for a big company. They’re glad to have you, probably, but you don’t expect the CEO to know your name.

Of course Christ loves all people, right? Just the same, right? And if that’s the case, why would He need or want to keep them all straight? It’s enough that we know His name, but we shouldn’t expect Him to know ours, right?

Not right. Not even close. The Savior’s love and His intimate connection to His people may be mysterious, but they are not in doubt. Jesus tells us specifically and repeatedly how precious His people are to Him.

Just think: if you’re a follower of Christ, He chose you long before you chose Him. That’s what Jesus said.
You did not choose me, but I chose you... (John 15:16).
You were in the mind and heart of God long before you were born. You, specifically. Not a generic, potential group, but specific people who were known and loved before time began.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Iranian Pastor Condemned to Death - Please Pray!

Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has received execution orders for refusing to recant his faith in Christ. You can read more here, and here, and here.

Pastor Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old father of two, was arrested over two years ago on charges of apostasy. Now it seems he could be hanged at any time. He apparently loves Jesus more than his life.

Please pray for him and for his family.

People choose to live and die for so many unworthy things. They throw their lives away for perverted pleasures, drugs, cults, adrenaline rushes, hopeless causes, violent gangs, and contemptible people.

But Christ is worthy. He is more than worthy of our love, worship, obedience, and of our death, if He so chooses. The first followers of Christ thought suffering for Him was a privilege. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (Acts 5:41, ESV).

As Paul waited for his own execution orders to come down, he told the church at Philippi that his imprisonment was a cause for rejoicing because Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (Phil. 1:18, ESV). So for him, both release and execution had their advantages. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21, ESV).

He even told the church that suffering was not just a cross to bear, but a gift: For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29, ESV).

As we pray for Pastor Nadarkhani's release, let's also pray for his witness and his courage. And for our own. Because Christ is worthy--to live for and to die for.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Headaches and Angels

Some years ago we thought my wife had a brain tumor. She’d had bad headaches for a while, but they were getting worse. Each time we saw the doctor, he seemed more concerned. He was the one who used the words “brain tumor” for the first time, as he scheduled Dionne for an MRI.

Then we were really worried. The idea that she might have brain cancer was overwhelming to both of us. It was a little over a week till the MRI, and we had some very tough days as we waited for what the brain scan would reveal.

And yet we never said a word to our church. At a time when we most needed prayer and encouragement and support, we didn't even ask for help. I admitted our fears only to my long-time friend and accountability partner, Mark. The day of the MRI, he met us at the hospital, prayed with us, and sat with me while Dionne was undergoing the test. I'll always be grateful that he was there.

Thankfully Dionne didn’t have a tumor, and her headaches stopped. But as I look back I realize that not asking for help from our church family was both unnecessary and prideful.

Many of us find it easy to serve, but difficult to let others serve us. It takes true humility to do both.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fellowship of the Towel

I admire Christ’s humility. And the more you see of His greatness and glory, the more astounding it is that He was humble.

Humility seems to be about giving up control, especially if you have a legitimate right to it. Humble people are willing not to be in charge. They are willing to submit.

Humility is about taking a low position when you have a claim on a high one. It’s about the willingness to do a menial task to serve others, when your skills and experience qualify you for a much higher job. Humility is admirable only when the one displaying it comes from a legitimately high position and voluntarily takes a low one.

We don’t think it’s particularly laudable when a death-row prisoner behaves humbly toward his guards. A first-year biology student isn’t applauded if she is humble toward her PhD. professor. A man convicted of embezzling is required to speak to school children about why stealing is wrong. But we don’t think much of his humility in doing so. 

And humility is praiseworthy when it actually involves giving up control. A wealthy entrepreneur (picture Donald Trump) might act kindly and generously, maybe even sacrificially, toward others. But he probably maintains complete control of all of it. Humility means submission.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Whitney Houston and Jesus

Whitney Houston’s death on February 11 at age 48 has dominated the headlines for the last week. Everybody from Fox News to MSNBC has weighed in on the meaning and importance and tragedy of her passing.

Of course any death is a loss, especially for the ones left behind. For example, the day before Ms. Houston died, Lance Corporal Montes De Oca of North Arlington, New Jersey, perished in the service of our country. He was conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was 20 years old.

Some deaths seem noble for their sacrifice. A father drowns rescuing his little child. A soldier falls on a grenade to save his squad. A pregnant mother refuses chemotherapy so her baby will have a chance at life.

Christ’s death did not seem noble at the time. It was a shameful death. Jesus knew, had always known, that His would be a cursed death. For the Jews, displaying a dead body on a “tree” was reserved for society’s scum.

Paul said it this way: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Galatians 3:13, ESV). 

The Lord so identified Himself with sinners that our curse became His. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for Him. When He hung there in shame, naked, dripping sweat and blood and spit, it didn’t seem noble or praiseworthy or even sacrificial.

For the Father as Judge, it was not just that Christ was cursed. He became a curse. He embodied it, defined it, epitomized it. “Look at the Curse, the divine reject, God’s damnation.” How could Jesus ever have had a happy day when He knew His road let to Calvary’s curse? That’s how He redeemed me.

No one ever died a death like my Lord. But in honor of Lance Corporal Montes De Oca, and of Ms. Houston, here's the best rendition of the National Anthem I've ever heard.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Weekly Puritan: Longing for Heaven

Have you ever noticed that secular books and movies about heaven don’t have anything to do with Jesus? Heaven is supposed to be like a trip to Mardi Gras or like entering a witness protection program. Lots of adventure and new experiences. But no Jesus.

We believe that heaven will include adventure and new experiences. And thankfully it will mean a reunion with Christian loved ones who have gone on ahead. But preeminently, heaven is Christ.

I think that’s why the Psalmist said, Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you (Psalm 73:24, ESV).

The Puritans knew this. I’ve been quoting from John Owen’s The Glory of Christ. Here’s another one about how our admiring Christ makes us long for heaven. (I’ve highlighted my favorite sentence in this paragraph.)

We ‘who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body’ (Rom. 8:23). The more we grow in faith and spiritual light, the more we groan for deliverance. The nearer we are to heaven and to Christ, the more earnest is our desire to be there, and to be with Christ. Groaning implies a strong desire, mixed with sorrow, because we do not yet have what we long for. The desire has sorrow in it, but the sorrow has joy in it, like a heavy shower of rain falling on us on a Spring day while we are in a garden. We get wet, but when we smell and see what the shower has done, we are happy even though we groan because we are soaked through! So groaning shows we long to be delivered from our present state and be lifted up to that heavenly glorious state (p. 105).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No Crying--Right, Clint?

I didn’t cry when my father died. I didn’t cry for many years. Men aren’t supposed to cry. Right? Or maybe the idea is, adults, both men and women, should not cry.

Why? Well, little children cry all the time. It’s part of what makes them children. They cry when they’re hungry or thirsty, when they’re sick, startled, or need a diaper change. When they’re frustrated or afraid, sad or angry, they cry. In fact they may learn to cry just to get what they want. Imagine that.

So to become an adult is to put a lid on it. Stifle. Zip it. Suck it up. Quit whining. Man up. Stiff upper lip. Swallow your blood and walk into the cannon smoke.

I sort of believe all that. But when a true adult, a real man or a real woman, does cry, you take notice. When someone lives a life of responsibility and maturity, when she square her shoulders and walks the hard road without complaining, when he accepts pain as part of life and gets on with it…if a person like that ever breaks down, you take notice.

Remember when Clint Eastwood’s character teared up in the 1993 film “Line of Fire?” It got my attention, at least. I saw my dad cry only one time, and I’ll never forget it.

So now I think of Jesus. The most mature, responsible Man who has ever lived. The strongest, wisest, bravest Man we’ll ever know. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence (Hebrews 5:7, ESV).

Christ shed some tears. He cried at the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35). He wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).

This ought to get our attention. He wept for the unfathomable separation He would endure from His Father. He wept for the price He chose to pay for His sheep—a ransom that included being covered by our moral filth as if it were His own. He wept for the wrath He must endure.

But then He swallowed His blood and walked into the cannon smoke.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Captain

Sometimes I picture Jesus as my Captain, standing wounded on the deck of a pirate ship. A terrible battle rages around Him, and the ship is in flames. I feel myself unable to move, paralyzed with fear and chained to the bloodslick deck. I know my fate lies with the winner of this awful conflict.

Though bleeding from a dozen wounds, the Savior is more than a match for the brigands who attack Him. They're like a pack of dogs surrounding a lion. He stands strong and tall and righteous in the middle of the carnage, and wields His sword with incredible speed and deadly accuracy.

Then I see the enemy commander, an evil man clothed all in black, entering the fray and attacking the Lord from behind. His furious assault against Christ seems to shift the momentum, and the Lord is forced to fall back, losing His grip on the sword. For a moment, it seems all is lost. The pirate bores in for a final, killing stroke. 

But as the blade pierces His side, Jesus wraps His arms around the enemy and pulls him back over the deck and into the black water, holding him in a grip of iron as the sea closes over them. The battle is over.

Welling up within me is such pride and love and sorrow. He fought so nobly, but He was frightfully outnumbered. I collapse in my chains, sick and hopeless with grief.

But then at dawn I look again toward the ocean. And I see Him. His face, no longer grim and set for battle, shines with its own light. A couple powerful strokes bring Him back to the ship, and then He pulls Himself up, climbing back to the deck. Here He stands, impossibly, gloriously alive. My Captain has won against all odds, and I am saved.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why We're Afraid to Pray

Many years ago while I was still in college I needed somebody to talk to. I was struggling with a problem and didn’t know how to solve it. I had run out of ideas and had just about given up.

I knew a Christian doctor, an older man well-respected in his church. A family physician, he had a reputation for wisdom and gentleness. Just the kind of man who could give me counsel, I hoped. While I was nervous about seeking advice, I was desperate enough that I made an appointment to see him.

A week or so later, I walked into his office, took a seat, and haltingly told him my troubles. He sat behind a big desk and leaned forward as I spoke. I was both embarrassed and relieved to be talking to someone about issues that seemed too heavy for me to carry. Once my voice broke, and I paused to get control of my emotions. The doctor smiled encouragingly.

Finally I had laid out the whole mess to him. I already felt a little bit better.

The doctor smiled at me again, and then said, “It’s obvious that you are being punished for your sins.” If he had slammed me in the face with a brick, I don’t think it could have hurt more. Even now, so many years later, I feel the sting of it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Words Matter: Justification and Sanctification

Yogi Berra: famous malapropisms
Words matter. Especially if you get important ones mixed up.

Years ago I was looking for a substitute preacher when I went on vacation. Our denominational headquarters recommended a retired pastor whose first name was “Denver.” But somehow I got it into my head that his name was “Dallas.” My excuse: they’re both cities, and I am perhaps oversensitive that Dallas humiliated Denver in the Super Bowl. (Lame, I admit, especially considering that was 34 years ago.)

So I called the poor man “Dallas” for years, and though he tried valiantly to correct me, I couldn’t get it right. He ended up just answering to “Dallas” when he was around me. Bless him.

Or another famous (to my wife and me) mix-up happened when one of the guys in our church sang a solo during the worship service. He was kind of a crooner, had a nice baritone, and he was singing about how Christ came to earth to save us. I can’t remember the song, but I do remember him belting out this lyric.
 Oh, what condensation, oh, what love divine!
Go ahead, read it again. He sang condensation, like when your dog fogs up the inside of the car window. I’m pretty sure what he meant was condescension, like when the King of the Universe steps off His throne and comes to earth as a man.

The other thing I remember about that song was how I tried to avoid eye contact with my wife so I wouldn’t crack up.

So it’s understandable that we sometimes mix up justification and sanctification. But for anyone who loves, admires, and follows Jesus, it’s really important to understand the difference.

Justification is God’s legal declaration that you are righteous in His sight because you have faith in Christ’s death on the cross. Justification is God’s action alone—we don’t and can’t cooperate with Him. It is immediate, complete, and permanent.

Sanctification is the process you undergo to become more like Jesus once you’re justified. It is growth in grace and knowledge of the truth. We do cooperate with God as we obey Him and respond to His grace. It is ongoing, and will be completed only when we get to heaven.

More than a declaration of “not guilty,” justification is God's pronouncement that we are righteous—with Christ’s righteousness counted as ours.  It is “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22, ESV). Then we enter the lifelong process of growing to be more like the One we love the most.

What a Savior! Words help, but they really don’t do Him justice.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What if I forget Him?

When my mother died, her dementia was very advanced. She could no longer speak, and she could not remember who I was.

Mom was an extremely bright woman who read voraciously all her life. She loved talking about history, politics, murder mysteries, cooking, and her family. At the end it was heartbreaking to see all that gone.

I hate the thought of one day not remembering. And I’ve wondered what such a loss might mean to my walk with Christ. What if I forgot not only my family, but my Savior? What if I forgot the precious truths of Scripture upon which I’ve built my life? What if I no long remembered the gospel?

What if illness and aging cast such a shadow over my mind that I lost my experiences of God’s faithfulness, forgiveness, and provision?  If I no longer remembered Christ, would He still be my Savior?

I know I’m not the only person to worry about such things. John Newton was the former slaver owner whom Christ gloriously freed from slavery to sin. Newton became a preacher, abolitionist, and writer of the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace."

He lived to be eighty-two. He continued to preach and to have an active ministry until the last couple years of his life, when his mind began to fail. Here’s what he told friends:
My memory is nearly gone;
but I remember two things;
That I am a great sinner, and
that Christ is a great Saviour.
As in all things, my hope is not in me. Not in my efforts, improvements, or perseverance. Not even in my memory of the sweet truths of the gospel. Thanks be to Christ alone, whose memory of His own will never fail.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…" (Isaiah 49:15,16a, ESV).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How Many Times Will God Forgive Me?

Have you ever wondered how many times God will forgive you for the same stupid sin?

If you call yourself a Christian, a Christ follower, you know you’re supposed to live a holy life. Yet you still stumble. Even worse, you seem to trip over the same temptations time and again. How long will God put up with that?

None of us should ever take lightly the sin in our lives, or presume upon the grace of God, as if since we “prayed a prayer” or “walked an aisle,” the state of our soul doesn’t matter.

But God’s grace is revealed in part by our tenderness to our own sin, not our callousness to it. If you’re troubled, good. God is at work. Your sensitive soul is in good company with godly men and women of old who agonized over their sin. “Wretched man that I am!” said one of them.

But still the question: how many times will God forgive us for the same stupid sin? Won’t He eventually just run out of patience and give up on us?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Cross-Centered Life

One of the things I love about C. J. Mahaney’s little book is the way he speaks of the gospel and the cross. Maybe you were taught that the gospel is just “the ABC’s of how you get saved,” or that the cross is just the starting point for our journey of faith. Mahaney gently reminds us that the gospel, centered in the cross, is the key to fruitful, godly living every day.

As Paul said, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14, ESV).

Maybe I can whet your appetite with some Mahaney quotes.

The Bible tells us that, while there are many different callings and many possible areas of service in the kingdom of God, one transcendent truth should define our lives. One simple truth should motivate our work and affect every part of who we are.

Christ died for our sins.

If there’s anything in life that we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate in thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world. Only one thing can be of first importance to each of us. And only the gospel ought to be. (pp. 20-21)

When we look inward, we live by the subjective, the temporal, the ever-changing, the unreliable, the likely-to-be false. When we look outward, to the gospel, we live by the objective, the never changing, that which is perfectly reliable and always completely true. (p. 51)

Reminding ourselves of the gospel is the most important daily habit we can establish. If the gospel is the most vital news in the world, and if salvation by grace is the defining truth of our existence, we should create ways to immerse ourselves in these truths every day. No days off allowed. (p. 54)

It’s a matter of sitting yourself down, grabbing your own attention, and saying, “Hey, self, listen up! This is what matters most: You’re forgiven! You have hope! Your hope is based on the sacrifice of Jesus. So let’s not view this day any other way. Let this day be governed by this one defining truth.” (p.55)

Monday, February 6, 2012

What's So Wonderful About the Cross?

Would you wear a miniature hangman’s noose around your neck? But of course many followers of Christ wear crosses.

The cross is a common symbol for Christians. We wear crosses and display crosses on our buildings. In some traditions, Christians make the sign of the cross. At our church we often sing “The Wonderful Cross.” But what’s wonderful about a brutal instrument of capital punishment?

Of course it’s not the cross as a means of execution that we revere. It’s the cross of Jesus and all it means to us. We admire Christ so much, love Him and worship Him, because He went to the cross.

The other night I jotted down what the cross means to me.

  • The cross is where my Savior died in my place.
  • The cross is where my sins were placed upon Him.
  • The cross is where my debts toward God were nailed (Colossians 2:14).
  • The cross is where God’s wrath was poured out and where God’s justice was satisfied (Romans 3:21-26).
  • The cross is the low door through which the one true King stooped in order to rise in conquering power in the resurrection.
  • The cross is the great subject of our preaching (1 Corinthians 1:23).
  • The cross is offensive to prideful people, but beloved to humble ones.
  • The cross is foolish and weak to those who don’t believe in Jesus, but wise and powerful for those who do.
  • The cross is the only reason I should boast (Galatians 6:14).
  • The cross is the way we are reconciled to God and to others (Ephesians 2:16).
  • The cross is how much God hates my pride, my selfishness, my rebellion.
  • The cross is how much God loves His people, including me.
  • The cross is weakness, failure, shame and rejection.
  • The cross is power, success, honor, and acceptance.
  • The cross is the end of everything.
  • The cross is the beginning of everything.
The cross is far more important in the New Testament than it is to the average church or the average Christian. Paul said, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world  (Galatians 6:14).

So I’ve been thinking, how can I live a more cross-centered life? Here are a few steps I’m trying to take. Maybe you’d be interested, too.
  1. Memorize Galatians 6:14.
  2. Pray that God would help me learn the meaning of the cross and the meaning of a cross-centered life.
  3. Study “cross” and “crucified” in the New Testament. (Use your concordance.)
  4. Read C. J. Mahaney’s wonderful little book, The Cross-Centered Life. It’s tiny, only 85 pages, but packs a huge blessing.
And in case you’d like to sing or listen to “The Wonderful Cross,” click here. (I'm having trouble embedding videos, so for now I'm stuck with giving you the link.)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Words Matter: Regeneration

And I will give you a new heart...(Ezek. 36:26).
Regeneration is:
a. a 2010 documentary film that I haven’t seen and you haven’t either

b. a Roy Orbison album from the 70’s

c. the wonderful work of God to impart spiritual life to sinners and bring them to Christ

I bet you picked “c”! And for this blog, that is definitely the right answer.

Salvation is a big general idea that speaks of how Christ transforms hell-bound sinners into heaven-bound saints. But there are a whole constellation of words that describe this gift of His grace. One of them is “regeneration.”

I’ll quote Wayne Grudem:
Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called “being born again” (using language from John 3:3-8)…in the work of regeneration we play no active role at all. It is instead totally a work of God. We see this, for example, when John talks about those to whom Christ gave power to become children of God—they “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Here John specifies that children of God are those who are “born…of God” and our human will (“the will of man”) does not bring about this kind of birth. (p. 699).
Here’s J.I. Packer:
The concept is of God renovating the heart, the core of a person’s being, by implanting a new principle of desire, purpose, and action, a dispositional dynamic that finds expression in positive response to the gospel and its Christ (Concise Theology, p. 157).
 One more from Grudem:
…it is natural to understand that regeneration comes before saving faith. It is in fact this work of God that gives us the spiritual ability to respond to God in faith…The idea that regeneration comes before saving faith is not always understood by evangelicals today. Sometimes people will even say something like, “If you believe in Christ as your Savior, then (after you believe) you will be born again.” But Scripture itself never says anything like that. This new birth is viewed by Scripture as something that God does within us in order to enable us to believe (pp. 702-703).
Regeneration means a spiritual resurrection takes place. A person dead to God is made alive, and then runs in faith and repentance to the Savior.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Seminar Leader and the Restroom

 Have you ever been in a room with a group of people when one of them was “a leader?” I mean the High D, Type A personality kind of leader. The take-charge person, the man or woman who projects confidence, works the room, turns on the charm, captivates the imagination, and gathers the troops.

It probably sounds like I’m going to bash this sort of person, and that’s not really my aim.  But since my intent is to “admire Christ,” what do you think Jesus would be like in a group? I mean, would He be the “leader type” I just sketched?

Would Christ project confidence, work the room, turn on the charm, captivate the imagination, and gather the troops?

Years ago I attended a seminar to help pastors learn from business leaders. The speaker was the new CEO of a large company, and he was exactly the sort of leader I’m talking about.  

He was quite an impressive guy. Not much older that I was at the time (early 30’s), he was tall, handsome, an up-and-coming star in the business community. His suit probably cost more than I made in several months. He had lots of productivity and leadership tips for us.

I was a young pastor planting a church, and I confess to experiencing a bit of envy as I sat there, taking notes.

During a break I headed for the restroom. I noticed that our speaker was also making a rest stop.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Weekly Puritan

How we admire Christ for taking our place, bearing our sins, and turning away the wrath of God! But the other, mind-bogglingly wonderful side of it is that He also bestows upon us His righteousness.

The Puritans saw this glorious truth as well as anyone ever has. Here's John Owen again. Do yourself a favor and read it out loud. And when you get to that second paragraph, how can you not worship!
  Christ is glorious in that perfect obedience to the law of God on behalf of his church. This obedience was absolutely necessary to exalt the wisdom, holiness, and righteousness of God in giving the law. When man fell he could no longer keep the law. But through the obedience of Christ, by virtue of his mystical union with the church, the law was perfectly obeyed in us by being obeyed for us.
 One view of Christ’s glory by faith will scatter all the fears, answer all the objections and disperse all the depressions of poor, tempted, doubting souls. To all believers it is an anchor which they may cast within the veil, to hold them firm and steadfast in all trials, storms, and temptations, both in life and in death (The Glory of Christ, p. 81).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Magnify: Microscope or Telescope?

Want to guess what this is?

Cholera bacteria. Too small for the eye to see. And when you do see it through a microscope, you go, Yuck. At least I did.

Okay, here's another image. This one is called the Carina Nebula, photographed through the Hubble Space Telescope. Beautiful, itsn't it?

So I’ve been thinking of what it means to “magnify.” Both of these images were magnified. The first one was magnified by a powerful microscope because bacteria are too small to be seen otherwise.

The second image needed to be magnified by a telescope because the Carina Nebula is so far away--between 6,500 and 10,000 light years from Earth. But the Carina Nebula is almost too large to imagine. One star within the Nebula is 100-150 times the mass of our own sun.

Admiring Christ means magnifying Him. It means making much of Him, and little of ourselves. True worship and praise is the telescope of magnification. Christ may seem far away, but as we begin to focus on Him, we see His greatness, beauty, and worthiness.

Focusing on ourselves is using a microscope. It’s an attempt to make what is very small larger.

And in the end we’ll never feel better or be better or do better by looking at our small selves. It’s the vision of our Christ, the one we love the most, the only one who is worthy, that will change our hearts, transcend our circumstances, and empower us to become people who, at our best, reflect His image.

Magnify Him!