Friday, December 31, 2010

10,000 New Year's Resolutions

Let's go big or go home in Twenty-Eleven. I didn't have much time, but I wanted to keep up my monthly blogging schedule. So I ran across a very timely article on this last day of 2010, which I thought I would share:

Trading One Dramatic Resolution for 10,000 Little Ones

Paul Tripp, at his best. Here are the highlights. It is basically a summary, articulated far better than I ever could, of the purpose and heart behind this blog. God is in the details.

"Well, it's that season once again. It's the fodder for blogs, newspaper articles, TV magazine shows and way too many Twitter posts. It is the time for the annual ritual of dramatic New Year's resolutions fueled by the hope of immediate and significant personal life change.

"But the reality is that few smokers actually quit because of a single moment of resolve, few obese people have become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment, few people who were deeply in debt have changed their financial lifestyle because they resolved to do so as the old year gave way to the new, and few marriages have been changed by the means of one dramatic resolution.

"Is change important? Yes, it is for all of us in some way. Is commitment essential? Of course! There is a way in which all of our lives are shaped by the commitments we make. But biblical Christianity—which has the gospel of Jesus Christ at its heart—simply doesn't rest its hope in big, dramatic moments of change.

"The fact of the matter is that the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart and life change is always a process. And where does that process take place? It takes place where you and I live everyday. And where do we live? Well, we all have the same address. Our lives don't careen from big moment to big moment. No, we all live in the utterly mundane.

"Most of us won't be written up in history books. Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember the event of our lives. You and I live in little moments, and if God doesn't rule our little moments and doesn't work to recreate us in the middle of them, then there is no hope for us, because that is where you and I live.

"The little moments of life are profoundly important precisely because they are the little moments that we live in and that form us. This is where I think "Big Drama Christianity" gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the "small-change" grace that meets us there. And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don't tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us.

"In these small moments he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace he places you in daily little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again—exactly what each one of us needs!"

So, make the little moments count this year. And look for grace in them. That is not a cliche. That is the way that the amazing grace of a Eternal God transforms human beings for their joy and His glory, all the time, when we deserve much different. Happy New Year!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Daily News

This picture was chosen bascially at random. I searched for old newspaper pictures on Yahoo, and this is one I found. It works well though, I think, for two reasons. First, I shared in my last post about a story that I felt had lasting impact. Here it is again:

"A man stood up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada four years after the sinking of the Titanic in a testimony meeting and this is what he said. He said, 'I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought a man toward me in the sea and his name was John Harper. He was hanging to a piece of wreckage. And as he neared me, he said, Man, are you saved? No, I'm not, I replied. He said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved! And the waves took him away. But strange to say, they brought him back a little later and he said, Are you saved yet? And I said, No. And he said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved! And I watched him go down. And there, alone in the night, with two miles of water under me, I believed and I was saved. And I was John Harper's last convert."

Are you saved? Second, the message of salvation in Jesus is daily good news. The reason I included a picture of a newspaper is that I want to inquire as to what is the news you are daily exposing yourself to. There is a lot to choose from. If you're George Constanza, the New York Daily News is the reason you get up in the morning. You may be a local news guy, and have plenty to say about the need to build a new school in your district. You may be a national news guy, and always know the political situation currently facing the country and know exactly what the President did that day. You might be an Internet news guy, and have some favorites you scan each morning to give you the basics. You might use Twitter (I do!) to summarize what's going on in the world in 140 characters. You might read magazines (I do!) but are likely months behind the breaking news stories (I am!).

But through it all, I want to urge you to discipline yourself every day to take in the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Do it. Even if you originally responded to this news some time ago. You need it now more than ever. Same thing tomorrow. And the next day. Here are some resources to help you start:

Growth by Remembering

"Christian growth, in other words, does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better–believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners."

The Gospel Everyday

"Since Jesus secured my pardon and absorbed the Father’s wrath on my behalf so that 'there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,' how does that impact my longing for approval, my tendency to be controlling, and my fear of the unknown?"

The Ongoing Need for the Gospel

"Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel–a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, 'The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine….Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.' Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not 'get' it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel–seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church."

The Gospel is for Christians

"One of the most important discoveries of my life has been that the Gospel is not just for non-Christians; it’s for Christians too. I used to think the Gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in to be saved, while afterward we advance to deeper theological waters. But what I’ve come to understand is that once God saves us he doesn’t then move us beyond the Gospel. Rather he moves us deeper into the Gospel. The Gospel, in other words, is every bit as important for growing as a Christian as it is for becoming a Christian in the first place. The Gospel is the fuel that makes Christians go."


Let me take it further. I need the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ like I need oxygen. That means multiple times a day. It means constantly. Do you feel the same? Oh, that you would! I breathe out of my mouth, mostly, so oxygen is a coveted commodity. It doesn't come to me as easily as it comes to others. Haha. But seriously. It takes some effort. And so it is the same for me with the Gospel. I have to remind myself of it. After I react poorly when interrupted at work (God forgives). Or in the middle of a trial that seems to have no light at the end (God never forsakes). Or on a mundane day that feels like nothing special (God ordained that day for you). Or in the middle of a situation where you feel like the world is against you (God will judge, and there is no condemnation for those in Christ). Jesus died and rose again to make all this real for us.

See He remembers the first day that He made you
Molded your lungs for the breath that He gave you
Not to mention the day He saved you
Or when He opened your eyes by the spirit Christ was raised through
Did I mention that He forgave you?
And had his flesh ripped off for the sin you were enslaved to
Now it seems you're too far gone
You want to turn back, but you're unsure if you'll be welcome home
So you figure you'll just leave it alone
But you're addicted to yourself, we both know you can't see it alone
This is an intervention, Jesus intervened
He intercedes on behalf of a sinner's deeds
This is an intervention because the Lord hurts
Before it gets worse, start making a reverse....

But I love you even when your light's off in your dark shame

When you lay down and profane me
Or when your bloodstream contains the things that would defame me
When nobody knows that you claim me
Or when you mess your life up, get mad, and wanna blame me
I still want you back
I won't punish you
I took that on the cross, because I wanted you
I might discipline and chastise
But if you got what you deserve you'd be in hell with other bad guys

-Lecrae, New Reality

There are a lot of things that people think they need like oxygen. In fact, everyone has something, or some group of somethings, that they seek as if those things were as important to them as oxygen. Spiritually, these things would be referred to as idols. Our hearts are idol factories, Calvin said. Some examples, as highlighted by Tim Keller, are: money, romance, children, family, truth, gifts, morality, reason, science, technology. Any of these strike a chord? By saying there are "idols" in our life is not necessarily saying that such things are bad things. If they become ultimate things, then they become destructive. You can tell how ultimate you have made something from your reaction when it is taken from you. If you lose oxygen you will die. Likewise, if you lose the Gospel, you will die. That is what I want to prevent! Everything else, while maybe good, is not ultimate. Physically you need oxygen every moment. Spiritually you need the Gospel every moment. God, by his grace, intends for you to have both. Don't close your mouth! Don't stop breathing! Don't close your Bible! Don't ignore the daily news of grace!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Walk it Out

This image is NOT the mental picture I want you to have of walking by the Spirit (or certainly of dancing at all), which is what I am focusing on in this post. And, I am perhaps foolishly referencing and modeling this rap song and cultural dance phenomenon with a naive understanding of what it actually means. No, I can't completely explain what is going on with my arms, and no, I have no specific reason why my pants are rolled up like that. But, no doubt, it got your attention. Mission accomplished. Besides, I've heard this song at godly, Christ-centered weddings, so it must be ok. And sometimes, we have to look like a fool in the Christian life as we humbly trust God, walk by faith, and rely on grace, in order to communicate and relate hope to lost people. That is ok (but takes discernment!). The Gospel is foolishness, so embracing that can be a godly thing.

Usually, I labor over a blog post for a long time. As you can see, I haven't posted since the beginning of September, and my goal is to do one per month. Since I'm not going to make that goal, and since the next post idea I have (continuation from the two previous) is going to take a lot of reading that I haven't yet been able to do, I decided that I would post some simple, though hopefully profound and helpful, thoughts.


So let me set the stage. First, are you a Christian? I mean seriously, are you saved by grace, through faith, in Christ? That is an important question. One you should consider, if you haven't already. If you have, maybe (hopefully) you have gotten to the same place as the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, who, after failing at the only thing precious to him (keeping prisoners in check behind bars), was brought to the brink of suicide before being interrupted and encouraged. Left with no answers to the miracle he witnessed, or to his remaining plight, he asks, "What must I do to be saved?" Have you asked that? Perhaps what is most precious to you (money? job? relationship? children? status? house? pet?) has not yet been torn away, or perhaps you are not yet suicidal. But still, have you asked that? Has someone interrupted or encouraged you in your brokenness, or in your perceived stability? If not, this is my attempt. Are you saved?!

Listen to this story shared in a sermon by John MacArthur in 1973:

"A man stood up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada four years after the sinking of the Titanic in a testimony meeting and this is what he said. He said, 'I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought a man toward me in the sea and his name was John Harper. He was hanging to a piece of wreckage. And as he neared me, he said, Man, are you saved? No, I'm not, I replied. He said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved! And the waves took him away. But strange to say, they brought him back a little later and he said, Are you saved yet? And I said, No. And he said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved! And I watched him go down. And there, alone in the night, with two miles of water under me, I believed and I was saved. And I was John Harper's last convert."

Do you grasp the power of a story like this? God is real. In 1912, through a horrible event that killed 1500 people and is probably as well know as any disaster in our history, God saved a sinking man through the boldness of another sinking man. Not "saved" like from the water (though He did), but "saved" eternally, from the wrath of a holy God, and into the presence of the most precious being in the universe: Jesus Christ. And then 4 years later, in 1916, this man told this story to perhaps hundreds of people. There is no telling how much that story passed on to and inspired others, God willing, to the point of salvation themselves. We do know that this story was told again, in 1973, through a sermon delivered to another hundred or so people, who in the context of the Word of God applied it to their minds, hearts, and actions, and, God willing, shared it with countless others who received salvation. Now, it has come to me, and through the blessings of the World Wide Web, I am sharing with an unlimited number of people, hopefully to the point of, or confirmation of, salvation to all reading.

God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, came to Earth as fully man and fully God some 2000 years ago, lived a perfect life, went to the cross and experienced excruciating (do you know where this word comes from?) pain and actual separation from His eternal Father, and died, taking the punishment that we deserve, and washed us clean from our sins through His blood. He then rose from the dead confirming our salvation and giving us hope, and is going to come back to judge the living and the dead, and will set things right for all time. The God of the Universe applied this eternal message and reality in the middle of freezing water in 1912 to a sinking man, who then shared his story in 1916, which was then related to a congregation in 1973, which has now, in 2010, been passed to you. That is unbelievable.

The message is clear. You are sinking, whether you realize it or not. You might feel quite comfortable and happy in your little box, and do not find God necessary or interesting, thank you very much. You might not understand how a good God could allow suffering, or why there are so many religions, or how to reconcile the evil that has been done in the name of Christianity, or how hell could exist, or why you have to surrender everything to Him, instead of just your time on Sunday. But your box is crumbling around you, because it is temporary, and all those questions are secondary. The primary one remains: Are you saved?!

What must I do to be saved? you ask. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. That is it. For real. Just believe. Believe what? you ask. Believe in Jesus. Believe that He is who He claimed to be (God in the flesh) and that He did what He claimed to do (suffered and died for your sins, rose from the dead to give you hope). John 20:31, "These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life through His Name." Romans 10:9 and 10: "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."


If you are a Christian (hopefully that is all reading at this point! If not, re-read above), the question becomes, now what? I'm believing, so now what? I'm saved, right? You said so. God promised so in His word. So, how do I remain saved? What all must I do to keep that salvation secure? Is there a list? What if I keep sinning? What is the "full armor of God"? How do I answer seemingly unanswerable questions from my unbelieving neighbors? How do I cope with suffering? How do I forgive those who have wronged me? How do I keep this good news relevant? What is God's will for my life? What about the poor?

I am going to offer 3 simple ways to deal with these things in the Christian life. They are simple, not easy. These are 3 things that I labor every day to keep hold of. It is a battle. But it is a battle to believe, not to perform. Misunderstand that, and the Christian life will be a mess. Understand it, and God's grace will transform you more into His likeness every single moment of every single day, and use you for His glory in the way for which you were created. The 3 things are:

1) Yield to the Spirit
2) Receive the Word
3) Understand Grace

Let me start with this passage from Galatians:

1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

2Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

7You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Is that clear as mud? Maybe not. Some things Paul says are hard to understand. But that doesn't mean God doesn't want us to figure them out! Because as we do, we will experience the grace of Jesus Christ. God's Word is grace to people, on the spot. That is worth whatever effort it takes to understand it and live it. My imperfect experience has led me to three practical ways to bring the truth of this passage (and any passage) to bear in the Christian life. It is only by grace I can even discern these and offer them to you as a helpful resource.


What does this mean? It means exactly what it says. You have to yield to the Spirit. You have to make a conscious effort to submit control to the Holy Spirit, which if you have saving faith, lives inside you. How do you do this? Prayer. What conscious effort might look like for you is verbally saying it in an out-loud prayer as soon as you get up in the morning. I don't know. But somehow, you have to yield to the power of the Holy Spirit, to convict you of sin, to comfort you in pain, to guide you in uncertainty, and to confirm to you truth and the promises of God in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is available to do all of that in your life. If you aren't consciously allowing Him to do this, just by simply asking and yielding, the Christian life is going to be way more difficult than it was intended to be. Yielding to the Spirit does not mean doing nothing. It does not mean sitting on a couch staring into nothingness and waiting for the Spirit to direct you. It means going about your day with a sensitive and discerning mind, open heart, and selfless hand, and trusting that God is on your side. This may not seem practical. That is ok. Just try it. Right now, yield, and then live. See what happens.

John MacArthur helps clarify:

"It's one thing to have the Spirit resident; it's something else to have the Spirit dominant. Let me give you an illustration of it. The word 'filled' is used in the gospels to speak of total control, for example, in John 16:6 it says 'Sorrow hath filled your heart.' In Luke 6:11 it says, 'They were filled with madness.' In Luke 4:28 'They were filled with wrath.' In Luke 5:26, 'They were filled with fear.'

"You see, mostly in our lives we can balance those things off. Like, for example sorrow; we have a little sorrow and a little joy. A little sorrow tipped this way and a little joy tipped this way and we try to balance it, so if something real bad happens we try to think happy thoughts and everybody tries to boost us up. When something horrible happens, total disaster, a terrible injury, a death or whatever - voom goes the sorrow side, and we're filled with sorrow. And in our lives, basically, the Spirit of God is there and there's a little for the Spirit and a little for us, and we kind of balance things off with the flesh, but there comes a time when we yield all to the Spirit and we're filled with the Spirit and the scale topples on His side. According to Romans 6 it's a question of yielding yourself in obedience to the Spirit of God. We are to be yielded to the Spirit of God in order that He may fill us."


What does this mean? It means exactly what it says. You have to receive the Word of God. You have to read the Bible, and while reading you have to understand what you are reading. How do you start? Prayer. You are not reading merely the words of man. You are not reading only a history book. You are not reading hocus pocus. You are not reading just about the grace of God in Jesus. You are reading the Word of God, which is coming to you as the grace of God in Jesus, on the spot. You have to receive it.

This, I know, is easier said than done. If you have tried to read the Bible with little success, or you read it religiously but feel little effect, I (or actually John Piper) would say this: Have a place, have a time, and have a plan. Stick to it, and trust God to speak. He will. If you still are struggling, remind yourself that the Bible you are holding in your hands is the breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Remind yourself that the entire Bible is ultimately about one person: Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is Jesus Christ concealed, the New Testament is Jesus Christ revealed. Look for Jesus in every passage. He is waiting there. Remind yourself that reading the Bible as if its about you will be absolutely confusing, but reading it as if its about Jesus will change your life every time. Seek biblical preaching that unpacks and expounds the Word in ways you might not have time or the proper gifting to do on your own. Let your plan follow this preaching, if possible. Pray constantly. And then see what happens.

Colossians 3:16 says to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Richly, it says. That is more than a daily verse via email. MacArthur says, "As the word about Christ dwells in you richly, His presence becomes manifest in your conscious mind, and as His presence dominates your mind the Spirit of God controls you."


What does this mean? It means exactly what it says. You have to understand grace. You have to understand that grace is a gift that you don't deserve. You have to understand that God's grace saves you, and it keeps you saved. How do you do this? Prayer. Pray for deeper understanding. Paul Tripp paints an amazing picture of the implications and the nature of grace, daily, through the wonder that is Twitter. Here are just a few examples:

"Grace invades your strength and proves you are weak, then meets you in weakness and makes you strong..... Perhaps the things that you're going through don't look like they come from a God of grace because you don't have a biblical view of grace..... Everyday you give empirical evidence that even though the power of sin is broken, the presence of sin remains and for that you need grace..... God will call you to face the unthinkable in order to form in you what is unachievable apart from his grace..... Rest in the reality that there is never a moment when you don't need transforming grace and never a moment where grace isn't operating..... The grace of the cross assures that the difficulties God brings my way aren't punitive. They're always lovingly and personally restorative..... God's grace hasn't been given to remove all you troubles, but to employ those troubles to progressively transform your heart..... It's impossible for you to live as Christ lived, impossible to pay what he paid, impossible to defeat he what defeated. Your hope? Grace!"


We have to understand grace. In my experience, all the rules and man-made accountability structures in the world, while absolutely necessary in most cases, will not make the difference in discerning the will of God. What is the will of God? Our sanctification. In other words, going to church, reading the Bible, living in community, serving other people, practicing communion, avoiding temptation through various means, being held accountable by trusted friends, all by themselves will not make the difference in living a godly life in Christ Jesus. They are necessary! But they will not make the difference in sanctification, just like they won't make the difference in salvation. Walking by the Spirit includes more (and less!). Colossians 2 says,

20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21"Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" 22referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

What, then, will make the difference? What, then, will have value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh? What, then, will help discern the will of God?

1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

What is above? The God of the Universe, your Father, and His Son, your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And from Him is flowing the grace that saved you, and saves you. The grace that you don't deserve and you are completely dependent on, all the time. The grace that weakens you so you can be strong. The grace that humbles you so you can boast, not in your works, but in His. The grace that will make everything else in your life possible, including the instructions in the rest of Colossians 3. The grace that allows you to approach your earthly life with an eternal perspective. The grace that gives us hope. Do you understand it?

"The answer isn’t to try harder in the Christian life but to comprehend more fully and clearly Christ’s finished work for sinners and then to live in more vital awareness of that grace day by day. The main problem in the Christian life, in other words, is not that we don’t try hard enough to be good. It’s that we haven’t accepted the deep implications of the gospel and applied its powerful reality to all parts of our life." - Tullian Tchividjian

"No need to fear what's coming. The God who orders your life provides the grace necessary to face what he has ordained." - Paul Tripp

So walk it out! Walk by the Spirit!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Young and Restless

"Now, the Internet, that's the one with email, right?" Hahaha! That joke will never get old. The world wide web is apparently here to stay, and it is changing everything. Hide your kids! (Not really.)

Consider this post an intermission in my written discernment of the Future of Religion. I began the last post with a survey of what salvation, and the reality of a Savior, looks like in other world religions, and will continue (hopefully soon) with a survey of the trends and happenings in the Christian Church in an effort to communicate and live the Gospel as the only truth that actually saves. This is a good preface to that I think.

I felt called to share an interesting collaboration of articles and resources I ran across pertaining to youth, college, and young adult ministry. Inevitably I added some commentary - I only write one of these posts a month, so they get kinda lengthy. If nothing else, just read the links! I hope they are an encouragement, challenge, and resource to you! To many that I hope are reading this, I don't have to tell you, but God is jealous to save and develop the 15 - 35 age bracket for His glory. What a blessing to be a part!

My synopsis: The hearts and souls of the young generation in our world is up for grabs right now. We are at a challenging time in history and we as Christians need to boldly proclaim and demonstrate, without compromise, the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Acts 15). In the midst of overemphasis on social justice, spiritual revival, church culture, good works, etc., which are all something less specific than the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for salvation, we are the ones who need to carry on the biblical message of grace. BUT, we have to be careful, because at the same time we must model the biblical nature of Christian community, or church, not as an addition to grace, but as the necessary context for it and expression of it.

If we can appropriately live and model the biblical balance of a gathered AND scattered church, and if we can effectively watch our lives and doctrine closely, as we are called to do (1 Timothy 4:16), then I think we can be an effective vessel for God, provoking jealousy among the stagnant "church" in America, and extending salvation to the nations and peoples who are far from him (Romans 11:11). Or said another way, if we get this thing right, others will want what we have. If we speak the Gospel truthfully and clearly, and live it in community authentically and biblically, God will use us significantly. People outside will be saved, and people inside who have neglected the true nature of grace, will see it, and God will be glorified in their ultimate salvation as well. This is especially important among young people, who are waiting to influence the culture for decades to come, based on the nature and values of their upbringing, which at the present might be pretty scary.

In other words, we should emphasize church attendance strongly to young people. Church attendance does not only mean presence in a building on Sunday morning. But it does mean that. It also means consistent presence in a community of believers. Not because this presence with other believers by itself has saving value, but because it is the place where biblical Christian community exists most completely, where the Gospel is spoken and portrayed most clearly, where leaders are developed most effectively, and where believers can utilize their gifts most joyfully, of all other contexts in the "real world". It is folly to say that someone can become a Christian and not become part of a church, or that it is ok for young people to be "spiritual" but not "religious". Spirituality alone and lack of religion is waiting to swallow up people into destruction. There is no spirituality alone in Scripture. The whole church in Acts 15, after clarifying that salvation was by grace alone, instructed the people to follow certain religious obligations for their own good, not as a means for salvation, but to demonstrate obedience, love, and ultimately the authenticity of salvation. I encourage the same.

In the midst of a lot of confusion about what church should look like in our culture today, and about what it means to be a Christian (see Are Mormons Christian? for example), we have the opportunity to make clear what the Bible makes clear, to the joy and growth of believers and to the glory of God. Participation in a God-centered church is not the means of getting saved, but it is the evidence of it, and without it, Christians will starve, and non-Christians will be confused. The alternative to it is an increasing trend of men, especially, who look to the culture instead of the church for direction in life, get really confused and frustrated, and in turn put off adulthood, and squander their God-given gifts and purpose in the kingdom, for (in some cases) decades. God forbid!


This will get us going. Did you read C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters growing up? If not, get right on that. Here is the premise: there was this demon, Screwtape, who was writing from down below to his nephew, Wormwood, who was on earth tormenting subjects away from Christ. The letters were "encouragement" and advice to him as to how to be more effective at devilry. So, the reader has to read into the "encouragement" as ways to be sensitive to and discern the devil's schemes and stay strong for the Lord. Very creative and helpful stuff. Anyway, a young pastor, Kevin DeYoung, has attempted the same concept, in the context of young people and church attendance. Check it out:

A Lost Letter to Wormwood

A Lost Letter to Wormwood (conclusion)

Some highlights: Your teenage subject has all the usual paradoxes of American youth we like to see down here: rebellious, yet disinterested; slothful, yet impetuous; disrespectful to parents, yet an irresponsible drain on their resources; tolerant of religions he knows nothing about, yet fiercely intolerant of the one he knows best. All in all, a splendid few years my injurious Wormwood. Bravo!

It is because your work has proven so trustworthy over the last few years, that I now feel obliged to speak with you quite candidly about a matter of grave importance. Your subject is now enrolled in what the earth world calls “college.” I do not need to remind you what splendid opportunities these places afford us. But there is one particular danger, and you must see to it that it is avoided at all costs. And that danger is church attendance.

Though your subject seems safe from the clutches of our Enemy Above, you will recall that he has spent the majority of his Sundays, thus far, in church. The habit may not be easy to break. If he tries church for a few weeks, make sure it is a pointless endeavor. Do not forget our little rhyme: “If to church one must go, lead him to an empty show. And when all we can do is meddle, makes sure on one church he does not settle.”

Church attendance is bad enough, nephew, but consistent attendance at the same church spells almost certain doom for our cause. If your human persists in his church interest, you simply must devise some way to shuffle him around from congregation to congregation. See to it he never knows the people he is worshiping with. Keep reminding him of how rotten the music is over here, and how long the sermon is over there, and how bland the coffee is at that other church. Trust me, it won’t take much to get him floundering on church. Almost any excuse will do....

....Listen closely. Groups of students meeting together for prayer and study is, it’s true, a pernicious influence, but gladly, the influence is often short-lived. Soon, your subject will graduate and he will find that the rest of the planet is not like his university. He will not be surrounded by peers all his age with his same interests. It is to our advantage that he be unable to relate to anyone above the age of 25. This not only makes for misery, but it makes church involvement, and therefore the Christian life, much less likely....

....One more thing, students today love the idea of community. Do everything in your power to keep them loving the idea of community rather than loving their community. As long as they love their vision of community instead of loving the actual fleshly people around them, they will never have real community and they will stay far away from church.


Perhaps Screwtape, in this example, is overconfident that such a thing is happening to young people, and is overemphasizing the "danger" of church attendance to their "cause". Perhaps. Interestingly, though, the evidence in even the secular world is pointing the other direction. The New York Times recently printed an article entitled, What is it About 20-Somethings? Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler offer two interesting commentaries on this article and this reality:

The World is Filled With Boys Who Can Shave

Sample: Men, you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and a cultivator and you were made to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer. Stop looking for the path of least resistance and start running down the path of greatest glory to God and good to others because that's what Jesus, the real man, did.

Why Aren't Emerging Adults Emerging as Adults?

Sample: Every family and local congregation has its work cut out for it in facing this challenge. The church would demonstrate the power of the gospel in a whole new way by assisting young people into the successful and faithful transition to adulthood, celebrating this transition as a matter of spiritual maturity to the glory of Christ. These young adults are desperately needed for the cause of Christ, and many are indeed making their way into authentic adulthood with faithfulness, energy, conviction, and excitement. Let’s pray that their example is infectious.

All that to say, the church can help these confused and frustrated young people from wasting their lives, which left alone to the inconsistencies and complexity of our culture, is exactly what they will do.


If you needed further evidence that the culture (read pop music, celebrities, athletics, politics, secular education, etc.) is the wrong source of guidance for young people, consider Glenn Beck. Now, for the purpose of this post, I don't care about his politics, and I'm not concerned specifically with his challenge to the country to turn back to God (I obviously agree with that challenge). What I do care about and what I am concerned with is his confusing tone and articulation of Christian faith.

A week after describing the difference between what it means to be a Christian (articulated very well, using terminology like salvation by grace alone through faith alone) vs. the faith of Barack Obama, based on statements the President has made, he hosts a massive, mostly spiritual, rally in the nation's capital, in the aftermath of which he reveals that he is a Mormon. Really? I said the same thing about Barack Obama several months ago, and it seems to be creating exactly the confusion and damage I feared, and is fueling people like Glenn Beck to become more vocal, but less clear, about things of faith and specifically the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. "Watch your life and doctrine" means being clear about what you believe, and then demonstrating it accurately with how you live. To talk about spiritual revival in the general context of Christianity, shortly after criticizing the President for a confusing explanation of his faith, all the while believing and practicing the teachings of Mormonism, is maddeningly unhelpful. And its not watching life and doctrine very closely. The church needs to be careful here, and followers of Jesus should not budge and should be ready to clearly explain who their Lord and Savior is, and who He is not. The most devastating of consequences is at stake if we let Glenn Beck, for example, do it for us. No joke. And not entirely because of his Mormonism. Let me try to explain. Actually, let me let Russell Moore explain:

"It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck. In order to be this gullible, American Christians have had to endure years of vacuous talk about undefined “revival” and “turning America back to God” that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.

Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

Leaders will always be tempted to bypass the problem behind the problems: captivity to sin, bondage to the accusations of the demonic powers, the sentence of death. That’s why so many of our Christian superstars smile at crowds of thousands, reassuring them that they don’t like to talk about sin. That’s why other Christian celebrities are seen to be courageous for fighting their culture wars, while they carefully leave out the sins most likely to be endemic to the people paying the bills in their movements.

Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, Utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable."

Do you understand the problem? If we, in our churches, do not become the Christian leaders that our young people need, those outside the church (in politics, entertainment, celebrity culture, etc.) will fill that void and the result will be disaster. So we need to get them to church so they will be exposed to the leaders they need. Not the leaders who pose as Christians for political or cultural reasons but in reality practice "mammon worship" and are twice the sons of hell compared to the people they criticize; but the leaders who resolve to speak one thing - Christ, and Him crucified. The inevitable helpful application to the everyday lives of young people will pleasantly surprise all of us. The Bible is not stale.


If you don't believe this is a risk for young people today, please read this CNN article about a new book by Kenda Creasy Dean called, Almost Christian. Better yet, read the book. Her premise: parents and pastors are getting lazy and passing on a self-serving strain of Christianity that teenagers are embracing by the thousand because the promise and the hope is, at the core, raised self-esteem. She refers to it as "moralistic therapeutic deism" (a phrase used before), and cites it as one reason teenagers abandon churches. They practice this watered-down faith, they "earn" favor and therapeutic blessings from God, then something bad happens to them, and they bolt, angry that God would abandon his promises. Or they bolt, because they can find the same temporary promises of pleasure and happiness in college, or worse.

Matt Chandler has been warning us of this for years, and is now in the position to throw teenage misconceptions like this into the wind. He is more than 6 months into treatment for Stage 3 brain cancer and is not budging from the message "Jesus is enough! Jesus is better!" We would do well, and young people in our sphere of influence would do well, if we followed Chandler's lead in our churches and our families preaching and living a message of grace, centered on Christ, and centered on the Cross; more lasting than any trend or emotion, and strong enough to get us through any suffering, praising Christ throughout.

"Some adults don't expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex. Others practice a "gospel of niceness," where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.

"If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. More teens may be drifting away from conventional Christianity. But their desire to help others has not diminished, another author says."

Increased emphasis on helping others is great! But it will not save. We have to be clear on this to young people, and witness service flowing from authentic salvation, as opposed to a means to merit it. Our leadership in healthy churches can prevent young people from putting their hope in anything other than salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, ALONE, and being disappointed or angry when life doesn't go their way, or their service doesn't make the difference that they selfishly seek.


I leave you with the hip-hop version of a call to get involved (for real) in a church. This may sound bold, but I think it is necessary. 1 Corinthians is very clear about Christians' call to "judge" those inside the church. Hence church discipline. It is not our business to judge those outside. It should be our business to get those outside, inside, and then hold them (and encourage them!) to the biblical call of followers of Christ. In the meantime, clearer definitions of what it means to be "inside" the church, or what it means to be a Christian according to Scripture, would certainly be helpful (these are the two questions I've been trying to address with this blog for a long time, so feel free to reference back if you can). We need the whole Bible to get at these clearer definitions. Not just the Gospels. Not just Acts. Not just the Epistles. Not just the Old Testament. All of it. If we look there, it will benefit everyone. Worst case scenario is we'll save both our self and our hearers.

Listen, this is written for long term visitors
non-committers who get the word, but never get to work
at least not in conjunction with a church
they stay away and say they afraid of getting hurt but
pain is never excuse for disobedience
church wasn't created to cater to your convenience
And God didn't give you gifts to be greedy with
mission without the church is missing a main ingredient

I know I rushed in without much of an introduction
but membership is what we're discussin'
committing to a community through a cov'nant
and doing the 'one another's of scripture with brethren
(membership!) it actually happens at salvation
but practically it happens in active participation
if 1 is a fact then 2 the demonstration
for the maturing Christian nothing should separate them
If 1 is the truth, then number 2 is the proof
if it's aloof, then number 1 is a lion without a tooth
If not the elect, who's inspecting your fruit?
Just a select group of heads from your crew? (that's not a test dude!)
It's more like a bad science experiment
with no control groups in the lab and bias experiences
It's foolish to laugh denyin' it's serious
when the only proof that you have is kinda mysterious

This may be bold to say
but if you're not a part of a church, how do you know that you're saved?
the chances are you're prob'ly not a bit
the objective evidence is sayin' the opposite
A body without biblical membership
is sick, and their health depends on them getting' it
so though you claim to be in it kid, please consider this
if you is, then show us (How you livin' it?)

We live in the days of the consumer
shopping's a coveted skill and bloggers write reviews up
no one commits, people leave when they choose 'cause
ain't nobody tryin' to be tied down, with too much
labor only lasts as long their passions
cats dip sayin' they feel bad with no sadness
they want the good stuff without the attachments
like friends with benefits of the ecclesial fashion
playin the church like the girls that you date then
you criticize her like you're Seinfeld (or Satan!) (explain)
You sit in the back makin' your accusations
but you ain't willin' to aid in her sanctification?! (hypocrite.)
I know that I'm gettin' a little hype but
you gotta understand the church was purchased by Christ's blood
And if Levi got jealous for Dinah
of course the Levite's gon' be zealous for the Bride cuz
we see that Haggai and Zechariah
were willin' to work wit Israel, not just prophesy stuff
You can check for yourself in Ezra 5:1
then wrestle with verse 2 until you're ready to die (What!?)
(Yup) I didn't stutter, you heard me right bruh
dyin' is the price for being up in the cypha
It's all or nothin', cat's are puttin' their life up
but you be isolated like you don't even like us

This may be bold to say
but if you're not a part of a church, how do you know that you're saved?
the chances are you're prob'ly not a bit
the objective evidence is sayin' the opposite
A body without biblical membership
is sick, and their health depends on them getting' it
so though you claim to be in it kid, please consider this
if you is, then show us (How you livin' it?)

Membership is not a check in a box
or an altar call response when the sermon is hot, it's
privileges bought with His blood on the cross
and it separates the flock from the world that is lost kid
membership is being a part of the body
but how can you be a body part when apart from the body?
(and furthermore) How could you possibly think it's godly
when God is 1, or even 3 in 1, but He's not 3?!
I know the reality's universal
but practically it has to be tangible to the world too
so how do we gather to spur the virtues
when our anatomy has been scattered throughout the Earth dude?
the local church has entered the picture
the form of the assembly most mentioned in scripture
this is who you were given spiritual gifts for
to Voltron with a squad and add your steez to the mixture
They're also the tools used to fix ya
iron sharpens iron, sparks flyin', it's sick stuff
but don't try to punk out when it gets rough
Satan's like a roaring lion tryin' to vic' ya
He's waitin' for you to faint when it gets tough
straggle at the back of the flock and you might be his lunch
Or maybe you'll prove you were never His bruh
1 John 2:19 homie, you with us?

This may be bold to say
but if you're not a part of a church, how do you know that you're saved?
the chances are you're prob'ly not a bit
the objective evidence is sayin' the opposite
A body without biblical membership
is sick, and their health depends on them getting' it
so though you claim to be in it kid, please consider this
if you is, then show us (How you livin' it?)

- Music and Lyrics by Stephen the Levite

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reason to Get Up in the Morning

As I usually do, I consulted The Economist recently for perspective on a political issue that is getting significant buzz these days. In this case, I mostly wish I hadn't. Nevertheless, it opens the can of worms, which in hindsight is what I needed. This issue matters for Christians. Be advised.

Build that mosque

To your surprise, I'm sure, this post is not about what I think of the idea of a mosque built at Ground Zero. But the debate itself, and the way that the Christian church in America handles it, sets the table for what I wanted to highlight. I'm prepared to accept the fact that not many people, even Christians, care about, or have the time to be concerned about, the trends and developments in the contemporary Christian church in America today; or more generally, in the future of religion. Perhaps you have little to no interest in church or things of God or spirituality, in which case I understand that you don't care. Or perhaps you have just never had anyone tell you that you should, and you are quite sure that the "future of religion" is irrelevant. Consider this me saying you should. It is relevant.

Recently I worshipped at Veteran's Memorial in downtown Indianapolis, among thousands of people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. Shortly after I was introduced first hand to the reality of homelessness in my city, and listened to the challenges and victories of ministry to the forgotten from someone who would know, because he lives with them. The church in our generation has the capacity, and in increasing measure the willingness, to make a huge difference in our world. In light of this reality, and because we know from the Bible that this kind of opportunity will surely face opposition and persecution from the inside and the outside, I deeply care about how the church is adapting.

It fascinates me to read about and be a part of history in this way. Its humbling to carefully discern when to follow "movements" or "trends" because they are Spirit-led and biblical, or when to boldly and unapologetically raise caution flags to the church and the culture because the current direction may be temporary, man-centered, and eternally unwise. That this is a unique time in history is not specific to religion or church. This video (Social Media Revolution) hopefully indicates to you in shocking fashion that our culture is changing and technology is advancing at a pace that is seemingly impossible to understand, and even harder to keep up with.

As I wrote about in an earlier post, it is total confusion on earth right now. Politics, weather, celebrity culture, sports, education, world affairs, economics - they are all a mess. No matter your stance on the mosque idea, you cannot deny that it is shocking. This is feeding both sides, which is dangerous and chaotic. We have to keep perspective. To paraphrase Alistair Begg, the difference between me, and the guy who tonight is boozin' it up in some saloon, is not that I'm smarter than him but it is the grace of God to me. And as my new friend in homeless ministry says, there is no difference between the guy living in the luxurious suburbs who gets drunk every night and the guy living on the streets doing the same. We are all in the same situation. We all have the same hurts. We all have the same sin. The church is God's vessel of grace to people. How are we doing with this commission?

It is amazing and humbling to see that Christianity is not the only worldview that interprets this confusion and applies it to people and the future. The church, though, is at risk of being in the same boat of confusion as everyone else and offering a poor (and untrue) interpretation of history, culture, and the future. This is a problem for Christians because it damages our example and confuses people as to our motives in society, the Sovereignty of our God, and the exclusivity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as an objective truth not a subjective opinion. And this is a problem for non-Christians, because Christianity, whether you like it or not, has influenced and continues to influence many things that are important to us.

I, for one, would like to try my best to keep up with how God's people are adapting so that I will not spend my life unsure whether the direction I am following is God-centered, biblical, and effective for people, or whether it is borderline blasphemous and dishonoring to the Creator of the Universe. Christians are at risk of wasting their lives in this way if they allow themselves to be naive and disconnected from what is going on around them. That is a lot of pressure, I know. You are busy meeting deadlines at work, taking care of your family, finding a job, or whatever. You can't be expected to figure all this out. Reading your Bible and going to church and providing for your family and loving your neighbor should be enough.

Yes it should. But I am convinced that the enemy wants us to be sheltered in our comfort zones while chaos erupts around us. He wants us to be vague on the Gospel so that it has no power and deteriorates into social action only. He wants us to be marginally committed to the authority of the Bible, so that it offers no grace to people's lives and becomes a good history book only. He wants us to be splintered in our understanding of what the church should look like and what our mission as Christians is, so that we make no difference in our communities and meet in our homes only and argue about mission for years without ever doing anything. He wants our "Christian life" to be altogether separate from our "work life" and our "family life" and our "personal life". He doesn't want us to be having these types of conversations around the water cooler, or over a cup of coffee, or or on a road trip, or on the internets. He wants the uniqueness of Jesus and the nature of the Christian Gospel to blend in with every other religion so that well-educated and well-meaning people make ridiculous, inherently illogical, claims like "all religions lead to God" or "pluralism is the answer".

Hopefully this will be a helpful and fairly quick way to expose yourself to all of this. If you're in ministry, I pray this is top priority for you. Your people will need some clarification at some point in the next few years I can assure you. If you are not clear, they will flounder in a culture that is waiting to devour them. You won't be able to just say, "I know, it's crazy, but God loves you, so go love others", and be done with it. If you're not in professional ministry, I pray that you share this with someone who is, and ask them what they think about it, and along the way gain a dose of sanctifying spiritual discernment yourself. You don't have to be a professional Christian to make a difference. If you don't care about ministry or the church or religion at all, I pray you will give Christians the benefit of the doubt and do us a favor by carefully observing all this and hopefully see our hearts and the grace of Jesus Christ shine through. I believe that no movement or trend in the church or anywhere in society will make much difference or offer much lasting benefit to people if its core purpose and ultimate result is not increased glory to God in the face of Jesus Christ. If you see that at any level here, than this post will not have been in vain.


The website is doing an interesting series on the Future of Religion. Actually, not just interesting; incredible. Check it out. Devour it. Share it with your pastor, or your rabbi, or your friend, or your psychic, or whoever. There are enough articles to keep you busy for months. Nevertheless, read them. My next post will unpack the Future of Evangelicalism, in light of a lot of the other perspectives, since that is the "religion" with which I identify. Unfortunately, my purpose here is not to defend that Evangelical Christianity is the most true, the most God-centered, and the most heaven-bound religion. If that interests you, check out some Ravi Zacharias. He will get you going. This post is to expose you to the future of religion in general, and the thoughts and actions of people today, hopefully to help you (and me) discern how Jesus Christ really is the center of history past, the center of life now, and the ultimate culmination of the future as the creator and sustainer of all things.

As I look at perspectives from different faith systems, and the complex traditions and beliefs that exist within them, and that influence people, seemingly for good, one question resonates in my mind: what about a Savior? As I get more involved with people who are living on the street in downtown Indianapolis and talk to them and try to discern what scraps of hope they might have left, I wonder: do they know there is a Savior? To the people that don't acknowledge they need saving, I have very little to say. Except maybe that their efforts in identifying with a religion and trusting in faith at some level, and expressing their innate desire to worship, seems to indicate that they are seeking just that. Even if their "faith" is in the prediction that there is no God, or their "faith" is in the chance that the bottle will help them permanently forget their situation, and their "expression of worship" is gaining knowledge, or escaping reality through intoxication. Outside of Jesus, it just seems obvious to me that people searching are not finding any salvation that lasts or even makes much sense.

I want to give just a few examples of that from sporadic articles on Patheos, and then let your thoughts run wild, hopefully landing you safely back at the cross. As timing would have it, the articles on the Future of Islam, which is partly how I started this post, have not been written yet. Stay tuned to that site and this blog and I'll update when the time is right. What I believe to be confusion about God in other faith systems is not a reality that is unknown, or outside of the control of, the Sovereign and Triune God. So I will not pretend that there is not an answer to explain the existence of so many religions, or a definite assurance that Jesus is the only way. There is an answer and an assurance and Jesus is the only way. This is not mean because it is true. Please hear my heart in that. This is good news because you can know this. Not wonder it. Not believe it halfheartedly. Not just hope for it. You can know it.

A man named Stephen Prothero has just written a book called God is Not One. Surprisingly, the existence of this book I think is a good thing. I haven't read it. But its premise is that the idea that all religions are the same is ludicrous and dangerous, and the better approach is to embrace and celebrate the differences. To Christians, this opens a door to conversations about how Christianity is different in a unique and saving way. That is a good thing.


Hinduism. Thankfully, it seems that Hindus realize the inherent evil in the caste system, and most specifically the sufferings of the lowest caste. And apparently, reconciling this injustice is an acknowledged challenge and goal for Hinduism in the future. The question, then, is what hope does the Hinduism tradition offer to the poor?

"In India, the biggest challenge that Hinduism faces and has faced for centuries is the continuing presence and influence of the caste system in rural areas. While urban India has moved beyond the negative effects of caste in many ways and most Hindu communities outside the Indian sub-continent have rejected the system completely, it nevertheless continues to operate in villages. This persistence hampers the ability of people to work together to improve the lives of the lowest castes.

"Currently, a great deal of tension exists between Christian missionaries who seek to exploit the caste situation to promote conversion among the low castes and Hindus who are attempting to make Hinduism more relevant and more accessible to the same groups so they have no reason to convert. Foreign-based Christian NGOs have actually been active in the rural areas since the 19th century, while it has only been since Independence that Hindu NGOs have been formed in any significant numbers to provide an indigenous religious vehicle for addressing rural needs. Although the success of these efforts will surely have an influence on the future religious ethos in rural areas, Hinduism will continue to provide the vast majority of village Indians with their sense of self-identity and of belonging in a vastly changing economic and social landscape." Ramdas Lamb

Well, Jesus offers more lasting hope than the shaky prediction of an improved economic and social landscape and the sense of belonging that might come from it. Jesus offers eternal community with himself, and eternal community with other believers. In downtown Indianapolis right now, there is a network of Christian communities forming among the homeless who are living with hope and joy in Jesus, and not hope in an improved economy, which at the present time could be a false hope anyway.


Judaism. I would do well to more humbly understand and practice the devotion and faithfulness of the Jewish people today. Their reverence for God and desire for obedience is remarkable. I see it everyday at my place of employment. In doing this, my heart's desire would be that I would understand what hope looks like for people who sacrifice so much and try so hard to live in such a God-centered way. In the Old Testament, the promise of a Messiah who would deliver them, and save them, and eternally provide for them was the hope. Wasn't it? Now, it is apparently something different.

"In contrast with the Christian and Islamic traditions, Rabbinic Judaism asserts that prophecy ended with the last three prophets of the Hebrew Bible (Hagai, Malachai, Zechariah) and that therefore Jews no longer have prophets; they have rabbis who preserve and interpret the traditions handed down at Sinai. We also have no Messiah, or more precisely, our Messiah is permanently delayed. As Franz Kafka put it, 'the Messiah will arrive only on the day after he is supposed to get here.' Over the centuries, claimants to the role of prophet and/or messiah arose, but they were rejected and marginalized by the normative Jewish tradition, and the followers of some of them -- Jesus and Shabbtai Zevi, for example -- founded their own sects or religions. Thus the Messiah was delayed -- until the Zionist movement and the establishment of Israel suggested a new understanding of Messianism...

"In the face of the return of the biblical and the messianic, the challenge for the future of Judaism is how to think about Israel in a rational considered fashion, a fashion not influenced by the supernatural and the messianic." Shalom Goldman

Is the future of Judaism really centering their hope somewhere besides on their promised Messiah, and even somewhere outside the God they obey? How can that be? Where will that lead?


Buddhism. John Piper once said, "I could not survive psychologically in my sin if it weren't for the cross." This is a far cry from the main tenets of Buddhism that advocate looking within for meaning and purpose, and apparently, for hope. Yet it cannot be denied. As Tim Keller says, if you don't believe that you are originally sinful, just give it some time. It doesn't take me even a day to be completely assured of this truth. So the fact that "Buddhism is clearly moving from the fringes of American religious life into its mainstream", could indicate that what appears on the surface to be peace resulting from self-discovery and oneness, could underneath actually be a generation and culture of people dying a slow death psychologically. We have to acknowledge this possibility and confront it.

John MacArthur, in a sermon on Acts, talks about how adding anything to salvation by grace through faith alone eventually reveals itself as ridiculous. For example, at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, Jewish Christians come saying that all the new Gentile believers must be circumcised to be saved. There were thousands of them. Can you imagine the local medical clinic's reaction to this possibility? (I have an inappropriate joke I could tell at this juncture. I will resist.) Similarly, Buddhism speaks of oneness, and the encouragement to seek this as a method of self-help to find peace. I'm not trying to be mean, but this logic is ridiculous. Natascha Bruckner explains it this way:

"In the great kaleidoscope of life, none of us can exist without all the others. But it gets deeper: each of us is all the others. So, really, there are no others.

"Brother Phap Niem explained: 'Inside of you, you can find everything. There is only one thing you do not contain -- a self.' This is a Zen master's way of saying: a) you're purely made of stuff that isn't you, and b) everything that seems to be outside you is actually part of you. The fancy spiritual term is nonduality, also known as oneness.

"Some people have had direct experiences of oneness. They've realized their true self, inclusive of everything and everyone, in moments of divine interconnected bliss. I occasionally access this oneness in fleeting instants, when I feel someone else's emotions, or know what they're going to say before they say it.

"Practicing Reiki (hands-on energy healing) brings me closest to that feeling of oneness. In Reiki, my body becomes a conduit for energy, like a hollow straw. Healing energy pours through my palms into the other person. Sometimes I let my consciousness extend out through my hands, into the other body, and I sense colors, shapes, dark blockages, currents. I see dreamlike images. Once while giving Reiki to a client, I envisioned her practicing non-violent martial arts, not in self-defense but to cultivate inner strength and integrity. After the session I asked if she had ever done martial arts. She said no, but she'd been wanting to take a class. Many other times I've seen and felt clients' inner truths. How could I perceive these visions if we weren't all one?"

"But my mind protests. Even if we're all one, we are also separate. I don't feel pain every time somebody stubs a toe (thank goodness). It's a bewildering paradox. How is it that we are separate bodies, and also all one consciousness, one vast ever-moving organism?"

Seems a strange mental battle to be fighting. Seems very far off from an understanding of reality that completes the narrative lines of our life and fulfills the desires of our soul. Seems to not offer much of a lasting salvation that can have any assurance at all. But what do I know? Maybe Tiger Woods is on to something.


I mentioned above about the book God is Not One. From the synopsis and table of contents (sorry, haven't had time to read it), it is clear that the author's summary of the major world religions is that each defines a human problem and human solution. This is helpful. In Islam the problem is pride and the solution is submission; in Buddhism the problem is suffering and the solution is awakening; in Judasim the problem is exile and the solution is return to God; in Confucianism the problem is chaos and the solution is social order; in Hindusim the solution is devotion; in Daoism the solution is flourishing: in Yoruba Religion the solution is connection. Et cetera. In Christianity, as he defines it, the problem is sin and the solution is salvation. I'm no scholar, but it seems all the problems are sin, and all the solutions are attempts at salvation by human means. They cannot all be the same, as the author himself argues, so they can't all be effective. So it seems to me that all the human solutions are temporary and not assured, as history would attest, and the one divine solution makes a lot of sense.

Kramer once asked George, "Do you even have a reason to get up in the morning?" George, broken and depressed, answered through held-back (comedy) tears, "I like to get the Daily News." That's one reason. Surely there are more. In a recent USA Today article, columnist Oliver Thomas concluded, "It's not so much about this doctrine or that, Mass or the Lord's Supper or even Ramadan or Yom Kippur. It's about purpose, meaning and whether I ought to get out of bed in the morning." Well, let me say this: you outta. And the only honest and sure reason I can give you as to why has nothing to do with The Daily News, or self-realization, or economic recovery, or political cooperation, or geographic agreement, or salvation by any means other than grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Don't waste your life searching for anything less eternal and don't get blown off course by developments in our culture leading people in any other direction.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

As Sure as the Sun will Set

Life moves pretty fast, huh? The sun is already setting again. And it will be again very soon. And again. Of that you can be sure. If you can't already tell, I really like sunsets. I really like that they happen every night and many times they make the sky beautiful and take my breath away. I like that the sun rises again in the morning, and will go through the same process in the evening. I like that I can be sure this is how it is going to happen night after night. No doubt.

Sometimes, probably like you, I feel uninterested in work and all the phone calls, emails, meetings, and projects I am behind on. I just want to play outside. Sometimes, I feel unmotivated to go do the hard thing and serve other people. I just want to go on vacation and be pampered. Sometimes, I feel uninspired by the things of God and with church. I just want to sit on the couch and watch TV mindlessly. Sometimes, I feel unconcerned with the fact that I am going to die someday. I just want to enjoy and love my family and friends right now.

This is totally normal, right? I have said for a long time that I wish I could better connect all the parts of my life together, so that transitioning from different moods, or different activities, or different excitement levels would be very smooth, and basically transparent. I just want to live, and not worry about if I'm in the mood to go to work, go to church, read the Bible, serve other people, play outside, spend time with family, or relax on the couch or on the beach. I want to be equally in the mood for all these things at the same time. Can you relate? Is this possible?

In the midst of all these "goings on" - babies and marriages and work and vacations and service and family and friends and relaxing, all of which I love (see Family and Friends blogs on the right) - I desperately want to encourage you to consider one thing in life as more important than all the rest. By saying I want you to consider this more important, I do not mean that I want you to consider everything else less important. Not at all. I want you to consider everything else even more important than you do now. More all the time. I just want you to consider this even more important yet. Increasingly. Forever.


I am talking about assurance of salvation in Jesus. I could just say that I want you to consider Jesus more important than everything else. That would be true. I could just say that I want you to consider salvation more important than everything else. That would also be true. But in this day and age, misunderstandings are like breathing, and so I say salvation in Jesus to clarify that Jesus is not just a good example for us, but he is our only hope. And I say salvation in Jesus, because we will strive in vain for salvation by any other functional, temporary means.

And I say assurance of this because I want you to know without any doubt that this is (or can be) true for you. You can be sure, and you can be sure forever, that you are saved in, and because of, Jesus. If you are not sure, or you are sure, but sure only in the fact that you do not have this salvation, this post is my plea with you to work it out. Not "work it out" like earn it; but "work it out" like figure it out. Make it sure. Look for fruit. Pray. Ask others. "Stop texting so much and get in the text. Stop facebooking so much and get your face in the book." I have a free Bible I can give you if you need one. It is how you can be sure. And once you are sure, everything else is just life, and it is all eventually and ultimately good. What a profound blessing. The struggles along the way are not worthy to be compared to the glory coming later. Believe that. It will prepare you for anything. Don't believe that, and you will be floundering for the rest of your life, unprepared for everything.

Assurance of salvation in Jesus does not mean you think you probably should go to heaven because you are a good person and hope you are right. It does not mean that your family went to church growing up and you were involved in youth group, and you plan to get "involved" again once you get married and have kids. Assurance of salvation in Jesus does not mean there is a date on the calendar when you said a prayer, or a picture in an album of you being baptized, and based on this proof you can feel fairly confident that your ongoing rebellion makes no difference. Assurance of salvation in Jesus does not mean that you feel good about yourself because you helped somebody one time or because you give money to the poor every Christmas. Assurance of salvation in Jesus does not mean that you trust in Jesus, read your Bible, love your neighbor, and hope for the best.

Assurance of salvation in Jesus means that you can know - know that you are in right standing with the a holy God despite your innate wickedness, and know that you will spend eternity with the most precious being in the universe, Jesus, and with his people, in paradise. This is possible, and it is more important than anything else going on in your life right now. Without this, everything else in your life can not be enjoyed, or endured, with the kind of confidence and joy that was meant to accompany it.


The Bible says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, to make your calling and election sure, and to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. In this process there are three major myths and one great tragedy I think we have to avoid. First, as an aside, please remember that what I'm saying here I'm trying to say with an urgency, relevance and excitement level that should match anything else you are doing or thinking about right now. Are you tracking with that? I started this Fourth of July weekend, in between time at the pool, breakfast outside, fireworks on the prairie, and fun with family and friends, and was still working on it in on vacation in Michigan, in between sunsets, golf, tennis, whitefish, dance parties, and sand dunes. Bad timing, right? This topic should be dry and stale to me right now. And to you. But it is not. Please hear that.

In other words, maybe you took a break from a thousand emails in the office to read this blog. Maybe you are holding and feeding your baby while reading this online. Maybe you are reading this surrounded by screaming children, flying cheerios, and breaking glass. Maybe you are on your lunch break or in the airport and are viewing this on your iPhone. Maybe you are on vacation and catching up on things on the Internet before dinner, and stumbled on this blog. Maybe you are just sitting around the house thinking about a million different things going on in life right now. Maybe you are at the hospital visiting family or a friend who is hurting, and you needed a distraction.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, my intention is to say these things in a way that will be instantly relevant to you, and in a way that when you finish reading and go back to whatever you were doing before, you will take these things as lasting encouragement, and be able to directly apply them to that other activity that probably seems more exciting or important right now than deep soul-searching theology. My intention is that when you stop reading you will not just say, "hmm, that was interesting", and forget about it, but that you would go back to feeding your baby or answering your emails and be able to carry with you a truth and a hope that will sustain you and give you joy all the time. Does that make sense? I will need the Holy Spirit to be able to communicate this way. Maybe the timing is bad for you right now. If so, read just a little (it is LONG), let it marinate a bit, and then come back and read more later. But please come back. I care about you and this is important.


Back to the myths. There are three myths to avoid when "working out your salvation" or obtaining assurance of salvation in Jesus. I beg you not to learn the hard way about the danger of each of these unbiblical, false myths. The first one is believing that you can reach perfection in this life, and that you will only obtain assurance once you have that perfection. Completely incorrect. So dangerous. This can bring you to the point of wanting to blow your brains out. No exaggeration.

John Owen says, "The vain, foolish, and ignorant disputes of men about perfectly keeping the commands of God, of perfection in this life, of being wholly and perfectly dead to sin, I meddle not now with. It is more than probable that the men of these abominations never knew what belonged to the keeping of any one of God's commands and are so much below perfection of degrees that they never attained to a perfection of parts in obedience or universal obedience in sincerity. And therefore, many in our days who have talked of perfection have been wiser and have affirmed it to consist in knowing no difference between good and evil." John Owen is not always easy to understand, but hopefully this is: thinking you can accomplish perfection in this life will lead to despair, will likely reveal our own pride in striking clarity, and is not honoring to a perfect God.

The second myth is that we can at one time believe and be secure in Jesus, and then at a later time, perhaps because of some action of ours, or lack thereof, we can lose that salvation. That is so wrong. We miss the whole point of the universe and make Jesus look like a failure if we accept this possibility. This is a common, and old, theological error. It comes from the belief that man contributes something to salvation, namely good works, and if those good works lessen, then that salvation can be lost. Instead, the Bible teaches that if good works lessen, the salvation was likely never real. I can't think of hardly anything more man-centered than believing that we, as sinful, helpless, and finite beings, can contribute anything to our initial salvation. And therefore, I can't think of hardly anything more man-centered than believing that we can contribute anything to our ultimate salvation. If we are truly God-centered, then we understand that God is the Author and the Perfecter of our faith. Not just the Author. Eternal does not mean anything less than forever, so if we have undeserved eternal life, we can know we have it forever.

John MacArthur says, "So where you have in Roman Catholic theology man involved in salvation, or where you have in Arminian theology man involved in salvation, you have the absence of security because man can default. But where you have in historical biblical theology that salvation is all the work of God, you have the concomitant doctrine of security which leads to assurance. The basic question involved here is whether one is saved by grace alone, or one's salvation depends in part on his or her meritorious good works. If the latter is true, one can never be sure of salvation. If, however, the former is true, as the Reformers taught, then one can be sure of salvation even though he or she may not always be in full possession of that assurance." That is good news.

The third myth is that perseverance in faith to the end of our life is automatic, and once we have assurance we can just coast until we get there and receive our reward. If we fall into this trap, we won't get there and our reward will be torment. This does not contradict the other things I just said because if we are coasting, it is probably the most clear indication that our salvation is not assured, and may not be real. Only those who are truly saved will persevere to the end, and only those who persevere to the end were ever truly saved. That isn't as confusing as it sounds, I promise. Unbelievers are saved through the Gospel, and the Gospel keeps believers saved (Romans 1:16). That is an exhortation to saturate yourself in the Gospel. Find assurance, and then confirm that assurance every day with your perseverance in faith, love for the Gospel, and good fruit. But the action of finding assurance of salvation, and then confirming assurance of salvation, will never be the source of that salvation. Is that clear as mud?

John Piper says, "The battle of the Christian life is one to believe, not to perform; to believe that moral transformation is the fruit, not the root, of justification. Settle this. Because otherwise you’re going to be knocked off balance page, after page, after page in the Bible, because there are dozens and dozens of paragraphs and sentences that make heaven contingent on believer’s obedience. They’re all over the place (i.e. 1 Corinthians 6:9). You’ve got to get this clear. If not, you’re going to be thrown off balance every time you read one of those and say, ‘I don’t know whether I believe justification by faith is really true. It looks like works are really mingled in with the foundation here, because they’re made conditions of the final outcome.’ Evidence, confirmation, fruit - get a hold of that - they're different than justification. You can only please God with active obedience that is rooted in the confidence he’s already 100% on your side. You can only please God with some kind of act or behavioral attitude that is flowing from the confidence he is already TOTALLY on your side. That is the only kind of fruit that will glorify Christ."


There also is one great tragedy that comes from this topic of assurance of salvation in Jesus. That is, that some people have false assurance. In other words, they are sure when they shouldn't be. Somewhere along the way they were told, or began to understand, incorrect things about salvation and put their hope in something short of the once-for-all atoning work of Jesus on the cross, and may have changed behaviorally for a time but never experienced Spirit-led heart change. This may be you. I don't say that to be mean, I say that because I care about you. We know this is a reality for some because Jesus says that there will be some who say to him, "Lord, Lord!" and he will say, "Depart from me; I never knew you." And we know this is true because the Apostle John said that some would depart the faith: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."


This is important for you, as an overworked businessman, or a newly married couple, or a single mom of three, or a lazy high school student, or a retired widower, or an unemployed man on the street, or whoever; because you may not have this assurance and you may have never thought through the reasons you don't, which are like unknown boulders in your path to complete joy right now.


To paraphrase John MacArthur, there are many reasons that people lack assurance. One reason people (maybe you) lack assurance is that they have sat under really strong, convicting preaching about God's holiness. Convicting preaching creates doubt. Maybe you doubt because you have heard from the pulpit that God is holy and you are from it, so the chances of you living up to God are futile at best. Maybe the preaching you have heard about God's holiness has not been biblically complemented with God's mercy. J.I. Packer says, "The preaching of the Word is the supreme means of God's grace." Preaching that ignores this reality could likely leave you wondering about your condition.


Another reason some lack assurance is that they can't accept forgiveness. This gets real. Maybe knowledge of past sin, or present sins, so dominates your mind that you can't accept that Jesus paid the complete, eternal penalty for your sin - past, present, and future - and that there is no condemnation if you are in Christ. None. That can be difficult to accept. But if you (we) don't accept that, we will never get to assurance, and we will lack the joy that God intended for us, and we will likely not experience the moral transformation we so earnestly strive for on our own strength. You might not accept forgiveness because you understand the concept of justice and your conscience convinces you that you are guilty. And you would be correct in thinking that justice requires a much different fate for us than forgiveness. But if you do this, you "crown the devil king". Listen to MacArthur, "If you buy it you crown him king and you say guilt rules, condemnation rules, sin rules. Christ is not king. Grace does not rule. Mercy does not rule. Forgiveness does not rule." But Christ, grace, mercy, and forgiveness does rule. Take that to bed with you tonight.


Yet another reason that some lack assurance is because they don't comprehend the Gospel and the plan of salvation. Do you believe that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? Or do you still think that you have to do something to accomplish salvation for yourself? Settle this. Reread John Piper above. "You can only please God with some kind of act or behavioral attitude that is flowing from the confidence he is already TOTALLY on your side." Do you believe that God knew you were a sinner before you were born, and he chose to save you anyway? Do you believe that your sin is completely gone? Oh, get this! Put your iPhone down for a minute and be sure of this. It matters. In a meeting, in your kitchen, on the golf course, at the pool, it matters.

Encouragement from MacArthur: "You can have security and not have assurance. A lot of people do. I say that to people who don't believe you can have assurance. They say, 'Oh, I don't know that my salvation is secure.' Well, fine, you have security, sorry you can't enjoy it. You can deny it all you want, you still have it. You can live in doubt all you want, you are still secure. Security is the objective fact that all who are forgiven by grace in Christ are forgiven forever, it is irrevocable. Assurance is the confidence that I am one of those forgiven."


A fourth reason some lack assurance of salvation is because they can't remember the exact moment that they were saved. Kids from Christian homes, please hear this! If you became a Christian when you were really young, listen! This is so encouraging. Don't get caught up with "decisional regeneration". Your life in Christ does not depend on knowing the exact moment you entered into an eternal relationship with Him. It depends on your trust in Him being the sacrifice for your sins, and your life right now demonstrating that trust by your obedience and fruit. I could paraphrase MacArthur, but instead, I'll just quote him:

"Some people lack assurance because they don't know the exact time of their salvation. They can't remember when they believed. They can't remember the moment of their salvation. And because they can't remember when it was, they don't know whether it was. Which is like saying, because I can't remember my birthday, I'm not sure I'm alive. I see. Or because I can't remember when my plane landed, I don't know if I'm here. We have made such a fetish out of decisionism, we have so isolated and identified this little formula and this little prayer that you pray at some point as being the moment of salvation that if you don't have that little moment that you signed a card or raised your hand or walked an aisle or prayed your prayer or did your little formula thing, you can't identify when it happened, so maybe it never happened.

"I had a car accident when I was a freshman in college, but I can't say that was the time of my salvation. I remember praying a prayer with my father on the steps of a church in Indiana when he was holding a revival meeting, his sermon convicted me because I had done some things that week that were not right. I don't know whether that's the moment I passed from death unto life. There were times as a little child when I prayed prayers. There were times as a teen-ager when I went to camp, I remember as a fourteen-year-old going forward and throwing a pinecone in a fire, teary-eyed and wanting to make my life right with God. I don't know when I passed from death unto life, I know I did, but I don't look for a past event to make it real, I look for a present pattern of life. There are some people at this particular point who have a false assurance because they can remember a past event, but the reality of it is there isn't any present righteousness."


Oh man, I can't do this one justice. But people don't have assurance of salvation sometimes because of the battle that still rages to put off the old self dominated by sin. Believe it or not, in this life, Jesus takes the penalty for your sin, but he does not completely take away the presence of it. That sucks, I know. But it is true, and first we have to understand that. Second, we have to see the difference with sin before Christ and sin after Christ. The real question is, have I really repented? Have I really turned away from my sin? If so, why do I keep doing what I don't want to do? Hear MacArthur quoting a pastor on true repentence in the context of Romans 7:

"Now test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancy goodness. Do you now judge yourself a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly say yes to these questions, you have repented. Your attitude is all together different than what it once was. You confess you are a sinner, unable to cleanse your own soul, and you're willing to be saved in God's way. That's repentance. And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts, it is the fact that you turned from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ. Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it, but when we judge ourselves and trust the Savior whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His loving kindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day as we learn more and more of His infinite worthy and our own unworthiness."


I am sorry this is so long, but aren't these things helpful? Isn't it good to hear articulated the struggles we have holding us back from true joy in the confidence that we are saved from sin, from wrath, from hell, and safe in God's hands forever, regardless of our circumstances? What is more helpful than that? Yet another reason (there are so many, blame John MacArthur, not me) we lack assurance is because we can't see or understand God's place in our suffering. There it is. You are a Christian, you experience loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a broken relationship, whatever, and you ask that dreaded question that Christians are never supposed to ask: "Why?!" Right? Why me? I love you God, why would you let this happen? You don't want to ask these questions, you know that you should know, but they come anyway. And because they come you worry that you must not be a Christian or else you would be spared this calamity.

We lose so much of the grace of God if we don't see his hand in suffering and let it create in us confident joy. I can't do this justice, and am nowhere near satisfied in my understanding of this reality. But I've seen enough that my mind is blown and my heart is soft by God's unending grace. The thing that should convince us of God's hand, and our security in it, when trials come is not that we are saved from them, but that even those trials do not separate us. Romans 8. Read it. Even though we are persecuted. Even though we are naked. Even though we are broken. Even though we are hungry. Even though we are distressed. We are not separated. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth, neither the present nor the future, no powers, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have assurance not when we are spared from trials, but when we face them and realize even they cannot separate us. That is powerful. Tell that to your children at the dinner table tonight.


Yes!! Oh, praise Jesus, yes. At the end of the day, when the world, when the devil, when your friends or family, when a stranger on the street, tells you that God is not able or willing to save you, and the heaven you think you are going to either doesn't exist for you or doesn't exist at all, there is someone who testifies that you are secure. There is one voice and one comforter that will outlast all these claims. The Holy Spirit. Oh, don't downplay the reality of the Holy Spirit to your own confusion! Through all the pain, all the mistakes and sin, all the confusion, even all the excitement and joy in life, at the end of the day the most trusted source of assurance is the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life constantly affirming your adoption as God's child saved by the blood of Jesus. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you likely are not really saved. As devestating as it is to say, many lack assurance for this very reason. "Some lack assurance because they do not walk in the Spirit and it is the ministry of the Spirit to affirm the believer's salvation." For some, they don't walk this way and don't receive this affirmation because they have not the Spirit because they are not saved.

But like Paul says, we are confident of better things in your case, things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

So then there are some who don't walk in the Spirit and don't receive this ministry of affirmation even though they possess that Spirit. Why? I'm going to go out on a limb and say the biggest reason in our culture why this happens is because people aren't reading the Bible. That's it. MacArthur says that the biggest way that the Spirit affirms our salvation is through illumination of the Word of God. If we don't open our Bible, we won't experience this illumination, and we won't receive this affirmation. Painfully simple, isn't it? For example, did you know that in Ancient Rome, adoptions required seven witnesses to be approved? In other words, because there was legitimate concern that a crook would step up after someone died and claim their inheritance as the "adopted son", there had to be seven witnesses, so that even if six of them died, there would still be someone left to testify that the adoption was real. Well, did you know that in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture it talks about the sevenfold Spirit of God? The one who testifies to the legitimacy of your adoption to God ministers as a sevenfold Spirit. I hope the Holy Spirit blew your mind just now.


John MacArthur: "Some lack assurance because assurance is the reward for obedience and they are willfully disobedient. If you live in sin and disobedience, you will not enjoy assurance. Sin will cancel it out. There is a gulf between sin and peace, sin and joy, sin and assurance. To live in sin is to live in doubt. When you sin, coming alongside of it is doubt about your spiritual condition and the Spirit of God withholds the good gift."

Sinclair Ferguson: "High degrees of true assurance cannot be enjoyed by those who persist in low levels of obedience."

Charles Spurgeon: "Whenever I feel that I have sinned and desire to overcome that sin for the future, the devil at the same time comes to me and whispers, 'How can you be a pardoned person and accepted with God while you still sin in this way?' If I listen to this I drop into despondency. And if I continued in that state I should fall into despair and should commit sin more frequently than before. But God's grace comes in and says to my soul, 'Thou hast sinned but did not Christ come to save sinners? Thou art not saved because thou art righteous for Christ died for the ungodly.' And my faith says, 'Though I have sinned I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and though I am guilty yet by grace I am saved and I am a child of God still.' And what then? Why the tears begin to flow and I say, 'How could I ever sin against my God who has been so good to me? Now I will overcome that sin.' And I get strong to fight with sin through the conviction that I am God's child."

John MacArthur: "If you fall into sin and you resolutely say I will conquer that sin, Satan may pound you with these kinds of questions. You fall back on the forgiving grace of God and it will strengthen you for the battle. Whatever the cause for the loss of assurance, whatever makes you doubt, whatever causes you to lose your joy and to become useless in Christian service, empty in worship, cold in praise, passionless in prayer, vulnerable to false teachers, whatever the problems are there is a cure. The cure is to walk in the Spirit. The cure is to walk in obedience."


I'll close with an amazing final encouragement from Puritan Thomas Brooks, drawing us back to Scripture. If you've come this far, please finish.

"Manasseh is saved, O despairing souls, the arms of mercy are open to receive a Manasseh, a monster, a devil incarnate. He caused that prophet Isaiah to be sawed in the midst with a saw, as some rabbis say. He turned aside from the Lord to commit idolatry and cause his sons to pass through the fire and dealt with familiar spirits and made the streets of Jerusalem to overflow with innocent blood. The soul of Mary Magdalene was full of devils and yet Christ cast them out and made her heart His house, His presence chamber.

"Why dost thou then say there is no hope for thee, O despairing soul? Paul was full of rage against Christ and His people and full of blasphemy and impiety, and yet, behold, Paul is a chosen vessel. Paul is caught up in to the heaven and is filled with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. Why should you then say there is for you no help, O despairing soul? Though the prodigal had run from his father and spent and wasted all his estate in ways of baseness and wickedness, and yet upon his resolution to return, his father meets him and instead of killing him, he kisses him. Instead of kicking him, he embraces him. Instead of shutting the door upon him, he makes a sumptuous provision for him. And how then do you dare to say, O despairing soul, that God will never cast an eye of love upon you or bestow a crumb of mercy on you?

"The Apostle tells you of some monstrous miscreants who were unrighteous, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners - and yet these monsters of mankind through the infinite goodness and free grace of God are washed from the filth and guilt of their sins and justified by the righteousness of Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ and decked and adorned with the graces of Christ. Therefore do not say," writes Brooks, "O despairing soul that you shall die in your sins and lie down at last in everlasting sorrow. Did it make for the honor and glory of His free grace to pardon them? And will it be a reproach to His free grace to pardon you? Could God be just in justifying such ungodly ones and shall He be unjust in justifying you? Did their unworthiness and unfitness for mercy turn the stream of mercy from them? No. Why then, O despairing soul, should thou fear that thy unworthiness and unfitness for mercy will go and stop and turn the stream of mercy as that thou must perish eternally for want of one drop of special grace and mercy?"

I pray as the sun sets tonight, you will fall asleep with a joyous confidence and assurance that God is working together all things for good for you, because you are among His beloved. So that if you wake in the morning to greater chaos, and perhaps greater pain, than you left the night before, you will be able to embrace the day, and the sunrise, with joy and endurance. Or if you begin your day happy as a clam without thinking twice about God or Jesus or salvation, I pray that an affirming voice will speak to your heart that salvation in Jesus means more than church attendance or good deeds or a prayer you once said. It means assurance that everything will be ok and that you will make it. Through the parties and the vacations and the meetings and the families and the friends and the frustrations and the hospitals. With joy. To the very end.

Jude 24-25

Romans 8

2 Peter 1

John 6

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

1 John 5:13-15

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Ephesians 1