Tag Archives: gospel

Come into the light.

I was once told by a wiser man then I to “preach what I most smartingly feel,” so I would like to share with you some of my particular struggles in the faith, mainly how I handle my heart after I fall down.  See, all too often I am like Adam.  When I sin the first thing I want to do is cover up my shame.  Ahh, we live in a civilized world so no fig leaves for me.  No, I reach out to sow myself an apron out of justifications for my behavior, and I might feel pretty good about my new clothes for a New York minute, but then I hear the voice of my Father calling.  So what is my next move?  Well, I am tempted to run and hide.  For me, this is a miserable state of affairs, because I usually am tempted to hide deeper in my sin or in the trees of the garden of the world (we call these trees distractions), but inevitably, I too come out of the woods and tell my Father why I have been hiding out.  It is at this point that I am sorey tempted to pass the buck and make excuses; anything to keep me from wearing the blame.  Truth be known, I don’t like seeing my sin, anymore then then ext guy.  This is a painful process, and it’s all too common to mankind.  The problem is, we make it worse when we don’t bleed and say there is no cure for our disease.  So, I would like to share with you a better way.  Now, what I’m about to assert is scary; it ain’t no kids game.  It takes courage.  It takes fortitude.  And most importantly, it takes 2 weapons that have a tendency to elude us in crisis (faith and humility).  What am I suggesting we do?  Why, simply come out naked, and throw ourselves at his feet crying for mercy.  No hiding, no excuses, no masks, just you… bare and broken, admitting your sin without excuse.  Sound easy?  Well, it’s not.  See, it’s near impossible, heck, it IS impossible to do without faith.  See, it’s natural to hide and justify, and pass the buck.  It doesn’t take nothin’ but unbelief to do that.  I do it all because at the end of the day, I believe that God is gonna reject me, so I cover, hide, and run.  It takes faith to trust that He will not reject me.  I fear retribution… that’s natural, but it takes Faith to believe that God WANTS AND LIKES to be merciful to His children.  I feel dirty and shameful… it don’t take no faith to feel that way.  But it takes faith to believe that He has made me righteous.  It doesn’t take faith to believe that God is gonna put me out, but it does take faith to believe that He never will.  It takes faith to see how vile and guilty you are, and still know (even though your feelings say otherwise) that He has called you clean, and innocent.  How is this possible?  One word, one name, one exultant cry of relief.  Christ!  Christ has made it possible for us to be what we never could be.  On that cross, Christ paid for our sins, he took our place and bore the wrath of God in our stead.  Do you know what that means!?  That the wrath of God is satisfied concerning you.  Think on it for a moment.  All the punishment and derision you deserve was poured out on another.  Because of Christ the debt we owe to God has been paid in full!

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1 NIV).

His sacrifice is so satisfying to God that we will never see hell or know rejection.  So perfect, that indeed anyone who will come out of the woods naked for forgiveness will only know mercy and grace.  Christ, through his death and Resurrection, has made it possible for all who believe to come before God with a brutal self-abasing honesty about our motives, actions, and sinful desires.  He calls to us “come you sinners, poor and needy, lost and ruined by the fall!”  But if you in pride and unbelief tarry until you become better, you will never come at all.  Unlike Adam, I do not need to hide or fear.  My God has made peace with me in Christ.  I have no need to pass the buck, I can admit like David “I have sinned” and in my heart hear the prophets reply “You shall not die.  God has taken away your sin.”  Ahh, what a Savior!  What grace, that Christ was rejected so that I would not be!  Do you know oh child of God that you are a new creation that the righteousness of Christ rests on you and all who are in the second Adam.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world.  But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.  But the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  (Romans 5:12-17)

That just as sin passed from Adam to Moses to all his descendants, that in Christ righteousness flows undeserved to all His children, and the curse of separation is lifted.  We are no longer fallen in Christ.  We have a new nature that will one day swallow up the old one.  We have no need to hide or cover.  He will dress us.  We need only admit that we are naked –  “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelations 3:17-18)  – and come for dress and healing.  In Christ, the gates of paradise are wide open and God is welcoming all who come in.  It is unbelief in his infinite mercy that makes a man wait outside for fear that God cannot be that good.  It’s unbelief in Christ’s perfect atonement that makes a man approach God with his own clothes on.  Now I have spoken on faith, yet I said we had two weapons.

“But he gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says:  ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6)

It is pride that deceives man into thinking his clothes will do just fine before God.  It is pride that says “I will not show my shame before anyone!” as if it were beneath you.  It is pride that tells us “since we are not so forgiving, God cannot be either!”  (Since it is near impossible for us to imagine anyone thinking differently then we do.)  as if our opinions are what hold reality.  It is pride that screams “I will not take the handout of mercy, I will not own my deeds and thoughts, and I will certainly not come out naked for all creation to see.  I will not abdicate the throne of my soul for who is more worthy than I to rule it?  God opposes the proud, for by nature, he must.  Pride cuts men off from receiving mercy and life, pride goads us on towards an independent existence, and by it’s nature keeps us in the dark.

“This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”  (John 3:19)

Pride must be vanquished just as unbelief must be expelled and the only weapon we have is humility.  True humility.  True humility sees that your case is hopeless if left to you, a bent and broken creature.  Humility recognizes that even if you knew what you had stolen you would never have the means to buy it back.  Humility acknowledges that you are guilty and well deserving of rejection and damnation.  It is humility that causes the heart to despair of itself.  It is humility that leads men into desperate pleas for undeserved kindness, hoping in someone outside yourself for help.  Humility can be uncomfortable because the humble are usually the proud remade and that take the work of humility against the pride.  We call it humiliation.  But, if we accept the victory of humiliation, we are in the best place!  We are ready to recieve from God (just like the rest of creation does without complaint).  God gives grace to the humble, because only the humble can truly recieve it.  And oh, how grateful is the needy beggar who is made a prince.  How happy is hte beggar who finds a benevolent giver who is delighted to meet his needs.  Only the humble can truly worship, because only the humbled can admit that God alone is worthy of praise.  Only the humbled can pray for only the humbled can admit that they are in desperate need and are powerless to meet it themselves.  Only the humbled can recieve a free undeserved pardon, because only the humbled know it is undeserved.  Pride will not allow such behavior, humility demands it.  Do you dare face the work of the Spirit of God in the humbling of your sould, or do you give pride the run of the house?  Beware, for pride’s chief work is to cut you off from Christ and bring you back to yourself, while humility is the opposite.  God does not humble us because he likes to hurt us.  It is only painful because we are so proud.  He humbles us to save us, and delights to give us HImself.  What grace that God would contend with the proud, for our own sake!

Amen.

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What Drives the Gospel?

The good news both moves the church and is what the church uses to move others.  It is both petrol and Porsche…so to speak.  Now, where do we see the church test driving its power to evangelize?  The book of Acts.

What is Acts?  Its basically a book about what the apostles did—mostly Peter and Paul. But, even though these guys are doing all the stuff…Acts is more about the work of the Holy Spirit IN these men and IN a newborn baby church. These apostles saw Jesus, but no one sees the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus said about the Spirit in John 3:8—He’s like the wind.

Anyway, the book of Acts is a story (the scholars like to refer to that as historical narrative). But think of it like a bridge between the gospel accounts and the epistles—it provides the history behind the epistles.  Acts ties the NT together. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of Matthew 28.18-20.  Acts is a record of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly enough, this Spirit wants to work, move, live, and empower humans.  This is not a force but an intentional Person moving according to an intentional framework of activity.  Therefore, if you are looking for an outline for the book of Acts (Us bible teacher type people are big on outlines) then you can just read Jesus’ last words in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Boom…there’s your outline.

I.  Witness in Jerusalem (1.1–8.4)
II.  Witness in Judea and Samaria (8.5–12.25)
III.  Witness to the end of the earth (13-28)

Realize that Luke is also one of these witnesses that Jesus is talking to here, even though he probably wasn’t actually there when Jesus said those words. Luke was a doctor (Col 4.14 Paul refers to him as ‘the beloved physician’) and therefore had a specific interest in recording disease, healing, and acts of mercy.  So, as one of these witnesses Luke was a smart guy—he was a doctor and so he had a PhD or whatever the equivalent was….the way he wrote his (Greek) grammar, (all that “most excellent Theophilus” stuff) shows that he could hang in a very formal, scholarly style…but he chose to write the majority of Acts without a lot of literary fanciness.  Luke knew his audience was mostly made up of women, slaves, soldiers, children, beggars, and other outcasts.  So, we can see God’s hand of mercy first in just how straightforwardly this book is written. Although Luke was a doctor YOU don’t have to have a PhD to understand Luke/Acts.

One more thing about Luke, he was a Gentile. But as a Gentile who knew something (actually a lot) about Jewish history. He saw God’s mercy. Not only that, but physicians have a unique perspective about our anatomical similarities as humans (both Jew and Gentile). I think God may have used this knowledge in Luke’s writing to pay special attention to the spiritual similarities between both Jew and Gentile.  Luke notices the human condition, more importantly the neediness which characterizes such a condition.  This is what drives his writing…the Good News of Jesus Christ setting things right between a merciful God and sinful humans.

As mentioned before, Luke noticed mercy. And, as a believer in Jesus he saw God’s mercy.  As a Gentile (dog) now being included in God’s family he saw mercy, as a doctor he had the skill and desire to show mercy, and he took time to show mercy even to us as God used him to record the words of life in the Book of Acts.

So, speaking of mercy notice a parable by Jesus which…well…you’ll know….. Luke 10.25-37.

Luk 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luk 10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

Luk 10:27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Luk 10:28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Luk 10:29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luk 10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

Luk 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.

Luk 10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

Luk 10:33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.

Luk 10:34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

Luk 10:35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

Luk 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Luk 10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

And there it is.  You’d think Jesus would let the Priest or Levite be the hero.  That’s the logical rhetorical device to present an object lesson on mercy to a congregation right?  Make the protagonist someone they can identify with.  Jesus has already given the lawyer a way out earlier when he asks him about his attendance to the law…he shows his ignorance by instead of saying, “Uh, no one can do all that perfectly Jesus” saying “Yeah, I already do all that stuff.”  So, Jesus brought forth the radical ethical teaching which he always does to these guys.  This teaching characterizes the heart of the 2nd Adam.  He is the teacher.  This is his lesson.  Since I’m going to be referring to the parable of the Good Samaritan a lot I’m going to just call it the “PGS”. But by now, maybe you’re wondering (or maybe not, I don’t know) what the PGS has to do with a study of Acts?

Well, first off Luke wrote them both. Secondly, Luke’s gospel is the only one where the PGS shows up. Thirdly, Samaria is specifically mentioned by Jesus as a place for apostolic witness…… remember the outline. But honestly, the book of Acts just picks right up where Luke’s gospel ends. It’s like a package, sort of like a luncheable—what would the little mystery meat be without the cracker? Luke and Acts go together. Luke shows the big picture here…..we get to see the teachings of Jesus (like the PGS) lived out in the 1st century church. If you do read Luke/Acts you’ll see Samaritans popping up a lot, but definitely a lot of conflict between Jews and Gentiles. They were kind of like Jews and Palestinians are today.

Anyway, in the PGS Luke records Jesus explaining a New Testament lifestyle; in Acts Luke shows how the gospel spreads through a powerful mercy which is applied for neighbor, stranger, and enemy with no strings attached.

That’s right, a powerful mercy.

A powerful mercy, what is that?  While it is certain that the power that the Holy Spirit gives manifests in various ways.  A key ‘power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you’ is one that enables the believer to have PGS style mercy. A guy named Harvey Conn called this “lordship evangelism”.   “All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”Acts 4:32-33

O.K. remember the PGS? Well, look at the way these new believers in Acts 4 are living out what the priest and the Levite failed to do in that parable.  Tim Keller notes that, “This economic sharing had to be conspicuous and amazing to outsiders.  Apparently it helped give the preaching of the apostles even more power.”  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. So, what kind of power is Jesus talking about here?

Part of the power of evangelism is showing mercy to one another. But, while mercy does drive evangelistic endeavor. Mercy is not moralism.  Its not just all about doing nice things for people. Get this, mercy is both an indicator and a vehicle for the activity of the gospel. And we can talk about what that means in this forum.  I’d like ideas.  I’d like honesty.  I want to hear what you think about the power of God to witness through a PGS mindset which truly drives down the Jericho Road of Asheville, NC; Columbia, SC; New York, NY; wherever you may be.

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