The Gospel (Pt 2)

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).

The gospel begins and ends with God.  It is His message.  It is His story.  It is His activity in this world.  Consider the wonder of the Creator of all that ever has been or ever will be condescending to reveal Himself to us in our own languages!  While God surely does reveal Himself in and through His creation (Ps 19), this “general revelation” is only enough to condemn us all and remove our atheistic and idolatrous excuses (Rom 1:18-23).  But, praise God He has chosen to reveal Himself to us in an intimate, saving way.  This He has done in the Bible, the record of God’s saving activity on earth (Deut 4-5).

The gospel, then, is first and foremost a message about God – who He is and what He has done.  Though we finite humans cannot exhuastively know God, thanks to the Scriptures, we can know Him truely.  What is it, then, that we should focus upon when studying for ourselves, and teaching others, of God?

Narrowing this study of God down is a daunting task!  (I do not mean to imply we can narrow God down, but only that we must try to narrow down our study of Him to grow in our knowledge and love of Him.)  Again, we could talk about the character and being of God for eternity and never exhuast the subject, and perhaps never even scratch the surface of God’s glory!  This is what makes the prospect of heaven so delightful – being with God and seeing His glory in the face of Christ forever.

R. C. Sproul has gone on record to say: “I think the single most important thing we need to have is an awakening to the character of God” (quoted in Table Talk magazine, June 2010).  I could not agree more.  But, where do we start?

To simplify for our children and the lost around us, I have come to land upon three essential character traits of God that I strongly  believe we must communicate if we are going to be effective witnesses for the gospel of God.

One, God is holy.  That is, He is high above us, set apart, and absolutely morally perfect.  When the Bible repeats things, we had better take notice.  Without a doubt, the emphasis placed upon God’s holiness in the Bible is paramount.  God kills Nadab and Abihu on the spot for violating His holiness before His chosen people (Lev 10).  Twice we are told God is thrice holy and awesome creatures never cease to proclaim this truth (Isaiah 6; Rev 4).  God is holy, so much so that all His other traits can be pre-faced with the word.  His love is holy love.  His indignation is holy indignation.  His mercy is holy mercy, and so on.  God is holy, in an all-consuming way that ought to strike fear and reverance in us.

Two, God is righteous.  He is right, period (Deut 32:4; Jer 12:1).  What He does is by definition right (Gen 18:23-25; Ps 145:17; Rev 16:7).  The Lord’s righteousness is seen in His love for the right and His hate for the wrong (Ps 11:5-7).  God is righteous.

Three, God is just.  Obviously, God’s righteousness and justice go hand-in-hand (as do all His attributes).  Righteousness and justice are a “package deal” with God (Ps 33:4-5).  “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!  Just and true are your ways” (Rev 15:3).  “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (ps 89:14).  Any questions?

God is holy.  God is righteous.  God is just.  The Scriptures clearly emphasize these three Divine attribues, from Genesis to Revelation.  We do well, then, to lay heavy stress upon them in our personal meditation on the Word, and in our sharing of the gospel.

The gospel is a message about God.  It begins with Him.  May the Lord help us get this right.  Talk much of Him.  Think much of Him.  Boast much of Him.  Fear Him.  Love Him.  Trust Him.  Study Him.  Teach our children of Him.  When we do, we are on our way to becoming gospel people.

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Superb resources worthy of your time and attention are: The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul and God is the Gospel by John Piper.  To assist you as you teach your children, try Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware and The Big Book of Questions and Answers by Sinclair Ferguson.  Catechisms are also great tools to teach your children the doctrine of God.  But remember in the end, you can do no better than to teach them the Word of God from an open Bible.

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Chris - I am reminded of Isaiah Chapter 6 when Isaiah is called to the throne room of God. This encounter echoes one of God’s most significant characteristics…His Holiness: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Isaiah witnessed seraphim (burning angels) whose only full-time job in heaven was to continually proclaim the glory and holiness of God. Either that or these beings are always so enamored to be in God’s presence that they continually proclaim His holiness. The point is that even majestic beings that are regularly in God’s presence are still in awe of Him. His holiness is so far above us that we can’t begin to fathom how perfect He is; He is so holy and perfect that we would not survive even to look upon His face. And I am sure that pondering this subject for a thousand years and I would still not have scratched the surface. Thank the Lord for His mercy.

The Gospel (Part 1)

Ask a room full of Christians “What is the gospel” and you’ll likely be stunned at the variety of responses.  This sad truth only speaks to the pandemic of gospel ignorance in evangelical churches today.  The word “gospel” itself means “good news” or “blessed message” but one might not know it given the myriad misrepresentations of it in America today.

By now churches and Christians ought to know that simply showing up and hearing a sermon once a week, and perhaps even sitting through a Sunday School-type class, just will not cut it if the aim is to “present every man complete in Christ” (Col 1:28).  Thousands upon thousands of people fill churches every week, but when asked, they either cannot say anything meaningful about the gospel, or what little they do say is quite shallow.

Christian parents for generations now have frankly expected a sermon a week and a 30-minute Youth Bible study a week to equip their children for Christian living.  The 75% drop-out rate among collegiates raised in Christian churches says this system is broken.  And, it’s broken because it was never biblical in the first place.  God has made it clear parents are the primary Bible teachers of children (Deut 6; Eph 6).  The church, then, must equip parents to do their jobs well to God’s glory.

Nothing is of greater importance in this task than helping our children, by God’s grace, put down deep gospel roots.  This happens in the simplest of ways – by the Spirit applying the Word as it is taught and modeled day-by-day.  And so, we (parents and churches) must have a deep grasp of the gospel ourselves, if we are going to teach and live it!

Let’s start by realizing there are two main ways the church has traditionally used the word “gospel.”  First, it can refer to “the whole counsel of God” given to us in the Bible.  In this sense, Genesis to Revelation is “the gospel.”  Second, and more commonly, the “gospel” refers to that paramount message of the Bible that explains how a holy God has made a way for unholy people to be made right with Him through the person and work of His Son, Jesus.

For the next several weeks, we will focus our attention on this second sense of “the gospel.”  I hope by this effort to help Christian parents and / or children to get a better handle on the basic gospel message, to have an easy to remember outline of the gospel message at their disposal, and to point you to further resources to help you drink more deeply from the gospel well.

Before we dive in, however, let’s state a few things the gospel is not:

1.  The gospel is not “God loves you and has a great plan for your life.”  This statement is so much non-sense to a person who has no knowledge of who God is, nor any desire to really know Him as He is.

2.  The gospel is not social activism.  The salvation that comes to sinners in and through the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel may well lead to various kinds of wholesome, moral activism, but activism in itself is most certainly not the gospel.

3.  The gospel is not “your best life now.”  Rather, the gospel of the Bible is “your best life later” (Rom 8:18).

4.  The gospel is not even “repent and believe in Jesus.”  Though these words are directly biblical, they do not give a full representation of the message that is the gospel.  Rather, they are simply the gospel commands, or the required response to the message that is the gospel.

5.  The gospel is not man’s message.  It is God’s gospel (Rom 1:1).  We are not free to tamper with it or make it more palatable to sinners’ tastebuds.

So, let us allow God to tell us in His own words what is the gospel.  When we do, we shall see that in its essence, the gospel is a message about God, about mankind, and about Jesus the Christ.  This outline is not new; it is ancient and has been followed by prophets of old, Apostles of the church, and by today’s heralds of the good news.

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Chris - Thank the Lord He created us and despite our turning away from Him consistently, He has sent His Son to take my place. Knowing full well I deserve death He seeks me out like a shepherd finding a lost sheep in the wilderness. Thank God He continues to call me His regardless of my transgressions.

Keep the blog.

Poor Pitiful Pelicans

You’ve seen them all over your TV, and on every internet news page – those poor, pitiful, oil-soaked pelicans struggling for life in the Gulf waters.  If you haven’t seen them yet, you must live under a rock.  If you do live under a rock, click here:

http://www.euronews.net/nocomment/2010/06/04/pollution/

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do not like what is happening with this massive oil spill, and I do not believe Christians should be anything other than good stewards of the creation of the Lord.  But, in the church we’ve lost and ignored what this really means.  God gave humanity a “dominion mandate” in Genesis 1:26, and reiterated it after the flood of Noah in Genesis 9:1-3.  We humans are the crown of God’s creation, bearing the very image of the Creator (though I hasten to note our sin has horribly warped that image).  We are not animals; I don’t care what your Darwinian PhD professor told you.

No responsible Christian I know supports blatant torture of animals.  And I myself have been very concerned over this oil spill primarily for the impact it is having on local economies and local people.  [By the way, does anyone doubt that our Sovereign God can shut down economies whenever He takes a notion?]  I have also been concerned because I love to hunt waterfowl, and I truly enjoy watching waterfowl.  They are magnificent creatures that glorify our Lord in His creative splendor.  So, I want this mess cleaned up just like everyone else. 

My concern, however, is that many Christians are reacting more passionately about the poor, pitiful plight of pelicans than they do the ongoing infanticide of thousands of unborn human babies in Planned Parenthood abortion mills around the nation today.  The warped priorities of our culture become painfully obvious when we note how angrily the news media and even many inside our churches act out when watching those struggling pelicans. 

Yesterday, on one of the news programs, I watched a pelican all but losing the battle with the oil.  Its head was sinking under the water and it was obviously gasping for its final breaths.  It was pitiful and it does not give me joy to watch this disaster.  But I turned to my wife and asked her what she thought the reaction in America would be if a major news network began showing the last few minutes of an unborn baby’s life in the womb, just before the murderous doctor tore the baby limb from limb.  Few would “tolerate” it for long.  Seeing the baby’s struggle to stay alive, to avoid the death instruments being thrust at it, would be far more than most Americans could or would bear.  No doubt the TV network would pay a dear price from pro-death forces, too.  

I guess I’m asking where the outrage is in America, in the church?  Our hell-bent elected officials continue to pour millions and milions into saving the pelicans, while also throwing millions of tax-payer dollars at destroying unborn babies.  This, my friends, is a demonic perversion of the created order of things.  This is Darwinian worldview come full circle.

“O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid.  O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of these years, in the midst of years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

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Ellen Stone - This brought tears to my eyes! Maybe it would be good if Americans were subjected to the final moments of a child’s life during abortion. Maybe then they would realize it for what it truly is – MURDER!!

Losing Our Children

The 5th grade public school teacher that sat on the couch across from me baffled me with her descriptions of the unruly, chaotic nature of her classroom.  She told me of 5th grade boys who routinely call her the “b” word.  She spoke to me of her constantly having to ask students not to text or use their hand-held devices during her period of instruction.  Worst of all, she relayed to me that when these disciplinary problems are addressed with parents, they often take their kid’s side and act as if the teacher is the problem. 

Add to this the teacher’s obvious frustration with the overwhelming amount of red-tape type work the school system itself requires of her (which means that much less time she gets to spend actually teaching children), and friends you have a system in centrifugal decay

We are losing our children.  But apprently it started at least a generation ago (though historically it goes back several generations).  When parents try to defend a child’s rudeness and crudeness, this can only mean the parent has been lost, which explains why their child is also lost. 

I use the term “lost” here in a somewhat secular, common-sense way.  Basic civility.  Respect for teachers and adults.  Use of dignified language.  The ability to show common courtesy to authority figures and other human beings.  These things are lost in America.  Don’t believe me?  Have a sit down over some coffee with a public school teacher. 

Or, better yet, join me on an evening jog past the day care center.  I typically jog past them around the time when parents are picking them up, which means the children are on the playground outside.  I can only describe the scene I jog past several times a week as utter insanity.  Kids screaming, crying, fighting, talking back to teachers, fussing, and generally being defiant.  All of this readily discerned by a jogger passing by 50 yards away!  And yet, Christian parents continue to funnel their children into these centers of chaos.  If this is socializing children, no thanks!

Another parent recently informed me of a classroom discussion in her daughter’s middle school.  The teacher asked students to tell the class of someone they thought made a significant contribution to the United States.  Almost every single student listed a cultural-pop icon, with names like Lady GaGa and Kobe Bryant making the cut.  The daughter of the parent telling me this story at least had the gumption to say Theodore Roosevelt.  He was a truly significant leader and president, regardless of your political persuasions.  I forgot to ask this parent if Jesus Christ was named by any students.  I think I already know the answer to that question.

Sickening.  We are losing our children.

Worst of all, so many of our children, and their parents, are spiritually lost.  And yes, this is true even of those who fill church pews on Sunday.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Jesus (Matt 7:21-23).  Spiritual lostness lies at the core of all other lostness.    

Our children in our churches can send texts one-handed and blindfolded in a matter of seconds.  They can execute Trigonometry problems by the tender age of 12.  Yet, we Christian parents and pastors and teachers somehow think it is too much to expect our children to know the gospel backwards and forwards?!  

Our children are lost.  Time and time again I survey the knowledge of teens in church, only to find that most of them cannot give a decent presentation of the basic gospel message.  I assume their parents cannot either.  But their names are on our rolls and they have been drenched in our baptismal waters.

We must wake up, Christians!  We must wake up.  If we do not, we will reap as the parents of old did:

“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers [they died].  And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).

If we and our children have all things, but do not know, love and live the gospel, we will perish forever.  So, what is the gospel?  What is it that we must be teaching our children above all things?  To that we turn in future posts.

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15 YEARS OF MARRIAGE!

“Who can find a virtuous woman?  For her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10).

Well, praise God, by His grace I found one and we just celebrated fifteen years of sacred marriage!  My heart still beats quickly for my queen, and my eyes are tearing up as I write this and think on her.  Michele, I know you do not read my blog because you hear it all preached ahead of time, but I want everyone reading this to know I love you. 

“Love” is an abused word in our culture if there ever was one.  And sadly in the church far too many have bought into the cultural, Greco/Roman concept of love, which stands in direct contrast to love as God defines it.  I suspect “romantic Greco / Roman” love has been the cause of the vast majority of divorces in the church, though tons of other reasons are formally “listed” on the legal documents.  If you want some great reading on how woefully short the cultural view of love comes when held up to God’s standard, turn to chapter 3 in Voddie Baucham’s book Family Driven Faith.  I cannot say it any better than Brother Baucham.

For a few minutes, though, allow me to muse concerning how God has reformed my own idea of love, romance, marriage, parenting and the like over fifteen years.  Michele and I both agree we did not really love each other when we made our vows fifteen years ago.  We only thought we did, but we were self-deceived.  Here are just a few lessons learned from seeking God in His Word and a few things I would change if given a chance to do it all over again:

  • The foundation of love is God and His gospel.  Anything less is not love (1 John 4:7-11).
  • Love finds its fullest expression in Jesus Christ dying on the cross as our wrath-bearer, and rising again to ever live as our Advocate (Romans 5:8; 1 John 2:1-2).
  • This “kind” of love is completely counter-cultural, as it rests on death to self and the life of Christ being lived in and through us (1 Cor 13).
  • Building a marriage on gospel love from the very beginning would lead one to more easily jettison fears of getting married “too young” as our culture so often warns.  Typically, our culture counsels young men and women (18 or older) to spend many years “finding themselves” or “taking care of themselves” before attempting marriage.  What is really meant is that young people should indulge themselves selfishly for a decade or more prior to marriage.  How does that help prepare people for a relationship that demands selflessness if it is to survive and thrive?  This is anti-gospel psycho-babble
  • Doing marriage God’s way might also lead one to consider having children much earlier than the typical Christian does today.  Personally, if I had this to do over again, I would have still married Michele right after graduating college (which I did), but I would have started our family earlier.  Things go down hill my friends after you hit your mid-thirties.  Oh to have the energy I had when I was twenty-five to give to my wife and children!  Don’t get me wrong, all children are gifts from God (Psalm 127), regardless of how or when they enter this world.  But that said, God’s undeniable design for marriage is that it produce “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15).  Why not get started earlier?! 
  • A deeper grasp on gospel love has also caused me to truly appreciate the beauty of adoption.  For those of you who have adopted, you mirror the gracious love of our God who has adopted us unworthy sinners into the glorious family of Christ (Gal 4:4-7).  I commend you.  Our culture of death says “no unwanted child should have to be born into this world.”  Our God says no child should ever be unwanted. 

All these lessons and so much more I owe to the grace of God as His Spirit has simply convicted and changed me by His Word.  Friends, the gospel changes everything.  Is forgiveness needed in your marriage?  Then study the forgiveness of God in Christ (Eph 4:32).  Is confession and repentance needed?  Ongoing faith and total trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross?  Then beg God on your knees with your wife for these gracious gifts (Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 2:24-26; James 5:16).  How is your view of children?  Considering adoption?  Embracing the larger families in your church, rather than making snide comments about birth control behind their backs?  The lessons go on and on, don’t they?

Let me summarize the change God’s gospel has made like this: When I tell Michele I love her now, what I mean is

“I love Christ far more than you; and because of Him, I choose to selflessly serve you today, even at the expense of my life.”         

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