Christ Loved Us, the Ugly Sister, and He’s Making Us Beautiful

(this post is a follow up to my post yesterday on Jacob’s not so fun experience with God’s providence through his Uncle Laban, while wandering outside the promised land)

Like Jacob’s wilderness wanderings in Padan-Aram, Christ experienced his own wilderness wanderings on earth and suffered greatly because of our sins. He took on the form of a servant and was obedient to the point of death on a cross to win us as his bride (Phil. 2:5-11; Eph. 5:25-32).

But unlike Jacob, he loved the unlovely. We weren’t pretty like Rachel, we were the ugly ones who were sinners by nature and hated God (Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1-3). And yet, he loved us, unlovely sinners that we are, and died on the cross, experiencing the greatest exile of all (Isa. 53:8; Matt. 27:46). But he rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand in glory and we are united to him forever through faith and by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Phil. 2:9-11).

And we look forward to the consummation of our marriage in the new heavens and new earth at the wedding supper of the lamb, where we will be arrayed in bright white garments like a beautiful bride, remade in his image (2 Cor. 3:18; Rev. 19:6-9). And he will not look upon us with regret or despise us, like Jacob did Leah. Rather, He will be so happy to see us face to face and we will weep tears of joy and ask ourselves why did he choose us to be his bride?! Such AMAZING grace and love!!!

Beloved, let us gladly love and serve him out of hearts filled with gratitude and strengthened by His Spirit! For these light and momentary afflictions are nothing in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us with Christ in heaven (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17).

In the words of Iain Duguid, “God takes only bent instruments and slowly begins to straighten them. He takes only untuned hearts and slowly begins to tune them to his praise. It all takes time, but God is not in a hurry. God’s consistent purpose, during whatever times of exile and disappointment he takes you through, is to prepare you for future service and a deepened appreciation of his grace. Submit to his loving purpose, therefore, willingly and ungrudgingly. The wilderness years are indeed hard. Ask Jacob! But the wilderness is not our home. Laban’s house is not Jacob’s place, as he reminds Jacob. Laban’s house is his temporary address. Jacob’s place is at Bethel, the place where God first revealed himself to Jacob by his grace. Home, for Jacob and for you and me, is on the other side of the wilderness, where we shall be in God’s house forever, tuned with perfect pitch. In the meantime, we listen intently for the sounds of home, and the faint strains of that foreign song summon us on through the weary desert. The reminders of God’s grace fill us with renewed vigor and grateful, thankful, longing hearts.” Amen!

(This post is taken from a sermon on Genesis 29:1-30 that I preached at Redeemer Reformation Church. If you’d like to hear the whole sermon, you can listen here.)

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If God Could Save Paul He Can Save Anyone

PaultheApostleOne of my favorite verses in the Bible lately is this:

“They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”” (Galatians 1:23).

It’s a powerful testimony that if God can save Paul the Apostle he can save anyone (see also Acts 7:54-60; Acts 9; Gal. 1:11-24; Phil. 3:1-11). Paul’s background as a Pharisee gives us hope that God can save religious people today who are trusting in their own self-righteousness for salvation. His background as a persecutor of the church gives us hope that God can save even the worst of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are currently in rebellion against God.

So keep praying and keep sharing Christ. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes! (Romans 1:16)

A Thanksgiving Meditation: Prayer with Thanksgiving is a Shield Against Fear and Self-Absorption

Have you ever noticed that often when Paul instructs the churches to pray he admonishes them to pray with thanksgiving?

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving“. . .”do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. . .”Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Why does Paul place such an emphasis on praying with thanksgiving? For at least two reasons: Because prayer with thanksgiving is a shield against fear and self-absorption.

1. A Shield Against Fear

The one who never thanks God is easily given to fear and self-absorption. You see, thanking God for past and present blessings casts out fear and fuels confidence for future grace. This is why it is so important to pray thankfully. When you are daily reminding yourself of God’s grace to you in Christ and thanking Him for all of the temporal and eternal blessings that you have from his good and sovereign hand it encourages you to trust Him for the future. You can say, with confidence, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds it. . .He is a good God and he has proven it to me ultimately in Christ” (Romans 8:31-37).

Commenting on Psalm 136, Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

“Let us thank him that we have seen, proved, and tasted that he is good. He is good beyond all others; indeed, he alone is good in the highest sense; he is the source of all good, the good of all good, the sustainer of good, the perfecter of good, and the rewarder of good. For this he serves the constant gratitude of his people.”

As Spurgeon notes, he is serving the “constant gratitude of his people”, including you! Have you noticed lately how he has served your gratitude daily and prayed thankfully? The sooner you start noticing his goodness to you in daily temporal blessings, and the all-sufficient eternal blessings that are yours in Christ by faith, the sooner you will stop worrying about the future.

Gratitude is a shield against fear! This is why Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)Notice the connection between the exhortation not to be anxious and to pray with thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving is a vital element in the kind of prayer that casts out anxiety and experiences the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

2. A Shield Against Self-Absorption

And not only is gratitude a shield against fear it’s also a shield against self-absorption. The one who does not thank God on a regular basis is also given to self-absorption. Why? Because the blessings that they have they take for granted as if they earned them apart from God. It’s a form of practical atheism and a practical denial of our sinfulness and God’s grace. It’s also a form of idolatry as it worships the gift rather than the Giver. And thus, a lack of thankfulness is a turning within, a form of self-absorption. This is why we need to pray thankfully, namely because it’s a shield against fear and self-absorption. When we pray thankfully we live in confidence and are rightly absorbed with God and praising Him for who He is and what He’s done for us in Christ. And this is what will bring us ultimate delight and satisfaction in this life and the next.

And for us who know the AMAZING GRACE of God in Christ, thanksgiving should be a natural, joyous, and constant disposition. Joel Beeke writes,

“We are so prone to count our one or two troubles and so quick to dwell upon that one unkind word more than upon another hundred kind words for which we should be so deeply thankful. True thankfulness brings us close to the heart of God, to His love and grace. True thankfulness realizes that anything short of hell is grace.”

Conclusion

And so, pray with thanksgiving, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” And God is worthy of our thanksgiving! So let us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”. . .“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift [Christ]!. . .AND. . .“from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” (Psalm 136:1; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Romans 11:36)

Jesus is Our Greater Good Samaritan

This past Sunday I preached on the fruit of compassion in the Christian life. My primary text was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The point of that parable is not first and foremost, “stop being so cold and callous to your neighbors and start being more like the Good Samaritan.” No doubt we are commanded by Jesus to “go and do likewise” (v. 37). But this parable is given in the context of a lawyer (an expert in the Old Testament) who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (v. 25). Indeed, it’s emphasized that he was seeking to justify himself (v. 29). And so, the point of the parable in the first place is to drive people who want to justify themselves by their own works to seek eternal life outside of themselves and to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, because Jesus is our Good Samaritan. We fail miserably at loving others as we would ourself and by works of the law no one will be justified (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:19-26). But if we believe in Him, we already have eternal life and will be raised on the last day when Jesus returns (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:40).

So the parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable of the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). And the parable is meant to drive us to our knees in repentance and to seek our salvation outside of ourselves through faith alone in Christ alone as a gift of free grace. But not only is Jesus our Good Samaritan, he is even greater than the Good Samaritan for us. This is a point that Phil Ryken puts beautifully in his commentary on Luke:

“When Jesus came to our aid to give us life, we were not merely dying but dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. Jesus came out of his way to help us, not just crossing the road, but traversing the infinite distance from heaven to earth. Furthermore, it took him more than a day or two of his time and a couple coins from his pocket to gain our salvation. It cost him the sufferings of earth, the blood of his body, and the agonies of his soul on the cross. Jesus traveled a much greater distance, to help people in much greater need, at much greater cost. He is equally committed to seeing our salvation through to the end, for he has promised to come back and carry us all the way to glory.”

AMEN! Jesus is the Greater Good Samaritan! Indeed, He’s the greatest and the only one who has ever lived who is perfectly good! And so, when Jesus says, go and do likewise to us, it comes to us in a different context. It comes to us not as those who are seeking to justify ourselves by our own good works, but as those who are already justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. We are clothed in his perfect righteousness and we have already passed from death to life through faith in Him. And so, our motivation to “go and do likewise” is “we love because He first loved us” when we were beaten, bloodied and left for dead. And if he had such compassion and mercy towards us, let us show the same kind of compassion and mercy towards others out of thankfulness for God’s amazing grace in Christ!

In the Spirit’s strength and with the gospel fueling every effort, let us love anyone in need, anyone at all, whom in the providence of God we may be able to help, no matter what social status, no matter what religion, no matter what political party, no matter what nationality, no matter what gender, no matter what age, no matter if we like them or not, no matter if they are deserving of our love or not, no matter if its convenient or not to love them, and no matter if they have done us wrong in the past. Every person has been created in the image of God and by reason of their dignity as image bearers and even more by reason of the love of God that has been poured out upon us in Christ, we are to have compassion on them and love them as we would want them to love us if we were in need. But let us always remember that we are justified by faith alone, we have the Spirit’s enabling power, and we love because he first loved us (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 5:16, 22-25; 1 John 4:19).

My Rant for the Month: Preach Christ!

Yesterday I listened to a sermon on the topic of morality by a local pastor of a large church and it was all law and no gospel. Christ wasn’t even mentioned, not even in the prayer of application. It was really sad to me to think that all those people went to Church and didn’t hear Christ proclaimed or even mentioned by name in the preaching and prayer of application. It reminds me of something that Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse once said. Over a half century ago Barnhouse asked what a city might look like where Satan had really taken control? And he offered his own scenario. Barnhouse speculated that “if Satan took over a city, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”

We NEED Christ proclaimed EVERY week from the pulpit. We NEED to hear the gospel in EVERY sermon or it causes us to become either self-righteous proud Pharisees or to despair and burn out. But when we hear Christ proclaimed, his life, death, resurrection, ascension, session and return, it frees us up to truly love God and others out of gratitude and not fear. It humbles us and strengthens us. And when we are called to depend on the Spirit’s strength through Word, sacrament, and prayer, we give God all the glory from beginning to end! Pastors, myself included, preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:20-24; 2:2; Col. 1:28; John 5:39; Luke 24:25-27, 44; John 8:56; Col. 2:1-3)! If your pastor doesn’t preach Christ and Gospel-driven, Spirit-wrought sanctification, be warned, you might be a Pharisee or on the brink of despair. Who cares about church programs if Christ isn’t being preached?! The gospel is the power of God for salvation, from beginning to end, for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16)!

In light of Reformation weekend coming up, that’s my rant for the month. Here I stand!

(Click on the above image to check out the best book out there on preaching Christ from all the Scriptures)

Faith is a Gift: Don’t Give Up Praying For Your Loved Ones

This is the first point of a sermon I recently preached in two parts entitled “We Believe: The Doctrine of True Faith.”

The first thing that we confess about faith is that faith is a gift from God.

Saving faith is not something that we can, in and of ourselves, conjure up from within. Remember that the Bible describes our condition before conversion as being dead in our sins and trespasses. And so if we are to ever believe, God must first regenerate our hearts by his Holy Spirit. The way the Bible describes this is as a new birth or a spiritual resurrection, both of which are images of something that we can’t initiate or do.

What were you doing before you were born? Did you decide to be born? Did you say, you know what I would really like to be born and I want these parents over here and I want to be born in this country in this location (perhaps you would or wouldn’t have chosen Saskatchewan if you had a choice!)

The same could be said of dead people. Dead people don’t do anything. They can decide to be raised. Lazarus didn’t say, “you know what I would really like to be resurrected by Jesus today, and so, I have decided to make myself alive again.” Nor did he say, “I hear you telling me to rise up and come forth Jesus, now that you’ve done your part, I will now do mine.” I mean these things are just funny and absurd to think about.

You see the new birth is a miracle! And faith is a gift from God. If you believe in the person and work of Christ, it’s because God made you alive and gave you the gift of faith. This is the clear teaching of the Bible:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul tells us that faith comes, not of one’s strength or virtue, but only to those who are chosen of God for its reception. Paul puts it this way: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 6:23).

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29)

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).

More verses could be given. But these are enough to prove that our confession is based on what the Bible clearly teaches. And so we confess that: “We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith” (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 22).

One Qualification

That doesn’t mean that God believes for you. Rather, once God makes you alive you are the one who believes. It’s like when a blind person is given the gift of sight again. Once that miracle takes place they are the one’s seeing. But without the miracle in the first place they would never see.

Two Applications

1. Give thanks to God for the faith that you have! If you believe in the person and work of Christ it is because God loved you unconditionally before time began in Christ (Eph. 1:3-6). It has nothing to do with anything good in you but everything to do with God’s unconditional electing love in Christ. To God alone belongs the glory in your salvation (Rev. 7:10)!

2. Pray for God to open the hearts of others like he did Lydia in Acts (Acts 16:14). It should give you hope for your loved ones who do not know Christ, no matter how stubborn they are, that faith is a gift from God. If he could open the heart of Saul of Tarsus, who was once one of the greatest enemies of Christ and His church, and transform him into Paul the Apostle, who wrote most of the New Testament and suffered and died for the faith, then surely he can open the heart of your friend or family member who does not know Christ and refuses to repent and believe. And so don’t give up praying for the salvation of your loved ones, (even your enemies!), who don’t know Christ. Faith is a gift from God. May He be pleased to “kindle in [their] hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him.” Amen!

“What does it look like to celebrate grace?”

In the words of Paul Tripp:‎

“Pastor, it’s like us waking up in the morning and saying, “I’m redeemed. I’m redeemed. I’m redeemed. I can’t believe that I am one of God’s children! I can’t believe that God has placed his love on me. I can’t belive he has called me to his work! No, my life and ministry isn’t always easy, but I’m redeemed. No, the relationships with people around me don’t always work the way they should, but I’m redeemed. Yes, I live in a world that is broken and does not operate as intended, but I’m redeemed. Yes, I face personal and ministry disappointment, but I’m redeemed. I can’t believe it, I am one of God’s children and one his spokesmen!. . .So, pastor, are you a celebrant? Has your life taken on a joy and focus that would not be possible any other way? Or in the course of your ministry, has the truly awesome become merely commonplace? Has the search for ministry comfort and satisfaction consumed you more than the celebration of the spiritual realities that should now define you and your work? Has remembrance decayed into forgetfulness? Have you lost your first love? If so, confess your forgetfulness. Seek God’s help for your distraction. Commit yourself to a life and ministry of celebration, knowing that this includes being a soldier in the ongoing war for your own heart. And remember that you are not alone; there is daily grace for every one of those battles. Now, isn’t that worth celebrating?”

Read the whole thing here.