Category Archives: Grace

A Prayer from Micah

Father,

Lay waste to the idols to which my heart is fixed and restore to me the joy of who you are. For you are the Lord, who hates sin and evil your very being despises.

You are my soul’s help in time of need and your ears are bent towards those who cry out to you. You are patient and kind, not rushing to bring about destruction, but seeking reconciliation.

Hear me now and do not turn your gaze from me, but deliver me from evil and forgive my transgression. May I be filled with your Spirit, loving the things you love and hating what you hate. I long to ascend your mountain where I might learn your ways and walk in your path. For in your path alone is life found. Though others walk a way that is right in their eyes, I will walk in the name of the Lord God.

I wait for your reign on this earth and the destruction of the things you detest. You have descended to us by sending your Son to be the highest King and I have heard his shepherding call. I now long to see His face. I know that I am secure because Christ is strong and I am His. What peace is this You have given to the restless? What comfort You’ve laid on those who try to bear burdens too heavy for them! Though danger be close, you are closer. You will deliver.

May I not forget your past deliverance and how you have redeemed me from the curse. How might I show my gratitude for your unending love? You have shown me what is good—that I love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with you, my God.

I will look to You, Lord ; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Though others say, “Where is your God?” I will rejoice when they are shamed because of the Your help toward me. He has proven Himself trustworthy, so I will rest in Him.

May the peace of Christ that transcends all understanding guard my heart and mind to the glory of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.

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Holy Love—Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

On July 8, 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached the famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” on the precipice of the 1st Great Awakening. The text from which he was preaching  is found in Deuteronomy 32:35 and it reads, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” The way in which Edwards describes God in this sermon is troubling to many, and I would argue that if they walk away with a troubled view of God, rather than the state of their soul, they have missed his point. However, it is easy to see how some can misinterpret Edwards when he uses illustrations such as these:

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out ofhell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. 

And again,

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.

And again,

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.

Taking into account sayings like these, it is easy to see why some have caricatured  Jonathan Edwards as a hell, fire, and brimstone preacher—as if some sense of pleasure arises in him because this fate awaits many. However, I will argue that this sermon is ultimately about God’s love, tender mercy, and compassion. It is ultimately about His abounding grace and His forbearance towards those who have greatly offended Him. He later says,

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God…How can you rest one moment in such a condition?

And again,

When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the executions of his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires. Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to bear. Ezek. 8:18. “Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy.

Ultimately, this sermon is not about God’s hatred toward sinners, although that is definitely present. It is about the reality that the only thing that keeps us from being launched into eternal damnation and separation from the Creator is His good pleasure. The God who has every right to not show pity toward rebels stands ready to show pity through the blood of His son.

Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.

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Behold Your Redeemer

 

Do you know your Redeemer? Do you know who He is and what He has done? I don’t mean that you vaguely have some knowledge about a cross and resurrection, but do you know what benefits he has purchased for you with his own blood? If the extent of your knowing Him is that you know Him only as a Savior who gets you out of hell, then I would encourage you to take a long look at your Savior.

In his person he is himself the sum of all those blessings: the light of the world (John 8:12), the true bread (6:35), the true vine (15:1), the way, the truth, the resurrection, and the life (11:25; 14:6), our wisdom, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption (1 Cor. 15:45), the head of the church (Eph 1:22), the cornerstone of the temple of God (Eph 2:20); and for that reason there is no participation in his benefits except by communion with his person.

Yet from him flow all the benefits, the whole of salvation (Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:11; John 3:17; 12:47), and more specifically the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28; Eph 1:7); the removal of our sins (John 1:29; 1 John 3:5); the cleansing of deliverance of a bad conscience (Heb. 10:22); justification (Rom 4:25); righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30); sonship (Gal 3:26; 4:5-6; Eph 1:5); confident access to God (Eph 2:18; 3:12); God’s laying aside his wrath in virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, that is, the sacrifice of atonement (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10; Heb 2:17; […] the second birth and the power to become children of God (John 1:12-13; sanctification (1 Cor 1:30); […] deliverance from death and from the fear of death (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:55; Heb 2:15); escape from judgment (Heb 10:27-28); and finally, the resurrection on the last day (John 11:25; 1 Cor 15:21) [where we will experience] ascension; glorification; the heavenly inheritance; eternal life already beginning here with the inception of faith; and one day fully manifesting itself in glory; the new heaven and new earth; and the restoration of all things.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids:Baker, 2006) 339-40.

To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.

 

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Grace Unexpected

Grace in and of itself is unexpected. Merited favor, that is favor that is earned through one’s actions is predictable, foreseen, and expected. But Grace—that humbling divine favor shown to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not expected. Like the wind, no one knows where it comes from or where it’s going, but all the while we see it’s effects.

Take Keith for example. Drugs define his life. He has forsaken all other things for that next bump, none of which fulfill him quite like the one before, thus he must do more. His teeth are rotted and he looks to be 7-10 years older than he actually is. Because of his addiction he has lost everything. He chooses to pay his cocaine bill rather than his utilities and as a result he has lost his family. His wife and four kids packed up and moved to North Carolina. Keith would never see them again. His wife and four children were devastatingly killed in an automobile accident. Left with nothing but drugs to comfort him, Keith chases the next high like a cat chases a laser pointer. That is, until unexpected grace occurred.  I met Keith today and he told me his story. A group of students and I were following Keith around downtown Oklahoma City, just blocks away from the OKC bombing that took out the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. Keith tried to tell us before we started picking up trash the depth and magnitude of what we were doing and the truth is it was lost on each of us. To be quite honest, none of us thought there was anything great that could come out of simply picking up trash—but Keith knew otherwise. He brought us to an ally way that was sandwiched between a new Sonic Drive-In and an old auto garage. He told us that a little under a year ago he was strung out on drugs when a church group just like ours came through, simply picking up trash. What happened to him is incredible. One of the ladies in the group reached out and grabbed Keith by the arm and said, “Come with us.” At first, cursing under his inebriated breath, he refused—but eventually followed the group as they led him to City Rescue Mission just one street over from where he was in his drunken, drug induced stupor.

But what happened next is crazy, unpredictable, and definitely unexpected.

After getting involved in the rehabilitation program, Keith heard the Gospel. When I say he heard it, I do not mean that he listen to a preacher talk and was coerced into praying a prayer. What I mean is Keith heard the goodness, faithfulness, and unchanging love of God for him and he responded! From the alley to the Almighty, Keith’s life was unexpectantly changed by the grace of Jesus Christ, through His death, burial, and resurrection.

Now, Keith is still in recovery—clean since the day that woman grabbed him by the arm. Keith realizes that remaining clean day in and day out is a war, one in which he rests his hope in Christ alone to fight for him. This is the Gospel. It is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe.

In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O the sweetest exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!

Grace-Driven Effort

I just returned from our church’s High School camp and I have to say God really took me out to the woodshed on certain aspects of my character. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is something I encourage our students to be sensitive toward but I found myself being hesitant. Me? Proud? Arrogant? Selfish? Absolutely! Without a doubt. I praise God for the way he brought these things to my attention and I am now digging in His word as we speak and seeking to lay these issues at the foot of the cross.

One day I went down by the river to do my quiet time. It was a special time between my God and me. I still get overwhelmed by the fact that the God of the universe treasures those times with His children. Too often we have a distorted, wicked view of God that strips Him of one of the many attributes that makes him superior to all, namely, His presence and interest in our lives. In my time with God, He led me to Romans 8 (if this chapter doesn’t stir something in you, I don’t know what will) and I began reading about what life in the Spirit is all about. In v. 9, Paul makes a declarative statement about the condition of the heart of those who believe. As believers, we are no longer slaves to our flesh, which brings death, but we are alive in the Spirit, which is life and peace.

It gets better, in v. 11 Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Did you catch that? The exact same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us who believe. Is that not crazy? Every time I think about this verse I am beside myself! How good is our God and how great is His mercy and grace!

So those are my introductory/contextual remarks. What I really want to throw out comes from Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. D.A. Carson writes:

“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

A few things have led me to this. I have been reading an old dead guy named John Owen (one of my heroes) and he talks about the concept of mortification of the flesh, which simply means the putting to death of the sin that remains post-conversion. Second, I keep up with Matt Chandler (another hero of mine) at the Village church and he recently wrote on this issue.

This concept is so important for us to grasp. Believe it or not, we will not magically become more godly. We will not one day wake up with a sense of urgency for the Gospel or a sudden knowledge of Scripture and the character of God. We will not simply stop falling into that same pesky sin we always fall into. Instead, in our apathy we drift into something that is simply not what Scripture describes as faith. We begin to justify our sin by comparing ourselves to other people. We redefine Biblical Christianity and Jesus becomes a fairy who sprinkles grace and mercy dust on everyone. In our redefinition God becomes a God who is no longer righteous, true, and just, but one who isn’t holy and isn’t really bothered by our sin. Sadly, in the end He can do nothing to convict us, nothing to sanctify us, and actually hates us because He allows us to rot in our sin. This simply is not biblical/historical Christianity in any sense of the term.

There is an equal and opposite reaction that is just as wicked. That is known as legalism, which relies more on exertion and moralism rather than the Spirit that dwells in us. This means that we will not become more godly because we stop listening to secular music or watching rated R movies. Our hunger and affection for Christ is not cultivated out of submission to a set of rules. When we live life this way God begins to look more like Zeus than the God of the Bible who is ready to smite us with a lightning bolt every time we mess up.

Both of these responses are wildly self-centered. The first one says, “Hey God remember when I prayed that prayer… now make me this or that. Do this work in me while I sit on my can and have no genuine desire for You or holiness. I am just going to keep doing my thing for now.” This is wickedness and a slap to the face of God. The second response is all about being better than someone else and putting God in a position of obligation (which is impossible). This position says, “Oh I’m sorry, who? Oh! God… you are the one who saved me from my filth. Don’t worry… I got it from here. If there is one person you don’t have to worry about… it’s me!” This is silliness. Just read the book of Galatians where Paul writes, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

The mortification of sin, our sanctification, our pursuit of holiness and godliness can only be driven by the grace of God, through Jesus, and in the Spirit. Do the hard work! Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, put off the works of the flesh, and obey the teachings of Scripture all the while realizing that it is only by God’s grace that you are saved.

We have been saved by grace and it is only by grace that we continue.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5).

I once was blind, but now i see

Well I have been out at Andrews, Tx for 2 weeks now. I am really missing my family, friends, adopted family in Brownwood, and my girl friend. Its kinda one of those feelings where you know you are in the right place because you are out of your comfort zone. I have a peace about being here in Andrews and yet my heart is torn because i miss Brownwood. I miss Coggin Ave. Baptist. Don’t get me wrong, FBC Andrews is awesome but Coggin was my home for 4 years and i poured my self into students there that i now miss dearly. But to every season turn, turn, turn… I know that there are a new set of students that i can invest in. I can be a fresh voice here and an encouragement to Billy and Lindz.

Today i was at my house (a lovely couple here in Andrews decided they wanted to try and house and feed me… great people) flipping around on tv. I found a DVD and popped it in. It was the recent movie Amazing Grace. This was my second time to see it and it was just as good. The story is absolutely amazing to me. To see the burden that William Wilberforce had for slaves and his passion to see them set free made me start questioning my life. Why do I not have a passion on my heart like he did? What if God has called me to something that he has set for me to do and I am wasting time? My prayer is God give me ears to hear, eyes to see, and lips to proclaim.

The famous line “I once was blind but now i see” that could be my call. To proclaim that hey i dont know a whole lot but i do know that i once was blind but now i see. The beauty of it is, i do not take part in this alone. This is the call of every believer and it is the one of UTMOST importance. Every time i hear the song Amazing Grace (the oldie and the my chains are gone version) my spirit is stirred. We as Christians often ask God to do a work in us and ignite a passion. But when he does… what do we do with it? We usually say.. once i get done with my education, then i will be ready to take on this call. But lets be honest… Jesus has used some of the most social awkward and down right weird people to do great things for his glory.

I am confident that Christ WILL make known his name in all the earth. Sometimes i am just so ready to go home. I just want to be with Christ. To behold him and enjoy him forever. There is another song that i have heard recently by Phil Wickham that says:

When we arrive on eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing… You’re Beautiful!

I cannot even fathom the moment when i no longer have to wrestle with sin. My heart longs for the fight to be over! I want nothing more than to be with Christ. One day i will sit on eternity’s shore with my Savior and my God and my death will just be a memory and the sin that has entangled me for so long will be left with my body. PRAISE CHRIST the God of my salvation.

God teach your saints how to treasure you. May we guard our steps when we approach you. Would we draw near to listen..

“To see the Lord and the promised land, where in all sin’s pearly gates look bland. What was once a pearl is now sand that blows away in light of Him.” ~ Shane Barnard

New sight, new perspective

I have never had the best eye sight. It was always really frustrating to have to wear glasses or contacts when playing sports, driving, or reading. It is one of those things where everything was just a little bit out of focus. I could see objects and recognize faces but i had a really hard time seeing the detail in life. Things that are simple like the leaves on trees or blades of grass. They just looked like green blobs. The funny thing is, until i got my first pair of glasses, i had no idea that what i was seeing was any different than what everyone else was seeing. It wasn’t until my parents noticed i was squinting a lot to watch tv or read that they took me in to get my eyes checked.

That was about 13 years ago when i got my first pair of glasses. They were very big and colorful… i was a dork (many people probably think not much has changed). For the first time i saw that trees had leaves and basketball nets had holes in them when you view them from the 3-point line. I felt like a new boy. Once i grew up a little i received another pair of glasses that were a little more manly and i even tried contacts. Contacts never worked… they drove me crazy. So i stuck with glasses for years. UNTIL JANUARY 5, 2008!!!! I went to get lasik!

I dont think people that have 20/20 vision or better really grasp what they have. I feel like i have a new lease on life. For the first time i wake up in the morning and i can see my alarm clock. I can see far better than i ever could with glasses. It is funny because in all of this i have found myself worshipping God. I can’t quite explain it. I can try…

Last night i got home late. It was a very clear night… not a cloud in the sky. There was just a sliver of the moon showing and the stars were bright. I stepped out of my car and looked up. I have never seen the sky with so much detail. Even with glasses i couldn’t see as clear as i see now.

In that moment when i looked up and saw God’s creation screaming out his majesty. The only thing i could do was inhale. I breathed in deep that moment and praised God for the opportunity to see His works not just with better vision, but with a completely different perspective. It baffles me how people can miss God when all the while enjoying his stuff. Needless to say, for a few moments i felt very, very small. Who can feel like a beast when they are surrounding by things so much greater? No one stands in front of the Grand Canyon and flexes their muscles! No one stands at the base of the Rockies and tells them they are small! No one wades out into the ocean with 20 foot swells and punches a wave coming at them (Unless they want to die)!

And all the while when we stand in awe of creation and what has been made God says, “These are but the FRINGES of who I AM! This is a tiny glimpse of a little bit of who I am. ” And this is crazy to me because creation speaks so loudly but barely touches on who God is….but in Christ, in the God-man, Jesus, ALL of the fullness of God rests in him. He is not a picture of God, he IS God. He is not similar to God, He is God!

So this is my new perspective on life. As I get older Christ makes me look more like himself and i begin to see things in this light. What might seem ordinary to some is extraordinary to those who are in Christ. Then there are things that are extraordinary to the world and absolutely dead to those who are in Christ. It’s crazy…

But i know life is short. Even though i got lasik… i might get 20 years out of my eyes before they abandon me. I will have to wear glasses again one day. My plea is this… don’t inhale majesty and exhale superficially. Don’t stand before greatness and walk away talking about how much you bench press. No matter what you or I say… in these moments, we know we are small.

Unconditional Love?

It is really interesting how Christ finds his way into every discipline. I enjoy studying Christianity and the more i study history, politics, economics, philosophy, and maybe even psychology.. the more i see Christ is everywhere! He means it when he says he is the alpha and the omega. He is the beginning and end… as well as everything in between.

In my personality class today, we talked about love. We talked about the different aspects of love. We love a lot of things. We “love this shirt”… or “I love this restaurant”. There is the infamous three words, “I love you” that are shared between a man and woman (or at least it should be). Then there is yet another. One in which is rarely ever tasted. That is agape love or unconditional love.

A young lady in class brought up the question, “Is there such thing as unconditional love?” My first thought was Romans 5:8 “God showed his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus didnt have to die. He willingly laid himself on the cross so that we could have life. She continued with… every time you look at what seems to be unconditional love, there is some underlying factor that disqualifies itself from being unconditional love… even in the case between God and man.

Since then i have been chewing on it and i dont necessarily have an answer. But perhaps just writing out my thoughts will help me sort this whole thing out.

The whole case that even God doesn’t share unconditional love comes from the reward of heaven (If you dont get the reward you never had the love). God’s mercy and love is given to all. How can this be? Let’s just say that Christianity is true (which i believe it to be). How is it that God shows mercy even to those who are hostile toward him. Allow me to illustrate my point

Recently i came across a stream of videos on Youtube called the Blasphemy Challenge. On these videos, people were encouraged to commit the unforgivable sin from Mark 3:29, “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”. Men and women of all ages were getting on youtube and professing, “I deny the existence of the Holy Spirit and I am not afraid.” On top of this people made many outlandish remarks about Jesus, saying he was a homosexual and all kinds of terrible things.

If these men and women die in this profession, the Bible makes it clear that they will spend eternity separated from God. How then do they receive mercy if mercy if for ALL?

I would be willing to bet that since these people made this videos, they have eaten food that satisfied their taste buds. I would think that maybe they have seen a movie that made them laugh out loud. Perhaps maybe they have had sex. All of these things are God’s mercy. God will allow these people to breathe his air, walk on his earth, and even profane his name. However, eventually they will bow and confess.

Even in those who will not share in God’s ultimate reward of heaven experience God’s love. It is shown to us day to day by enjoying life. God gets a bad rap for being a kill joy when in reality he is the author of joy. Satan distorts our view of joy so that joy=freedom. I dont really have time to get into that… that is a whole new post