Rob Sturdy: Weak Hearts, Mighty Savior! (Matt 6.1-21)

20 12 2011

Preached at Trinity Church, Feb 24th 2009.

Culture places high value on the notion that the human heart is not only good, but that it is essentially trustworthy.  For many people the heart is the spring from which all that is good within us flows out.  We believe that the heart, the seat of our emotions is essentially good. We are in our innermost being good people, with good intentions.  And yet we don’t stop here.  Alongside this idea that the heart is fundamentally good in a moral sense, we also believe that the heart is unique in the sense that it is a trustworthy compass pointing us in the right direction.  If you were to type in the internet bookstore Amazon.com searching for titles that include the phrase “follow your heart,” you would find over six-thousand titles. This shows us two things:  first there are people in the world who have thought about the heart, about its goodness and trustworthiness (6,000 people!), and second there are people who are interested in reading about how good and trustworthy their hearts are.

The Bible also has many things to say about the heart.  For example, the Book of Proverbs instructs us to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4.23). The heart is the root of the tree, the gasoline to the car, the hinge on the door, the wood for the fire.  In other words, as “from it flow the springs of life!”  Which is why the writer instructs us to “keep it with vigilance.”  Something so important should be tended to most carefully.  Because our hearts are so important, it is no surprise that God himself is deeply concerned with the nature of our hearts.  “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance,  but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16.7) and ““I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer 17.10).

Jesus also has much to say about the heart.  Today, in this passage, though he never specifically mentions the heart he nevertheless has much to say about the heart and what he says about the heart can be summed up in one word:  “Beware.”  Beware!  It is the last thing that you would suspect would come from the mouth of gentle Jesus meek and mild about the human heart.  We expect the Lamb of God to come gently bleeting compliments and high praise for the goodness of our individual hearts.  Rather he expresses a fearfulness, withdrawing in horror as if he had seen some type of dangerous predator or a horrific car crash, recoiling he says “Beware!” Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: “Jesus will win.” Explaining death to a 3 year old…

20 12 2011

Over the past year or so my son and I have read through the Jesus Storybook Bible multiple times.  He always enjoys the reading and is engaged, but it continually amazes me just how caught up he gets in the four stories in the book that deal with the Lord’s Supper, the trial of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  Rarely can we begin the Lord’s Supper and not have to read all four stories.  No matter how much I want to wind down the evening, I find it really hard to refuse reading the Bible to my little boy, especially those wonderful and crucial sections of the Gospel.

This past time reading through was different however.  His excitement was still there, but this time he began to ask questions and the one question that he was most interested in I felt totally ill prepared for.

“Daddy, what’s death?”

My mind went racing.  I had no idea how to answer this.  I walked through several generic answers before I was reminded of a metaphor used for death in the Scriptures.  When speaking of death, the Apostle Paul says that death is an enemy that must be destroyed by our hero Jesus (1 Cor 15.26).  The metaphor of death as an enemy works well with my little boy’s mind.  Right now everything is good guys vs. bad guys, superheros vs. villains.  Happy that the scriptures discussed death in these simple terms that my son could understand I replied:

“Well buddy, death is an enemy.”

“An enemy?” he asked.

“Yup.  A bad guy.”

What happened next was quite intriguing and I thank God for the conversation.

“But I’m strong,” said David, and he flexed his muscles and scowled his face like the cartoon superheroes he watches.

“Death is stronger,” I replied.

“But I’m really fast,” he replied, without near as much certainty.

“Death is faster.”  And while I was talking to David about death it began to dawn on me that one day this enemy would come for David and I felt the same pain that any parent feels when something makes them consider this.  Though my typical reaction would be to force this thought as far away as possible, I resisted the urge and pressed on.  ” One day buddy, death is going to come for you and he’ll win.  He’ll always be stronger than you.  He’ll always be faster and one day he will come for you.”

“Oh,” he said.

But we didn’t leave things there and thanks be to God neither does he!

“But David,” I said, “Jesus is stronger than death.  Jesus is faster than death.  One day, when death comes for you, Jesus will be there and he’ll win.  Even though you could never beat death, Jesus can and he’ll be there for you when you need him.”

“Jesus will win?” he asked.

“Yeah buddy, he always does.”  Then we thanked God that Jesus would beat this bad guy, I kissed David on the cheek, gave him three bear hugs, and off he went to sleep.





Rob Sturdy: 3 Questions to help lift worry and relieve anxiety

20 12 2011

Anxiety and worry are a burden that “weigh a man down” (Prov 12.25) and produce a daily pressure that affects our emotional, mental, and physical health.  All of us from time to time carry the heavy burdens of worry and anxiety, some more than others.  The question is, how (if at all!) can these burdens be relieved?

Here are three simple questions that will help direct you as you seek to deal with the daily pressures that life throws at you.

Have you prayed? Jesus once visited the household of Mary and Martha (Luke 10.38-42)  and as so often happened he brought a crowd with him.  As Martha’s home began to fill up with guests, and the pressures of being a host weighed on her, Martha was quickly overwhelmed by anxiety.  Perhaps her sister Mary could have helped relieve this anxiety by assisting her, but Mary remained in the living room spending time with Jesus and the other guests.  Martha’s anxiety caused her to be frustrated with her sister and even to lash out at Jesus.  She exclaims “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?.”  Jesus responded with these words:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 ESV).

Now it remains that guests still needed to be greeted, food needed to be served, needs had to be met.  All the duties of hosting remained.  But of all the duties that remained, only one thing was necessary.  That one thing was to be with the Jesus.

Most of the time we think through all the things that need to be done.  Only once we are truly overwhelmed are we given over to prayer.  Prayer should not be the last thing we do, but rather it should be the first.  In Martha’s anxiety she thought that Jesus did  not care about her troubles.  ”Lord, do you not care!?!” she says.  But Jesus did care.  He cared deeply about her anxiety and he understood the one thing necessary to relieve it.  She must put her troubles away for a moment and go to him.   Peter encourages us to cast “all our anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5.7).  I have heard some Christians say that they feel guilty always bringing their problems before God in prayer.  Now that I have a son, I understand God’s care for me more than I used to.  If David is hurt I want to know about it.  If he is sad I want to know why.  If he is scared I want him to call for me.  I want all these things because I care for him.  If, though I am but a man, care for David this way, imagine how much more God must care for us!

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matt 7.11 ESV)

Before you do anything else, go to God first.  He cares for you and he desires that you would share your burdens with him.

Have you made an honest assessment? What is it exactly that you are worried about?  Like a coin, anxiety has two sides.  On one side is an event that causes anxiety either by directly inflicting stress (an illness of a loved one) or an event that is in the future whose outcome is unseen.  It is the uncertain outcome of this event that causes anxiety.  On the other side of the anxiety coin is your own personal sin.  It is important to get to the bottom of each side in order for a true assessment to be made.

Let’s look at the first side of anxiety.  When a loved one is hurt this causes anxiety.  We’re anxious to relieve the pain of someone we love.  Anxiety can also be caused, for example, when our bank account is low at the end of the month and we’re not sure if we’ll be able to pay our bills.  Scripture and common sense dictate a proactive approach to both events.

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8 ESV)

Anxiety can have a crippling effect on us as we are overwhelmed by stress and a variety of options.   Suddenly we are incapable of making decisions.  Our inability to make decisions regarding our anxiety directly leads to inaction.  And though we’re not sluggards, anxiety has actually produced the same outcome.  We are unprepared and inactive.

Consider the ant, says Proverbs.  The ant is faced with the prospect of starvation in winter time.  She makes preparations by gathering resources.  She plans for the worst and hopes for the best.  Perhaps you are faced with a winter time of your own.  What could you be doing to prepare?  Have you done all you could do?  Often times I find a friend a helpful resource to think through these things.  They’re able to see things that we could/ should be doing that we are not able to see ourselves.  Once we’re aware of what steps we should be taking, it is time to take them.

If you’ve done all that you could do, it is time to stop worrying and trust God.  After all, there are limits to what we can accomplish with our own efforts and we should learn to be satisfied with this.  Jesus says:

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26 ESV)

Exercise and healthy eating are good common sense preparations against illness.  But exercise and healthy eating cannot prevent illness.  If you have exercised and eat healthily, what more can you do?  Nothing but trust God.  Do what you can and be content with your limitations.

The other side of the coin of anxiety is personal sin.  This must be gotten to the root of as well.  Jesus says to Nicodemus:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20 ESV)

I know a man who is currently hiding his immense debt from his wife.  He is anxious about the day his debt will be revealed, but why is he anxious?  There are two sides to his anxiety.  On the day his debt is revealed, both he and his family will suffer poverty.  That is a source of tremendous anxiety.  The other side of his anxiety however, is that his evil deeds will be brought into the light and his sin and shortcomings will be exposed to everyone. He is anxious over the pain of this exposure and this can be easily understood.

Is there sin in your anxiety?  You must carefully examine yourself.  Are you anxious because something is about to be brought into the light? If so, then you must work to bring it into the light by the help of the Spirit.  As long as your sin remains hidden, your anxiety will remain.  But there is a double promise to those whose deeds are brought into the light.

If we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)

The double promise is both forgiveness and cleansing.  Why allow your sin to remain hidden and your soul to be burdened with anxiety?  A little short term pain brings healing now.  But hidden sin brings much suffering in the long term.

There is one other alternative.  Perhaps God is using your anxiety to bring sin into the light.  For example, your anxiety might help you discover your lack of faith in God.  It might help you discover that you do not trust him to care for you.  It might help you learn that you think he is weak and that his power cannot prevail for you.  This too is sin, and this too can be confessed with the double promise of forgiveness and cleansing.

Have you trusted in the promises of God? Having prayed and made an honest assessment, one thing remains.  Have you trusted in the promises of God?  One such promise that I cling to in times of worry and anxiety is Rom 8.28-30.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)

Perhaps I have prayed.  Perhaps I have made an honest assessment.  Perhaps I have, by the help of the Holy Spirit, discovered my sin and confessed it for the double promise.  This is no guarantee that what I fear most will not come upon me.  The prayers and faithfulness of Jesus are not enough to keep him from the cross.  Rather, having prayed and searched himself out it becomes clear that Jesus must endure that which made him sweet blood in the garden (Luke 22.39-46).

What are we to do in these circumstances?  What are we to do when after all our prayers and all our searching we are nevertheless brought face to face with the source of all our anxiety?  The death of a loved one, an empty bank account, returning to grievous sin etc (falling off the wagon).  At this point the only thing left to do is to remind us of the promise of God, “that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Whatever visits you, no matter how powerful it is, it is not beyond God’s ability to enter into it and work it for good.  Even more so, God has promised that he will personally enter into ever hardship and work it for good.  Even your own, willful sin is not beyond God’s ability to enter into and work for good.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is Good Friday, where the Son of God hung on the tree and all seemed lost.  But even in the midst of this great evil, God was at work to “do whatever his hand and his plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4.28).  While wicked men were driving nails into the Savior, God had entered into the suffering and was working it for good, not only for the good of Jesus but the good of the whole world.  The world you and I live in will intend much evil against us.  Oftentimes, because of our own personal sin, we will intend evil against ourselves.  But we have a wonderful promise, grounded in God’s power and his good will towards us.  ”You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50.20).  Ultimately, trusting in this marvelous promise is the stake God uses to pierce and destroy the very heart of our anxieties.





Rob Sturdy: Jesus, Puberty, and the Mid-Life Crisis

19 12 2011

In between readings of “Your Best Life Now,” I occasionally like to look back, dust off the cover of some old, stuffy theologian and see what he might have to say that was important enough to endure 1800 years of Christian thought.  To this end we turn to the early church father, Irenaeus. For those of you caught unawares, Irenaeus lived from 120-202 A.D., studied as pupil under Polycarp and later became the Bishop of Lyon (178).  He devoted much of his life to combating heresy, specifically the many heresies that fall under the big tent of Gnosticism.  His most famous work, adversus haereses, is a celebrated Christian classic.  While he is principally known for his defense of orthodox Christianity, Irenaeus is also known for his thoughts onrecapitulation, which actually speak in some quite important ways to major life changes (such as our title infers) that introduce no small degree of difficulty in our lives and leads us into no small measure of sin.

First off, what is recapitulation and why should I care?  Let’s begin with the condition of our humanity.  Genesis ch. 3 presents us with the narrative of the fall of humanity into sin and disobedience.  If Gen ch. 3 presents the fall, it is the Apostle Paul who presents the consequences of the fall.  The consequences are as follows:

1.   Sin came into the world through Adam’s disobedience (Rom 5.12)

2.   In the one man’s sin, all have sinned in him (Rom 5.12)

3.   Since all have sinned in him, all men have been made sinners (Rom 5.19)

4.   Death enters the world as penalty and condemnation for sin (Rom 5.14; 5.16)

5.   Death reigns over the world (Rom 5.14)

One quick note of clarification on point two.  How did all men sin in Adam?  Why does the responsibility not lay on his shoulders alone?  There are two ways to look at it.  The first way to look at it is through the lens of human solidarity.  Human solidarity is the rallying cry for all of us to band together against injustice, global warming, poverty, etc.  Why?  Because we are all one.  The one’s decisions affect the many.  Adam’s one decision, as the father of all humanity, has affected the many through his disobedience.  The second way to look at this is genetically.  The author of Hebrews can easily conceive of this, as he sees the Levites, born after Abraham, nevertheless part of Abraham as they were “still in the loins” of their ancestor (Heb 7.9-10).  Adam, the father of all humanity, carried a DNA that was radically corrupted by the fall, a corruption that he has not failed to pass down to each and every one of us.

So where is the specific application to puberty?  Well, this sin and disobedience passed down to us from Adam affects the whole of our life.  There is not one age, nor desire or motivation from that age that can be said to be free from the taint of Adam’s corruption.  From birth until death you and I will demonstrate through our private thoughts and our public actions that we are indeed heirs to a fallen race.  There are portions of our life when this is more evident than others and the two I have identified compose the title of this post although we could easily identify others.  However in terms of puberty, it is easy for the parents or concerned well-wishers to say, “it is just a phase,” or “he’ll grow out of it.”  While he may ”grow out of it,” it does not mean that it is merely a phase, but is evidence of a deep corruption of the soul that the individual may learn to disguise but will never grow out of nor escape from by his own power.  ”For was it was not possible that the man who had once for all been conquered (by sin), and who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself, and obtain the prize of victory” (Irenaeus, AH). 

What then can be done about this?  We have a two fold problem.  First, we need something (or someone?) to, like bleach through shirt stains,  pass through the many troubled layers of our lives (puberty, mid-life crisis, etc.) andwash them clean.  This will take care of the corruption.  However, as the Apostle Paul has already noted, corruption is not the only problem, but we also have to deal with the penalty for corruption and this is the greater problem.  When I was at military college, to have a stain on my shirt was a problem, but the real problem was the penalty that the sergeants would impose upon me for that stain.  To arrive before the throne of God with stains on the soul carries with it a penalty.  Namely, that we must be excluded from his presence (Psalm 5.4) and cast into hell.  So we not only need a solution to the corruption, we need to pay the price for the time that we have carried the corruption.  In Christ, we have a solution to both problems.

First off, the answer to the problem of our corruption.  Irenaeus writes “For He came to save all through means of Himself- all, I say, who through him are born again to God- infants, and children, and boys and youths and old men.  He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age…so likewise He was an old man for old men…Then at last, he came to death itself.”  Like bleach through many blankets, or a mighty river that over time wears through the surface of the earth, washing each layer as it passes through, so too Christ has passed through every stage of human life and sanctified it with his perfect life.  This means that Christ has passed through the utter selfishness of my infancy, the wild lusts of my teenage years, and the return of my selfishness in my twenties! and will be with me through every stage of life, having already passed through it and bound it to himself.  If then through I receive this gift through faith, he has passed through my life, then he has been my selfless infancy, he has been the purity of my teenage years, he has been the courage and innocence of my young adult life because in passing through my sin I have taken on his righteousness.  “Because of his measureless love,” Irenaeus writes, “He became what we are in order to enable us to become what He is.”

If we were to leave it here, however, we would be missing the crucial piece of the puzzle.  There is a difference between removing the stain of sin, as a simple matter of spring cleaning.  It is another thing altogether to remove the stigmaand penalty of sin.  This is what we turn to next.  As Christ has become an infant for infants, a teenager for teenagers, an adult for adults, and an old man for old men, he has not only cleansed their lives, but he has appropriated their lives to himself.  In a very real exchange, we have taken on his righteousness, but he has taken on our sinfulness.  To allude once again to our analogy of the river cutting great deeps into a canyon, the canyon rock is cleansed by the rushing river, but the river itself carries with it ever increasing amounts of sediment and filth from the canyon rock.  So it is with Christ, who after passing through humanity and cleansing it, leaving behind clean rock, the Christ himself has picked up our stench and filth and carried it straight to the throne of the Father…that he might bear the condemnation for our corruption.

Ireneaus writes:  “this then is what we call the day of retribution…this day does not signify one which consists of twelve hours, but the whole time during which believers in Christ suffer and are put to death” in Him, having been gathered together in his flesh and punished corporately in his crucifixion.

Adam introduced sin into the world, Christ passed through the sin cleansing it and gathering it to himself.  All who have descended from Adam sinned in Adam, but all who are descended from Christ through faith have been innocent in him.  Adam’s transgression brought the condemnation of death upon us all, but Christ gathering us to himself bore our condemnation releasing us from the penalty of death.  Adam’s descendants, sold as slaves to death and sin because of the debt of their father, are released not only because the debt is paid, but because they have a new Father in heaven that is indebted to no one.  Or, as Paul put it

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Rom 5.12-21)

This is the comfort of that peculiar word “recapitulation” and it is the marvelous work of Christ both in his incarnation, but especially upon his cross.





What should Christian parents do about Santa?

19 12 2011

they seem pretty comfortable together

I’ve been getting this question frequently over the past few weeks so I thought I might put something down briefly to try to be of some assistance.  At the beginning of our parenting my wife and I wrestled with this same question and I think we’ve come to a pretty good place. First we need to ask “why would you even ask the question?”  In other words, what’s the big deal?  I can zero in on two things that would be problematic for Christian parents:

  1. For the Christian, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus the redeemer of the world.  A man in a red suit who brings presents is a bit of a distraction to the “reason for the season.”
  2. The Bible is pretty clear that it is mom and dad’s responsibility to pass on their faith to their children.  This is a process largely built upon the trust that the child has in the parents to tell them the truth.  When parents don’t tell the truth about some things (i.e. Santa Claus) it may compromise their trustworthiness in other, more important matters like Jesus.  Iain put it well this morning when he said “Mom wouldn’t lie to me about a big man in the sky with a white beard who sees when I do right and do wrong and gives me rewards…oh wait…”

But if these reasons make you think I’m ready to rule Santa out, don’t think so fast.  I’ve got a few good reasons for keeping him in the game.

  1. It’s fun.  Despite what your fundamentalist friends tell you, Jesus isn’t against fun.
  2. You don’t want your kid to be “that kid.”  You know the one that makes all the other kids cry in day school when he says “there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”
  3. The fictional Santa Claus is modeled upon the historical person of St. Nicholas of Myra.  Turns out he wasn’t such a bad guy.  He was a faithful Bishop in the church who was tortured and imprisoned for his faith under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  In the fourth century he stood up for the full divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea.  It is said that inspired by Christ’s words to “sell all you have and give to the poor” (Luke 18.22) Nicholas did exactly that, using his vast wealth to give anonymous gifts to the poor.  This is why Santa Claus, modeled after Nicholas of Myra, distributes presents at Christmas time.  So “Santa,” or Nicholas of Myra is actually a concrete example of how the Lordship of Jesus Christ can move people to generosity and concern for the poor.

Which brings me to what we do in my household.

  1. Make Jesus central to Christmas time:  In my house we’ve been reading the birth narratives from the Jesus Story Book Bible.  After the reading, I might sing a Christmas hymn to David.  After the reading and the singing, we sit and talk about the story and the song and what it means.  Finally we pray.  I try and pray something that reinforces what we read or sang about.  All this to say during this time of year, like every other time of the year, we talk about Jesus a lot.  It gave me immense pleasure a few days ago my son remarked to a nursery worker “Jesus came at Christmas time to rescue us.  And he’s coming again!  But not yet.”
  2. Use Santa as a teaching tool:  Nicholas was of course a historical person.  More than that he was the type of man who I would want my son to be like.  He was a tough, courageous, Jesus loving man who had a reputation for extravagant generosity.  You might use Phil 2 to talk about the extravagant generosity of Jesus vacating his throne in heaven to rescue us and how this moves followers of Jesus (like Nicholas!) to forgo their own wealth and privileges to help those in need.  You might follow this up with something practical, like taking your little one to buy toys or clothes for a donation.  So in the same way Jesus moved Nicholas to generosity, Jesus can move your little ones to generosity.
  3. Make clear that Santa is pretend: In my home we play lots of games.  We’ve been reading the Chronicles of Narnia and since David is only three, it is hard for him to stay focused through a whole chapter.  To help him stay focused we act out the chapters after we’ve read them and this is always lots of fun for both of us.  Mommy is pretend Lucy.  Daddy is pretty Edmund (too bad for me!).  David is pretend Peter.  And finally our cat Rico is pretend Mr. Tumnus (yes, he hates it).  Santa is a great, fun, pretend game.  Much like our Narnia game, Santa is a game that can teach David some valuable things about Jesus.  The thing about a good pretend game is that reminding everyone that we’re just pretending ruins the game.  You don’ t need to remind everyone you’re pretending because everyone already knows it.  So David knows Santa is pretend.  We’ve told him.  But we don’t bring it up constantly. That would ruin the fun.




Rob Sturdy: The Glory of Christ and the Destruction of Sin

19 12 2011

I think it would be good for me to do a little explanation on the front end for why I have chosen these two themes, “the glory of Christ” and the “destruction of sin.” I think it would also be wise for me to explain why I have chosen such a hard sounding session for a “renewal” conference.  So let me begin with the two themes, and I trust that it will become clear in time how the two relate.  First the glory of Christ:

The Glory of Christ

Let me begin by saying that the glory of Jesus Christ is an all consuming passion of mine, and I believe it is a passion well ingrained in the language of Scripture.  First of all let me say from Scripture that I gain the sense that God the Father’s consuming passion is the glorification of his Son:

“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ (John 8.54)

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2.9-11)

Furthermore, the glorification of the Son is one of the if not the principle work of the Holy Spirit:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16.12-14)

I want to take a second and unpack that last verse for a moment.  Jesus says “I still have many things to say to you, but I won’t say them now.  I will say them later.”  But how will Jesus say them later if he leaves?  “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”  So the work of the Spirit is to come and complete the words of Jesus.  That is the action of the Spirit, and the fruit of that action is the New Testament.  Now I believe the next verse is crucial for how we read the new testament.  “He will glorify me,” that is when God the Holy Spirit inspires the New Testament into being he is inspiring words of Jesus’ glory into being.  The whole of this book is to be read as a praise song to the Lord Jesus.  If you read it in any other way you have wandered far off the rails of reading this book rightly.

Aside from the glory of Christ being an obvious passion of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Scripture it is also a personal passion.  In August and September of 1999 I had the great opportunity to read about Jesus for the first time in my life.  In August of 1999 I left my home in Alabama to study at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.  Wednesday of Hell Week we were escorted to the chapel where a team of chaplains greeted us and gave us Bibles.  It was not the first Bible I had ever owned, but it was the first Bible I had ever read.  By mid September I had made it clear through John’s Gospel and without knowing the cross, or the forgiveness of sins, or the adoption of sons, or of eternal life, I did know simply from reading about Jesus in John’s Gospel that Jesus was glorious.  I knew he was worth following and from that moment on I committed my life to following him.  I want to be very careful as I talk about commitment, because Christian commitment is not a work but a grace.  What do I mean by this?  Augustine described Christian commitment as grace best when he wrote:

Do not think that thou are drawn against thy will.  The mind is drawn also by love… “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart” (Psalm37.4).  There is a pleasure of the heart to which that bread of heaven is sweet.  Moreover, if it was right in the poet to say, “Every man is drawn by his own pleasure,” –not necessity, but pleasure, not obligation, but delight, -how much more boldly ought we to say that man is drawn to Christ?…Give me a man that loves, and he feels what I say.  Give me one that longs, one that hungers, one that is travelling in this wilderness, and thirsting and panting after the fountain of his eternal home; give such and he knows what I say

– Augustine, Homilies on John’s Gospel [1]

According to Augustine, Christian commitment is commitment to the extent that a thirsty man is committed to drinking a cup of water, or a hungry man is committed to eating a sandwich.  As Augustine says I was drawn by pleasure, not obligation but delight.  To the extent that is commitment, I suppose you could say I was committed, but I hope you now see what I mean by commitment as grace rather than as work.

And finally, I want to argue that a passion for the glory of Christ is one of the key distinguishing factors between a hypocrite and a true child of heaven.  As a pastor of a church I see men and women who have a Biblically informed worldview.  I also see many men and women who profess Christ as Lord and savior.  I also see a great deal of men and women who pray, attend worship, tithe, read their Bibles etc.  But where the rubber really hits the road for me relates to the glory of Christ and the desires of the heart.  Let me draw back for a moment in order to enhance this theme somewhat.  C. S. Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms had some interesting things to say about worship, praise, and glory and how they relate to the human heart.  He writes:

“I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”[2]

First you will notice from Lewis’ quote that all people worship something. Second you will notice that all people worship whatever they most value.  Thirdly you will notice that when people do this they take delight in it. And finally you will notice that because they delight in praising what they value, they cannot help but praise what they value. The true child of heaven worships Christ because they value him most, and delight in praising him because it is the consummation of their desire.  William Guthrie a Scottish Puritan living in the 1600’s once wrote:

“Hypocrites never apprehended Christ as the only satisfying good in all the world, for which with joy they would quite all; for then the kingdom of God were entered into them…The truly renewed man dare, and can upon good ground say, and hath a testimony of it from on high, that his heart hath been changed in taking up with Christ, and hath been led out after him, as the only enriching treasure in whom ‘to be found he accounteth all things else loss, and dung (Phil 3.8,9)”[3]

The Destruction of Sin

In regards to the destruction of sin let me first say that the destruction of sin is a calling placed up all those who have been adopted by the Father and called into the Body of Christ. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity,passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3.5).

1)      The destruction of sin directly relates to the glory of Christ.  “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2.24).  In a recent national survey the number one reason why people said they would not become Christians was because their principle experience with Christians was one of hypocrisy.

2)      Sin can keep us from the light of Christ.  “And this is the judgment:  the light has cominto the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3.19-20).  Many times in the lives of young Christians, not young in age but young in experience I have witnessed this phenomena.  They receive Christ.  Sin is dealt a crushing blow.  Their lives are visibly and dramatically changed, so much so that they begin to trust in their changed lives rather than in the God who changed it and they set up their changed life as a false God.  When that false God fails them, they withdraw from the God, from the church, and from the Godly people who have poured into them because they don’t want the sin, which they proclaimed form the rooftops as defeated to be exposed.

3)      Sin will be with us as long as we are in the body:  “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7.21-23).  I want to be clear that this seminar is not about abolishing sin in your life.  Rather, if Paul’s words resonate with you at all take heart!  For you would not even struggle if the Spirit of God were not struggling within you.

4)      Sin will sicken the “new man”.  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  Commenting on this verse John Owen writes:

“Paul affirms that the inward man is renewed day by day, while the outward man perishes.  Those who neglect mortification allow the inner man to perish.  Grace in the heart must have exercise.  If it is allowed to lie still, it withers and decays (Rev 3.2), and sin seeks to harden our hearts (Heb 3.13).  The omission of mortification withers grace while lust flourishes.  The frame of the heart grows worse and worse.  When sin gains a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul (Psa 31.10; 51.8).  It makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die (Psa 38.3-5), so that he cannot look up (Psa 40.12). [4]

5)       If you neglect the destruction of sin you will cause both yourself and those you love enormous pain. Read the rest of this entry »





Was Jesus born to die? Is Christmas really about the cross?

19 12 2011

I recently read a post from a pastor who I respect enormously.  Unfortunately, I found myself disagreeing with him!  Much like Calvin used to do when he disagreed with Luther, I will decline to name this pastor.  Rather than draw attention to the man, I will draw attention to his words for on this point they fall short of the mark.

He writes:

During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.

I must admit that I am sympathetic with this statement.  I’ve attended too many Christmas Eve worship services where the pastor made warm fuzzies of the babe born in the manger while neglecting the larger purpose of redemption.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus is born in the shadow of the cross.  He is a child whose fate is sealed.  He is a babe of destiny.

And if I were being honest, I would say that it is the crucifixion and not the incarnation which is the focal point of New Testament thought.  The cross is the thing that the New Testament authors continually return to.  Even John’s Gospel, which is the Gospel with the most mature articulation of the incarnation,  makes clear that the reason Jesus came was to suffer and die on the cross (John 12.27).

And while the cross must be given its due honor so must the manger.  The miracle in Bethlehem is not simply a stepping stone to Golgotha.  I am much more comfortable saying that Bethlehem and Golgotha are two sides of the same coin.  Each in its own special way reveals the glory of God.  Let us follow the argument of the Apostle Paul:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV)

In this passage, the Holy Spirit through Paul gives us a backstage pass to the person of Christ.  In this passage we get to know his mind, how he thinks.  Now to fully illustrate this it would be worth reflecting on our mind.  Most of the people who will read this post today are what we might call small fish in a big pond.  But this is not how most of us consider ourselves.  Most of us consider ourselves to be big fish and we feel entitled to all the benefits that big fish are entitled to.  But this is not the mind of Christ.  He is a big fish.  He was in the form of God.  But he doesn’t have the mind of a big fish.  He has the mind of a small fish.  He “made himself nothing.”  He takes on the form of a servant.  Even though he’s God, he becomes a human.

Now I know a few college grads who have been looking for work for years.  They could get a job in the service industry but they won’t.  ”I’m a college grad,” they say which is just another way of saying “I’m too good for that kind of work.”  All of us on some level have this operating in our hearts.  ”I’m too good for that.”  Imagine a Doctor who willingly leaves his practice to become a garbage man.  Imagine this and you will not have even begun to plumb the depths of Bethlehem.  Imagine a King who willingly becomes a worm and you might be getting closer.  God willingly made himself nothing and became a man.

Paul does not view God making himself a man as merely a stepping stone to the cross.  Rather he sees this as part of larger project to reveal the mind of Christ.  Paul goes on to say:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8 ESV)

Now what is Paul drawing attention to here?  The cross?  Not so fast.  Rather it is the humbling and condescension of Christ that Paul is drawing attention to here.  Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to death.  Mark the astounding nature of this.  God became a man.  More than that he became a man who would die.  More than that!  He became a man who would die on a device designed to shame and torture those who hung upon it!  All this to say, mark the humility of the Son of God!

Paul concludes this section of Philippians by saying:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

Now why has God highly exalted him?  It is tempting to say “because of the cross!”  But this would be to miss the thrust of this passage.  The exaltation of Christ is not a Medal of Honor.  By this I mean, the exaltation of Christ is not a reward for one brave action.  Rather the exaltation of Christ is more like a lifetime (an eternity!)  achievement award.  God exalts Christ because of his character, his mind and how his mind is made manifest throughout eternity.  And what is his mind?  His mind is that even though he is the creator, if necessary he would take on the form of a created thing.  Even though he had a home in heaven, he would be born in a stable.  Even though he is Lord of all, he would become a servant.  Even though he is immortal, he would submit himself to death.  And even though he is sinless, he would die for sinner’s sake.  That is who he is.  That is the character of the God we worship.

Bethlehem does not acquire our redemption.  But make no mistake about it, the same character that moved the Son of God to be born in a stable is the same character that moved him to die on the cross.  Understood this way, both Bethlehem and Golgotha are stepping stones.  But stepping stones to what?  Stepping stones to see the glory of God in his loving mercy, his sacrificial kindness, and his unbelievable humility.

What do we learn from Bethlehem and Golgotha?  We learn a little something about ourselves.  If it took so much from God to recover us, we must have fallen very far from him.  The more serious the treatment the more serious the disease.  How terrible must have been the disease that necessitated Bethlehem and Golgotha!   But the good news is that the character of the Son of God is such that there is no place too low, no shame too shameful, no sin too sinful, no pain too painful, to keep the Son of God away from pursuing those he loves.  That’s just who he is.  That just might be the best news of all.