May 24, 2011

Lessons Learned in Europe, Part 1

Having just spent two weeks in Europe, I must say that I came away absolutely amazed at much of what I saw – marvelous castles perched on the edge of five-hundred-foot cliffs; snow-topped mountains; gorgeous green meadows with fluffy sheep by the thousands; stunning cathedrals; thousand-year-old city walls and gates; and even common houses that are older than our entire nation! In Europe, there seems to be character, quaintness, and remarkable history to be found at nearly every turn and in every city, town, and humble village.

And embedded in it all are a number of very obvious spiritual lessons – some of them heart-warming; others depressing; and all of them relevant even to people living across the pond in modern America! So I propose to use the next several of these articles to share some of my observations with you; to point out some spiritual lessons I learned simply from having spent two weeks among the mountains, spires, towers, and people of western Europe.

The first thing that struck me on my travels was Europe’s amazing Christian history. Everywhere we went – from modern Germany, to alpine Switzerland, to little Liechtenstein, to the hustle and bustle of downtown Glasgow, we saw gigantic church buildings. In fact, very often we saw several such buildings all within eye-shot of one another – and from the same denominations! Meaning? There was a time when so many people were going to church each Sunday that (in the cities anyway) churches had to be built every few blocks to accommodate all the worshippers! And, consequently, there are heroic stories of faith to be found all over the place.

For instance, in a single day in Scotland, I was able to see: two different martyrs’ monuments; the oldest Protestant-built church building in Scotland; the birthplace of the great reformer John Knox; the home and church of John Brown (who prepared one of the first ‘Study Bibles’ in the English language); the church where Horatius Bonar preached to hundreds and wrote hymns like “Not what my Hands have Done”; and the birthplace and churches pastored by my historical hero, Thomas Boston. All of these men and sites are world famous. And I did all of them in one day, before dinner … bypassing many other interesting historical sites and monuments along the way!

In Germany, I got 3-4 minutes alone in the tiny little study where Martin Luther holed up while fleeing from Roman Catholic persecution … and where he translated (in three months!) the entire New Testament into German – opening up the word of God to untold thousands of Germans who had never been able to read it before; and paving the way for the Bible to be translated into virtually all the other languages of Europe, to the salvation of millions of souls ever since. And here I was in the very room where it took place! Absolutely amazing and humbling!

So what’s my point? That we should all take a tour of Europe? Wouldn’t that be nice! But whether we ever stand in Luther’s study, or pray inside Thomas Boston’s ruined church, the point is that we ought to be immensely grateful for our Christian history. We ought to know it far better than we do. We ought to study the past so that we might praise God for the marvelous works He has done; so that we might learn from history’s mistakes and successes; so that we might be spurred to pray that God might move again the way He did, say, at the time of the Reformation; and so that we might be humbled – i.e. that we might not be so foolish as to think that our generation is ‘so far ahead’ of the men and women of old. A simple tour through the streets of Edinburgh or the castles of Luther’s Saxony would show us how far we have to grow … but also how capable God is of helping us do so! So I say thank God for Christian history!

May 16, 2011

Glory, Majesty, Dominion, and Authority

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 24-25

Jude’s epistle closes on a triumphant note. “To Him who is able” – namely to “the only God and Savior” – Jude wants his readers to ascribe “glory, majesty, dominion and authority”. He finishes his letter by urging us, his readers, to give God the praise and the honor that are justly His!

Ascribe to Him glory, Jude says. Recognize that it’s all about Him; that we exist for His fame, not our own. God keeps us (v.24); and we should keep ourselves … yes, for our own good. But even more importantly, God does these things, and we work with Him to do them ourselves, for the sake of His “glory”! That’s why we exist, as the old catechisms remind us: “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.

And then also, Jude says, we should ascribe majesty to our God. We should recognize that He is a great and marvelous King. We should be awed by Him. We should see the majesty of the recent British royal wedding, and then say to ourselves: ‘If there is that much pageantry, and ceremony, and beauty, and attention given to the prince of England … how much more does the King of Heaven deserve that we should make His praise great; that we should worship Him in the beauty of holiness, and with all our might?’ God is majestic! And we should treat Him that way!

Thirdly, Jude says that we should ascribe to God dominion. Unlike most of the kings and princes of our day, God is not just a figurehead potentate. He does not have a parliament through which He must work to make decisions. No! This King still has a realm under His absolute control. He is a true King! And, of course, His “dominion” is a vast one … stretching from one end of the infinite universe to the other! And we should ascribe this power to our God! We should recognize, and have no doubt of the fact, that He is in absolute control over everything that we see … and over billions upon billions of pieces of the created order that we will never see! God owns it all! He has “dominion” over the entire universe!

And, because He has dominion, we ought, also, to recognize His authority. If this God is King of everything we see, then He’s King over us! And, instead of making Him force us to fall in line with His dominion, we ought to voluntarily bow the knee to Him; we ought to voluntarily submit to His “authority”. He is the King! So who are we poor little spiritual peasants to question His rule, or to shirk our responsibilities to Him?

‘O’, Jude says, ‘let us grant our God “glory, majesty, dominion and authority”’. And let us do so, not just every now and again; not just on Sundays at 11am … but “before all time and now and forever.”

And let us do so, Jude says “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s important! God has designed the universe for His own glory. But He has also designed it in such a way as to create maximum glory for Himself by bring people to worship, and adore, and trust in His Son! When knees bow to Jesus, the Father is glorified (Philippians 2.11). And that’s the same thing Jude is saying here. The way to glorify “the only God our Savior” is to glorify Him “through Jesus Christ”. The way to glorify the Father is to glorify His Son!

So, as we conclude our long, slow meander through the epistle of Jude, I close by asking you if Jesus is your everything. Is He? If He is, then you will most certainly contend earnestly for the faith (vv.1-3) … because the faith is about this Jesus! If He is, well then you will have no problem recognizing and avoiding false teachers (vv.4-19) … because you know and love the true one so well! If Jesus is your everything, then you will always have plenty of fuel to throw on the fires of your love for God (vv.20-23). And if Jesus is all the world to you, then, in glorifying Jesus, you will always find yourself, of necessity, ascribing “glory, majesty, dominion and authority” to His Father!

May 9, 2011

93 Sermons on Luke!

After studying through Luke in different parts of four years, we have finally completed our sermon series on the entire gospel! 93 sermons! Only the last 85 were recorded digitally, sorry!

To listen, click through to our sermon archives and sort the sermons, by series, by clicking on the "series" heading at the top of the column on the far right. Then just scan down, in alphabetical order, to "Luke: The Life and Times of Jesus".

To Him who is Able

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 24-25

Jude 21 (which spent the last three weeks considering) presents a foundational Christian truth. We have a responsibility to fan our own love for God into flame. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves in love with God. That is absolutely basic … and vitally important for us to understand. But I want you to notice that Jude 24 presents a truth even more fundamental, and basic, and vital for our understanding. For, in that verse, Jude reminds us that it’s not just that we must keep ourselves, but that God Himself is actually keeping us, too! Jude 24 is about “Him who is able to keep you”! And what that means is that, even when you are keeping yourself in love with God, it’s actually God who is keeping you, so that you can keep yourself!

God is the one who gives you strength to walk in His ways, and to love His truth, and so on! Even though you have a responsibility to keep yourself, it is actually God’s keeping that allows you to do so! This is why we believe in the eternal security of the believer – not because we have great confidence in ourselves to do all that Jude 20-23 commands. But because we have great confidence in God to do what Jude 24-25 describes!

God is able! He is the one who keeps you in the faith, ultimately! He is the one, Jude says, who is able to sustain you … and in three specific ways:

First, God “is able to keep you from stumbling”. And that is so important in a book which has dealt so much with the dangers of false prophets. Along the way, we have noticed nineteen traits of the false teachers; nineteen ways we can recognize them and their errors. And we might think to ourselves: ‘How am I ever going to remember it all? What if I forget some of those nineteen, and end up falling prey to the very kinds of men Jude warns about?’ Well, ultimately, your remembering and your preservation from falling into damning error depends on God. He is the one who is “able to keep you from stumbling” … even when you are weak and gullible! And the same is true on a moral plane. There are so many temptations, within and without, aren’t there? How do we navigate them all? How do we keep from making shipwreck of our faith? Well, there are things we must do! But, beneath those things is an assurance that, if we truly belong to Christ, then He Himself will keep us from stumbling! “He is able”!

But then Jude also says that this God “is able … to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless.” Now there are two amazing things that Jude says there. The first is the amazement that we could even stand before God’s glory at all! When we consider our record; when we look at our rap-sheet; and then when we consider that God is holy, holy, holy … how could we ever expect to do anything but cower and grovel and weep in His presence? And yet Jude says He’s able to make us stand! And not only to stand, but to do so with a clean record; to do so blamelessly! How can it be? Only because God sent His Son to live and die with a clean record in our place … so that when we stand before God, we are wrapped in the cloak of Jesus’ righteousness! We couldn’t have cleaned our garments ourselves, but He “is able” to make us “blameless” in Jesus!

And then, thirdly, Jude says that God “is able to make us stand in the presence of His glory … with great joy.” And, again, this ought to amaze us. To think of standing before the thrice holy God ought to make us sinners tremble with fear. How can we stand before Him? On our own, there’s no way! But, in Christ, we can not only keep from keeling over in His presence, but actually stand there rejoicing because we know He will approve of us! And, again, that is all His doing, not our own! He is the one who is “able” to allow us great joy even in His holy presence; because He is the one who loved us enough to send His only Son to die in our place!

That is the good news! Our whole salvation – whether it be the ability to keep from stumbling; or the ability to stand before God without fear of judgment – has nothing to do with who we are or what we have done. You only stand, and you only keep standing because “He is able to keep you”!

May 3, 2011

"Keep yourselves in the love of God" - The Sermon Series

I've been posting, the last three weeks, from Jude 20-23 - and specifically from the phrase "keep yourselves in the love of God". If these articles have been helpful to you, know that we also did a sermon study on these four verses last summer. Here's the run down

Jude 20-23 - "Keep yourselves in the love of God"

Trusting you'll be encouraged, challenged, and blessed.

May 2, 2011

"Keep yourselves in the love of God", Part 3

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Jude 20-23

Last week we began looking at four ways we can “keep ourselves in the love of God”; four logs we can throw onto the fire of our devotion to the Lord to keep it burning brightly, according to Jude 20-23. Here they are again:

1. “building [ourselves] up on our most holy faith”
2. “praying in the Holy Spirit”
3. “waiting anxiously” for the Lord’s return
4. having “mercy” on the doubting and the unbelieving

We took a long look at the first of those practical bits of wisdom in the last article. So let’s tackle the other three today. How do we keep our love for God burning hot?

Secondly, by praying in the Holy Spirit. Again, that almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it? How do we fan into flame our love for God? Study the Bible (#1) and pray (#2)! It sounds like children’s Sunday School, doesn’t it? But maybe children’s Sunday School is more profound than we thought! Maybe if we adults would go back to the basics, we’d be a lot better off! For it really is true that a central key to growing in love with God is just to talk to Him! To set aside daily time for communion with Him. And not just for asking for things! But time set aside to pour out your heart to Him; to confess your sins; and to react to what you just read in His word! This is what we need! And we need it, not only personally, but corporately as well! And so I urge you to please cultivate you own private prayer life, and to please make an effort to be a part of your church's corporate times of prayer … and see if your love doesn’t grow!

But now a third way to keep yourself in the love of God; to fan into flame your devotion – by waiting anxiously for Jesus’ return. I believe that is what Jude means when he speaks of “waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” For when will “eternal life” be consummated? When Jesus returns, of course! And so what Jude is doing is reminding us that a readiness and an eagerness for Jesus’ second coming will actually fan the flames of our love for Him! By contemplating all that Jesus will do and be for us when we see Him face-to-face, our zeal for Him will grow! And so I urge you to do it! Set your mind on things above, as Paul says elsewhere! Think on the realities of the eternal world – a world bought for you with Jesus' precious blood, and brought to you with Jesus’ second coming … and see if your love doesn’t grow!

And then Jude mentions a fourth way we can keep our love for God lit – by having mercy on sinners, doubters, and backsliders. Isn’t that what he says in verses 22-23? We keep ourselves in the love of God by snatching people out of the fires of hell; by bringing people from doubt to faith! And haven’t you experienced this? Haven’t you seen how encouraging it can be when we see someone come to faith; or come back to the faith? When someone we have long prayed for turns from darkness to light? It revives our own zeal, doesn’t it! It gives us renewed fervor for the Lord’s work. And it reminds us of that time when our eyes were first opened, too! And in all these ways, our love for God is fanned into flame. So get busy trying to win people to Christ; trying to rescue backsliding church-goers; trying to help the doubters … and see if your own love doesn’t grow!