January 31, 2013

The Math of the Gospel, part 2

In the last post I suggested that Robert M’Cheyne’s famous statement – “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ” – is good, gospel mathematics. Here is how we become healthy, happy, and holy in Christ – not by constant introspection, but by looking away from ourselves, and to the author and perfecter of our faith; not by over-much emphasis on the subjective aspects of Christian piety, but rather on the objective truth and beauty of Jesus! And at a 10 to 1 ratio!

“For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” If we adopt this strategy, at least three common Christian ills will be cured. The first is doubt, or the lack of assurance of our salvation. We become more and more certain of our acceptance with God, not by constantly analyzing our own varied and paltry attempts at loving God, but by grasping how much He loves us in Christ! And the way to grasp His love is to think far more often about it, than we do about our own; by taking ten looks at Jesus for every one look at ourselves!

But there are other ills – sometimes diametrically opposed to one another – that beset even earnest Christians. And yet they, too, may be cured using the same biblical strategy: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” Let me list two more such ills:

2. Pride. Some Christians look in the mirror, and see every reason for doubting their salvation. Others’ mirrors seem to flatter them – something like the wicked stepmother in Snow White – into thinking that they really are among the fairest of people! They have arrived … or so they think, when looking in the mirror. Their problem is the exact opposite of the person who looks in the mirror and (rightly!) sees no reason why Christ should love them. And yet the solution is the same. Look away from the mirror, and look ten times more often to Jesus! For, when we look at ourselves under the bright hue of His perfect holiness, love, and beauty … the portrait in the mirror begins to show up for what it really is – a poor, poor imitation! So, if you struggle with spiritual pride, heed M’Cheyne’s counsel: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

3. Drought. Sometimes our one look at self reveals to us, not that we should doubt our salvation; nor that we are the picture of Christian piety; but that our souls, though truly saved, have grown a little dry and dusty. This is where that one look comes in handy! We do need to practice self-examination so that we realize when our soul is sliding into lethargy, coldness, or drought! But, while the look at self can reveal the problem to be tackled, it cannot provide the cure! An illustration may help us here. Your lawn will not turn from brown to green, this August, simply by your analyzing how dry it has been. You have to turn on the water! And you will need to spend a lot more time with the hose in your hand, than in talking about how bad the drought has been! And so it is with spiritual drought. Look at self, yes! But once you have seen that the grass needs watering, stop looking at the grass, and get yourself in a hurry to where the water may be found – namely, in Jesus (John 4.14)! For every look at your dry, parched soul … look ten times more often at the fountain of living water that is Jesus!

January 28, 2013

10 to 1 - The Math of the Gospel

The famous Scots pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), was eminently quotable. Perhaps his most celebrated statement is: “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” Would that every pastor thought that way! M’Cheyne also said, famously: “A man is what he is on his knees before God, nothing more.” Would that every Christian believed that!

But for all his wonderful (and needful!) sayings about self-examination and personal holiness, M’Cheyne knew better than most of us how to look away from himself, and unto Jesus. He knew that, if we only always look at how we are doing – how we are advancing in holiness; how we are when on our knees – we will soon find ourselves cold and lifeless in the Christian faith. Love and zeal for Jesus are not cultivated by looking long at ourselves, but at Jesus! And so M’Cheyne gave this marvelous advice to those who might spend too much time, and place too much weight, upon introspection:

For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.

Splendid advice, I say! “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” In other words, and on the one hand, it is not wrong for Christians to engage in self-examination (we are, M’Cheyne says, to take a “look at self” every now and again). And yet, while it is right and necessary that we do so, we mustn’t linger long in front of the mirror … but turn our gaze quickly to the Lord Jesus Himself! It is in fixing our eyes on Him that we gain the strength to run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12.1-2). It is in gazing at Him that we find ourselves transformed into His image (2 Cor. 3.18). And it will be in looking, again and again, at Him that the Holy Spirit will breathe into us a desire for the aforementioned personal holiness and fervent prayer! So take M’Cheyne’s advice, I urge you: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” 10 to 1! This is the math of Christian health! Really, it's the math of the gospel itself – the good news is about Jesus, not us

Over the course of two posts, in order to urge you on in this pursuit, let me mention three common Christian ills that such gospel math will cure:

1. Doubt. Many a Christian – especially in more serious circles – struggles with a lack of assurance. Perhaps you are one of them ... always asking: Do I really believe in Jesus? Am I truly born again? Do I have enough evidences of grace to say, assuredly, that I am in Christ? Those are not bad questions – especially if there is little or no evidence of fruit in our lives. But many people who are producing fruit (albeit slowly) doubt their salvation unnecessarily. They forget that their surety lies, not in how much they love God, but in how much He loves them … enough to send His Son to be the propitiation for their sins (1 John 4.10)! Looking too much at self will do that to you. It will take your eyes off the wonderful news of the cross, and make it seem as though the marrow of the Christian life lies in the Christian’s love for Christ (rather than Christ’s love for the Christian)!

Don’t mishear me, now. Christians should (and must!) love Christ … dearly so! But our affections are so fickle; so tainted with the residue of indwelling sin; so clouded over with failures that it is never safe to base our supposed standing with God on how well we love Christ. The fact is that you will never love Him as He deserves! But He loves you more than you deserve! And that is where both M’Cheyne, and the New Testament writers, would have us focus our attention. “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

See part 2.

January 21, 2013

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet! - Thoughts on God and Yellowstone

For Christmas, our family was given a set of DVD documentaries called the National Parks Exploration Series – up close and personal looks at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Badlands, and so on. We’ve not watched them all yet, but I have to say that the most impressive so far has been the feature on Yellowstone. The bears, elk, and bison; the mountain peaks; the lakes; the geysers (Old Faithful in particular); the Grand Prismatic spring; a waterfall that plummets farther, straight down, than Niagara – all of this, and more, seems to make Yellowstone a must-see for family fun and adventure, and for beholding the handiwork of God at some of its most breath-taking! Someday maybe we’ll load all the kids up and hit the road to see it all!

Well, actually … we won’t be able to see it all. In fact, one of the most poignant portions of the documentary was hearing a park ranger, whose career is dedicated to knowing and showing Yellowstone Park on a daily basis, say (I'm paraphrasing): ‘No matter how long I work here, every day holds new surprises. To me, that is the most wonderful thing about Yellowstone – the fact that it is too vast for me to ever fully see or know all its treasures.’

I found that to be a striking and moving statement – ‘I love the fact,’ she said, ‘that, try as I might, I will never know it all. The park is too grand and glorious!’ In a world that has oceans of information at its fingertips; in a culture where we seem to want (and be able) to know almost everything about almost anything … there are still some treasures so grand, so complex and varied, so majestic that even the experts cannot know everything there is to know about them!

Even more arresting, though, was that this particular expert finds a peculiar joy in the fact that she will never fully know it all! It pleases her to realize that, try as she might, she will never get her mind all the way around Yellowstone! She is not celebrating ignorance, you understand. Without doubt, this woman knows a great deal more about Yellowstone than 99.99% of the world – and she surely delights in knowing what she knows, and passing it along to park visitors! But what is even more delightful to her, she said, is realizing that this thing, this beauty, this glory which she knows so well is actually even more glorious than she could ever fully fathom! Her delight, in other words, is not in the fact that she doesn’t know certain of Yellowstone’s wonders, and can’t answer every question … but in the realization that she gets to go to work every day in a place whose wonders are too many to ever possibly see or count! She’ll never run out of new and thrilling discoveries to make!

And I simply make this corollary: If such wonder and amazement can be engendered by a forty by sixty mile stretch of wilderness in northwest Wyoming, how much more in the God who created that wilderness, and who, Himself, fills heaven and earth? God is like Yellowstone National Park – only on a larger-than-the-universe scale! We can never, in a million lifetimes, know all there is to know of Him! Yes, we ought to live and die trying. We ought to know more and more of Him with every passing year of reading His word and observing His world. But He is so grand, so finely contoured in His being and attributes, so majestic and complex and holy … we’ll never know it all! And, far from being disappointed with the fact that we will never master God, we delight in it! We will never grow bored of studying and knowing Him! Rather, we get to gaze, every day of our lives – and on into eternity – at a God, the many contours and colors of whose triune Person we will never finish tracing out! There will always be something more to see; something better to understand; something more delightful and majestic and thrilling than we first realized! In short, one of the greatest delights of spending a lifetime studying and knowing Him ought to be the enchanting realization, at the end of it all, that our God is so grand that (as they say), ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet!’

January 14, 2013

The Mamas and the Papas

Recently I have taken to calling Julia ‘little Tobey.’ Though I mean it as a compliment, she hasn’t taken to kindly to it – so I guess I’d better lay off. But it almost can’t be helped! Julia reminds me, in so many (good) ways, of her mom! Her retort, though, is to call me ‘Teeny grandpa.’ And, the older I get, the more she is right. I see more and more of my father in myself! Don’t we all?!

All of this reminds me of the great influence that parents have on their children. Whether we (or our kids!) like it or not … the apple usually doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? Our kids imitate our facial expressions, our eating habits, our passions, our speech-patterns, and a whole host of other idiosyncrasies that they see every day in mom and dad. They also, in many ways, imitate our spiritual habits. That is not to say that Christian parents guarantee Christian children. They don’t. Nor is it to deny the fact that Jesus has come to redeem us from “the futile way of life inherited from [our] forefathers” (1 Peter 1.18). He has! – such that many wonderful Christian people come from many of the most un-Christian backgrounds! That is part of the glory of the gospel! But, within Christian families especially (where children learn to respect and look up to mom and dad), the kids often do grow up to imitate many of the spiritual habits of their parents – for better, and sometimes for worse. Kids who grow up in church every Sunday have a lot easier time continuing that habit with their own families. Kids whose dads lead in family worship each evening will have a much easier time carving out such time in their own adulthood. Children whose parents sing heartily during Sunday worship learn that it’s OK for them to do the same. Children from homes where Christianity is practiced seven days a week, not four days a month, tend to make such faith their own. And the list could go on!

What am I trying to say? That the mamas and the papas are vitally important in the church! Perhaps more than Christians at any other stage or station in life, parents with children in the home are intense disciple-makers. Moms and dads have evangelistic and discipleship opportunities like almost no other Christian can have – including full-time pastors and even missionaries – such is the close contact with their young tutors! And we will make disciples out of our kids, for better or for worse!

So this is a plea – first of all to those who are not (or are no longer) in the day-to-day topsy-turvy mission field of child-rearing: Pray for those who are! It is a more difficult task than we knew when we got ourselves into this business; and a more weighty responsibility than almost any other in the world. So please, pray for the parents in your church! They need it!

Second, this is a plea to parents … to realize and accept the responsibility you have undertaken. Don’t abdicate your spiritual responsibility by just ‘getting by’ as a parent. Your kids need more out of the 18 years they spend in your home than a high school diploma, a college scholarship, and a few good manners and morals. They need a daily example of what real, humble, joyful, consistent, grace-filled Christianity really looks like, lived out live and in person. They need to see the Sunday sermons fleshed out in the example of their parents. They need someone to teach the Bible to them seven days a week, and to show them how delightful is a Christian home filled with songs of praise. They need to be taught, by 18 years’ worth of habit, that Sunday is the best and most important day of the week … and that the other six days should be built around this one day of feasting for the soul. They need to hear you admit your own sins and seek forgiveness (from them, and from the Lord) so that they understand that Christianity is not, first of all, about being a good person, but about receiving the good news of forgiveness and fresh starts for not-so-good persons! They don’t need perfection. But they do need consistency, and the absence of hypocrisy. They need to grow up and say: ‘I want to be like my mom and dad. I want to have faith like theirs, and joy like theirs, and a church family like theirs. And most of all, I want their Jesus.’

Yes, ultimately, our children need Jesus, not just mom and dad. And while no parent can give them Jesus (a role reserved only for the Holy Spirit) – every parent ought, by their own speaking of Jesus, and reading the words of Jesus aloud to the family, and singing to Jesus, and trusting in Jesus, and confessing to Jesus, and loving Jesus, and becoming a little more like Jesus all the time … every parent ought, I say, to be about making little disciples of Jesus in their home. Let’s give it everything we’ve got!

January 8, 2013

Who am I?

That was Moses’ question when God spoke to him from the burning bush (Exodus 3), commissioning him to go speak with Pharaoh, and to bring his kinsmen, the Israelites, out of their bondage in Egypt: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (v.11).

Now, of course, we know Moses’ much more famous question from that day, don’t we? ‘Supposing the sons of Israel ask me Your Name, Lord … what shall I tell them? Who are You?’ To that question, God responded with one of the greatest self-declarations in the Bible: “I am who I am”! So it was an all-important question – Who are You? But almost as important as Moses’ asking God ‘Who are You?’ was his asking God, rhetorically, “Who am I?” In other words, ‘how could I have been chosen for such a task? Little old me? Sinful me? Moses, the lowly shepherd? The murderer? The fugitive? How on earth, Lord, could You possibly be selecting me for this job? “Who am I?”’

David asked the very same question when God informed him that his royal dynasty would endure forever, and that his sons would reign on the throne of Israel, world without end: “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7.18). ‘How,’ in other words, ‘could you have possibly picked me and my family for such an honor and privilege? David, the shepherd boy? The youngest in my family? The outcast at Ziklag? “Who am I?” He had even greater reason to ask such a question later in life, when he had been enabled to gather together the various supplies and hardware for the building of God’s house: “Who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this?” (1 Chronicles 29.14). ‘How can my dirty hands be the ones to make bring such gifts? David, the adulterer? The failed parent? “Who am I?”’

And then, David’s son, Solomon, found himself asking the same question, in 2 Chronicles 2.6, when it came time for the actual construction of God’s house: “Who am I, that I should build a house for Him?” ‘Look at how young and inexperienced I am … and an illegitimate son, at that? “Who am I?”’

I submit to you that this ought to be the motto of every Christian – “Who am I?” Whatever it is that God has called you to do; whatever blessings he has bestowed upon you; whatever Christian attainments He has enabled you to achieve … there are surely many reason you can think of why you were a very unlikely candidate for such favor from God! We can all say “who am I?”, and then add a whole list of personal disqualifications that substantiate our question, can we not? And yet, in Christ, God has chosen us just the same … to be vessels for honor in His house; to speak His words like Moses; to build up His house like Solomon; to be a part of an everlasting kingdom, like David. It is astonishing, when we pause to think about it, isn’t it? ‘“Who am I” that God has brought me this far? That He should use me to bring others into His kingdom? That He should make a saint out of a sinner? That He should call me His child? That He should have sent His only Son to die for me?  How could He have picked me?’

Never lose your wonder at God’s salvation of you! Never stop asking: “Who am I?”!

January 7, 2013

Red Letter January's

On a couple of previous January's, we at PRBC have spent the month (Sundays and Wednesdays) considering the words of Jesus from some portion of Scripture or other.  One year we spent the month meditating on His words from the cross.  Another we spent mulling His letters to the churches in Asia Minor. 

This year, Lord willing, we'll spend our January considering His various "I am" sayings in the gospel of John: "I am the bread of life;" "I am the Light of the world;" "Before Abraham was born, I am."  Click through to our sermon archives to follow along!

Also, here's the red letter collection so far:

The Collected Letters of Jesus Christ
Revelation 1-22 - Introduction to Revelation
Revelation 1.1-11 - Editor's Preface*
Revelation 1.1-20 - Biographical Sketch of the Author*
Revelation 2.1-7 - To the Ephesians*
Revelation 2.8-11 - To the Smyrnites*
Revelation 2.12-17 - To the Pergamites*
Revelation 2.18-29 - To the Thyatirans*
Revelation 3.1-6 - To the Sardisians*
Revelation 3.7-13 - To the Philadelphians*

The Seven Words of Jesus from the Cross
Luke 23.34 - "Father, forgive them"
John 19.28 - "I am thirsty"
John 19.30 - "It is finished"

January 2, 2013

So that our Joy may be Complete

“These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”
1 John 1.4

Those words struck me as I read them this past week. They are, of course, the apostle John’s rationale for writing his first little gospel letter. He was writing, yes, for the benefit of his readers – to help them know whether or not they were truly in the faith. More importantly, John was also surely writing for the glory of God – just the way a Christian ought to do every task, whether he particularly enjoys it or not! But John did enjoy writing this letter! In fact, he wrote it precisely because he knew that doing so would contribute to his own joy! Writing it, he said in verse 3, would bring his readers into fellowship with himself and his fellow apostles; and, more than that, into fellowship “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” And what gladness would spring up in John’s heart because of it!

Indeed, what better privilege can any of us have than to communicate the good news of Jesus such that people come to be a part of God’s family; and thus, a part of ours as well? Or such that those who are already in the family become more integral to it? That is what happens when we communicate Bible truth (either in writing, like John; or verbally, and in person) – people come into (or farther into) the household of faith! And when they do, our joy is made complete!

Do you want 2013 to be the most joyful year yet? Do you want to smile more, and sing more, and praise God more, and be more content? Listen to the apostles’ secret of joy: “These things we write” – and email, and tweet, and preach, and share across the cafeteria table, and teach to our children – “so that our joy may be made complete”!

So then … will you do two things this year?

First, if you receive benefit from these few lines, posted week-by-week, will you pray for their usefulness, and for their author? Perhaps when a particular article is helpful to you, just stop and pray that the Lord will make it so for many other people … bringing them into (or deeper into) fellowship with God and His people. That would bring me great joy … and the Father, Son, and Spirit great glory!

Second, will you consider how it is that your own joy may be made complete in 2013? To whom do you need to write or speak about Jesus – “the Word of Life” (1 John 1.1) who “was manifested to us” (v.2), and whose blood (v.7) “cleanses us from all sin”? Who, in the year ahead, might come into fellowship with God, and with His people, through your diligent witness? It may be a one-time encounter, in which you walk him or her through the simple gospel from beginning to end. It may be through a series of letters, intentionally leading someone, by the hand, to Jesus. It may be through a one-on-one Bible reading – say, through the gospel of Luke. Or it may be that, here and there, you simply sow dozens of little seeds that God will continue watering in ways you know not – so that, by your sowing in hope, heaven’s population will be bigger than you thought!

Whether you see these various people coming into fellowship with Christ and with His bride now; or whether you never know what God did with that seed until heaven – one thing is sure: If you will write and speak the gospel in 2013, your joy will be made complete!

January 1, 2013

Daily Bible Reading ... for Kids!

For all of you parents (or grandparents) with young readers ... let me introduce you to what I hope will be a very helpful resource.  The document linked below is intended to help your kids read a small potion of scripture every day (from the four gospels), and get them to spend just a brief moment thinking or re-thinking about what they just read.  

It's a 55 page word document, with:

*Each page containing a week's worth of daily readings
*Each day's reading coming with either a question to answer, or a verse to copy
*A column to the right of each page, for writing prayers

Over the course of a year or so, your child will have read through all four gospels, learned how to begin reflected on what he or she has just read, and begun a daily Bible reading habit that may last a lifetime!

So I hope you'll download, print, hole-punch, put in a three-ring binder, and enthuse your kids about this plan!

Now, without further ado, click here to download.

Thanks to David Murray for providing this great resource!  From the looks of things, I think he may eventually add a year 2, year 3, etc. that will further the reading into the rest of the New Testament.