Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Of First Importance... The Gospel

Lord, may our hearts be refreshed and reminded this morning of the gospel -- the good news of Jesus.  By the power of the Spirit, I pray you would remind us of who we were, what you've done for us, and how because of Christ, we're able to relate to you on the basis of your grace and truth -- not our performance.  May we see you and treasure you in all of your glory.  Your Word says the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.  Help us believe that.  Help us believe that we are saved by JESUS, we are made new by JESUS, we are sanctified by JESUS.  All of our human efforts to be good enough for you, all our human efforts to find value apart from you are in vain.  You've ascribed to us all the value we could ever hope for in making us your own and adopting us into your family.  

Thank you that you offer us grace and peace not as a far-off, distant greeting but as an invitation to your dearly loved children.  You are our Shepherd.  I pray that we would allow ourselves to be your sheep, weak and needy in your presence.  Thank you that you are with us, that you've promised you will never leave us.  Thank you that your approval of us does not rest on what we do or have done but upon the finished work of Jesus.

a little snippet from
"A Gospel Primer" by Milton Vincent

"So this is my status and these are my flaws
Apart from Christ Jesus and His saving cause:
I carry sin's guilt and am gripped by sin's pow'r,
Held fast to its various lusts ev'ry hour,
Deserving of flames, both within and without,
And sliding t'ward Hell as I toss all about, 
Too reprobate even to play a small part
In clearing my record or changing my heart
To pacify wrath and be worthy of grace,
To make myself lovely and win God's embrace.
Completely condemned by God's Law in its whole,
I've nothing to offer to ransom my soul.
But wonder of wonders, so great to behold, 
My God chose to save me with method so bold.
What I could not render, God fully has done,
And doing, He rendered it all through His Son.
He sent Christ to die on the cross for my sin
To suffer my anguish my pardon to win.

Amazing it is, when I stop to regard,
That God would consent to an anguish so hard,
Surrend'ring His Son unto mayhem and death,
To torturous writhing 'til His final breath.
'Why does God forsake Me?' alone Jesus cried;
Yet God left Him hanging until He had died.
That Jesus was willing His life to lay down,
Be scourged and insulted and wear thorny crown
For one such as I who had spited God so,
Amazes and blesses and makes me to know
That greater a lover is no man than He,
Who laid down His life for a sinner like me.


Now when my time came and to Jesus I cried,
He gave me the pardon for which I had sighed,
He cleansed me completely from wrongs I had done,
Released me from bondage to sins, ev'ry one.
He shattered sin's chains which had held me before,
And thus made me free not to sin anymore.
A child of the Father He made me to be
And gave me the Spirit as His guarantee
That, being God's child, I will one day obtain 
A heavenly treasure that never will wane.
While in me, the Spirit gives power and love
And sweet premonitions of glory above.

In saving, God also did justify me,
Accounting me righteous by His own decree,
Declaring me guiltless of all of my sin,
And bringing His wrath against me to an end.
This wrath Christ appeased in full brunt on the Tree,
When, bearing my sin, He endured it for me.
So now God relates to me only with grace --
The former wrath banished without any trace!
And each day I'm made a bit more as I should,
His grace using all things to render me good.
Yes, even in trials God's grace abounds too
And does me the good He assigns it to do.

And when I am sinning, God's grace does abound,
Insuring my justified status is sound.
No wrath is awakened in God at my sin,
Because Christ appeased it -- to say so again.
God's heart pulses only with passionate grace,
Which jealously wants me back in His embrace.
God does not require even that I confess,
Before He desires His forgiveness to press.
Forgiveness has been in His heart all along;
And when I approach Him to make right my wrong,
He runs up to greet me and draws to me near,
Embracing and kissing and ready to clear.

God does see my sins and He grieves at them so,
For when I am sinning, His love I don't know.
He even will send me some heart-rending pain,
So I'll learn new ways and His holiness gain.
His disciplines always are with love imbued,
A love that seeks ever my ultimate good.
So this is my story; ongoing it is.
How shall I thank God for this gospel of His?
A gift that keeps giving, the gospel confers
The bounty of heaven each time I rehearse.
Deserve it?  I don't on my holiest day;
But this is salvation, and herein I'll stay.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Secret to Gospel-Centered Change According to Tim Chester

So it has definitely been a just a brief, little while since Linds and I last posted, and much has transpired over the course of the past few months!  We have high hopes to finish our 7 F's series, but in the mean time...  This is for those of you who have ever felt stuck or hopeless to overcome negative emotions or habitual sin patterns in your life.  First and foremost, know you're not alone.  I for one am right there with you.  I often feel as though I'm frequently aware of my sin.  Though at times it feels as though I'm being bombarded by my faults and shortcomings, the reality is my sin runs so much deeper than I could ever imagine.  While it is often difficult to come to grips with our own darkness, it is truly such a mark of the Lord's love for us because as we are reminded of our sin, we're constantly reminded of our need for Jesus.  That being said, I recently started reading a book that the Lord is already using to convict my heart and transform my mind about change and being conformed into the image of Jesus.  Thus I'd love to share with y'all a few
excerpts from chapters one and two of 
"You Can Change" by Tim Chester
(It comes highly recommended, and two chapters in, I'm already loving it myself!)

"Jesus is the perfect person, the true image of God, the glory of the Father.  And God's agenda for change is for us to become like Jesus.

In Romans 8, Paul says that God uses everything that happens to make us like Jesus, both the good and the bad.  Indeed, the bad things become in some sense good for us because they make us like Jesus.  In themselves they may be evil, but God uses them for the good of those who love him, and that good is that we become more like Jesus.  This isn't a letdown.  We shouldn't be disappointed that the promise of good things turns out to be conformity to Christ.  It's not like offering a child a meal deal from McDonald's and then giving them a McSalad.  We know salad is good for us, but we'd rather enjoy a Big Mac.  Jesus isn't just good for us -- he is good itself.  He defines good.  The secret of gospel change is being convinced that Jesus is the good life and the fountain of all joy.  Any alternative we might choose would be the letdown.

[...]  God is in the business of change.  He's interested in making us like Jesus.  He's restoring his image in us so that we can know him, rule with him, and reflect his glory.  [...]

Change takes place in our lives as we turn to see the glory of God in Jesus.  We 'see' the glory of Christ as we 'hear' the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).  Moral effort, fear of judgment, and sets of rules can't bring lasting change.  But amazing things happen when we 'turn to the Lord.'

[...]  You will cleanse no sin from your life that you have not first recognized as being pardoned through the cross.  This is because holiness always starts in the heart.  The essence of holiness is not new behavior, activity, or disciplines.  Holiness is new affections, new desires, and new motives that then lead to new behavior.  If you don't see your sin as completely pardoned, then your affections, desires, and motives will be wrong.  You will aim to prove yourself.  Your focus will be the consequences of your sin rather than hating the sin itself and desiring God in its place.

Many people change their behavior, but their motives and desires are still wrong; so their behavior is no more pleasing to God than their old behavior.  Consider an alcoholic who gives up drink because he fears social stigma or wants to save his marriage or doesn't want to end up in the gutter.  It's good that he's given up drink, but he isn't more holy in God's sight because he's still motivated by selfish desires that exclude God.  Or consider a Christian who goes to a prayer meeting to impress people or feel good about herself or avoid a Christian friend's rebuke.  Her behavior has changed, but her motives and desires and unchanged.  This isn't holiness (though it may be that praying with other Christians contributes to a change of affections).  John Piper says, 'Conversion is the creation of new desires, not just new duties; new delights, not just new deeds; new treasures, not just new tasks.

The great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon illustrates this point with the story of a humble gardener who presents a bunch of carrots to his king because he so esteems and loves his sovereign.  The king rewards his love with a plot of land so he can continue to bless his kingdom.  A courtier sees this and thinks, 'An acre of land for a bunch of carrots -- what a deal!'  So the next day the courtier presents the king with a magnificent horse.  The wise king, discerning his heart, simply accepts the gift with a 'thank you.'  When the courtier is disconsolate, the king explains, 'The gardener gave me the carrots, but you have given yourself the horse.  You gave not for love of me but for love of yourself in the hope of a reward.'  Are you feeding the hungry or are you feeding yourself?  asks Spurgeon.  Are you clothing the naked or are you seeking your own reward?  Are you serving God or serving yourself?  The Bible talks often of reward, but that reward is God himself -- the joy of knowing and pleasing the God we love and in whom we delight.

We don't change so we can prove ourselves to God.  We're accepted by God so we can change, God gives us a new identity, and this new identity is the motive and basis for our change."


Lord Jesus, as we embark on this new week, this new year, we are filled with both hope and fear.  We want to believe you desire to change us, but so often we're are plagued with the weariness of our past faults and failures.  We want to change, Lord, but so often we feel so trapped in our own inabilities to change.  But thank you, Jesus, that you did not leave us to change ourselves, but you have committed to changing us until we are faultless, blameless, and fully transformed into the image of Christ.

It is my prayer that as we meet with you this year, we would be honest before you about the countless ways we fall short and the seemingly endless list of things we so often consider "better" than you.  Holy Spirit, I pray that you would examine our hearts, and that by your grace, you would reveal to us our sin.  I confess that I am so quick to treasure and idolize and just plain want things more than I desire you -- consistency, stability, control, freedom, health, food, the perfect exercise regimen, the perfect body, perfection in general, my reputation, the approval and opinions of others, marriage, dating, my own effectiveness and productivity, the dream house, the Kendra Scott earrings, heck the list goes on...  Gosh, Lord, to think that you love us while knowing full well the depth of depravity within our hearts...  We admit that we don't fully understand how deeply our sin grieves your heart, but Lord, we pray that you would help us to comprehend that in our moments of sin, we are not receiving the fullness of your love for us.  

Thank you for your forgiveness, Lord.  Jesus, thank you that you were willing to bear the weight of our sin, so that we might know you and experience your love and plan for our lives.  I pray that we would love you deeply and above all things --
that you would be our prized and priceless treasure.  

I pray that we would see you as the good life and the fountain of all joy!  I pray that you would fill us with faith to believe that you created us for so much more than what we're often content to settle for.  I pray that you would fill us with HOPE to believe that you not only can change us, but it is your will, your delight to conform us into the image of Jesus.  May we believe that you are good, that you are at work, and that you are the one who changes us.  Thank you that ultimately all our human, fleshly efforts to change and sanctify ourselves apart from you are in vain, as our efforts only further reveal that you alone set free.  You alone give life.  You alone reconcile, redeem, restore, and fill our hearts with hope.  

Father, truthfully, in the midst of pain, sin, despair, and difficulty, it can be almost impossible at times to believe you truly do desire to heal us, change us, and make all things new.  But Lord, I pray that in our moments of doubt, you would remind us of Jesus, whose life was not free from pain or hardship, and yet He is your beloved -- the image of the invisible God and literally God in the flesh.  Remind us of Jesus who bore all of your wrath, endured all of our shame, and went to the cross for your glory and our good.  May we receive suffering and pain as your good and gracious gift for us, knowing that you work all things together for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose.  May we have hearts and minds that are humble, open, and willing to see each moment, each hour, and each day as an opportunity to grow in your likeness, to experience depth and intimacy with you, and to know you as the Father who loves us, the Father who did not leave us as orphans but came for us.  

May our hearts continually sing your praises.  May our songs not waver based upon the circumstances of our daily bread, but may they be as steadfast and constant as your character.  For though our circumstances are constantly in flux, you never change.  You are good and holy and true, and you deserve all the glory and praise forever and ever.  Thank you for initiating with us when we wanted nothing to do with you, that we might know your love, love you back, and spend eternity delighting in, enjoying, and glorifying you.  We love you, Jesus.

2015, let's do this.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 
-2 Corinthians 3:17-18