O How Marvelous

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

For me it was in the garden
He prayed: Not My will, but Thine.
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat drops of blood for mine.

In pity angels beheld Him,
And came from the world of light
To comfort Him in the sorrows
He bore for my soul that night.

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

 – Charles H Gabriel

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It’s Christmas, let’s cancel church!

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

– Ps 122.1

What does Church mean to you?  Is it a building full of hypocrites who gather together to pat themselves on the back once a week?  Is it somewhere you go to see your friends and socialize?  Do you go, or try to go, to get right with God?  To make amends for those bad decisions you made during the week?  Is it your weekly, spiritual nourishment?

God gave us the Church for encouragement, accountability and community.  A gathering of people who glorify God by corporately praising Him, testifying about His goodness, calling sinners (ourselves) to repent and grow in Him and to serve and love the world by making disciples of all nations.

But unfortunately, many Christians consider church something we “do”.  Once a week.  And it’s for me, not for God or one another.  We change churches when trials come, or “I’m just not being fed”.  We want to come, sit in the pew/seat, hear a good teaching that will fill us up and last us until next week, see our friends, hear some music and go home.

This becomes evident by the way we treat our church attendance and gathering habits.  Is it a big deal if you miss church?  I lived in Indianapolis, IN for eight years and many churches there cancelled their Sunday services on “race day”.  You know, the Indianapolis 500.  That’s right, on Memorial Day weekend, when the city is bursting with visitors from around the world, we cancel our gatherings to worship God and pray for the world who has come to our doorstep because, hey, we like to have fun.

What’s that?  It’s Christmas?  Let’s cancel church!  Because Christmas is about family and gifts and being with one another and traditions.  Not about the miraculous incarnation of God in human form, coming to die on your and my behalf so that we do not have to spend eternity in Hell.  No, we ought not bother ourselves to remember Him.  Because Church is just to see our friends and feel good about ourselves.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

We are exhorted here, in the book of Hebrews to not neglect church.  We are to gather together to encourage one another, and all the more as we move closer to the end of the age!  Not less.  Growing up, my family was at church all. of. the. time.  Two services on Sunday, one on Wednesday, and sporadic trainings, meetings, and other service opportunities.  That is not necessarily the model.  The Simple Church movement that has begun is removing many of these activity-based gatherings and replacing them with community and accountability groups.  Gathering with one another and encouraging one another to know and love God does not necessarily mean that you have three services a week.  But it does mean that you are regularly gathering corporately, as a body, to worship and learn, and that you are in community that holds you accountable and pushes you on to maturity and good deeds.

Ask not what the church can do for you, but how you can serve her.  If Jesus Christ has eternally saved you from your sins and damnation, you can give Him at least a few hours a week to gather with other believers, worship Him and encourage one another.  And by all means, let us keep our priorities in line!  Worshiping Him is infinitely more important than a race.  And holidays that were set aside in His honor?  Let us never so disgrace Him as to cancel our gatherings and defame Him so.

“No Christ in your sermon, sir?  Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching!”

– Charles Spurgeon

What would you do if someone disproved Christ’s deity?

Jesus Christ is the only hope for humanity.  That’s what the Bible says (John 14.6).  And because of the weight of the implications of the claims of Christ and His life, rumors and lies about Him were started before he even ascended back to Heaven:

“Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened [the resurrection].  And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.”  And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’  And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”

– Matt 28.11-15

Somehow the Pharisees understood Jesus’ self-predictions of death and resurrection, even though the disciples did not.  And they were prepared at the time of His death to prevent the appearance of a resurrection (setting the stone and guard), and they immediately jumped to action to set in place a cover-up story after Jesus did come back to life.  They understood the implications of His claims:  He is God, He has authority and He alone can offer eternal salvation.  If He was found to be true, then they were the heretics, not Jesus.

Countless books have been written to discuss the authenticity and proof of Jesus’ claims.  The disciples, if they truly had stolen Jesus’ body and made the whole thing up, would not have suffered persecution and death for the sake of their lie.  People – like Peter and Paul – would not have been radically transformed apart from the power of the Spirit and Jesus’ self revelation.  Christianity would not be the largest religion around the world if there were any proof to disprove the Bible or Jesus’ claims.  2000 years have left Jesus unchallenged.  I highly recommend “More than A Carpenter” and “The Case for Christ” if you would like to do more apologetic reading on the topic. But now I reflect on the simple question:

What if someone could disprove Jesus’ claims?

The Church that Paul started in Corinth was infiltrated with a variety of false teachings.  One of these teachings that came through was that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.  This belief, in fact, was was separated the two major Jewish sects of the day:  the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and the Sadducees did not.  (Aside:  If want to set this to memory, just remember that the Sudducees were “sad, you see” because they did not believe in the resurrection.)  Paul wrote a dynamic and strong response to this false teaching in a letter to the church:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

– 1 Cor 15.12-19

Is your life, is your faith so focused on the glory of God through the hope of Jesus Christ that you would be the most pitiful fool on the Earth if it proved to be untrue?  Or would it not really change anything? Do you believe life to be vain?  Or do you love your life and Jesus is just the key to have a pleasant eternity?  If He is not real, then we will just reincarnate or go into an endless sleep?  One of the other religions will kick in? Scripture calls us to complete abandon.  To give our lives completely to Him; to do everything to His glory and honor:

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

– 1 Peter 4.11

Let us live in such a way that if Christ were proven to have never existed, the resurrection to have never happened, or for Him to be a liar, that we are, of all men, to be pitied most.  We look like fools.  We have nothing else worth living for.  I think I would say, “Get me a gun, life’s not worth the living.”  Then, and only then, are we fully given to Him.

And there is no need to worry.  His Word endures forever.  You will not be ashamed.  He will not be disproven.  People have tried for 2,000 years, but He is God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He is the way, the truth and the life.

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

Why me?

Have you ever been tempted to ask that question?  Why me?  Why is this happening to me?  Last week, Americans celebrated our dichotomous and slightly illogical tradition of setting aside two calendar days to stop and give thanks to God for everything that we have in our lives, then getting up from the table of thanksgiving to maul one another in stores to spend the abundance of our savings buying gifts and holiday decorations for Christmas.  We are a bit confused.  And even though we quote the mantra, “money cannot buy happiness” many of us continue to live as such: keeping up with the Jones’s, hoping for that one next toy and being never fully satisfied.  Then when crises hit we are leveled because we are spiritually and emotionally unprepared to handle them.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”

– Rom 8.18-23

Three times in this passage Paul notes the fact that the whole of creation – the world, trees, the animals, the created order – is suffering and groaning because of futility.

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”

– Ecc 1.2

Solomon, the smartest, richest, wisest man ever to walk the face of the Earth – after experimenting with every kind of pleasure – came to the conclusion that all of life is vain.  Meaningless.  Fleeting.  Of no true pleasure.  Apart from God, that is.

But Paul, in Romans, states that creation was subjected  to futility.  That means there had to be a power that did the cursing.  And Paul explains that it God who subjected it.  Us.  The worldwide situation politically, morally, environmentally has not been a downward spiral of natural degradation.  God subjected it and us to this.  Why?  Because of one sin.  One small act of disobedience:  eating a piece of fruit.

Are you a pretty good person?  God is so holy, so perfect and so just that He justly had to submit all of creation to futility – suffering – groaning because of that one little sin.  All death, disease, exhaustion, earthquakes, savage animals, war and natural disasters are the consequence of that one sin (Rom 5, 1 Cor 5).  The weight of the sin is not measured in and of itself, it is measured by the value of the one sinned against.  And because God’s value is infinite, the punishment for that which we would consider the least of sins is infinite.  Therefore, if you have less sin than Adam and Eve when they fell, then you alone deserve to not suffer.

But look closely at how Paul words our futile position:

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

– Rom 8.20

God subjected us to futility in hope!  He wrote redemption’s plan before he ever said “Let there be light” (Gen 1.3).  God enslaved creation and humanity to slavery to corruption so that He could redeem us and set us free.  He exemplifies His glory and majesty by offering Himself as the punishment for our sins and Paul says here that we will have glory in the age to come.  Glory.

Life is futile.  You do not need me to tell you that.  We have all longed for happiness, pleasure, fulfillment and meaning  here on Earth, and we have all been left wanting.  And that is how God organized it.  He subjected us to it because of one little sin.  But there is hope, and our hope is eternity in Christ.

But there is one essential truth that we all must remember.  If you are in Christ, God is no longer angry at you for your sin.  That force from which we need saving is indeed God’s wrath, but if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, confessing your sins and trusting Him for the forgiveness of your sins, there is no longer any condemnation (Rom 8.1).  The futility that you experience is no longer judgment for your sins, only consequence.  I once had a friend who lost a baby before it was born, and there was much grief around the death wondering if it was punishment for a sin.  The answer is a resounding No!  God has poured out His wrath on Jesus Christ for the punishment of the sins of all who would believe.  Nothing we experience in this life, thence, is God’s judgement.

Now, there are times that there are consequences for our sins, and there are social laws by which we live and are punished in our bodies.  But if repentance is present, you can be confident that your life’s futility is the futility of hope that you will one day be glorified from this life and body of death.  You will be made whole and pure in the presence of Jesus Christ for eternity.

Why me?  Because we all deserve Hell, death and damnation.  The simple fact of God’s restraining the fulness of His wrath is grace.  We, in our futile state, are receiving infinitely more than we deserve.  But let us understand that the true mystery is, “Why would God save me?”  Why me?  An orphaned child in the slums of India, taken in by a loving family that nourishes and provides for him would rightly think, “Wow.  Why me?”  Let us humbly remember that which we deserve and acknowledge the grace poured out on us and in honest thankfulness seeing the mire from which we have been purchased.  By blood.  And be amazed.

Wow.  Why me?

Encouragement that can lead to thankfulness

Today is the day that we as a nation set apart as a day to turn to God and say thank you for all of the blessings He has bestowed upon us.

Some of us are experiencing this holiday in a new way.  Perhaps it is your first year as empty-nesters.  Maybe it is the first time you have to share your children with in-laws.  Perhaps a family member has died or left and there will be an empty chair at your table this year.  Maybe you have a new addition – a new baby, your child has married and this is your year to have the couple at your table.  Maybe you met Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior this year and it is your first time to sit and truly give thanks for salvation!

Life is ever changing, but one thing remains constant for the believer:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

I like to run.  I run for exercise, I run to get my endorphins pumping, I run races with friends and I run for the mental discipline of pushing myself when my body does not want to go.  It’s good for the soul.  I have mentioned before that I was training in the fall to run a half marathon – which I did – and I downloaded an app on my phone called “Map My Run”.  It tracks you while you run so you know your pace,  distance and route.  It is pretty sweet.  Did I mention that I was passed up and beaten in the race by a new mom pushing a stroller?  Anyway, I have continued to use this app even after the race just for curiosity’s sake as to my distance and pace.  While you are running, it speaks over your music whenever you have passed a mile marker, informing you of your splits.  A few weeks ago, the app sold ad rights to a company, and at the end of my split update, there came a voice that said “Great job!”.  The app has never encouraged me before.  And I actually noticed a positive emotional reaction within myself to a computer telling me I had done a great job running that first mile.  I still have not come to expect it to say “Great job”, so every time I hear it, I think “Thank you, I really appreciate that!”  Even though no one knows that I am running or the pace at which I am running.

While that might be a silly story, the point is that a little encouragement goes a long way.  Running the half marathon, I ran with a friend who drank her first caffeinated coffee in months and who is naturally a bubbly personality anyway, and I am pretty sure she bounced the entire race – but she was singing and cheering and encouraging me and everyone else all along the route.  She made the race a joy.  13.1 miles.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Being thankful is not always easy.  At times it is hard to see how God is causing all things to work together for the good of His children.  For me.  And sometimes we just have to walk by faith, being assured of the unseen (Heb 11.1).  And it is in those moments that a little encouragement from our brothers and sisters in Christ can boost us up.  Accountability serves two purposes:  to keep us from sinning, but also to push us on to good deeds and to encourage us when we have been obedient and successful!  So let us consider one another – how to push one another on to good deeds.  And let us encourage one another.  To comfort those around us, to see their progress, to help them in difficult times.  Is someone doing a good job?  Let him know!  Brighten his day!  Give him a boost, a shot of endorphins, encouragement to continue on the race while he may be struggling to give thanks in the difficult times.

Set an infinite value on immortal souls.

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marat...

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali in Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Carey, the father of modern missions, transformed the world and Christian mindset in the late 1700’s.  He was a pastor, and at a minister’s meeting in 1786 he raised the question before the other pastors as to the Christian’s responsibility to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  Another pastor, John Collett Ryland made the now infamous statement:  “Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.”

This set Carey on edge and he began work on his book “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens” in which he argued the Christian’s responsibility as based on the Great Commission, told a brief history of missional activity and then outlined the religious situation around the known world.  He later preached what has become known as the “Deathless Sermon” based on Is 54.2-3, in which he made the statement by which he is most well known:

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

By 1793 he was headed to India where he spent the last forty years of his life preaching the Gospel, translating the Bible into multiple languages, and inspired many others to give their lives to full time missionary service.  In his study and meditation on the call of the church to reach the world, he wrote these eleven commandments by which he lived:

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We would all do well to live with such intentionality and purposefulness.  These standards, while excellent for cross-cultural work, are well practiced within our own communities and comfort zones as well.  We are fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8.17).  We will inherit the world, and everything in it (Rom 4.13).  We will inherit glorified bodies and we will inherit God Himself (Rom 8.22-23, Rom 5.2, Rev 21.3).  Nothing in this world will satisfy, and in eternity we will have  more than we could ask or imagine (Eph 3.20).  So let us sacrifice ourselves daily for the sake of others, so that we can all enjoy God and His promised glory in the end.

Man up already.

“You cannot use words like ‘sin’ when speaking to someone.  It only pushes him away.”

After chewing on the authority of the Bible for our understanding of right and wrong yesterday, a conversation came to mind which I had a year and a half ago in which the statement above was said to me, with surprising authority and sternness, by someone with Biblical and counseling training.

I also heard it preached recently, from a pulpit, that it is not primarily our sin that will send us to Hell.

This is a lie.  A trick of the enemy, seeking to keep lost people on the path to damnation and believers complacent in their sinfulness and worldliness.  Jesus died on the cross to pay the punishment for our sins.  Hell is an eternal judgment for sin.  God destroys both body and soul in Hell, after convicting the world of sin (Matt 10.28, John 16.8)!

“Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”

– Rev 6.15-17

Jesus Christ is the Lamb.  He is the final judge and He will return to the Earth in wrath, to deal with sin.  Sin, people!  The wages of sin is death (Rom 6.23)!

“There is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.  All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good…”

– Rom 3.10-12

Telling ourselves that we are OK, that we are generally good people serves no one.  In reality we all know that we are not good enough, and we are all striving for success, popularity and something to ease the condemnation of our conscience.  We know, because it is written on our hearts, that we are sinful and deserve wrath (Rom 1).

And Christians need the Spirit, the church, our friends and family to continually convict us of our sin.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

– John 16.8

If we do not allow Him to convict us and change us, we run the risk of making peace with sin and proving ourselves to not be of Him:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

We are talking about eternity here.  If we spend our time on Earth appeasing our guilty consciences through lies or neglect, we will continue on the path to our just reward: an eternity in Hell.  If we choose to accept our sinful state, tell ourselves that “I’m not that bad”, and go on our merry way, we offend an almighty God and there is no salvation.  The standard is not other sinners.  The standard is God’s perfect Law.  Unless one keeps the entirety of the Law perfectly, eternal damnation is the due punishment.  But Jesus died on the cross for sin.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”

– 1 Peter 3.18

I am a sinner.  You are a sinner.  There are specific sins in your life right now that the Spirit would desire to help you overcome.  There are sins in my life that I need the Spirit to help me overcome.  Own it.  Man up.  Confess it.  And let God transform you from the inside out.

When we come to God for salvation, we come as we are.  We have nothing to offer, we cannot make ourselves more acceptable to God.  Coming to God, in fact, is that complete realization that I can do nothing on my own, I am sinful, I deserve Hell and punishment and I am lost.  But after you come to God for salvation, we do not settle into worldly, sinful lifestyles.  The Spirit is daily transforming us and we are to die to sin.  Purposefully seek it out and kill it.  Through the power of the Spirit to the glory and honor of God.  God is primarily concerned with your holiness, not your happiness.  He will step on your toes.  Let Him.  Just man up already, and let God define sin.  Own it.  Confess it.  And be changed.