Committed to the Cross

God’s Word says,

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Wherever they went, the early Christians shared the gospel.  How they shared the gospel varied just like today, but what they shared did not vary.  Those early Christians had the same message everywhere.  In Acts 14, we find one of the simplest forms of that message.  Paul points to three things.  First, he points to their history with God.  He says, “In the generations gone by He (God) permitted all the nations to go their own ways.” (16)  He also points to their need for salvation in verse 15.  He then points to the proof that God both loves them and has the power to save them in verse 17.  This is the simple gospel message: Our history, our need of salvation, and the proof that God can (and wants to) save us.

Some seem to want to change this message. Some want to make the gospel message all about becoming better people. This removes the offense of the cross. Is that what it’s all about?  Some change the message so that it is only concerned with social justice and taking care of the poor and needy.  These are important things, to be sure, but they are not the whole gospel. Again, the offense of the cross is removed.  Is that what it is all about? 

Recently I read two books about salvation.  One declared that God will save everyone.  The other declared that salvation is primarily a sociopolitical message.  In both cases, the cross was minimized.  In the first book, the whole point of the cross was dismantled by declaring that people don’t need to respond to Jesus’ death to be saved. In other words, the cross is largely irrelevant.  In the second example, Jesus’ teaching on Kingdom living is declared important, not His death on the cross. Again, the cross is made to be irrelevant. There is a reason that the early disciples pointed to the cross.  As Paul says, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)  In fact, Paul asked (regarding the great compromise of his day), “if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” (Galatians 5:11)

Paul’s concern should be our concern.  Paul does not want anything to detract from the message of Jesus’ crucifixion.  What is that message?  In his emotional declaration Paul says,

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”

1 Timothy 1:15

Paul’s gospel was that Jesus came to save sinners. He saved sinners by dying for them. This is why Paul would let nothing detract from that.  Paul would not teach a mere social gospel or a political gospel or a good works gospel.  Any of those would undermine the purpose for which Christ died.

What about us?  Do you and I change or shift the gospel to suit some need in our culture?  Do we change or redefine the gospel to meet some felt need in our own hearts?  Do we feel a need to do good works and so we focus the gospel on doing good?  Do we feel a need for social justice and so we focus the gospel on those issues?  We might not write a book that undermines the cross or teaches universalism, but do we change things to suit our own felt needs?  If the pure message of the cross is so important, shouldn’t we cherish and protect it in our own hearts?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Touching the Throne of God

The four living creatures say “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

Revelation 4:8

Have you ever thought about what that would be like? What would it be like to just say, all the time and without stopping, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”? Does it strike you as fun? Does it scratch your back? Does it fulfill your felt needs? I suspect that the answer to those questions is, “No.” So, why do they do it? What compels them to do that? What compels them to say that phrase over and over and to never stop doing it? Good question.

I do not believe that the answer lies just in their purpose for being created. I also don’t believe that they had no choice in the matter. I believe that their joy in repeating this refrain of God’s greatness stems from a clear (much clearer than we have) picture of who God really is. They saw Him without sin messing up their vision. They saw Him without the veil of separation that our fleshly world gives us. Their perspective was clear.

My question today is this: Can we have such a vision? I truly believe we can. In fact, I believe the reason that we don’t has nothing to do with the distractions that occur in church or the music we have or the sinful people all around us. Could the reason we do not have such a vision of God’s greatness is that we do not put forth the effort to reach for it? Do we let sin, human faults, distractions, and the like get in our way? Do we act as if the thing that matters to us in worship is us? I am advocating that we push harder to meet with God on Sunday morning. I am urging that we would make meeting God the only thing that we consider during Sunday morning worship. Let us receive the invitation to approach the throne of grace as something we are desperate for. It is something that we need. It is something that we cannot live without. It is something that we absolutely must have or we will die.

If we came to worship with those attitudes, what would be different? If we were to cultivate a passion for the worship of Almighty God that would not ever let us be lethargic in our time with Him, what would it look like? What would need to change?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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At Calvary! Ep 10 – Mere Christianity… Let’s Think Deeply About the comments of C.S. Lewis

One of the more amazing thinkers of the twentieth century was C.S. Lewis. Although other books have examined these same issues with pith and wit, we still find that Lewis’ insights are invaluable regarding the necessity of the existence of the God that is described in the Bible and what following Him truly means.

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The Character Necessary

In Acts 13 we see Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Often, we focus on Paul and Barnabas’ success. Instead, think with me about their response to opposition and resistance. It is in opposition that we see Paul and Barnabas’ character shine through. We do not see them grow frustrated or hopeless. We do not see them lose heart. We certainly don’t see them quit. Instead we see faith, determination, obedience, and a reliance on the Word of God.

Do we see that today? Do we see a reliance on the Word of God in our own life? Or, do we rely on experience or feelings to see us through? I hear many lament a lack of character we see in our leaders. Many of us weep over the loss of morality in our nation. Could it be that this lack of character and loss of morality is a symptom of a much deeper problem: we lack convictions? I think of a recurring refrain in the book of Judges. It says, “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6 & 21:25) In those days, men did horrible things simply because they ‘felt’ that it would produce the results they wanted.

Do we do that? Please note, I am not talking about the lost. I would expect the lost to act lost. My question is for the Christian who is thinking these things with me. Do we do what we feel will get us the results we want, or do we do what we know that God has said to do in His Word? Paul and Barnabas encounter difficult persecution, yet they respond with confidence, trust, and even rejoicing. They knew what God wanted them to do. They could join Him in His mission. If we rely on our feelings, can we really join God in His mission? Won’t we be more like John Mark (in verse 13) who deserted them?
The Scripture uses some strong military language to talk about our calling. It doesn’t do that so that we will be militant or violent. It does that because being a disciple of Jesus means that we have a single-minded devotion to His mission, His calling, and His plans. I have been challenged to push past my temporary feelings and seek His will. I want to have convictions, not just feelings. How about you?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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At Calvary – Ep 9 – Gospel Hope. The Power of the Second Coming in the Christian Life

What do you think about when you think about the Second Coming of Christ? Is it about setting dates and identifying the anti-Christ. Is it about knowing the order of the seals, trumpets, and bowls? Or… is it an assurance that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus? What is it supposed to do in us?

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At Calvary – Ep 8– Discipline in the Family

Discipline. There are certainly many types. However, when it comes to parents disciplining their children it is important for us to get it right. What is parental discipline? Is it punishment for bad behavior? Isn’t it something more?

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Faith in the Trenches

Acts 12 records Peter’s deliverance from Herod.  It is an amazing passage of Scripture highlighting the power of God.  It is also a profound example of fervent prayer.  Yet, the part that I personally find so instructive is the response of the people.  Acts 12:5 says, “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”  They were fervently praying.  They seemed to believe that God could do something to help Peter.  After his release, Peter goes, “to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” (12)  They followers of Christ were even praying that very night for Peter’s rescue!  Yet, their response is a little too much like us.  It says in verse 16,  “When they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.”  Why be amazed?  If we believe God, don’t we expect Him to work?  Why didn’t they just accept Peter’s deliverance as a matter of course? If we believe God, then shouldn’t His acting in our life be something that we look for just like the water that comes out of our faucets? 

My answer: of course not!  When God works, He stretches our faith.  He takes what we believed yesterday and pushes it so that it becomes better, fuller, and stronger.  Since none of us are perfect, God’s actions in our life will continually be a marvelous surprise.  It is not merely the absence of faith that is surprised by God.  It is growing faith that is also surprised by Him!  Growing faith says, like the man whose son was tormented by demons, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

What about us?  Do we get discouraged when God surprises us?  Do we feel that we are somehow a great spiritual failure when our feet struggle with keeping up with our faith?  Do we let those times of stretching discourage us rather than encourage us?  Let me give a physical example of this spiritual truth.  Awhile back I went to a workout offered by a person who attends my church.  That workout stretched me.  The next day I was sore and aching.  I had a choice that day.  I could be discouraged that I was not in better shape.  OR – I could be encouraged that I got a good workout and my body was challenged beyond the norm.  I chose to not be discouraged by the aching (even though there were times I thought that I could not move!).  I was encouraged because I recognized that I could feel the stretching of my body.  This is what happens to us spiritually when God works in our lives.  He stretches us.  We ache with surprise or amazement.  We then need to choose if we will be discouraged because our faith wasn’t as confident as we wish it would be (are we being judgmental?) or if we will be encouraged because God has taught us a new thing.  Which will you be?

 Something to think about,

Pastor John

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