Friday, September 30, 2016

exclusive Savior

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6

I don't think Jesus could have been any clearer with His exclusive claim than in these two sentences. Jesus is the only path to peace with God the Father. He is the only way of salvation. There is no other means to eternal salvation and relationship with the Father. Only Jesus can forgive sin and redeem sinners.

Jesus is the only source of Truth about the Father. We can only know God through His Son. He is the means of knowing AND what we must know about God. He is truth.

Jesus is the only source of life from the Father. Only in my Savior can I find eternal life and a full life worth living in this world. In Jesus I live. When He redeems sinners, He brings dead souls to life.

And just to be absolutely clear, Jesus states emphatically that only He can bring us to the Father. No person finds God or eternal life outside of Jesus. He is the world's exclusive Savior.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jesus, my high priest

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15

You know my weaknesses. They are many. Sin has shot me so full of holes that I struggle to hold in righteous thoughts and actions. You know how temptation looks, feels, and appeals to my weaknesses. You felt the tug of humanity and were tempted directly by the devil himself, an experience I doubt that I have had. I've know temptation and fallen to sin (way too much), but I am so weak, I'm not sure the devil has had to bother to come after me one on one. He sends second and third string minions that bring me down.

Yet, Jesus, though You know temptation, You did not sin. And to that strength I now fly in my weakness to confess my sin, receive Your merciful forgiveness, and I find Your strength and the holy will to fight my sin again! Forever my High Priest, interceding for me by virtue of Your shed blood, You love me, a pathetically crippled sinner. O Jesus, how I need and love Your grace!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jesus tasted my death.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Hebrews 2:9

Jesus, Whom I honor and worship, Whom I seek to follow every day of my life, tasted my death. Jesus died for me. He already knows the worst things about death. When I read the crucifixion accounts in the gospels and I see the way Jesus suffered, it was all so that in His dying, my death would not be an eternal separation from God. He loved me by dying my death.

Jesus humbled Himself. For a while He was lower than the angels so that He could take on mortal flesh that would die. God, the always self-existing one, the great I Am, became a man and at the hands of sinners, was killed. Yet He willingly gave His life to taste death for all people.

Oh how dear the gospel is for me as I age through life. It meant much to me when as a child I trusted Christ to forgive my sins. It is even more precious to me now. I've had to minister to dear saints who have died knowing Jesus already died their death for them. And some day, if Jesus tarries His return, I will face that day, knowing Jesus, crowned with glory and honor, has taken death's sting by dying for me!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

the upside down world of the gospel

I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.
Philemon 13-14

In Paul's short postcard epistle, we have the story of Philemon and Onesimus told to us as a brash reminder of the transforming power of the gospel to turn human imposed cultural norms upside down. Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus. Philemon was a Christian, who evidently had been directly impacted by Paul's ministry and had served the advance of the gospel for the apostle in the past.

Onesimus robbed his master one day and fled to Rome. There, in God's sovereign graces, he came into contact with Paul and the gospel and became a Christian. Paul sent him back to his master with this letter, and in this real life story we see the reconciling power of the gospel as Paul makes his confident appeal for Philemon to accept the repentant former thief back into his household and to love him now as a brother in Christ.

Philemon has every right under Roman law to execute Onesimus and make an example of the thieving trust-breaker. He was not obligated to make him a servant again. Culturally it made no sense to trust Onesimus again. But the gospel rebirths us into new creations in Christ. That is the appeal Paul makes for Onesimus. It is because Onesimus believed the gospel and was now living for the gospel that Paul could make this outrageous demand that the transformation be complete, confident that Philemon would feel the compelling force of the love of God in Christ in the gospel to forgive the sinner and take him into his home and his heart now as his brother.

Paul could have appealed to apostolic command to pressure Philemon into such actions. But instead, his source of argument is the simple power of the gospel. Paul trusts that Philemon will love his brother in Christ because that is what Christians who believe the gospel will do. He believes that the good things Philemon will do will come of his own accord, through the Spirit's leading, because Philemon too has been transformed by the gospel and does not have his past sins held against him in Christ. And in this upside down world of the gospel, a beautiful story of the redemptive and restorative love of Christ is told for us. And because the gospel restores, it really turns what sin made upside down, rightside up!

Monday, September 26, 2016

How the world knows we follow Jesus

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:35

Jesus gave His disciples a new standard for love by visibly humbling Himself to wash their feet. He let them know that serving someone is the clearest definition of love if self-sacrifice drives that service. And by doing so Himself, Jesus calls us to serve one another in His love. Real love serves.

Real love is humble. It will not care to be applauded. Real love washes feet. It will do the menial task gladly for the other person. Real love is tangible. It gets itself dirty and cares to work for the benefit of another. It is seen in serving actions and not in flowery statements of intention. It makes no demands, but serves without distinction. Jesus even washed the feet of Judas without pausing. Such love is not glamorous, for slaves and foot-washers aren't celebraties. Real love is not consumeristic, driving for what it wants. Real love simply, and humbly, serves.

And Jesus says that sacrificial, humble love speaks to the world about Him. Jesus is known in our modern equivalent of foot-washing love. The church is so different from the world that our relationships grab the attention of those God is drawing to Himself. They will see real love. And that is how we can be credible with the gospel message.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Blessing comes with doing.

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John 13:17

Knowledge is very important for Christian living. I'm old enough to remember that's it used to be common for churches to have someone tasked with what was known as "Christian Education". I remember quizzes in Sunday School that we studied for during the week, and Bible "class" in Christian School. This of course carried right through for me to full-fledged academic fruition with a seminary education complete with a Master's thesis and verbal examination on all aspects of biblical content and theological understanding.

Knowledge is important and sound doctrine organized in a theological format is vital. I'll always commit to that as a necessity. But we must not forget that Jesus expects knowledge to equip us to DO WHAT WE KNOW. Christian faith is a lifestyle. Following Jesus is active. We don't do good things to gain salvation, but we must do good things as an outflow of what we know and believe. God has decreed that the church know, believe, and proclaim the gospel actively both in her message and in her methods and good works. That is how Jesus redeems the world.

Jesus told His disciples that the blessing was in the doing. Oh how we need to never be content in knowledge of the truth alone! Oh Lord, make us doers of Your Word and not hearers only!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sound doctrine is essential.

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Titus 1:9

As a pastor and as an elder, I must be a man of the Word. I have to know scripture, understand scripture, all so that I can skillfully shepherd by teaching scripture. From the Word of God comes solid, wise instruction that Paul calls "sound doctrine". Paul means to tell us that this is the source of the church's spiritual health.

Leaders should be evaluated not on their social skills alone (after all, false teachers are quite winsome), neither on their administrative prowess alone (legalism can get things done), nor on their speaking ability alone (the devel can alluringly captivate listeners with a dressed up lie from hell).  Leaders must possess, at their core, gospel-infused character and a passion for baseline strong biblical doctrine. That is the kind of leadership health that will make healthy disciples and build strong local churches. Doctrine must be preached, believed, defended, and perpetuated.

I'm concerned that current cultural evangelical Christianity is alarmingly weak on what Paul made absolutely essential. There is no other explanation for "Your Best Life Now". We are decaying rapidly from the head down. God... raise up Christian leaders once again who are gospel-centered, holy men, men who are Bible-saturated and passionate in sound doctrine!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What I'm Expecting

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 25:13

Soon my Lord may return
I do not know the day or hour
And when He comes the world will learn
That He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords

They will look up to the sky
And see Jesus in fearful majesty
As on a warhorse He will ride
Judging the world, setting His kingdom free

Until that day I watch and wait
Preaching gospel news faithfully
Soon He will carry me away
To be with Him eternally

The man of sin will have his day
Seven years of tyranny
Then Jesus rides with sword to slay
All rebellion, setting believers free

One thousand years of peace will roll
Forward in a kingdom of Christ's own Word
Saints will reign, the world will know
Eden again, holy to the Lord

Monday, September 19, 2016

can't keep sinning

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
1 John 5:18

Sin makes Christians absolutely miserable. We cannot simultaneously claim allegiance to our sinless Savior, living in Jesus' family and embrace a sinful lifestyle or practice. The two are mutually exclusive. If I have been born of God I cannot keep on in a sinful lifestyle. The Holy Spirit convicts me. My sin is before me. I must repent and seek Christ's pardoning blood and the Father's merciful forgiveness.

Jesus promises to protect me from life dominating sins. Jesus protects me by His Spirit residing within me and His forgiveness being immediately accessible as I commit to a regular lifestyle pattern of confession and repentance (1 John 1:9). He is always there and always faithful.

The sinful temptations that Satan has for me do not need to touch me. But if they do, Jesus is ready to respond to my repentance so that sin does not need to have dominion over me. And that is a blessed joy and a powerful truth each day.

Friday, September 16, 2016

asking wrongly

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:3

God doesn't want us to devalue eternal resources on our own selfish purposes. James tells us that this is one reason why we may experience unanswered prayer. We are asking for a good thing for a wrong reason to employ it for a bad purpose. It's like we pray for a new car so we can use it to commit a robbery. Only, that obvious example is not really our experience. Selfishness is subtle. We might not realize our motive is wrong. Whether we are aware of that or not, God still expects us to pray rightly.

Thankfully scripture is clear on how to do it right. What we ask for in prayer should align with God's heart and righteousness. Our motive should always be in line with what Jesus taught us: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done." Prayers for our will to be done are payers that want to spend eternal resources on our own sinful passions. They are wrong to pray and simply won't be answered.

Give me discerning eyes to see where my selfishness thwarts effective prayer! Your will done on earth through me blesses me and others. Teach me, grow me, and shape me to live a life and to pray my prayers to You asking for Your glory to motivate my wants and requests.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

gospel centered eschatology & the role of politics

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14

As Jesus answers the question posed by the disciples who wanted to know about His return and the end of the age, He is sure to first focus their attention on their present call as disciples with the gospel. They must be faithful to the task of gospel proclamation to all the world. That must continue unabated until the end comes. Jesus is gospel centered in His eschatology.

All my life I have observed American evangelicals getting all in a lather over end times when a presidential election cycle occurs. Granted, I've tended to run in dispensational circles where this sort of stuff is an easy distraction for some people, but I see it as a bigger problem than the novelty of  a "chart theology" of the end times and zeal about identifying the Anti-Christ. It gets in the way of the gospel.

The thing that is wrong about mixing politics and Christian theology (not just eschatology) is the way that politics inevitably focuses on humanity and pulls the emphasis of our lives away from Jesus and the gospel. I'm going to say something that will be heard as controversial, but I sincerely believe it is absolutely sound and biblical. It really does not matter who is elected to any office in any country in this world, or who seizes power by force. Regardless of worldly power, the gospel must be preached to the nations, and by the grace of God it will! Echoing advertising we are bombarded with for the next two months: "I'm Martin Burch, and I approved this message."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don't miss the chance to bless.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 19:13-14

Jesus blessed these children whose parents sought Him. We need to understand culturally what is occurring here. The laying of hands upon someone in prayer was a way of blessing. It was sought from respected spiritual authority. It was a practice begun with the patriarchs with their sons and in Jesus' day it was a common practice for rabbis to bless families in this manner. The closest parallel in my ministry experience that mirrors this would be a baby or child dedication in which parents bring their children before the church in covenant community asking God's blessing on the family as they raise the child for the glory of God.

Jesus blessed all who came to Him sincerely. And so, coming alongside these parents who sought God's best for their kids, Jesus prays blessings on little children. It was His heart to bless and to give grace and mercy. He laid His healing and helping hands on little heads and prayed for the Father to care for these kids.

The disciples on the other hand had entirely the wrong attitude about this situation. They rebuked parents, perhaps because they saw this practice as a distraction for Jesus. After all, there was teaching to do, crowds to manage, and healings to see to on the way to Jerusalem for the feast. They did not share Jesus' compassion and vision for the importance of the lives of these children. So Jesus rebuked the disciples for their cold apathy, and warmly blessed families in their faithfulness. And the Jesus spoke God's blessings into the littlest of lives. What a magnificent grace is found in my Savior!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

sign seeking

"An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
Matthew 16:4

The Pharisees and Saduccees came to Jesus in their unbelief asking for Him to do some miraculous sign at their command. This was not faith, it was unbelief. It's the same thing the devil asked of Jesus: "If you are the Son of God... do this". They wanted to control Jesus and dictate His behavior. Jesus is right to call them evil and adulterous. They were placing themselves above God like Satan did and they were acting out of sheer unbelief.

Jesus' response to this rejection of Him was to simply point out their unbelieving motivations AND make a picture of the coming salvation that only He would bring available for their examination. The sign of Jonah (who was 3 days in the fish's belly), served as a picture of Jesus' own upcoming death, three days in the grave, and resurrection. It is a precursor or "coming attraction" of the gospel.

So even though Jesus physically walked away from their unbelief, He still gave the leaders of the Jews a gracious "gospel sign" to consider. The greatest work of God ever to happen was about to occur in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The climax of redemptive history was going to be what Jesus brought. They would find no greater sign than that.

Monday, September 12, 2016

bold repentance

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Psalm 51:12-13

I've always found this part of Psalm 51 to be the boldest part of David's repentance. David the adulterer, David the murderer, David the weaver of massive government and military conspiracies... this big sinner prayed this bold prayer. He had fully repented, and then he confidently asks God for joy again and offers to teach other sinners how to turn to God!

David had to know the gracious heart of God to make this requests, for if God had no grace toward the repentant King, this would have been an arrogant and presumptive request! Really, how could David the big time sinner teach sinners repentance? It would be like North Korea teaching democracy to the world. Except David's sin was forgiven because David really had repented. And with that forgiveness was restoration of relationship with God.

O Lord,
I learn from David to be bold in my repentance. I see Your grace is big enough to not only cover my sin, but to fully forgive me, and You will restore my heart to You. You let repentant sinners teach other sinners how to return to You, otherwise there would be no practical way for the gospel to go forward. That means You will use me. Thank You, Lord!

Friday, September 9, 2016

accepting consequences given by God

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Psalm 51:4

David repented of much sin in Psalm 51. These words came flowing from him after at least a year of committing and covering the really big sins of adultery, murder, and conspiracy. And when Nathan the prophet is sent by God to confront David, once David is caught in conviction, he released his repentance with tears and contrition.

Even though David's sin had a wide human impact affecting the entire nation, and even though David's actions according to the Law demanded his death, he repented exclusively to God in this Psalm. And in that acknowledgement of the guilt of his sin against God, he knew God's words that confronted sin were justified and the resultant actions of God that judged David's sins were blameless.

This is no small assent on the part of David. The judgment on this sin brought the death of an infant son and eventually over painful family crisis the death of another adult son. It cost David in intense family strife and national civil war. But those judgmental consequences decreed by a holy God are accepted as blameless by David. That is the manliest part of David's repentance as I see it in this psalm.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Ephesians 2:18

And in a short, out the way verse focusing on our great salvation in Jesus, trinitarian theology pops into view. Jesus, through His death gives us access to the Father as we are indwelt, all of us together, by the Holy Spirit. Our salvation is an active engagement with all three members of the Godhead.

Jesus, God's Son, died for us. In His atonement we are redeemed and put into His family with a new relationship with the Father. Jesus makes us holy so that God's Holy Spirit may now live in us.

The Spirit makes us one. All believers are brought together as a new creation because of the Spirit indwelling each one of us. And in this new Body of Christ, the church, we proclaim Christ's saving gospel and glorify the Father in worship.

The Father is now our Father. We are in Christ's family, co-heirs with Him through the redemption and loved by God the Father. He blesses, leads, loves, and disciplines us as His own children, born again now by Christ's merits and made alive in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

stumbling at Jesus' humanity

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:57-58

At the place that knew Jesus the most, Jesus found the coldest public reception. His hometown, Nazareth, realized that He taught with great wisdom and did "mighty works" (Matthew 13:54). Yet they were astonished at Him. They were full of unbelieving questions. How could the carpenter's son be so gifted? He came from a typically large rural peasant home. Their questions are more like offended accusations: "Where does this local boy get off telling us what to do?"

This episode anchors the divinity of Jesus in rock-solid, gritty humanity. It shows us just how human Jesus is... those who knew him the longest were convinced of His humanity to such an extent that they stumbled over the claim that He was also God. They'd seen the boy grow up! They saw just the man, Jesus... much like people do today.

Jesus is a cultural fixture, a historical personage. Only the insane would say He never really existed as a human on planet earth. He is as real a figure of history as any U.S. president. Yet people will stumble at His humanity, dismissing His deity. To do so is to miss His mighty work of salvation most of all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

treasures of the heart

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
Matthew 12:35

My heart holds the treasure that spills out into my life. If my life is marked by wrong actions and hurtful words, it is because these things come up from within me. What's more, it is because my heart treasured the things that mark my life. So to understand Jesus on human behavior is to understand how the heart motivates us to produce the actions and consequences that mark our lives.

I'm asking myself: what do I treasure? The answer to that question is found in the results of my life. It can be seen and known by others. And in the era of social media, it is broadcast to the world. Facebook is one big panorama of human values and hearts on display.

How my heart needs just one constant treasure! How hard it is to focus on what I need to value! I must value Jesus as supreme so that His words might flow from my lips, His worship be known in my life, His actions mark my days. And all else that tries to be a treasure will show up in broken people, hurting relationships, and the pain that came as a curse upon sin. From those heart treasures I must repent. Those are evil treasures. And in the repentance is a cultivated commitment to treasure what is good so that I can share from the good treasures the beauty and power and glory of my Lord Jesus!

Friday, September 2, 2016

steadfast prayer

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Colossians 4:2

Every day I pray. That's 365 days a year. And I have been doing for the most part since I was 7 1/2 years old. Let's see now... if I prayed just once a day, the math works out to be a number just north of sixteen thousand prayers. That's a whole lot of praying. But in all that profusion of prayers, I will admit this... I don't think I have been characterized as being steadfast in prayer. I've been much more consistent about worry and trying to fix things all by myself. Prayer as this command gives it, does not come naturally to me. I have to discipline myself to obey it.

Yet this command tells me to be steadfast, to be alert, and to be thankful in prayer. These are all prayer commands Jesus began teaching with His disciples, warning them to watch and pray lest they be tempted. Prayer then is a soldier's duty. Steadfast prayer is a saint's self-discipline.

And so each morning as I begin my day in scripture and wrap up time in the Word, I turn to prayer. I pray God's Word back to Him and then I offer thanks, worship, and my heart's requests to God, sometimes in my tears, sometimes in my doubts, sometimes frankly with only a dry sense of duty driving me to do it. But all of those feelings are trumped by the faith to simply believe God hears and answers prayer. And that is the secret behind being steadfast in prayer. I pray, because I believe the gospel, believe Jesus, believe the Word of God, and know that God hears me.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

from the heart

Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:20

Jesus, Who warned us not to be sinfully judgmental people (Matthew 7:1), also told us we should discern false prophets by the fruit of their actions. Many people mistakenly think that Jesus taught that we should be totally accepting of all people unconditionally. It is the psychological fallacy of "unconditional love". But all that is a tragic overstatement that misses the depth of Jesus' teaching. Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount, the same place where He said "Judge not", called people hypocrites, dogs, pigs, false prophets, workers of lawlessness, and fools. These statements were made because Jesus understood the principle that "diseased tress bring forth bad fruit". And that bad fruit calls out what is in the heart of the person showing what and who they really are.

Jesus is concerned about the heart. That really is the theme of the entire Sermon on the Mount. Those who live in Christ's kingdom do so with an intentionality of heart that differs dramatically from the world. Our lives must look completely different because we ARE completely different at the core of our being. We are changed and blessed with good fruit that comes from changed hearts. This leads us to surrender sinful motivations in obedience to our Lord. And our lives will stand on the rock amid storms and floods of difficulty because we have wisely built our lives on Jesus.

How we need to follow the Holy Spirit as He searches our hearts! And we need to own what He shows us there. We repent of sin. We celebrate our salvation in Christ. We live holy lives... all from our hearts outward.