the power of the Gospel message

christians studying

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my Gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.  But God’s Word is not chained.  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8-10).

For three weeks we have considered these three verses.  As Paul, at the end of his life, chained in a Roman dungeon for his faith, reminds Timothy and reminds us of precisely what the Gospel is: “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my Gospel….”  And that even when we find ourselves in the most dismal of life circumstances, the message of the Gospel is unchained: “This is my Gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.  But God’s Word is not chained.”

However, if we fail to live up to the Gospel, or if we define Gospel in some lesser way, we in fact are capable of chaining it.  Don’t hear me wrong, the message of the Gospel is powerful, and compelling, and without restraint.  But if there are any constraints on the message lived out in our lives as individuals or as a church they are placed there by us.

And as the Apostle writes to Timothy, in this the last letter we have from his pen, perhaps days before his death, he includes a word of perspective.  “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

What greater message is there for the church today?  That all of life is to be lived for the purpose of the Kingdom.  “For the sake of the elect.”  Our situations do not define us.  We are defined by our Lord.  “Salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”  And because of our identify in Christ and the wonder of the Gospel message we embrace a divine reality.  And we transcend the here and now.  And we call others to join us, to follow us, as we follow Christ.  This is the power of the Gospel message.

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my Gospel….”

Glory to God!

Jason

putting it all together

Little ChefTiersa is capable of composing something great out of seemingly nothing at all better than anyone I know.  “What’s for dinner,” I’ll ask her.  “Let me see what I’ve got,” she’ll say.  And she’ll take a bunch of things that to me don’t even appear to go in the same pantry, much less on the same plate, and she creates something incredibly wonderful (she would dominate on the Food Network shows Chopped and Iron Chef!).

At Creation, God creates something out of nothing.  He speaks life into existence.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2).  The word translated “created” in Hebrew is “ex-nihilo.”  Literally it means, “out of nothing.”  Technically the text could read, “In the beginning, God, out of nothing, the heavens and the earth.”  Cool stuff!

groceriesAnd we believe it.  Right?  We believe that God speaks everything that is into existence.  Don’t we?  We believe that “ex-nihilo” God creates through His Word and breathes life through His Spirit.  Do we not?  Why then do we find it so difficult to believe that He can accomplish the same in and through us?

Very often, you and I, we look at our lives and all we see is what I see when I go the pantry the day before Tiersa goes to the grocery store.  We see nothing that’s good.  Nothing that is appealing.  Nothing that can be put together, or that can be salvaged, or that’s worthwhile.  But God sees you and I like Tiersa sees all of that stuff in the pantry, that to me looked like starvation.  For what it could be.  For what we could be.

God is in the putting it all together business.  He is an expert in stepping in and saving the day.  He continually creates something absolutely wonderful out of a complete mess.  Triumph out of defeat.  Beauty out of ashes.

View of Earth From SpaceLook to Scripture.  Look to the lives of fellow followers of Jesus today.  He’s still doing it!  “Ex-nihilo.”  God.  Out of nothing.  Faithful, strong, redeemed, alive, made new, made whole, focused, joyful, at peace – men and women of the Kingdom.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” (Isaiah 61:1-2b; cf. Luke 4:18-19).

Glory to God!

Jason

here’s my heart

Loving the Word Worship Background

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is one of my absolute favorite hymns.  Written in 1758 by Robert Robinson when he was only 23.  As the story goes Robinson’s father died when he was young.  His mother, barely able to make ends meet, worked most of the time and so Robinson was left to more or less raise himself.  By his late teens Robinson had a number of enemies and number of troubles.  However it was at this time in his life that he began to consider his own mortality and the person he was becoming.  He turned to seek Christ at the age of 20 and soon penned the words of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  Within the words themselves, we sense the Robinson’s internal struggle, and perhaps our own….

Come Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.  Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for song of loudest praise.  Teach me ever to adore Thee.  May I still Thy goodness prove. While the hope of endless glory fills my heart with joy and love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come.  And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.  Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.  He to rescue me from danger interposed His precious blood. 

O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!  Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee.  Never let me wander from Thee.  Never leave the God I love.  Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

We, like Robinson, struggle at times in our walk and in closeness to God.  And when that closeness isn’t there, we know that it’s not God who has distanced Himself from us.

The story continues that soon after writing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robinson walked away from the Lord.  Fast forward 16 years.  He is now 39 years old.  He has spent the last years just getting by: gambling, drinking, living from one place to the next, no God, no faith, no purpose in life – no life – just existence.  Robinson steps onto a stage in England.  Half hung-over, depressed, a shell of the man he once was.  A woman in the stagecoach with him recognizes how down he is.  The story goes that she says to him, “There is a song that we sing at church from time to time that gives me great hope and cheers me up, might I share the words with you?”  And after Robinson concedes to allow the woman to share, she begins to sing him Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing….

After the woman stops singing, Robinson, tears in his eyes, replies, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds to feel now what I felt then.”  The moment served as a defining one, a turning point in Robinson’s life, in which he recommitted himself once again to God.

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

Glory to God!

Jason

anchor verses

anchorDon’t some portions of Scripture speak to us more powerfully and poignantly than others?  Not that there any that are of less importance (surely we know one another better than that by now), but aren’t there some sections of the Bible that are exceptionally meaningful?  Out of experience, out of grief, out of triumph, aren’t there texts within the text that speak to our hearts and give life to the reality that God’s Word is living and active?

1 Peter 2:9 is one of my favorite verses in Scripture.  I have probably spoken it more often and gravitated toward it in my teaching and preaching and in everyday conversations even more than Romans 12 or John 1 or Ephesians 3 (which is saying something!).

The Apostle Peter affirms, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”  We are a “chosen people.”  We are chosen by God.  He chooses to love.  He chooses to redeem.  He chooses to forgive.  He chooses to adopt.  God chooses.  We are a “royal priesthood.”  We come to Him with nothing but our sin, and yet, He elevates us to the status of royalty in His Kingdom.  In doing so we are called to be priests.  We are those who stand in the gap between God and the world around us.  We are “a people belonging to God.”  Literally, in the Greek, “A people chosen for possession.”  Our purpose, our meaning, our identity is enveloped in Him and in who we are because of Him.  So that we “may declare the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.”  For me, each phrase of 1 Peter 2:9 is an arrival.  And speaks to me in a very challenging, and yet also, comforting way.

Anchored In ChristWhat are your anchor verses?  What are Scriptures that you run to?  Texts that empower you?  Comfort you?  Words from our Father that you gravitate toward?  Words that are more than words, because they are living and active and speak to your heart?

Glory to God!

Jason

victorious in our salvation

In Luke chapter 4 we are given insight into the human and divine nature of our Savior as Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit.  During forty days of fasting (or at the conclusion of them depending upon your understanding of the text) Jesus is tempted by Satan.  “‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’  Jesus answered, ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’  The devil then led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to Him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’  Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’  The devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple.  ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here.  For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’  Jesus answered, ‘It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:3-13).

Much could be said about this event in Jesus’ life and ministry.  The fact that it occurred (when you consider Matthew’s account) immediately following the baptism of Jesus is significant.  Jesus’ discipline and complete and total reliance upon God in fasting during this time powerfully speaks to us.  Jesus’ response to each test while abiding in God’s Word is crucial.  Certainly Satan’s distortion of Scripture in Jesus’ testing is something that should be emphasized.  But what I’d like for us to consider are the reasons behind the specific ways in which Jesus is tempted/tested.

“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  Notice Satan’s condescension: “If….”  Did Satan know that Jesus was God’s Son?  Absolutely.  Did Jesus know?  You better believe it!  Was there anyone else present for this conversation besides the two of them?  No.  So why begin with question?  He’s testing Jesus’ character!  And why bread?  Because of Jesus’ hunger?  Yes.  But even more so, if ever there was going to be a moment where Jesus was susceptible and fragile in His humanity this would have been it.  Our Lord, however, stood firm.  And why the temptation of the kingdoms of the world?  Power.  Prestige.  Authority.  Ego.  The temptation of salvation while falling from the pinnacle of the temple?  Along those same lines: Pride.  Arrogance.  Ability.  Worth.  The writer of Hebrews acknowledges that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  And we see this reality clearly lived out in our Lord’s life in His testing.  But in doing so, do we to see our own humanness as we are tempted by Satan every day as well?

John the Apostle writes, “For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).  Precisely the three areas in which our Savior was tempted.

We are in such dire need of salvation.  So God sent us Jesus.  But He sent Christ not only to save us, but to show us.  To show us how to live victorious in our salvation.

Glory to God!

Jason

the avenues of God

Anytime a Christian struggles with faithfulness to God, the avenues of God, readily available to the believer, are intrinsically granted in the covenant that Almighty God has given us in His Son Jesus.

Paul speaks of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6 by which we “take our stand against the devil’s schemes” (v11).  The belt of truth.  The breastplate of righteousness.  The shield of faith.  The helmet of salvation.  The sword of the Spirit, God’s Word (His spoken, written, and Living Word).  These implements are defensive in nature.  Protective by design.

In Roman armor the belt is secured first.  The breastplate, once in place, is then connected to the belt with leather straps.  The helmet was often also, once in place, connected to the breastplate in a similar manner.  There are two swords that were at the Roman soldier’s disposal.  One was long.  An offensive weapon.  The other was short.  More easily maneuvered.  In battle the shorter sword was often held in the soldier’s off hand because it was utilized primarily as a defensive weapon.  Paul’s description here is of the shorter, defensive sword.  It further depicts God’s covenantal, protective nature and the avenues relationship with God though the Gospel of Jesus provide us as His disciples.  But, do we devote ourselves to them?

What are the avenues God has given us to draw nearer to Him during times of temptation?  To protect us during times of attack from Satan?  In order that we might prove faithful to Him?  I believe four primary avenues He has granted us are: His Spirit, His Word, prayer, and each other.

However, do we truly invest ourselves in these pivotal facets of our faith?  How in tune are we with His Spirit that resides within us?  Are we aware of the Spirit’s direction, counsel, and the spiritual strength He provides?  Do we read Scripture?  Do we hide His Word in our hearts?  How much time do we spend with God in His Word?  And in prayer?  Do we intentionally pray?  Do we set aside intentional time to pray to our Father?  Do we commune with Him every moment of life?  Do we strengthen one another?  Hold one another accountable?  Do we have the relationship with committed disciples of Jesus as faithful participants in the Kingdom that covenant provides and faithfulness requires?

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3)

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

“Everything we need,” Peter assures.  “A way out,” Paul affirms.

But do we pursue the avenues of God?

Glory to God!

Jason

jean

A freelance reporter from the New York Times interviewed a woman named Jean in the late 1950’s.  The reporter was aware of woman’s painful past, how she had endured a childhood of neglect and abuse and had been shuffled from one foster home to another. Her childhood led into adulthood in which she now continued the vicious cycle of neglect and abuse.  One husband after another.  One relationship after another.  One pursuit after another.  Each one affirming what she felt inside.  She had little value.  Little self-worth.  Even if no one else could see it, she knew.

At the end of the interview the reporter asked her, “Did you ever feel loved by any of the foster families with whom you lived?”  “Once,” she replied, “when I was about seven or eight.  The woman I was living with was putting on makeup, and I was sitting on the counter watching her.  She was in a happy mood for the moment, and for whatever reason, she reached over and patted my cheeks with her rouge….  For that moment, I felt loved.”

She would seek to duplicate that feeling for the rest of her life, never succeeding.  So much so that even in a very public relationship with the president of the United States he would refuse to kiss her on the lips because of his “ethics.”  Again affirming how little she was valued in this life.  “Jean” or “Norma Jean” as she was known by her friends or “Marilyn Monroe” as she is known by the rest of the world, had tears in her eyes when she remembered the event where her foster mother had touched her cheek, the one single, solitary moment she felt loved.

And the question we ask is why?  Why did this one moment mean so much?

Here’s what Gary Smalley in The Blessing writes: “The touch lasted only a few seconds, and it happened decades before. It was even done in a casual, playful way, not in any attempt to communicate great warmth or meaning. But as small an act as it was, it was like pouring buckets of love and security on the parched life of a little girl starved for affection.”

We are designed as such that we yearn for, we long for, love and affirmation.  Ultimately, love and affirmation that are only fully found in our heavenly Father.   In a God who so readily affirms who we are if we will but allow Him.  Through the message of Jesus and the relationship that our Father grants to us in Christ we are affirmed as loved, as valued, as important, as cherished.

You will search your entire life for affirmation and meaning and purpose and blessing to no avail, until you find in all in relationship with God….

Glory to God!

Jason

as perfect as i supposed myself

“I have tried the pharisaic plan, and the monastic.  I was once so straight, that, like the Indian’s tree, I leaned a little the other way.  And however much I may be slandered now as seeking ‘popularity’ or a popular course, I have to rejoice that to my own satisfaction, as well as to others, I proved that truth, and not popularity, was my object; for I was once so strict a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing praises with any one who was not as perfect as I supposed myself.  In this most unpopular course I persisted until I discovered the mistake, and saw that on the principle embraced in my conduct, there never could be a congregation or church upon the earth.”

– Alexander Campbell, 1827

Glory to God!

Jason

our worth to God

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).

Only in Christ and through grace do we fully see our worth to God.

Glory to God!

Jason

for those who preach….

“In the front pews the older ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six year old daughter a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker.  A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand.  The vice president of a bank who twice that week has seriously contemplated suicide places a hymnal in the rack.  A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her.  A high school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center and tucks it under his knee.  The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler.  The stakes have never been higher.” – Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth

Glory to God!

Jason