The Grand Canyon of the Gospel

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon? I have. Twice. The view from every vantage point takes one’s breath away.

As stunning as that vista is, it doesn’t compare to the scene of God’s love on display in the gospel of Christ. Greg Gilbert capitalizes on that illustration in his book What Is the Gospel?

How long has it been since you looked up from the earthly details of life and came face to face with the Grand Canyon of what God has done for us in the gospel—his unfathomable grace in forgiving people who have rebelled against him, his breathtaking plan to send his Son to suffer and die in their place, to establish the throne of the resurrected Jesus over a kingdom of perfect righteousness, and to bring those who are saved and redeemed by his blood into a new heavens and new earth where sin and evil will be forever conquered!

How is it that I let the beauty and power and vastness of that gospel be crowded out of my mind so often and for so long? Why is it that my thoughts and emotions are often dominated by silly things like whether my car is clean, or what’s happening on CNN right now, or whether I was happy with my lunch today, rather than by these glorious truths? Why do I so often organize and think about my life as if I were wearing blinders, rather than in the light of eternity? Why does this gospel not permeate, all the time and all the way to the bottom, my relationships with my wife and children, my coworkers and friends and fellow church members?

I know exactly why. It’s because I’m a sinner, and worldliness will continue to linger in my heart and war against me until the day Jesus comes back. But until then, I want to fight against that. I want to fight against spiritual laziness—against the drugged stupor this world constantly threatens to put me in—and I want to embrace this gospel hard and let it affect everything—my actions, affections, emotions, desires, thoughts, and will (p. 114-15).

Content likes that makes me eager to sit under Greg’s teaching this Friday night and Saturday morning in our Living in the Grip of the Gospel Conference at OGC. Oh for a people who embrace the gospel hard and let it effect everything!

Colton Who?

If you are an American Idol fan, you probably didn’t react that way when you heard, if you did on Sunday, about Colton Dixon coming to OGC for a free mini-concert on Friday evening, February 8, at 7 PM (doors open at 6:30 PM). I must admit after all these years I have yet to view a single episode of that enormously popular show. Call me culturally challenged.

Without knowing who the young man was, I actually witnessed him minister a powerful rendition of Jesus Paid It All at Passion 2013 in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Apparently Dixon, a unapologetic Christ-follower, fared quite well in season 11 of Idol finishing 7th. He is only the second artist, other than the winner of that season, to release an album with The Messenger. He appears to be one of those very rare unique individuals able to bridge the gap between pop culture musically and the Christian music scene.

Our friends at Z88.3 have made this possible, for which we are very grateful. For more information on their advertising of the event click here.

I am excited for the unique opportunity that this is, but I confess I am even more excited about the opportunity this will afford to promote our Living in the Grip of the Gospel conference with Greg Gilbert, author of What Is the Gospel, slated for April 19 & 20 at our church. The more people we can expose to the truths of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the better in my book.

Thank you, Lord, for dropping such a sweet opportunity into our laps. God is good. All the time.

Save the Date!

Let me encourage you to access your calendar right now or as soon as possible and set apart the dates below at OGC for the following:

What: Living in the Grip of the Gospel – What Is the Gospel? Conference

Who: Pastor and Author Greg Gilbert, Third Avenue Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky

When: April 19 & 20, 2013 (Friday evening and Saturday morning)

Where: Orlando Grace Church, 872 Maitland Ave, Altamonte Springs, FL

Why: Greg Gilbert is author of the 9Marks book What Is the Gospel? (Crossway, 2010, 127 pages). Dr. Al Mohler writes this about Greg and his book:

Greg Gilbert is one of the brightest and most faithful young men called to serve the church today. Here he offers us a penetrating, faithful, and fully biblical understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no greater need than to know the true gospel, to recognize the counterfeits, and to set loose a generation of gospel-centered Christians. This very important book arrives at just the right moment.

That’s our goal – to set loose a generation of gospel-centered Christians in Central Florida. Pray that God does just that!

Is the Reformation Over?

Intriguing question.

Some have raised it in recent past.

More recently, Dr. R. C. Sproul has revisited the question and offered a resounding “No” in reply in his book Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism. I finished reading this relatively brief synopsis (129 pages) of the subject during my time in Idaho.

The author explains his purpose this way:

In this book, I have a simple goal. I want to look at Roman Catholic teaching in several significant areas and compare it with Protestant teaching. I hope to show, often using her own words, that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed from what it believed and taught at the time of the Reformation. That means that the Reformation is not over and we must continue to stand firm in proclaiming the biblical gospel (p. 9).

And look he does into six key areas:

  1. Scripture
    In what he calls the fundamental issue of the Reformation, Sproul explains that the basis of authority was the formal cause behind the protests of Martin Luther and company. They raised the rally cry Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, in contrast to Rome’s appeal to Scripture PLUS tradition.
  2. Justification
    Commonly known as the chief article or the formal cause of the Reformation, regarding justification (how God declares the sinner righteous) Sproul masterfully explains the difference between the Reformer’s view of double imputation (that our sin was put on Christ and His righteousness was reckoned to us by faith alone – Sola Fide)  and Rome’s idea of justification as a matter of faith PLUS  works, namely participation in the sacraments (baptism and penance in particular). Especially sobering was the insight Sproul brings out from the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Rome’s response to the Reformation, declaring justification by faith alone as a view of salvation to be anathema (accursed)! He further notes that this is a position yet to be reversed by Vatican I (1869-70), Vatican II (1962-65), or the revisions to the Catholic Catechism as recent as 1995.
  3. The Church
    Sproul takes care as he writes to give credit where it is due throughout the book. He demolishes ill-advised caricatures of Roman Catholicism when necessary. He is no Catholic basher, to his credit. He shows in this chapter a more irenic tone from Rome in the move from labeling Protestants as “schismatics” and “heretics” in Vatican I to “separated brethren” in Vatican II. Still the question lingers as to whether someone can genuinely be saved outside the Catholic communion. Salvation for Rome must involve the sacraments which only an ordained priest may rightfully perform. Protestants appeal to justification by faith in Christ alone. They cannot both be the gospel at the same time.
  4. The Sacraments
    Sproul reviews how Protestants observe two ordinances of Christ – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics on the other hand have seven: baptism, confirmation, matrimony, extreme unction (prayer for the sick and dying), holy orders (for officers of the church), penance (for the restoration of justification when mortal sin kills it), and the Lord’s Supper. He zeroes in on the first and the last noting in the Roman system how baptism allegedly conveys the grace of justification (baptismal regeneration) and that in the Supper with the so-called miracle of the mass, the body of Christ is broken anew. He frankly concludes: Rome is proclaiming things that are repugnant to those who believe and trust the Word of God (p. 84).
  5. The Papacy
    A very interesting aspect of this study involves the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Dr. Sproul explains how this came about over time, well after the Protestant Reformation. Still it represents a significant departure from Protestantism, and more importantly the Bible, that declares only One man ever spoke entirely without error in dispensing divine revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  6. Mary
    Like the doctrine of papal infallibility, the ideas related to Mary as “the second Eve” with her immaculate conception, bodily assumption, and coronation in heaven, came about long after the Reformation. And while considerable disagreement exists even within the Catholic communion about some of these things, Mary still takes on significance in their doctrine well beyond Scriptural warrant.

So why belabor all this? Well, for a couple of reasons. Recent movements in evangelicalism in the name of ecumenicism have sought to unite Catholics and Protestants. I would agree with Sproul that while they have their merit in calling the various traditions to stand together on social issues like abortion among others, the terminology contained within these various documents blurs the distinction between who is genuinely a Christian and who is not. Dr. Sproul does a great job in this book of demonstrating that we are decidedly not together and that what is at stake is nothing less than the gospel in the stand we take related to such broad-sweeping initiatives.

Another reason for this lengthy post lies with OGC’s unique location directly across the street from a Roman Catholic church. In all our endeavors to be good neighbors, like last week’s parking give-away, we must never lose sight that our core doctrines do not align and nothing less than the eternal salvation of souls hangs in the balance.

Finally, tomorrow is Reformation Sunday. We will gather to worship and praise our great God and Savior for the recovery of the gospel in the Protestant Reformation, the gospel in which we stand and about which I intend to preach from 1 Cor. 15:1-11. May we give thanks to God for our rich heritage and never fail to keep this precious gospel the main thing. As long the tendency to drift into error exists, the church must remain given to the rally cry semper reformanda (always reforming).

The Reformation is not over. Not by a long shot. It better not be in a church of our tradition.

The Finer Art of How to Walk Into Church

What better time to consider this concept than having opened a new building?

As we all attempt to carve out our particular spots in the auditorium, perhaps we could take a g0spel-shaped tack in determining our seats from week to week.

How so? Here’s a thought.

Pray about where you sit. This is called the “Pew Prayer’ or in our case the “Seat Prayer,” since we don’t have any pews.

The idea is not original with me. I came across it recently while reading through a great little book on ministry called The Trellis & the Vine. Copies, by the way, are available in our resource center for only $8.

I borrowed it from an article referenced in the footnotes for chapter four entitled The Ministry of the Pew.

Here is the thrust of the idea from the article:

Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church—‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 4; 1 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘St Hubert’s Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own. . . . If at church we are working to strengthen our fellow believers, where we sit becomes important since part of our work will be talking to our neighbor in the pew, welcoming people, helping each other understand God’s word and praying with each other. The ‘Pew Prayer’ was a significant turning point in my understanding of what church is all about. It changed my reasons for going to church. The shift was made from being the ‘helpee’ to the helper, the served to the servant (emphasis added). Church is where we seek spiritual food and encouragement in order to become more godly; but church is also where we go in order to feed other people and encourage them. In God’s mercy, we become more Christ-like in the process, as like him we deny ourselves for the sake of others. But our purpose in gathering with God’s people is to strengthen them and build the body of Christ. We look for opportunities to assist the growth of the church in practical ways.

Good stuff. I commend the notion to us all.

Beginning this Sunday why not walk into church (on time, sorry, couldn’t resist) praying the pew prayer: “Lord, where would you have me sit and help me engage with the word in the power of the Spirit as led?”

Something Else for Which Jesus Cares Greatly (Part 5)

Today’s message from John 15:1-11 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

This section from vs. 7-8 as well as next week’s from vs. 9-11 focus on two crucial means of abiding in Jesus for the ensuring of our fruitfulness. This first one has to do with word-saturated prayer.

The love of Jesus goes on display in the farewell discourse as Jesus seeks to equip His disciples for their partnership in His gospel mission. Here He reveals another secret of fruitfulness: With truly actual persevering vital connection with Him there is the practice of means and the promise of certain ends accompanying fruitfulness. Again the first means is word-saturated prayer. The ends are two-fold – God gets the glory by being the  giver as He answers our prayers related to the mission and our salvation status is further assured as those who truly are His disciples, evidenced by the fruit born in answer to prayer.

J. D. Greear, in this month’s resource, Gospel, finishes one of his chapters on prayer shaped by the gospel this way:

I am confident this book has found its way into the hands of someone whose school or city God wants to turn upside down. Or maybe God is stirring your heart to go to one of the 6,600 unreached people groups. Maybe you will believe in God’s compassion for that group, and through your faith their salvation will become a reality. Maybe you are the first believer in your family, and God will use your faith to bring the rest of your family to Him. Where you are, expect great things from God, and then attempt great things for Him. Pray with the confidence that comes from the gospel: “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

I’ll say “Amen'” to that.

Let us pray for the nations and the people where we live,work, and play with the confidence that comes from the gospel.

Oh, dear ones, let us pray, let us pray, let us pray.

August Resource of the Month

Now that we have occupied our new facility and now that we have a lovely dedicated space for displaying resources for sale to our people, I want to introduce a new feature of the blog beginning this month and I hope recurring every month from here on.

Welcome to the resource of the month!

We currently stock approximately forty different titles covering a wide range of subjects on the shelves in the middle of our entryway .

When I thought about which title would get top billing here in August, I immediately considered the fact that this month is missions month at OGC (hope to see you at 9:30 AM on Sundays this month in the auditorium for interviews with various ones of our missionaries). That would have made John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad an easy selection for promotion. However, I opted not to go that direction. I landed on J. D. Greear’s book Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary. Why is that?

I do see a connection between missions month and Greear’s book. Only those held fast in the grip of the gospel will likely engage in Jesus’ mission to reach the world in global missions and the city in local outreach. It’s just too tough a sell otherwise. In getting a bunch of our folks to invest in a copy of Greear’s book, I hope to fan the flame of our church’s passion for both from a supernatural motivational perspective.

The author states his aim in the book quite plainly:

Over the next several chapters, I want to reacquaint you with the gospel. Not just with the doctrines, but with its power. The gospel is the announcement that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe have eternal life in Him. I want you to see the gospel not only as the means by which you get into heaven, but as the driving force behind every single moment of your life. I want to help, in some small way, your eyes to be opened (again) to the beauty and greatness of God. I want you to see how the gospel, and it alone, can make you genuinely passionate for God, free you from captivity to sin, and move you outward to joyful sacrifice on behalf of others (p. 5, emphasis mine).

Obviously J. D. Greear writes with a mission to believers in churches like ours . He wants to show us the vital importance of seeing the gospel as not just something we believed in the past but as something in which we stand and are being saved moment-by-moment in the present (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

He goes about that in a most practical way. He introduces in Part 2, the bulk of the book, what he calls the Gospel Prayer. I blogged on that elsewhere in the past so won’t repeat the concepts here. This feature and the practical application it offers in the challenge to pray this prayer daily as an antidote to gospel amnesia makes Greear’s book my choice for putting before us when, in fact, a good number of other books out there focus on the gospel as well – Matt Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel and Greg Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel also excellent options just to name two.

May I encourage you to invest in a copy of Pastor J D’s book? A number of copies are available on the shelves of our resource center for $10 each. You can put your cash or check in the payment box supplied on one of the shelves for your convenience.

Imagine with me, if you will, a church full of people who embrace this thought with which Greear closes on p. 248:

The gospel is not merely the diving board off of which you jumped into the pool of Christianity; the gospel is the pool itself. So keep going deeper into it. You’ll never find the bottom.

Fancy a swim in this particular part of the pool? You won’t regret it as you plumb further the depths of the glorious gospel of our blessed God (1 Tim. 1:11).

Life’s Ultimate “What If?”

Today’s Easter message from 1 Cor. 15:12-20 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here is how I summarized the argument in this portion of the epistle:

But here’s the good news. Paul has trafficked in the hypothetical for the purposes of his logical argument in these last eight verses. He has made his point. Denying the reality bodily resurrection results in logically necessary consequences of the most catastrophic kinds – false gospel, futile preaching and faith, fraudulent witness, flourishing sin, forever death, and forlorn-to-the-utmost believers. But none of that is the case! Look at v. 20. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. So we may rightly, and I am indebted to John Piper for this insight, reverse the implications of all six of Paul’s logically necessary consequences. We have no false gospel but a true one with Christ raised from the dead. We have no futile preaching and faith it produces, but full and worthwhile-to-the-max preaching and faith with Christ raised from the dead. We have no fraudulent witness but truthful witness with Christ raised from the dead. We have no flourishing sin but rather fully forgiven sin before God and resurrection power to fight its remaining influences until one day we are completely delivered from this flesh with Christ risen from the dead. We have no forever death but everlasting life and hope of being reunited with all those who have fallen asleep before us with Christ risen from the dead. And we have no forlorn, misplaced, pitiable hope but rather an enviable, blessed-above-all-others kind of hope, even if it costs us our lives, with Christ risen from the dead.

Blessed Easter to all.

We are anything but forlorn! He is risen. He is risen indeed!

One Cure for My Justification By Ministry Syndrome

Truth is I need multiple cures for this disease. Most if not all pastors struggle with it. It evidences itself in a tendency to validate one’s existence by perceived success in the gospel work.

It shows up a lot on Sunday mornings. We can measure it by how we feel about attendance at our services. High numbers in the house, doing OK. Low numbers, not so OK. Strong offering, sweet. Weak offering, bitter. Lots of sermon compliments out the door, flying high. Little to no “at ta boys,” or worse yet, critical comments, laid low.

In the Lord’s faithfulness to contribute further to the eradication of this affliction, He has added a new wrinkle to my life. It’s called your-new-building-won’t-be-ready-for-Easter-opening disappointment. A number of folks have asked me how I am handling the setback of the revised timetable.

My answer remains the same. It’s not wise to complain about answers to prayer. What I mean is this. I/we have prayed since the outset of the project that we wouldn’t allow the building which is a good thing to become a god thing which would make it a bad thing. In other words, we don’t want to turn the whole deal into an idol.

In my experience the most effective way God tests my heart for revealing something I delight in more than Him is to take it away from me or keep me from it. I figure having to wait for this blessing and especially not capitalizing on Easter for outreach purposes that might result in a full building (maybe even two services) and the perception of success are just, among other things, another way that Jesus wants to keep me far afield of the justification by ministry syndrome. He has answered my prayer in not letting the building become an idol. Best not to complain.

So, I am content. I think. Yes, I am pretty sure, it’s OK. God is in control. We’ll get the CO when we are supposed to get it and we’ll open the building when we are supposed to open it. Then I will have a whole bunch of other temptations no doubt to justification by ministry syndrome. Lord, have mercy.

Fortunately I know the one Physician with healing power and His prescription for keeping the perilous condition at bay, the gospel. There is hope even for me and my perpetual idol-making factory of a heart.

Tim Keller, in an interview addressing idolatry in pastors, said it well:

When you find yourself unusually discouraged because things aren’t growing or people aren’t listening to you — you have to catch yourself. You have to realize ‘This is an inordinate amount of discouragement, which reveals the idolatry of justification by ministry.’ Meaning, you say you believe in justification by grace, but you feel like and are acting like you believe in justification by ministry. You have to recognize you are making something of an idol out of ministry. When you do experience inordinate discouragement because things aren’t going well, you need to say, ‘It’s okay to be discouraged but not to be this discouraged. This is discouragement that leads to idolatry,’ and you repent.

To read the rest of what he had to say click here.

Are you trusting in anything or anyone other than Jesus for your justification?

You can bet your life as a child of God He will find ways to pry your fingers loose from whatever it is so that you more thoroughly cling to Jesus for His glory and your joy.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

The Explicit Gospel Tour

Always on the lookout for resources and opportunities to war against the dreadful disease that is gospel amnesia, I gladly commend to our people this event  billed as making the gospel clear for both the non-believer and the Christian.

On Saturday evening, April 21, at Crosspointe Church Orlando, Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor at the Village Church in Dallas Texas, will conclude his six-city tour with an evening service to share the gospel in a winsome and engaging manner, articulating the pertinence of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for both salvation and sanctification.

The purpose of this event is to make the gospel clear not only to nonbelievers, but also to those who have grown up in church their whole lives and aren’t seeing the staggering implications of the good news of grace. Also, Crossway Publishers will be promoting the release of Chandler’s new book, The Explicit Gospel along with other Christian books to help people know Jesus and make Him known.

You can learn more about the event and purchase tickets on line here.

This is a unique opportunity in our back yard. I trust many of our folks might take advantage of it and attend.

Please note: Shane and Shane will not perform at this particular event. Sorry!