BARS, CHAINS, & BIRTHDAYS

More Reflections Along the Jaw Rebuilding Road

Last Tuesday took me to yet another doctor appointment in Miami. Never have I looked forward to the 500 mile, day-long marathon trip as I did for this particular visit.

Time to remove the Erector Set pile of metal bars and chains holding my reconstructed jaw shut for the last 21 days.

crocodiles_resting_together

What a war! Two surgical residents. Pliers. Wire cutters. Suction. It started easy enough. But before long the yanking, twisting, pulling, and tugging increased. I stiffened in the chair like a 2×6 piece of red fir. My kingdom for some nitrous oxide–PLEASE!

Once the nurse turned the gas on high I settled in for the duration. Bloodied and sore after it all, the word “Armageddon” kept running through my head for some reason.

It felt SO GOOD to open my mouth again. No more practicing the ventriloquist act for this preacher. Never I have enjoyed so much like I did that night flossing and brushing both sides of my teeth!

Rarely have I anticipated solid food again with more delight. The first bite of fish (soft and sauce remain my culinary mandates for the duration) melted in my mouth. I moaned at the savory taste with pleasure. But then came a moan of a different kind.

Chewing brought pain–again. There simply was no opening my jaw wide enough to bite down on the food. Both sockets hurt with each movement. I could hardly manipulate the food with my tongue so as to position it where teeth remain for mastication.

Sigh. This will take longer than I think. Double sigh.

But–my chains are gone! I’ve been set free! Slowly my range of motion improves. Each day it hurts a bit less to get solid food down. RoboJaw 2 gets further in the rear view mirror with each passing day. I am so thankful.

The next day, Wednesday, I turned 44, spiritually speaking. I celebrated yet another spiritual birthday. For some reason I happen to be one of those Christians who knows just when the Spirit of God blew with power resulting in his spiritual birth (John 3:1-8).

I don’t know that it matters all that much or not whether one knows the time and date specifics of his regeneration–although a special friend of mine admitted she envies that for me.

What matters a great deal more is the assurance that one has been born again. You know the Lord has changed your heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). You enjoy the  assurance of hope in eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

You fear no condemnation because Jesus’ propitiating sacrifice has satisfied the wrath of God most holy justly upon you for your sin (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1; 8:1). Your sins are forgiven. Those chains are gone. You’ve been set free and are free indeed (John 8:31-32)!

You trust that the blood of Jesus covers all your sins. J. C. Ryle expressed the inexpressible joy of this particular assurance so well:

This wondrous blood of Christ, applied to your conscience, can cleanse you from all sin. It matters nothing what your sins may have been, “Though they be as scarlet they may be made like snow. Though they be red like crimson they can be made like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18.) From sins of youth and sins of age, from sins of ignorance and sins of knowledge—from sins of open profligacy and sins of secret vice—from sins against law and sins against Gospel—from sins of head, and heart, and tongue, and thought, and imagination—from sins against each and all of the ten commandments—from all these the blood of Christ can set us free. To this end was it appointed; for this cause was it shed; for this purpose it is still a fountain open to all mankind. That thing which you cannot do for yourself can be done in a moment by this precious fountain. YOU CAN HAVE ALL YOUR SINS CLEANSED AWAY.

Have you been born again?

September Resource of the Month

orlando grace church 002 300x168 August Resource of the Month

With the establishment of our sweet and newly-stocked resource center at our new building, the options overflow these first few months for choosing a book to feature for our reading and study enjoyment.

When I thought about this month’s offering, I didn’t have to linger long over the choice. I went with Richard Philllips’ terrific little read (110 pages) entitled What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? Here’s why.

Scott Devor begins teaching a new equipping hour on this subject tomorrow morning during the 9:30 hour. This would make an excellent introductory volume for anyone desiring to do additional study. Don’t worry Greg and Joe, I have you covered in the October resource of the month – God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. Your turn is coming!

But another reason compelled me to start with Phillips’ book. With the opening of our facility we have a number of new folks in the mix. Some may very well be knew to reformed theology and not acquainted with TULIP as a way of summarizing these biblical truths as our spiritual forefathers have done. My hope is a resource like this will help answer a number of questions our newcomers may have about this important aspect of our teaching at OGC.

Indeed Phillips organizes his book largely around the TULIP acronym. After an opening chapter treating the greatness of God’s sovereignty in Scripture overall, he then proceeds to unpack, all with the same heading, What’s So Great About . . .

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints

The author states his aim in writing this way:

This book has two purposes. The first is to explain the doctrines of grace, also known as the “Five Points of Calvinism,” through the exposition of Scripture. In this, my aim is not to exhaust the biblical data or to engage in heavy biblical polemics with differing theological views. Instead, I seek to exposit definitive passages as they pertain to the respective doctrines. My approach is to present and explain the doctrines as plainly as possible by drawing out both the clear teaching of the Bible’s text and the necessary implications thereof. The second purpose is one that I find often neglected in treatments of distinctive Reformed doctrines, though to my mind is equally important. This purpose is to help believers feel the power of these precious truths in their lives. In other words, I aim not merely to teach the doctrines of grace, but to show what is so great about them. And how great they are! If we really believe the Bible’s teaching on the sovereign, mighty, and effectual grace of God, these doctrines not only will be dearly beloved, they will exercise a radical influence on our entire attitude toward God, ourselves, the present life, and the life to come (pp. xi-xii).

The book may lack for its omission of the historical background behind the formulation of these doctrines, but given the author’s agenda and desire to stay concise, we may forgive that. Especially helpful in each chapter is the answering of key objections to the teachings and a fleshing out of the implications of these truths in our lives.

I am happy to be able to offer copies of this work at only a donation of $8 thanks to our good friends at Reformation Trust. Pick up your copy tomorrow or some Sunday soon!

Precious Little on the Loss of Precious Little Ones

Whether referencing our confession of faith or the Scriptures themselves, that seems to sum things up.

We just don’t have a great deal of authoritative data to work from in forming our convictions about what happens to the infants of believers who die in infancy.

The confession takes a position, for sure, in chapter 10 on Effectual Calling, paragraph 3:

Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases. The same is true of all elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called through the preaching of the gospel.

It lists only John 3:3,5, 6, & 8 as proof texts.

Honestly, I don’t find the statement all that helpful. Election lies within the sovereign decree of God. That Christian parents who lose their infants can only wonder whether or not their child falls under that category seems to me to offer little or even no comfort at all.

The Bible says more, but in some ways not as much as we might hope in specific to settle the matter. Rather we must draw theological inferences from texts that can help inform our thoughts and encourage our hope that someone like Annabelle went to be with the Lord on Saturday and that her folks will see her again some day in heaven.

I could rehearse those texts and thoughts in my own words, but frankly I have a memorial service message to write between now and Friday. Furthermore, Desiring God published a blog post some time ago that summarizes the question supremely well.

Here is a significant section from the article by Matt Perman:

It is important to emphasize that, in our view, God is not saving infants because they are innocent. They are not innocent, but guilty. He is saving them because, although they are sinful, in his mercy he desires that compassion be exercised upon those who are sinful and yet lack the capacity to grasp the truth revealed about Him in nature and to the human heart.

To read the entire post click here.

A memorial service for Annabelle Walton will be held at Orlando Grace this Friday, June 22, at 7 PM. Visitation with the family will take place from 5:30 to 6:45 PM. Refreshments will be served.

Please continue to pray for the Waltons and their extended family as they walk through the valley of the shadow and reckon that even in staggering loss Jesus is enough.

By the Grace of God I Am What I Am

One of the great liberating texts of Scripture in my life comes from 1 Corinthians 15:10.

By the grace of God I am what I am.

In spite of Paul’s horrific resume as a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent (1 Tim. 1:13), he counted himself among those who witnessed the resurrected Christ first-hand and became the hardest working apostle of all. And he attributed it all to grace and nothing but grace.

John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, offered this response on an occasion of hearing this verse of divine writ:

I am not what I ought to be. Ah, how imperfect and deficient!

I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good!

I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be,
nor what I wish to be,
nor what I hope to be,
I can truly say, I am not what I once was;
a slave to sin and Satan;
and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge,
‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’

Though none of us is what we ought, wish, or hope to be, and won’t be until we reach glory, truth is we aren’t what we once were.

May we heartily join with the apostle and declare, By the grace of God I am what I am.

Why Celebrate Reformation Day?

Better known for Halloween in our culture, October 31 marks the anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold and courageous posting of his 95 theses on the Wittenburg Church door in 1517. The dominoes toppled from that point on culminating in what we know as the Protestant Reformation.

Last night folks from our church gathered for a family-friendly, interactive-learning, fun-filled and creative celebration of this oh-so-important date in church history. Many thanks to all who served to make the evening so memorable and worthwhile!

At the outset of the evening, I spoke briefly as to why I believe we simply must as a church shaped by reformed theology mark Reformation Day with some sort of observance and celebration. In a nutshell, it is because all that was recovered for God’s people in the radical departure from the doctrinal and ecclesiastical aberrations of Roman Catholicism.

We need only look at the five solas of the Reformation to summarize what Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Zwingly, et al managed with God’s help to restore to Christianity.

Sola Scriptura – scripture alone. We got the Bible back as the sole source of divine authority. No pope, no council, no confession, no creed can bind the conscience. Only God’s word can. Unless all of the above conform to holy scripture, we should bear them no heed.

Solus Christus – Christ alone. We got the gospel back. The real gospel. Instead of a Christ plus human effort – baptism, church attendance, indulgences, giving alms, etc., we saw recovered the only thing that will actually save lost sinners – the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Without the declaration of this precious truth,  a so-called gospel is no gospel, no good news at all.

Sola Gracia – grace alone. We got sovereign grace back. This recovery goes hand-in-glove with the previous one. The Reformation recovered the majesty of God in His sovereignty and the glory of His grace in that due to man’s sinful condition inherited from Adam leaving him unable to do anything on his own to remedy his condition, only by God’s electing, calling, and justifying of His own good pleasure is there hope for any member of the human race.

Sola Fide – faith alone. We got the chief article back. This became the rally cry of the Reformation. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Reformers never tired of declaring justification by this formula. Where would we be without the reformation restoring to us this precious truth: justification is the act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone?

Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory. We got the centrality of God’s glory back. The Reformation returned us to Rom. 11:36. All things are from God and to God, especially our salvation, so we must cry to God alone be the glory.

To my grief I have gone far too many years in a near forty year walk with Christ ignoring Reformation Day. No longer. Two years and counting. I am committed to this observance for as many years as the Lord will allow me to live. If you sing things like Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling, I would urge you to do the same.

For a couple of excellent blog posts from others on this Reformation day click here and here.

A Greek Guide to Getting Close to Jesus (Part Two)

Today’s message from John 20:20-26 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here’s how I summed things up:

Following the Greeks’ lead will bring us closer to Jesus and faith in Him – similar focused intentions, personal connections, and altered perceptions – He came for the world, Jew and Gentile alike, and He saved us through His sacrificial death for its sins and that only. Satan didn’t win the battle with Christ’s death; God did by raising and glorifying His Son.

May the Lord give us grace to seek Jesus and draw close to Him with rightly framed perceptions about Himself as the Messiah!

A Greek Guide to Getting Close to Jesus (Part One)

Today’s message from John 12:20-26 is now on the website. You can listen to the audio here.

My synopsis of the text was as follows:

The Spirit of God working through John wants us to go with the Greeks. He would have us express the same desire – we would see Jesus. He means for us to take our cue from them. He wants us to believe in Jesus in light of their example, as He does with everything else He shows us in the gospel from the signs Jesus did to the things He said (John 20:30-31).

Let me put it in the form of a theme as always. Follow the Greeks’ lead in seeking Jesus toward believing in Him as the Messiah. You will need four things from their example if you want to get somewhere close in proximity that their search brought them: deliberately focused intentions for Jesus, directly engaged connections to Jesus, dramatically altered perceptions of Jesus, and decidedly shared affections with Jesus.

I mentioned a link to an interview with Mark Dever of  9 Marks called Culture of Discipling that gives some great principles for doing the second of these things from the Greeks’ example. I highly recommend it. You can listen to that audio program here.

May this be a week where we draw closer to Jesus and help others do the same!

Reflections on My 38th Birthday

No, I haven’t gone into denial about my age. I refer to my spiritual birthday. Thirty-eight years ago today, by God’s grace, I trusted in Jesus Christ. Due to His keeping/preserving power I have never looked back in my walk with Him.

Each year on this significant date in my journey I reflect in some way on what God has done and where He has me in my pilgrimage toward the celestial city.

It started early this morning with this Operation World entry regarding spiritual conditions in Uzbekistan:

Uzbekistan’s government relentlessly persecutes the Church. Dynamic and evangelism-oriented churches, especially Uzbek churches, are particularly targeted. Uzbek Christian leaders have extensive files on them compiled by the 14 different government agencies that monitor religious activity. Persecution tactics include: public humiliation, property seizure, book and Bible-burning, expulsion of Christian students, dismissal of Christian employees, arrests (followed by beating and torture) under the flimsiest of pretexts and massive fines for first offences [sic] (up to 50 times the annual salary), (p. 874).

Upon reading that I wondered, What if God in His sovereignty had determined that I should have lived out my days in a place like that? He could well have. Acts 17:26 teaches us this truth: And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.

I found myself filled with gratitude for His kindness in putting me in a place like the US where free and abundant access to the gospel is more than not the norm.

From there I went to my reading in J. C. Ryle’s Holiness with this confirming thought:

How thankful we ought to be that we live in a land where the great remedy for spiritual thirst is known, in a land of open Bibles, preached gospel, and abundant means of grace, in a land where the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is still proclaimed, with more or less fullness, in twenty thousand pulpits every Sunday! We do not realize the value of our privileges. The very familiarity of the manna makes us think little of it, just as Israel loathed ‘the light bread’ in the wilderness (Num. 21:5). But turn to the pages of a heathen philosopher like the incomparable Plato, and see how he groped after light like one blindfolded, and wearied himself to find the door. . . . Turn to the accounts which trustworthy travelers and missionaries give of the state of the heathen who have never heard the gospel. Read of the human sacrifices in Africa, and the ghastly self–imposed tortures of the devotees of Hindostan, and remember they are all the result of an unquenched thirst and a blind and unsatisfied desire to get near to God. And then learn to be thankful that your lot is cast in a land like your own. Alas, I fear God has a controversy with us for our unthankfulness!

I have no wish for a controversy with God over anything. I am indeed thankful that my lot is cast in a land like our own.

Are you?

How To Tell the True Shepherd from the False (Part 2)

This morning’s sermon on John 10:7-10 is now on the web. You can listen to it here.

Here is the story from the Bible scholar Sir George Adam Smith that so well illustrates what Jesus meant by His astonishing statement, I am the door of the sheep (v. 7 & 9).

He was one day traveling in Palestine with a guide, and came across a shepherd and his sheep. He fell into conversation with him. The man showed him the fold into which the sheep were led at night. It consisted of four walls, with a way in. Sir George said to him, “That is where they go at night?” “Yes,” said the shepherd, “and when they are in there they are perfectly safe.” “But there is no door,” said Sir George. “I am the door,” said the shepherd. He was not a Christian so he was not speaking the language of the New Testament. Rather, he was speaking from a Mid-Eastern shepherd’s point-of-view. Sir George looked at him and said, “What do you mean you are the door?” Said the shepherd, “When the light has gone, and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open place, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door.”

Because Jesus is the door of the sheep, we should believe in Him as the Messiah and follow Him as opposed to false and harmful impostors. There are two implications that result. As the door Jesus alone dictates legitimate access to the sheep (7-8) and Jesus alone enables maximum benefit for the sheep (9-10) – salvation, security, sustenance, and satisfaction. This is the abundant life Jesus came to give!

Man of Sorrows, What a Friend

Today’s entry, April 3, in Octavius Winslow’s Morning Thoughts, leads with Proverbs 18:24.

There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Making application to Jesus, the friend of sinners, Winslow writes:

There is no sympathy, no love, no gentleness, no tenderness, no patience, like Christ’s! Oh how sweet, how encouraging, to know that Jesus sympathetically enters into my afflictions—my temptations—my sorrows—my joys. May this truth endear Him to our souls! May it constrain us to unveil our whole heart to Him, in the fullest confidence of the closest, most sacred, and precious friendship. May it urge us to do those things always which are most pleasing in His sight. Beloved, never forget—let these words linger upon your ear, as the echoes of music that never die—in all your sorrows, in all your trials, in all your needs, in all your assaults, in all your conscious wanderings, in life, in death, and at the day of judgment—you possess a friend that sticks closer than a brother! That friend is Jesus!

As we observe this Good Friday day of remembering the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross, may we also recall and treasure the words of Jesus in John 15:13.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.

Hallelujah, what a Savior! He calls me, he calls you, friend, and sticks closer than a brother.