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Have you ever stopped to consider that success might be dangerous? Who doesn’t like to be successful? I mean think about it. Who shows up the DMV and hopes to fail their drivers test? When was the last time a guy asked out a girl and hoped she would say no? Nobody applies for a job hoping not to get it. We all desire success. We want to past the test or get the job. We want the girl to say yes.

However, most of us have experienced failure (some more serious than others). While it seems like most people are quick to think about their failures and find some glimmer of good in the midst of the disappointment, most of us don’t give our successes much thought. We stop to ask all sorts of questions when we fail. Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? Why didn’t I get the past up for the promotion? Just to name a few. But it seems like we just take our successes for granted.

So here is why I think that success can be dangerous: It causes us to think too highly of ourselves and forget the grace of God. We achieve some accomplishment and forget that if it was not for God’s being for us, we would have failed. Most of us probably don’t think much of Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)

Or think about the story of David and Goliath? Can you image how different the story would be if David attributed his success to his amazing skill with a sling and a stone? Yet David finds courage to face the giant not in his own skill, but in the provision of God. God had delivered him from the lion and the bear, so surely he could deliver him from Goliath. The battle would not be dependent on ultimately on his skill, but on God’s fighting for him.

So the next time your face with a challenge, remember to entrust your success (or failure) to the One who controls all things. And if he blesses your endeavor and you find success take some time to reflect on His grace and His provision. Ask your self some questions: Who am I that he has blessed me with this success? What has God done to prepare me to be successful in this moment? Does success mean a new stewardship to be responsible for?  Bottom line: We usually have no problems running to God in our failures, may He show us how to run to Him in our successes as well.

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I was reading Galatians chapter 1 last night and was reminded amazing grace of God, which is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). First, I am reminded that our deliverance cost Jesus his own life. Jesus was called to make a sacrifice and that sacrifice was the most significant one He could make. At a time of year when may people sacrifice or abstain from certain foods as a part of their Lenten celebration, I am reminded that no sacrifice that we make will ever compare with the sacrifice that He made.

Second, I am reminded that you and I needed to be delivered! We were held captive by something. We were slaves to sin and held captive by our own sinful desires. We were blinded by the god of this world, so that we could not see the glory of Christ and the beauty of true righteousness. Yet just as God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, through Lord Jesus Christ he has delivered us from the controlling influence of this evil age. At the same time, I am aware of my own tendency to be like Israel and sometimes think that returning to Egypt would be better than to continue to trust in the Lords provisions.

Finally, I am reminded that the coming of Christ was not an accident. It was not a matter of chance that Jesus was born when he was. It was not a coincidence that his life was fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. Jesus was not merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was not the victim of fate. Rather according to the will of God, he came to earth on a mission. From birth until death, he knew a time was coming when he would lay down his life for His people, and when the time came he willingly submitted himself to punishment that we deserved.

Grace is indeed amazing!!! May we never forget.

Over the last several months there has been one particular verse that I have often found my attention drawn to, especially when it comes to the issue of dealing with sin in my own life. And that is 1 Corithians 3:18. 

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Later in 2 Corithians 4:4-6, Paul tells us that the glory of God is beheld in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God. It has been a tremendous reminder to me to pursue right behavior not through my doing, but rather through my beholding. The power to life the life that honors God does not come through human invention or adherence to a set of does and don’ts (even if the list is the ten commandments). The life that honors God is empowered by beholding the glory of the Lord in the person of Jesus Christ. It comes through dependence upon “His precious and magnificent promises” which He has given to us by “His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet 1:2-4)

This morning I was reminded again of one of the most fundamental displays of “His own glory and excellence” in the uniting of two natures (God and Man) in the person of Christ. Why should that seem so amazing? I think it is amazing to think first of the nature of God, who is the infinite, eternal, self-existant, self-sustaining, God who has no need of us and who would be perfectly glorify first without every having created the world, but also in the eternal condemnation of that creation once it had fallen. And then, to think that He would condescend to take on human flesh – not only to further glorify Himself – but in so doing to redeem a part of His creation from their fallen state. And furthuremore, to think that He – The Sovereign Creator – would allow His creation to nail Him to a tree so that He might be able to extend mercy to them and yet uphold His righteousness and His justice. What a great encouragement that is to me that if the One who would undertake such on loving act on my behalf is also the One who governs the course of history and the events of each day of my life.

For the last year or so I have been slowly working my way through the book of Romans. It has been at times one of the most humbling studies, while at others the most encouraging and up lifting. Let me share some of the hightlights of my last year of study.

  1. Foolishness. For a long time I attributed the foolishness of sin to the harmful effects that it has, such as hurting ourselves or others, but ultimately offending God. After considering Romans 1:22-23, I would suggest that the foolishness of sin does not stem from the consequences of sin, but rather from the surpassing value that we forsake in the act of sinning. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man …” Notice that folly is connected with the exchange of the glory of God for something else. A series contemplation of sin should lead us to realize the vanity, not to mention the offense, of it. We exchange the worship of insurpassible worth of God for the worship of worthless things – or rather things that must derive their worth from the God. We exchange the eternal enjoyment of God for the fleeting pleasure of sin. We exchange Him who is of infinitely good for the partaking of that which is infinitely destructive. No matter how you cut the cake we are fools for having abandonded the God who created us for the creation.
  2. Fear of God. While this shouldn’t have really seemed to be such a profound topic, I am some what slow to catch on sometimes. When on considers what the fundamental root of all sin is most people would say pride, the exultation of self, which seems like a fair assessment. But let me suggest we look at it from a different perspective – that the root of sin is ultimately the lack of fear (or reverence) for God. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (3:18) Now if we see God rightly, I think it would total change our perspective on everything. If we saw how holy and righteous and just God is would we not come to hate our sinfulness and rebellion against Him. If we saw how patient and kind and tolerate and gracious and merciful He is toward us would it not lead us to repentance (2:4) and to strive more diligently after personal holiness and devotion to God. If we saw how powerful and wise and good He was would we question His providential workings in our lifes or would we praise Him even in the days of trials and suffering. The way then to deal with sin is to behold more clearly the character of God.
  3. Soveriegnty of God and Justice. By far one of the most humbling passages to study was Romans 9 as Paul lays out the sovereignty of God is salvation. “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (9:16) It is an extraordanary thing to consider that ones eternal destiny is not in ones own hands. Or rather that if left to my own will or running that results would be eternal condemnation and God would be right and just and fair in carrying out my sentence. But yet what great encouragement it is to think that my eternal well fair is the hands of an ever faithful and loving God.
  4. Great Mercy and Great Love. Let me end with this last consideration, over the last year as I have contemplated the love of God particularly in light of Romans 5:1-11 and 8:28-39, I have been utterly amazed that God’s would show such love and compassion, such mercy and grace, toward one such as I. As I have contemplated this amazing reality even today, I am yet aware that I have only begun to scratch the surface of the “depths of both the wisdom and the knowledge of God.” It is my hope and prayer even for the years ahead that I would be more amazed at who Jesus Christ IS that would cause Him to do what He DID, so I may tell others about this great God and Savior.
  5. Christ and the Cross. Ok, I lied, I am compeled to add one more. I have come to realize that the glory of God is not simply found in the Cross (i.e. what Jesus did), but also in the Character of the One who hung upon it (i.e who Jesus is). Without Christ, the God-Man, the Cross is simply and instrument of dead. For it was the very nature of the One who hung on Calvary that gave the cross its meaning. It is Christ who turns a simply blood stained piece of wood into a vibrant demonstration of the glory of God. And without the Cross, we would never have seen the vibrancy and beauty of the glorious God in the person of Christ. For it was by means of the Cross that Christ manifest the glory of the Father in such a way to us that we might come again to fear and adore the one who we had foolishly forsaken. So Christians let us seek to stir one another up not only to love and good deeds, but to the beholding of the glory of God in the Person of Christ and in the Cross of Christ.

Surely, you have heard someone say, “Once saved, always saved.” But what about those people who come to church for awhile and then decided they want nothing to do with Christianity. Surely, those people who have committed apostasy are not going to go to heaven are they. So then what should we concluded…that they were once saved, but because of their sin they have lost their salvation. May it never be! The very notion that someone can lose their salvation because they committed a certain sin implies that their salvation is contidition on their not committing that particular sin. But that does not square with the rest of scripture: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). 

As I mentioned yesterday we must remember that salvation is ultimately not a work of man, but a work of God upon the human heart. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6) Because Paul accepted the reality that it was God who had began a good work in the Phillippian believers, he could confidently assert that He would also finish that which He began. So then assert that someone can lose their salvation is at best ignorant and at worst blasphemous. If you believe that a person can lose their salvation, you must either believe that salvation is ultimately not dependent upon God, but upon man (he did something that caused God to withdraw salvation). Or you must believe that God is somehow insufficient for the work of salvation (ironically, either way you believe God is insufficient). You must conclude that God lacks the resource, the will, the power, the desire to finish the work which he began or else you must simply call God a liar. “Yes, God I know your word says ‘He who began a good work in you will perfect it’. But look at all the people who have been Christians and then denied the faith either in word or in deed. Clearly, they cannot be saved. You cannot still be working in their life.”

And to some degree that person would be right, God is not working in their life. However, they have made the wrong conclusion. God is not currently working in their life, because He was never working in their life. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19) This truth should either be of great encouragement to us or great concern. If God is working in your life to sanctify you and conform you into the image of His beloved Son, you should be greatly encouraged that God is faithful and that which He begins, He sees through to the end (What a great reason to give Him thanks and praise). On the other hand, if God is not currently working in your life, you should know that God has never been working in your life, and you should seek Him for mercy…beg Him to begin a work in you…plead with Him to see the glory of the gospel…ask Him to grant you the repentance that leads to life.

The more I talk to people about the grace of God revealed in the gospel and about what it means to be a Christian, the more I realize that most people don’t really get the gospel. They don’t really understand the nature of reality. Any professing Christian that has any sort of biblical understanding would readily admit that salvation is by grace. But how is that we recieve grace? How do I know if I have found mercy from God?

The apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he said, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). The problem is most of professing American Christianity does not realize that recieving mercy does not depend on them, but upon God. What would you say if I told you that reading your bible, going to church, praying, or any other religious duty did not guarantee that God will be gracious to you? Do you think that being a Christian means that God will show mercy to you? Or do you think you are a Christian because God has shown mercy to you?

You see we do not become Christians when we start to do something, but rather when God begins to do something in us “He [God] who began a good work in you” (Phil. 1:6). And so we are called to examine ourselves to see if we have been born of God or whether we are yet in our sins (see 1 John). While I can’t give an exaustive list, let me list a some of the evidences that one is born of God (i.e. that you are not a Christian in name only).

  • You have beheld the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6)
  • You’re life displays the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • You’re life is being conformed into the image of God in Christ, that is, you are becoming more Christ-like. (Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3)
  • You’re life is being changed not by adhering to a set of rules and regulations, but by beholding the glory of God in Christ. (2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3, 1 John 4:19, Col. 2)
  • You crave the pure milk of God’s Word and delight in it. (1 Pet. 2:2, Ps. 119, Rom. 7:22)
  • You count all your righteous deeds to be polluted rags and rejoice in the the righteousness of another, “the Lord our righteousness” (Phil. 3:7-11, Jer. 23:6)
  • You live a life of ongoing repentence, since “the grace of God has appeared…instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12, cf. Rom. 8:1-13, Heb. 12:4-11).

The bottom line is this: If you have been experienced the grace of God, it will be evident in your life. If your life is not being conformed to the image of Christ, it may be evidence that you have not recieved mercy from God. If you have need of mercy you must come to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God. There is no other who is fit to be the dispenser of God’s grace, than the Son of God who clothed Himself in likeness of sinful flesh, so that He might glorify the Father through His perfect obedience and His perfrect sacrifice on behalf of those who would trust in Him. “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4)

“Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:15-16)

Here in Luke 17 we have the account of “ten leprous men” who have come to Christ and have begged for mercy from Him. Christ in His compassion sends them off to the priest to show themselves. I say Christ did this in compassion because as they went they were cleansed. If Christ had not anticipated the grace that He would show them in healing them of the leprosy, then he would have been sending them off to receive a sentence of condemnation and ostracizing.

Yet off all these that experienced the mercy of Christ only one of them responded with a reaction that is fitting for grace. Let me observe the following things about a proper response to grace from this text:

  1. Those who receive grace are change. Those who experience the grace of God are not left as they once were they have “been changed” They were once spiritual lepers, but now they have been cleansed by the blood of the lamb. Or in the words of the hymn, Amazing Grace: “I was blind, but now I see. “
  2. Those who receive grace seek the true source of mercy. It is interesting that this man, having recognized the change in his life, left of his journey to see the priests to come back to the Great High Priest. Would we be content with those things which were a type of Him who was to come or would we seek after substance of them in the Person of Christ?
  3. Those who receive grace glorify Christ. Now some might take issue with this statement, because the text does not read “glorifying Christ” but rather”glorify God“. However, notice that leper does attribute his healing to Christ as is evident by his “giving thanks to Him.”
  4. Those who receive grace bow before Christ. The person who has seen the grace of God transform their life by the work of the Holy Spirit, cannot but help fall at the feet of Christ. And how much more for those of us who live this side of Calvary. Should we not be more intimately acquainted with the holes in His feet?
  5. Those who receive grace give thanks to Christ. If you have received grace from such a compassionate king, how could you not but give Him the thanks that He so rightly deserves. Oh, how often I have failed to appreciate or even take notice of the grace of God in my life and as a result failed to give Him the thanks that He rightly deserves.
  6. Those who receive grace realize God has done all this for a foreigner. “And he was a Samaritan.” Of all those that returned to give glory to God, to bow before Christ, thank Him for His mercy, for His grace, none returned “except this foreigner.” Especially, those of us who are not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we should recognize how gracious God has been in extending arms of compassion toward us who were strangers and aliens to God.

I just got back from a mission trip to Canada last night. We took a group of about 30 people from my church and went Camp of the Woods near Sioux Lookout, Onatrio. It was a great week of serving and ministrying to the people there. Each morning, we had short chappel time during which one of the staff at Camp of the Woods would share what God had been doing in their life. Then we would helped out around Camp of the Woods cutting down trees, siding a building, cleaning the kitchen, and various other choirs. Then in the late afternoon, we headed to Sioux Lookout to offer a Vacation Bible School, as well as a small adult bible study. It was a great oppotunity to instruct both children and adults in the truths of the gospel.

Then in the evening we would return to camp for dinner and an evening chappel service, which was preached by one our pastors from Omaha Bible Church, Chris Peterson. He did a five part series from Philippians that was just amazing. As we discussed the priority of the gospel, the necessity of grace, the love of Christ, the glory of Christ, and the Lordship of Christ in  our lives. My favorite sermon was Wednesday nights on Philippians 2 as we discussed the glory of Christ in His incarnation/humilation, His substitution, and His exultation.

Then to end each day, the guys (and gals seperately) gathered together for a devotional time, during which each person shared their personal testimony of the grace of God in their lives. The week in general was a testimony of God’s grace in drawing together a group of people who had previously been His enemies to serve together in the progress of the gospel.

I don’t know about other people, but I have found it is normally easier for me to do evangelism as an organized event, whether it is going door-to-door or walking around a public area and just talking to people, than it is to do it in my more daily interactions with people. As I have thought about this difference, I have contemplate what goes through my mind that makes evangelism so difficult for myself at times. I find so of the things that discourage me from doing evangelism are the following:

  • How do I start the conversation? Or change it to a spiritual topic?
  • What if the person asks a question I don’t know the answer to?
  • What if the person gets offended by what I say?
  • Is it worth the effort, they porbably won’t believe the gospel anyway?

Those are just some of the thoughts that run through my mind to make sharing the gospel a less desirable endeavor, so then how do you over come these things that hinder your gospel proclamation. Some people have sought to make evangelism easier for others by trying to boil the gospel down to a few essential points, such as the Four Spiritual Laws or Romans Road. Some people seek to make it easier by offering classes on the basic knowledge need to do evangelism, such as what the gospel is (kind of scary that has to be covered in an evangelism class), what are common objections to the gospel, and how to engage an unbeliever in a spiritual conversation. Yet, even these attempts to make evangelism easier, I do not think will suffice if we are to bold preach the gospel of Christ.

The most simple and fundamental way to be better in evangelism is simply this: BELIEVE. Now that probably seems like a weird assertion to some of you, because you say I do believe and yet I still struggle. My point is simply this the more convinced that you and me are in our hearts about the truths of the gospel, they more boldly we will proclaim them. Here are some things to consider so that we might be more convinced of their reality.

  • Everyone stands condemned because of their unrighteousness. You, the person standing in line with you at the store, the person sitting next to you at a little league game, the person working in the next office next door, and the person next door will die in your sins and suffer an eternity in hell at the hands of your Creator if you do not experience the grace of God.
  • The ONLY way to find the grace of God is in the gospel concerning His Son. The only hope you or anyone else has is to be declared rigtheous not on account of our own righteousness, but on account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And to have wrath of God that our sins rightly deserve satisfied by the death of His Only Begotten Son.
  • The ONLY way to recieve the grace of God is through faith in the God of the gospel. And faith must rest upon the revelation of the one living and true God and His gospel as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Thus faith must come from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10).
  • Someone MUST speak. There can be no salvation if there is no word of Christ to be believed. There can be no salvation where there is no gospel message. And God has ordained that it is His peoples responsibility to proclaim that message. So by not sharing the gospel what we are really indicating is that we want the other person to go to hell. The best way to ensure that a person does not get saved is to keep them away from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So if you want to be a better evangelist, preach the gospel to yourself until your so overhelmed by its reality that you cannot help but tell others about it. The greater the gospel, and more importantly the Jesus Christ, is to you, the more you will desire to talk to others about Him. Remember the gospel is not about calling faith in an action (the death and resurrection of Jesus), but in a person (Jesus Christ, who died for them).  I fear that there are a great number of people in this country that are confused on this very issue. They love what God has done for them, but they do not love the God who has done it.

And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

 When was the last time you stopped to consider the “gracious words” which our Lord has spoken? As I think about what Christ said in the course of his ministry and even more so the sheer magnitude of what might rightly be called the Word of God, grace seems to be the last thing that comes to mind.  I am quick to think of the word of God as being powerful. For it was by the word of God that the world came into being (Gen 1) and it by the Word of Christ that the world is upheld (Heb 1). There is nothing that is or has been or that will be that is not dependent about the word of God for its existence.  I am quick to think of the truthfulness and the authority that His Word carries. As the sovereign ruler of the entire universe, when He speaks He is to be obeyed. In fact, His Word is Truth (Jn 17:17). What God has revealed is truth. There is nothing that can rightly be called truth that does not depend upon the Word of God for its veracity. But to think that His words are gracious, what a wonderful that should be indeed, for the one who was full of truth was also full of grace (Jn 1:14). It is by His gracious words that we behold the glory of the gospel in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6). It is by His gracious words that our sins are made known to us and we are warned about the wrath that awaits our disobedience. It is by His gracious words that we come to know the propitiation that He has made for our transgressions. And it is by His gracious words that we are sanctified. So the next time you pick up your Bible and student the Word of God, remember that it is not only Word of Power and of Truth, but also a Word of Grace.