Archive for December, 2014

A Christmas Gift For My Friends

December 19, 2014

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:3 et al).

It’s as far from a trite salutation as words can get. The Apostle Paul used this salutation in all twelve of his New Testament epistles. He meant it to be a startling announcement. It played off the Jewish salutation, the Hebrew word shalom, which has a much richer connotation than the English translation “peace.” It meant not merely an absence of conflict and turmoil, but also the great blessing of a right relationship with God. By adding the word grace before peace, Paul is telling his readers how the peace of a right relationship with God is attained, and it is not by human effort. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s God’s work entirely, God’s grace alone. For centuries Israel had been trying by human effort and failing to keep the Ten Commandments. For centuries they had daily sacrificed burnt offering of cows and goats and sheep and doves trying to atone for the sin that kept them from that right relationship with God. And here Paul comes along and says it’s free, a gift by God’s grace! Is it any wonder his preaching sometimes started riots?

Martin Luther says these two terms—grace and peace—constitute Christianity. Luther’s refreshingly simple one-sentence explanation, found in his classic work, Commentary on Galatians, is this: “Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience.” Grace is not a commodity. It’s God’s exclusive work. Louis Berkhof said it well: grace is “the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” John MacArthur defines it in more modern terms as “the free and benevolent influence of a Holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.” It’s divinely guaranteed result is the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings, such as the peace of God which surpasses all understanding… (Philippians 4:7). There is no greater peace. It’s a thunderclap of a salutation, an inscribed trumpet call that declares the solution to the most important concern that can ever run through the mind of man—his justification before an infinitely Holy God who controls his next breath. Grace to you and peace.

So, to rephrase Luther’s pithy tweet, “Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience,” we could say grace cancels the penalty for sin and consequently pacifies a tormented conscience. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t have a tormented conscious, I’m a pretty decent sort. I’m good enough to get into heaven.” I’ve heard that too often from unsaved friends, and it breaks my heart. At the risk of ruining your Advent, if that’s what you think, you have a grossly inadequate concept of sin, and your soul is in grave peril, dear friend, and eternity is a very long time…. Read Luther’s partial catalogue of sin listed in his Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 1, any single one of which is sufficient to keep you out of heaven:

The truth is I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table [the first four Ten Commandments] unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His word, etc.; and sins against the second table [the last six Ten Commandments], dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in my heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.   [Q: Does the shoe fit? A: It fits everyone.]

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification are rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son gave Himself unto death for my sins. To believe this is eternal life.”

And even that belief is grace, a free gift from our sovereign God—He inclines your will to believe, as R.C. Sproul says. Now think about God’s punishment for sin—it should strike terror in your heart. Think about that babe in a manger, God’s Son sent to die a horrible death on a cross that you might escape that punishment. Our sins clearly cannot be insignificant trifles. Luther said, “So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for it…Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.” If it’s a big deal with God who made you and numbered your days, shouldn’t it be a big deal with you? And what manner of love is this that He would put own His son through that for sinners who aren’t even looking for him? No one seeks God…no not even one (Romans 3:10-12). What other option for getting right with Him do you have but His grace, His free and benevolent working in your heart to give you spiritual rebirth (John 3:3), repentance, remission of sins and peace and joy that no one can take away (John 16:22)? There is no other way.

If you don’t know my Lord whose birth we celebrate this season, if you don’t know His grace and peace, why not ask for that free and benevolent working in your heart? Here’s a model prayer, or better yet pray from your own heart. It costs no more to ask than it costs to receive this priceless gift.

Dear friends and family, I think most of you know the Giver of Grace and Peace, but for those who do not, my Christmas gift to each of you is my beggar’s prayer to our Sovereign God, that He would bestow grace to you and peace, the finest gift, the greatest treasure you could ever receive. And for those of you who do know our Giver of Grace and Peace, I pray your New Year will be filled to overflowing with more grace and peace. Everything else in life is just details.

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A Christmas Devotional:The Word Became Flesh

December 17, 2014

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of truth and grace. (John 1:14).

Of all the gospel narratives of the Christmas story, these words of John the Apostle are my favorite. But why did John call Christ the Word? His Gospel begins that way: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…. (John 1-3a) It is certainly crystal clear that “Word” means Christ. No one argues with that. In the beginning was [Christ], and [Christ] was with God and [Christ] was God….[Christ] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John’s objective in writing his gospel was to prove that Christ was God. But John must have been trying to convey more or he would have used the word Christ. What might that be?

        There appear to be two reasons why John used Word instead of Christ. He was speaking to two audiences, the Jews, of course, and Greeks and Greek-speaking gentiles. He was writing in Greek, after all. The Greek language gets much more mileage out of words, and since it is the original language of the New Testament, preachers begin their seminary studies with courses in Greek.

The Jewish audience would have understood, In the beginning was the Word, as a clear reference to Genesis 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And how did he do that? He created them thru the power of his word. Let there be light and there was light. Such is the power of God’s word. Isaiah 55:11 says so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. A word spoken by God is a deed done. And Christ was the last and most important word of God the Father. We will not find God apart from Christ.

For the Greeks “Word” had even more meaning. Logos, the original Greek word for “word" took on vastly more meaning through the studies of a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus who lived in Ephesus in the 6th century BC. He was the guy who said “You can’t step into the same river twice.” You can put your foot into the water of the river and take it out but when you put it back in the water has flowed on and it is different water that soaks your foot. His point was that all of life was in a state of change. As he pondered that he wondered, if everything was always changing why wasn’t the world in perpetual chaos. He concluded that it was because the constant change was not random change but ordered change. And if it was ordered change then there had to be a “divine plan” or “divine reason” for it. (Darwin should have read Heraclitus before he went off on his preposterous tangent.) The Greeks defined reason as “the word unspoken.” Heraclitus concluded that the reason, the unspoken word, God’s Logos, controlled all of creation, including all of history, and…listen carefully…the mental order that rules the minds of men. In summary, Logos, with a capital L, was the mind of God controlling this world and all men. This became standard philosophy among the Greeks, including Plato and Socrates and the Stoics. In fact Plato told his students, “It may be that someday there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” Greeks were still pondering the Logos and writing about it 700 years later when John wrote his gospel. It was common knowledge. So when John said the Word, the Logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us, he was saying in response to Plato, “The Logos has come.”

As Dr. James Montgomery Boice tells it in Volume I of his commentary on John, the Apostle is saying, “Listen you Greeks, the very thing that has most occupied your philosophical thought and about which you have been writing for centuries, the Logos of God, this word, this controlling power of the universe and of man’s mind, has come to earth as a man and we have seen him.” Now wouldn’t that be a blockbuster revelation to the Greeks? It was a stroke of divine literary genius the way the Holy Spirit inspired John to write it.

God became man. Marvin Olasky says to think about man becoming a cockroach and you have the slightest inkling what it must have been like for God to become man. The Logos, the Word, the controlling power of the universe became a man, full of grace and truth, and to what end? John 1:12 tells us: …to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Dear Christian friends, all the gifts given in the world this season cannot equate to that gift of a baby born in barn in Bethlehem. What manner of love is this that we should be called children of God? What manner of love is this that God humiliated himself and became a man born in the lowest estate for us? What manner of love is this that would suffer a hideous death that we might live with him forever? It is the infinite love of Almighty God, the Logos who controls our life and breath and being…born this day in the city of David…and he is Christ the Lord.

Excerpt from Grace in the Growing Season

HOLOCAUST SUNDAY, Dec. 7, 1941

December 7, 2014

December, 1941. Mitsuo Fuchida, in the lead fighter plane high over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, radioed back to his aircraft carrier, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” before a single bomb was dropped. It was Japanese for “tiger,” the code word for “complete surprise.” At 7:53 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was the most target-rich environment ever witnessed by a fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. Ninety-six utterly unsuspecting U.S. warships were docked or moored dead in the water within a 1.25-mile radius of Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor, all plump dozing ducks early on a sunny Sunday morning. The only prize targets missing were the Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers, the Enterprise, the Saratoga and the Lexington, all providentially out to sea. Battleship row, consisting of the largest warships afloat—seven of the nine battleships in the Pacific Fleet—were rafted up in pairs nearly touching one another bow-to-stern in a straight line just offshore of the southeast shore of Ford Island. They were a broadside target impossible to miss by 350 Japanese dive-bombers, torpedo planes and fighters. Adjacent to the naval base at Pearl, on its southeast side, was Hickam Field with 394 warplanes parked in neat unprotected open rows so that a single strafing run could take out more than a dozen at a time.

Eleven hundred yards due south of the midpoint of battleship row, the heavy cruiser San Francisco, second largest warship in the harbor after the battleships, floated at the dock, stripped of ammo and defenseless in preparation for dry dock the next day. In the bottom bunk of a 10 by 10-foot officer’s stateroom just below the deck and above the waterline, slept Ensign John E. “Jack” Bennett, just graduated from Annapolis the previous February. He hadn’t been there all that long after a double date on the town the night before. He and Annapolis classmate Frank Welsh, serving on the battleship Arizona out in Battleship Row, had escorted two nurses from Queen’s Hospital to dinner at Laui Chai’s, a popular restaurant in Waikiki, followed by cocktails at the Moana Hotel lobby bar. In their haste to catch the last ship tender back to their ships before curfew, Jack had parked his yellow 1934 Buick Phaeton convertible (with the top stuck in the down position) in a “No Parking” zone near the Officers’ Club. Life was good in Honolulu for junior naval officers in December, 1941. They knew war was coming, convinced, as all young soldiers are, that they personally were immortal. They worked hard to prepare for it, but no one in Hawaii thought it was imminent on a party weekend eighteen days before Christmas.

The sound of deep thuds woke Jack. His world was quaking. Bombs and torpedoes were exploding in the harbor. He leaped to the porthole and looked out to see a Japanese Val dive-bomber, its fixed landing gear sporting teardrop wheel pants and a bright orange meatball painted on its fuselage just in front of its tail, strafing sailors running down the dock.

“This is it!” He shouted, as if he had been expecting it, to his roommate.

Topside chaos reigned. ….the air was full of the sound of aircraft engines accelerating in dives, cannon fire both incoming and outgoing, and explosions of bombs and torpedoes. The sky was a mad hornets’ nest of diving Japanese Zeros and Vals with Kate torpedo bombers skimming just above the surface of the Harbor to release their torpedoes. Jack reached up to adjust his ancient helmet just as a piece of white hot shrapnel ricocheted around his gun tub, clipping his thumb right in front of his eyes. Whipping out his handkerchief, he wrapped it around his thumb with hardly a thought. America’s Navy was getting the worst pummeling it had ever gotten, would ever get, and a bloody thumb would not deter young Jack.

Within an hour the enemy planes were gone, but after a one-hour nerve-wracking hiatus a second wave hit, a repeat performance of the first. When the sky grew quiet a second time, Pearl Harbor was a raging inferno with billowing black smoke obscuring vision. All seven battleships were put out of action, with the California, Arizona and Oklahoma resting on the bottom of the Harbor. In all 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged and 188 airplanes were destroyed and 159 damaged. 2,403 sailors—1,102 of them on the Arizona—and soldiers were dead and 1,178 wounded. Jack’s yellow Buick Phaeton—apparently an irresistible target to the Japanese pilots—also bit the dust, its bullet riddled carcass sat where he had parked it…with a parking ticket under the windshield wiper.

Dead sailors and debris floated all about the harbor. The bloodiest, costliest war in American history had begun with Japan’s sneak attack. For the next three years and eight months Jack Bennett was in the hottest part of those horrors. A year later he was in the Battle of Guadalcanal, the most ferocious sea battle in history, then in all five war patrols on the highly successful submarine, USS Queenfish. Fifty-five years later, after a career in nuclear subs and a hitch in Sacramento on Governor Ronald Reagan’s staff, Jack and I met and became best friends, and fought the greatest battle of all–the one for his soul. What an amazing life he had, thanks to Amazing Grace, and I sure miss him.

Excerpted from NO TIME TO WASTE   Reposted from Dec 7, 2010

COMING…

December 7, 2014

Advent: from the Latin word, adventus, a translation of the Greek word, parousia, properly meaning “coming,”  commonly referring to the Second Coming of Christ (Strong’s Concordance).

We tend to think of Advent as a four week  preparation for Christmas, where we celebrate the birth of Christ,  the Son of God come to earth as a frail human being in the humblest of circumstances. The most important event in the history of man is surely worth celebrating.  It was foretold over 250 times by Old Testament prophets over four thousand years, since Genesis 3. No other world religion can lay claim to such amazing prophecy fulfillment stretching over four millennia. No human could conceive a story as fantastical as God’s historical nonfiction narrative of creation, fall, and redemption as told in the Bible—a worldview to end all worldviews.

But the word “Advent” really calls us to remember and be prepared for His second coming. As surely as Christ came the first time to suffer and die to redeem His chosen people, in fulfillment of His promises through the prophets, even more assuredly He will come again to fulfill His New Testament promises from his own lips. The Son of our Sovereign God thrice repeated this promise, among His last words in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible: “And behold, I am coming soon… (Rev. 22:7), Behold, I am coming soon… (Rev. 22:12), Surely, I am coming soon… (Rev. 22:20).

This Advent Season the world is a swirling wilderness of  immorality, apostasy, and barbarism; growing Christian persecution and legalized sin; and dangerously dysfunctional civil government, foreshadowing the tribulation to come (Rev. 7:14). It is not unlike the fallen world Christ was born into 2000 years ago, and still graphically demonstrates the need for His first coming as a Redeemer of lost souls. We rejoice, with humble gratitude, at such an act of incomprehensible love: “born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord “ (Luke 2:11). So celebrate the Babe, anticipate the King. Cling tenaciously, with joyous assurance, to that unbreakable triple promise of His second coming. This time He’ll come as conquering King of Kings to gather His sheep from among the devil’s own goats, and take them to be where He is, in paradise forever…while the goats will smolder for eternity (Matt. 13:41-43). His sheep know His voice and they follow Him (John 10:27). Do you?


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