Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Little Word Shall Fell Him

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, hailed as one of the most notable works in British literature, recounts the story of the protagonist, Christian, as he travels from his earthly homeland, the City of Destruction, to his heavenly dwelling, “the World which is to Come.” Becoming aware that he carries a heavy burden of sin, Christian seeks to cast off the load he bears and find redemption. Through his interaction with Evangelist, he finds the way to Wicket Gate which leads Christian to Good Will (the Christ character). When Christian arrives at the Place of Deliverance (allegorical for the foot of the cross of Christ), the ties that bind his heavy burden to his back begin to shred and his burden rolls off. Christian is welcomed in peace by three shining ones who announce he has been forgiven. His dirty, ratted cloths are replaced with glistening new clothing, and he is handed a “Roll with a seal upon it.” Christian is saved and the allegory comes to a close. At least it would seem like the allegory would come to a close at this point. But it is here, at Christian’s conversion, that the book just begins.

For now Christian comes upon Difficulty Hill, and if he is to proceed along the right path, he must endure the trek up it. At times the path is so steep that he must crawl on his hands and his feet. Once he arrives at the top and steps inside Palace Beautiful, he is given spiritual armor and weapons for the warfare he will face: a sword, a helmet, a shield, a breastplate, and a firm warning that the next step of his journey will be quite dangerous. This warning proves true when Christian crosses paths with Apollyon, a “foul fiend,” in the Valley of Humiliation, and nearly loses his life. His only hope is to use the spiritual armor which he has been given.

Though allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress reflects a stark reality of Christian life. Charles Spurgeon writes:

John Bunyan has not pictured Christian as carried to heaven while
asleep in an easy chair. He makes him lose his burden at the cross-foot,
but he represents him as climbing Hill Difficulty on his hands and knees.
Christian has to descend into the Valley of Humiliation, and to tread the
dangerous pathway through the gloomy horrors of the Shadow of Death…nowhere is
he delivered from the necessities incident to the way, for even at the last he
fords the black river, and struggles with its terrible billows. Effort is
used all the way through, and you that are pilgrims to the skies will find it to
be no allegory, but a matter of fact.
Each pilgrim, including you and me, are engaged in a spiritual battle. In a spiritual sense, we cannot fight this battle while lying reclined in a Lazy Boy chair, sipping not-too-tangy and not-too-sweet lemonade. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Our foe, the enemy of our souls and his demonic cronies, are out to dissuade us from following our Savior and Shepherd passionately and wholeheartedly. The devil is not the horn bearing, pitchfork carrying red creature that Hollywood portrays. No, he is much more subtle and crafty. So subtle and crafty that we sheep are “prone to wander, Lord we feel it, prone to leave the God we love!”

The Father of Lies whispers deception after deception over our souls. Sometimes he appeals to our pride and speaks the lie that you and I can earn our own salvation through performing good deeds, as if the law could ever make us holy before a righteous and perfect God. Sometimes he speaks the lie that God could never forgive what you and I have done and we will be hopelessly lost in our sins forever, as if Jesus’ bloody and brutal wrath-bearing death only covered the “small” sins. Sometimes he tells us that the sin in our life is not that big of a deal or that we will never get caught in our sin, as if God is not just and we can somehow hide from the Creator of the universe.

Regardless of which lie he speaks, he will always tempt us to make little of Jesus and to make much of ourselves. But victory is only found in the Valley of Humiliation, when we face these spiritual battles head on and fight them with the armor that God Himself has provided for us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and prayer in the Spirit (see Eph. 6:14-18).

Here is the Truth. Apart from Jesus, you and I are hopelessly lost in our sins. Performing good deeds—even a lifetime of good deeds—cannot take away the sin that stains our souls. The perfect, righteous, holy God before whom each of us will give an account doesn’t give out “get out of hell free” cards to those who go to church, give to the poor, or walk the elderly across the street. But God remedied this problem in the greatest act of love in all history. He sent His sinless Son, Jesus, to be nailed to two pieces of wood in order to bear the wrath of God for the sins of all who come to faith in Him. By repenting of our sins, believing that Jesus alone has the power to save sinners, and turning to Him as Lord of our lives, we are saved! It is a completely free, we-did-nothing-to-deserve-it kind of gift! And His salvation is available to all people, no matter what you have done. Yes, even the sin that came into your mind as you read that sentence. Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life again, Christ-followers have victory over the enemy no matter how formidable his attacks. That is why we make much of Jesus! And that is what we celebrate as we end these series of posts over the book of Ephesians.

[1] Spurgeon, Charles H. Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publication, 1992. p.134.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Relational Idolatry in Families

Number one New York Times best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life begins, “It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”[1]

As we touched on in the last post, the words “It’s not about you” are hard to swallow when we live in an egocentric society where my needs and my desires are paramount. This grates against our prideful, self-centered, sinful nature that secretly whispers into our souls that we should seek our identity in anything other than our Savior. The poison of idolatry is subtle in our society. We may not have a temple to Artemis, a widely worshipped Greek goddess popular in the time when Paul wrote his letter to Ephesian believers, but idolatry is just as alive in twenty-first century America.

One subtle form of idolatry that has crept into the modern evangelical church is the idol of family. We treat our children as if they were the center of the universe—as if our worth, value, and significance rested in their ability to achieve. Tim Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods, writes, “Modern society…puts great pressure on individuals to prove their worth through personal achievement. It is not enough to be a good citizen or family member. You must win, be on top, to show you are the best…. From the earliest years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything…. The family is no longer what Christopher Lasch once called a ‘haven in a heartless world,’ a counterbalance to the dog-eat-dog areas of life. Instead, the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated.”[2]

In Proverbs 22:6, we are instructed to, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” How are we raising our children in this dog-eat-dog world? In his sermon on this topic at First Baptist Church of Geneva, Pastor Jeff Frazier asked a provocative series of questions. “What would you rather have,” he asked, “to have your child become a great athlete, a great musician, a great student, a great scholar, a great business man or woman, or a great man or woman of God?” The question is posed to us. Are we eager to raise sons and daughters who count the cost, take up their cross, and follow Jesus Christ? Or are we content to raise children whose identity is found in their success, wealth, and personal achievement? In Ephesians 6:4, Paul exhorts fathers to not “exasperate your children.” By making idols out of our sons and daughters, we raise up bitter, resentful, jaded children.

It is not only parents who struggle with idolatry. The inherited sin nature with which we are born feeds us the lie that life is about self-satisfaction and self-glory. Parents do not need to teach a child to be selfish; it comes naturally. Therefore, throughout the child’s toddler years, parents stress the importance of sharing and taking turns. Parents have the responsibility of raising children who fear the Lord and keep His commands. Children have the responsibility to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). And adult children should “honor your father and mother,” for this pleases the Lord (Eph. 6:2).

Consider whether there are any areas of relational idolatry in your own life. In what areas is God calling you to renounce the temptation to make life about you or the success of your children? Offer up a prayer to the Lord, asking Him to break any idols in your life and fill you with Himself as your all-surpassing Joy and Treasure!

[1] Warren, Rick. The Purpose-Driven Life: What On Earth am I Here For? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. p. 5.
[2] Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. New York: Dutton, 2009. p. 79.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hope for Marriage

“A magnificent marriage begins not with knowing one another but with knowing God. In Him we have the foundation and resources necessary to love one another. His Word, His ways, and His will must be paramount in our lives. Unless we are growing in the knowledge of God, we’ll lack the motivation and wisdom to build an effective marriage.”
~Gary & Betty Ricucci~

From Burger King’s trademarked slogan “Have it your way” to McDonald’s “You deserve a break today,” we are conditioned to pursue whatever provides personal happiness. If fast food restaurants serve happiness on demand by filling our bloated stomachs with beefy burger, certainly we deserve happiness in much deeper, more critical areas of life too. Long before the moment “Mine!” becomes the first word to grace our lips, many of us tuck away this philosophy of warranted happiness into our souls. It is no surprise, then, when this desire expresses itself in marriage. But it may be a surprise when it slowly and stealthily affects our relationship with our spouse like an undetected, slow-growing cancer.

In a study reported in the March 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dr. Richard Lucas discovered that couples who marry find themselves happier during the first year of marriage than they were prior to marrying. “But after two years of marriage,” Dr. Lucas reports, “most people are pretty much back to where they started before marriage.”[1] Marriage has a very minimal affect on long-term happiness. If a couple marries to find happiness, they will be sorely disappointed after their first twenty-four months together. Perhaps this painful sense of disillusionment accounts for a fraction of the 50% of first-time marriages, the 67% of second-time marriages, or the 74% of third-time marriages that all end in divorce.[2]

These statistics are sobering, and call the church to consider what we can do to preserve the sacred covenant we made before the Lord. Paul addresses the heart-attitude of husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:21-33. His God-inspired teaching is the antithesis to culture, and it contains the key to living in a marriage that glorifies God and honors one’s spouse. Believers are instructed to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:1) Giving specific instruction to wives, Paul commands, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). Furthermore, the wife is instructed to “respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33b). Husbands are charged to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). These decrees defy the lie of popular culture that marriage is about what makes “me happy” and clearly indicate that marriage requires self-denial as we consider our spouse better than ourselves (see Phil 2:3).

In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks the provocative question, "What if God didn't design marriage to be 'easier'? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?"[3] As a believer, our lives have been radically turned upside-down by Jesus Christ. We are no longer to live for ourselves and for our happiness. “[Jesus] must become greater; I must become less,” including in my marriage (Jn. 3:30). As we ride the tumultuous tide of marriage—choosing to express love to our spouse when he or she is most unlovable, clinging to our covenant before God when the romantic feelings have long faded, determining to forgive the seemingly unforgivable act, releasing the “right” to exact revenge—it is then that God does His most redemptive, restorative act in our lives of making us more like His Son Jesus Christ. It is through releasing any corrupt compulsion to change our spouse’s character and instead pleading with God to transform our own hearts that Jesus Christ is magnified and we find joy.

May Jesus Christ be our highest, most precious, most valuable Treasure, for there is none other who can satisfy the deepest longings of our soul.

[1] Qtd. in Kirchheimer, Sid. “Does Marriage Make You Happy?” 17 Mar 2003. Accessed 27 May 2010.
[2] Statistic taken from
[3] Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. p. 13.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Creation

“If traces of Christ’s love-artistry be upon me, may He work on with His divine brush until the complete image be obtained and I be made a perfect copy of Him, my Master.”
~Unknown Puritan~

It starts out as a rather ugly creature and a pest in agriculture. Some can inflate parts of their body to resemble a snake. Others produce pungent chemicals in order to protect against predators. Even though these creatures contain six tiny eyelets on their heads, they have horrible vision. This unsightly, smelly pest with poor eyesight is the common caterpillar.

Children are often fascinated with the lifecycle of a caterpillar—catching the larva, putting it in a jar, and watching it transform from an ugly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly. When the graceful, delicate, often colorful butterfly bursts forth from a cocoon, it is awe-inspiring. Could this beautiful new creation truly have started out as the ugly caterpillar?

In Ephesians 4:7-32, Paul contrasts the old life with the new life, and the description is much like that of a caterpillar that has been transformed into a butterfly. Just as the caterpillar has terrible eyesight, Paul describes unbelieving Gentiles as “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Eph. 4:18). They suffer from spiritual blindness—a condition much more severe than physical blindness. The spiritual odor they emit is unpleasant, for, “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Eph. 4:19). And they have no solid ground upon which to stand, but they are “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). The picture of the old life is one of spiritual ignorance that leads to death.

Here is the good news: not one person has to remain in that state! For like the caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly, Jesus offers to change us into purpose-filled people who beautifully reflect His glory! Paul urges believers to put off their old self and grow into maturity. The mature, adult stage of the butterfly is called the imago. Our goal as believers is to imago (image) God, reflecting His majesty. Putting off the putrid scent of impurity, the colorful wings we are to possess are truth-speaking, honest labor, wholesome speech, forgiving spirits, kindness, and compassion. It is by grace we are saved through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8). But following our conversion and in participation with the Holy Spirit, we must grow in Him “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).

What is the spiritual state of your soul? Have you given your heart to Jesus and let Him transform you into a new creation? If not, He is waiting for you with arms of love to make something beautiful out of your life, no matter what your past has been! Jesus has the power to make something majestic out of larva! If you have given your heart to Him, in what areas do you need to grow into maturity and imago the God who created you to beautifully reflect Him? Invite the Holy Spirit to change your life into something of splendor!

Monday, May 24, 2010


“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.”
~A.W. Tozer~

If you have driven anywhere lately, you have probably seen a growing number of vehicles sporting a bumper sticker with various faith symbols resembling the word “coexist.” The symbols forming this word include the Islamic crescent moon, a peace sign, the male and female symbol, the Jewish Star of David, a Wiccan pentacle, the Chinese yin-yang, and at the very end of the word, a cross. It is an effort to promote religious tolerance, a symbolic representation that all religious systems are equally valid and should be respected. There is only one problem. The cross has to be lopped off the end of the bumper sticker. It can never be part of that equation.

Jesus, the God-man whom that cross represents, boldly declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6, emphasis mine). In a time when the religious leaders were seeking to kill Him for declaring that He was God, Jesus spoke radical words—words that would be deemed extraordinarily intolerant in twenty-first century America. According to Jesus, the other symbols on the coexist bumper sticker represent equally invalid religious systems that attract people who are hungry to find some way to achieve a sense of peace within their souls. But religious tolerance and human effort will never lead them to the only Way, Truth, and Life. That is found in Jesus Christ alone.

Paul, a persecutor of Christians turned apostle of Christ, clearly understood this truth. As “a prisoner for the Lord,” he urged all believers in Jesus to be united to each other precisely because of the “one body…one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” and who called them to Himself (Eph. 4:1, 4-6). Jesus Christ, not religious tolerance, is to be the basis of our unity.

In Jesus, our one Lord, we find every reason to be united. We are all called to the same hope, and we must not allow petty divisions to take our eyes off of our prize and treasure, Jesus Christ Himself. Paul urges us to “live worthy of the calling we have received” (Eph. 4:1). And the appropriate response to who Jesus is and what He has done requires humility, gentleness, and patience as we “bear with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).

Our calling has been clearly identified. As we examined in earlier posts, we have been chosen, predestined, redeemed, and adopted. The debt of our sins was canceled, and we have been made alive with Christ. God calls us His workmanship; we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but citizens with God’s people and members of His household. This is your identify in Christ! Are you living a life that is worthy of this high calling?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

“If we have deep-seated fears that God does not really love us (as many Christians have), we can only go so far in growing nearer to God. There will come a point at which we will fear to trust Him any further because we cannot be sure of His love. When we look at ourselves, or our own faith, or our circumstances we will never be free from those lurking fears. Satan will see to that. But when we lift up our eyes and look on the cross we find the final persuasion that God is gracious towards us. How can He be against us when all His wrath against us fell upon Christ? How can He fail to care for us when He gave the only Son He had for our sake? How can we doubt Him when He has given us evidence of His love sufficient to banish all doubts?”
~Sinclair Ferguson~

His name was Samuel Trevor Francis. He was born on November 19, 1834 in a village north of London. As a boy, Samuel had a knack for writing poetry, and he loved singing in his church choir. But during his teenage years, he went through a period of spiritual darkness and his soul was disquieted within him. One evening, on his way home from work in London, he found himself walking across the Hungerford Bridge south of the Thames. He later wrote, “During the winter’s night of wind and rain and in the loneliness of that walk, I cried to God to have mercy on me. I stayed for a moment to look at the dark waters flowing under the bridge, and the temptation was whispered to me, ‘Make an end of all this misery.’ I drew back from the evil thought, and suddenly a message was borne into my very soul, ‘You do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?’ I at once answered, ‘I do believe,’ and I put my whole trust in Him as my Savior.”[1]

Francis would later become a preacher and hymn-writer, penning the words to the well-loved hymn “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” The lyrics give rise within our hearts to a love too deep for comprehension, and help us to grasp a small strand of “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18b-19a). Francis writes:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Your glorious rest above!

This deep, deep love of Jesus is so vast that it “surpasses knowledge,” as Paul describes in Ephesians. It is a love that is undeserved, unearned, and unconditional. It is a love so boundless that the Father willingly crucified His Son, pouring out the wrath that you and I justly deserve on a perfect, sinless sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (Jn. 15:13).

Only this God who loves you unconditionally knows where you are at today. Maybe you are in a place where you are basking in His love, and the radiance of His presence emanates from your life. Or maybe you are in a place where your love has grown cold, and you think that God must feel just as apathetic towards you as you feel towards Him. Or perhaps you are longing and crying out to hear the love of Jesus whispered into your soul, because in this moment, you feel very unloved. Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, the truth is this: God will never love you any more or any less than He does in this moment! If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ by grace through faith, then His love surrounds you and is within you through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. If you have yet to experience this vast, unmeasured, boundless, and free love, will you open your heart to Him today? The current of His love is waiting to overwhelm you no matter your circumstance!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread His praise from shore to shore,
How His love is never-ending,
And it changes nevermore;
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He’s interceding,
Watching o’er them from the throne.

[1] Qtd in Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003. p. 197.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dead Man Walking

“Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about mankind, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. It is this combination of pessimism and optimism, of despair and faith, which constitutes the refreshing realism of the Bible. For what Paul does in this passage is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace.”
~John Stott~

Prior to the 1960s, when a man on death row would walk down the halls of the prison, the warden would shout out, “Dead man walking! Dead man walking here!” To all of the other prisoners within earshot, the phrase signified the convict’s very imminent death. It was a grim reminder that, while the man had life and breath in the moment, his execution was on the horizon.

The sober reality is that our world is full of dead men and women walking—not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense. But unlike the prisoner on death row, the frightening truth is that most people are not even aware that they will be condemned before the God of the universe. In the book of Ephesians, Paul expresses the truth to awaken us from our spiritual slumber and warn us of the things to come. He uses the strong language appropriate for such an occasion. “…You were dead in your transgressions and sins,” he stresses, “…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:1b, 3b). This is our condition from birth because of the hereditary stain of sin we have as descendents of Adam and Eve. And it is irreversible. Working hard to perform good deeds doesn’t impress the holy God of this universe. His standard is His perfect Son Jesus Christ, and whether or not we like to admit it, you and I fall hopelessly short. We are dead people walking.

It is a bleak picture. But into the bleakness, God speaks. “Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). The gavel has fallen and we have been declared guilty. But God intervenes. He grants a pardon to all who, in faith, place their trust in His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior and Lord. All of those who are in Christ will never face the wrath of God; Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for us and He left not one drop for us. The death penalty has been dropped. The guilty party has been acquitted!

Take a deep breath and let that sink in a moment. It is not until we realize the depths of our own depravity that we can appreciate the depths of God’s grace! God could have stopped there, and we would have been eternally singing His praises with hearts that never grow tired of delighting in His amazing grace! But God goes further and calls us His workmanship! We are God’s masterpieces on display so that the world might see His glory and goodness shining through us.

If you are in Christ, when God the Father looks at you He no longer sees a dead man or woman walking. He sees His Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect and spotless Lamb. He looks at you with eyes of unconditional love and He has canceled the debt of your sin. The chains have fallen off, the prison doors have been opened, and you have been set free! Masterpiece of God, use your freedom to declare this truth to other dead men and women walking in order that they too might be free.