Religion

A Gospel Meditation

I’m not feeling well at all today, so I’m re-posting a slightly edited version of a former blog post. Perhaps someone needs to hear it, and will be blessed today.

 

At a recent bible study the pastor quoted the following definitions for what the Gospel is:

“The Gospel is the good news about the great salvation purchased by Jesus Christ, by which He reconciled sinful men to a holy God.”

–  Lorraine Boettner

“The Gospel is the good news of God’s saving activity in the person and work of Christ. This includes his incarnation in which he took to himself full (yet sinless) human nature; his sinless life which fulfilled the perfect law of God;his substitutionary death which paid the penalty for man’s sin and satisfied the righteous wrath of God; his resurrection demonstrating God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice; and his glorification and ascension to the right hand of the Father where he now reigns and intercedes for the church.”

– Jeff Purswell

After hearing these two quotes I jotted down my own definition of ‘The Gospel’ in my notes…I think it is a sort of meshing of the two together:

“The Gospel is what God has done, and is doing through Christ to redeem and reconcile a sinful people and His creation to Himself”

I’m still meditating on my definition and phraseology, so that may get tweaked…but nevertheless I think it communicates what I believe to be the central message of what the Gospel is, and what it does. My Pastor summed up the Gospel by saying that, “Christ is the Gospel”. John Piper has similarly said, and has even written a book entitled, God Is the Gospel

I rejoice that there seems to be a new awareness of “The Gospel” and what it really is. For so long we simply thought of it as something we needed hear in order to be saved(get to heaven) or a presentation we had to make for someone else to be saved. We thought of “The Gospel” as the entry point into the Christian life, and then we graduated from there and got into the real “meat” of the Christian experience. I rejoice that there is a new attempt at defining what “The Gospel” means, and it’s implications in every area of our life. Books are still being written on the subject of defining “The Gospel”. Just look at the two quotes I posted above…You have one rather short and simple quote, and you have another more detailed and complex quote. This sort of begs the question: “So, is the Gospel simple or complex? How exactly can you define what “The Gospel” is and what it isn’t?”

To the first question I say yes, and yes. The Gospel is both simple and complex. For me that is the beauty of it. It is a well so deep that we can never reach its depths, or exhaust the life giving qualities…yet the simplest among us can come with our dixie cups, and skim from the top enough of it’s living water that we can be eternally secure in Christ. The Gospel is an ocean so deep that we can never plunge it’s depths, yet shallow enough for the smallest, and most timid among us to frolic along the shore with our water wings on. I’m sure those last couple of lines are similar to someone else, and if I knew who, or wanted to take the time I would give them credit…I wanna say C.S. Lewis has said something similar, but honestly right now I have no idea where I’ve read it, or even if it was an original thought.(though I confess I’m not very original…just stay with me for now though) God is so amazing and so vast that He has chosen to reveal Himself in ways that we can understand, yet we will never fully know Him on this side of heaven. I’m thankful I will have an eternity to get to know Him, and to learn His ways…

To the second question I would say you can read all of the definitions I’ve given thus far and have an accurate picture of “The Gospel”. That being said, I don’t know that they completely and fully define it, at least in ways that we completely understand. (Stay with me) The fullest and most accurate definition I would say would be that “God is the Gospel”. Everything that “The Gospel” is, God is. Everything that “The Gospel” does, God does. “The Gospel” was personified in the person of Christ, so in effect(or actuality) Christ is indeed “The Gospel”. That being said though, I think all of our attempts at defining “The Gospel” in human words fall short. Words tend to be exclusionary by nature. If we say something is this, then this can’t be that. But “The Gospel” is so vast, that it includes so much(everything?). So I think any attempt at defining what “The Gospel” is falls short because it is a part of every fabric of our lives…every fabric of our world even. I say this because there is nowhere that God is not active, and nowhere that God is not at work. “The Gospel” I believe is the truth that God is working all things together for His glory, to the completion, and fruition of His plan for all of creation.(Perhaps this is a better definition than the one I gave earlier?)

So many times in our definitions we say that the Gospel is this, but not that. The Gospel is that, but not this. My pastor even said the other night that, and I think this is a John Piper quote, missions is not the Gospel, but a result of the Gospel. I’ve heard others say that social justice is not the Gospel, but an outworking of the Gospel. I say yes, but these things are “The Gospel” because they are the Gospel at work. I believe this to be true of many other things that people say “aren’t the Gospel”. I think it better to say that these things alone are not the Gospel, because the Gospel is so much more. Perhaps this is splitting hairs…perhaps I’m missing something…but hopefully my point is being made.

God is awesome, God is amazing. We can’t fit Him, or His Gospel into a box. Ultimately all of our words fall short in defining Him, and what He is doing. Yet we can know Him, and cling to Him and His Gospel. We can embrace His Gospel, and live it, (at least to the degree in which He enables us to), and let it flow out of us onto and into others. The Gospel truly is good news for a world that so desperately needs it. Let us continue to explore the depths of what His Gospel is…yet know in our hearts, that ultimately His truths are simply too much for our finite minds. But isn’t that what makes Him God? Isn’t that what makes “The Gospel” good news? He brought His vastness down to us…He has given us a glimpse into who He is. He has given us enough to want Him, and desire Him more…He has given us a thirst that only He can quench. Oh how I thirst for you God…

“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.”

Psalm 42:1-2

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!…
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-34,36

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Striving With God-Facebook Giveaway

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Wow! Striving With God just hit 100 likes on Facebook! I never imagined we would hit that in just 4 days. If we make it to 250 likes by the end of the week I have a great giveaway planned. More details as we get closer. If you haven’t liked Striving With God on Facebook yet, follow the link here and then click like. Thanks so much!

I Can Be A Real Hypocrite

“Some make it a part of their religion to talk about and criticize others. They do not imitate their graces but reflect upon their failings. God grant that professors may wash their hands of this! Were people’s hearts more humble, their tongues would be more charitable. It is the sign of a hypocrite to censure others and commend himself.”  -Thomas Watson

I can be a real hypocrite…Wash me Lord, grant me a humble heart and a more charitable tongue.

Do you tend to be more charitable or critical? You may be a hypocrite too!

 

 

 

Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning-Review

Another very enjoyable, and edifying read from Manning. After reading ‘Ragamuffin Gospel’ a few months ago I went out and bought everything of Manning’s I could find. As in all of Manning’s works I was in awe of the love of God, and His grace in not only saving me from my sin, but loving me in spite of my sin.

While I believe Mr. Manning and I would disagree in some areas theologically(though we’ve never discussed it :)) I wish more folks from my own “camp” would preach more about the love of God, and focus more on loving His people, and spend more time talking about that aspect(love, mercy, tenderness) of His character, and how that ought to flow out of us. Doctrine without love is worthless, and a theology devoid of love is really no theology at all. I too fell(fall) into this trap myself, and am thankful for stumbling onto Mr. Manning’s work.

I love Brennan Manning’s honest and straightforward style. He is a man with a lifetime of experiences across many areas and various church and denominational lines. This book didn’t contain a ton of new insights, as many of his books tend to repeat themselves, still I really enjoyed it, and would recommend it to others.

Can you be a bad Reformed theologian?

I’ve really been digging Joe Thorn’s blog series “Experiential Theology”. Check out his blog here. I especially enjoyed his interview with Ray Ortlund, who blogs over at “Christ Is Deeper Still“. I really loved Ray’s response to the following question. Check it out:

We know heretics are bad theologians, but can one be a bad Reformed theologian? How?

Our minds were created to admire grandeur and coherence and challenge. Reformed theology provides all that, plus more. So we like it. But given our wickedness, the very excellence of Reformed theology can make us weird. We can admire our theology of God rather than God, because the theology itself really is gorgeous – but only as a dim reflection of the One described there.

Worse yet, we can admire ourselves for being so smart: “We get it, we’re Reformed, we’re not like those Arminian idiots over there in that other group.” God hates pride. All pride. Reformed pride.

Final thought. Through the years I have learned a lesson: Everything man-made will let us down. Everything, eventually. Even theological systems. Only Jesus will never let us down. We appreciate Reformed theology. But let’s put our final trust here: the risen Lord Jesus Christ himself, our dear Friend, the only Savior of sinners.

What I’m asking myself…Help PLEASE!?!?

Today was one of the more interesting days I’ve ever had at work. A couple of things really worked together to make the day interesting, but one situation in particular has been playing on my mind, and I am curious to get some thoughts and insight from others. So here goes…

As I was working in the front of the store, I noticed a gentleman holding his side and sort of limping, walking towards me. When I saw him I immediately thought this guy was either homeless, or extremely down on his luck. As he approached the counter, he moved in closer to me so he could speak quietly. I had to listen closely because he had a bit of a speech impediment, or a lisp of some sort that made him a bit difficult to understand. The gentleman simply said, “I am a long ways from home, and was wondering if you knew of a good pastor, or deacon nearby that I could talk to?” After asking him to repeat himself, I wasn’t really sure what to say. I searched through my wallet, looking to see if I had a card that would have the number of a church I used to go to that was nearby, but of course I couldn’t find it. As I was fidgeting around it dawned on me, “Idiot(myself), even if you could find a number, he doesn’t have a phone!” I was working, and was a bit afraid of irritating my boss, or causing a stir at work, but I figured this was something I needed to deal with, so I called my boss and told him I needed to go outside for a little bit, I was going to try to help this guy.

I took the guy outside, and explained that I was a minister, and asked how I could help, and what he needed to talk about. After the gentleman apologized several times for his appearance, and for taking my time, he finally got on with explaining his situation. He told me he is from Richmond, Virginia but had been in Texas for a while. He really needed to get home, and somewhere along the way he was told if he could get to a town called “Sneads Ferry”, which is only about 15 miles from where I was, there was a “Christian” couple there who were on their way to Norfolk, Virginia the next morning and he could catch a ride with them. He had found someone to drop him off just outside our doors, but he needed a way to get the rest of the way to Sneads Ferry, and he needed some money so that he could stay at a hotel there, where the couple would pick him up. I told the guy that if he would stick around for a bit I would be happy to drive him, but I had no cash to give him for a room.

I noticed that after telling him I had no cash, he seemed a bit less interested in talking to me. I have to admit, as we were talking, I kept wondering to myself, “Is this guy for real? Is this guy just trying to take me for a ride? Is he just trying to take advantage of a ‘gullible’ Christian?” I felt horrible, and still feel bad thinking these things, but I just found it odd that he kept talking about finding a “pastor” or “deacon” or “some good Christians”(I think he used this description). I also found it odd, that as soon as he found out I wasn’t just going to give him money, he seemed to be less interested. I kept thinking to myself, “Does he just think a Christian is going to be an easier target, or does he just feel more comfortable going to someone who may be a little more compassionate?” Again I feel bad that these are the things that were going through my mind. I also found it odd that as I tried to press him a little bit, or ask more questions about himself, and his situation, he just didn’t really want to talk. All he wanted to talk about was getting to his destination, and money for a place to stay. I’m not entirely sure that the guy was totally mentally competent, so that could also have affected the conversation, and his approach to asking for help. I told the guy, that if he would stick around for a while, until I went on break, I would be happy to give him a ride, but again said, I had no cash. He informed me that he would try and find someone else to help him. I asked, if there was something I could pray for/with him about, or if there was more he wanted to talk about, or any other way I could help, and again, he said no. Still I told him, I would look for him while on break, which I did, but never did find him.

As I went back to work, really the rest of the day, I couldn’t get the guy out of my head. First off, I felt like a horrible person for having such suspicions of a guy I didn’t know, and really did seem to be in need. Secondly, I felt I should have done more, at least offered to get the guy a cab(still not sure why I didn’t think about that). Third, I wondered, even if the guy was trying to take me for a ride, is it my place to try to discern that? Shouldn’t I as a Christian just be willing to help, do what I can, and trust God to sort everything else out. And if I am going to err, isn’t it better to err on the “being too generous” side, rather than the other?

The Scripture that has been turning over in my head is quite obviously, Matthew 5:38-48, especially verse 42, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Also Matthew 25:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

I’ve been told before that we must be wise with our money and resources…I agree. I’ve also been told by a friend of mine, as relates to similar situations that we have to be discerning as to when our mercy ceases to be mercy. I’ve also even heard the “throwing pearls before swine” argument. But I wonder at what point does God give us that “out” clause? When does He say to “use your best judgement, and know when to not help someone in need, so they can learn to help themselves.” How do you know when the “swine” really is a “swine”?

I’ve heard someone say, and I think it is a tremendously true statement, that we use the fact that Jesus uses hyperbole, as an excuse not to take Him seriously, and to do nothing. It’s true to a great degree. How many times after reading one of Jesus’ hard statements, do preachers try to explain it away, or say, “Yeah, but what He really meant was….” We’ve all heard that, and we’ve all done that to some degree. Did I do that today?

That’s what I’m asking myself, and I would really like some feedback, and would really like to hear some thoughts, and have some discussion on this matter. This is something I’ve thought about often. I would also appreciate responses to be backed up with Scripture if possible….I would also ask you guys to pray for this guy, whatever is going on, he is in need. I pray he realizes his biggest need is Christ, and somewhere along the way I pray, he finds exactly what he needs.

Thanks guys, I look forward to hearing from you…

There is no escape…

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalm 139:7-12 ESV)

As I was meditating on Psalm 139, these verses struck me. As a child of God, it ought to be such a joy and a comfort to know that there is no place we can go that is away from the presence of God. I think generally we all know this in principle, or have a general head knowledge that this is true, yet I don’t know that we live as if it is. If we do get it, I don’t know that we actually take joy in it. I think there are times where we wish we could escape the presence of an all knowing God.(yes that sentence is a bit ridiculous, but aren’t we ridiculous sometimes in our walk with God?)

Many times I think we want to “make our bed in Sheol”. Even if it isn’t a conscious decision on our part to do that, that is precisely where we’ve ended up! The great thing though, is that even in that place, God is there. Many times in our walks with God, we’ve tried to flee as far away from God as we could. God would not allow that to happen. Many times we try to hide in the darkness, so that others cannot see our sin. Yet there, God is still present. Not only is He there, He is not hindered, for “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Many times I think it is in these periods of darkness, or our periods of trying to flee from the presence of God that His light shines the brightest, as He draws us back, and even closer to Him.

God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, isn’t a burden. It shouldn’t scare us, it should bring us joy. We should delight in it! How do we not find joy in the fact that God is holding us, God is caring for us, God is loving us?!?!

Stop fleeing from God, stop trying to hide from God, perhaps I should even say, stop trying to make God love you. If you are His, he already does, and He is with you right where you are. Receive Him… Receive His love. Let Him hold you, let Him lay His hand upon you(v.5)…

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

(Psalm 139:13-18 ESV)