Wednesday, September 28, 2011

God is Good!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Psalm 107:1

When Scripture says that God is good, it does not merely mean that He is acceptable or satisfactory; it means that He is excellent in every way. He is good in Himself. His character and His nature are of the highest quality and without flaw. There is no aspect of who He is or what He does that the word 'bad' can rightly be applied to. Conversely, the word 'good' is an apt description of His nature, actions, and character in every situation. God is good.

But not only is God good in His nature, His good nature also produces good works. Psalm 119:68 says, "You are good, and what you do is good..." His goodness goes beyond simply who He is and becomes a part of everything that He does. Nowhere is this truer than in God's dealings with humanity. Though we deserve His punishment, He offers us grace, mercy, and patience. He took our sin upon Himself, paid our debt, and bore our shame so that He could offer us forgiveness unfailing love. Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." I have tasted. I have seen, and now I testify that God is good!

Now you might be thinking, "God has not been good to me." "You don't know what happened to me when I was 5 years old." "You don't know what my first boyfriend did to me." or "You don't know what it's like to have no one in this world who cares about you." It is true that I do not know what you have been through, but Scripture tells us that we live in a sinful, broken world, and that because of this we all experience pain and suffering. But this world is not our home. God has promised to one day make a new world that isn't flawed in all the ways this one is. He has promised to wipe every tear away from our eyes and to put right all the things that sin has ruined. 

Until then we continue to endure the pain this world has to offer but we do not suffer alone. Scripture commonly refers to God as a protector of His children. Psalm 61:3 compares God to a strong tower and a refuge from those who would harm us. Psalm 9:9 says that He is like a stronghold in the day of trouble. Psalm 36:7 likens Him to a mother hen shielding us from disaster by hiding us underneath His wings. Of course God does not shield us from everything, but don't make the mistake of equating God with the evil in this world. James 1:17 says that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." Just because the world has gone bad does mean that God has. God is good even (and especially) when the world around us is not.

So how should we respond to God's goodness? The best and right responses are love, worship, and trust.  Read some of the passages below on God's goodness and see if you feel any of these responses bubbling up in you.  

For further reading...
*It should be noted that much of this talk and this series draws information from Wayne Grudem's textbook Systematic Theology. I am also leaning on notes taken from my Systematic Theology I class taught by Dr. Bruce Ware at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Time to Get Real: Ambassadors for Christ

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
 II Corinthians 5:18-21

A few months back the new U.S. ambassador to China Mr. Gary Locke garnered quite a bit of attention when some photos emerged. These photos included Mr. Locke buying his own coffee in an airport and then later he and his family carrying their own bags out of another airport. If you are having trouble understanding why this was considered newsworthy in China it might help for me to tell you that in China even low level government officials have secretaries and personal assistants that do things like this for them. Journalist Chen Weihua explained, "To many Americans, there was probably nothing unusual about this. But to most Chinese people, the scene was so unusual it almost defied belief." It is kind of surprising that doing something so simple could cause such a stir, but it did. In fact, Mr. Locke's actions have some Chinese people rethinking how their government officials spend money.*

Gary Locke is an excellent example of what it means to be an ambassador. An ambassador represents their people, their customs, and their mission to a foreign country. It is always their goal to reflect positively on those whom they represent, even (and especially) when doing so means that they are out of step with the culture of the country they serve in.

It's interesting that Scripture calls us "Christ's ambassadors." Now I know that in the original context of II Corinthians chapter 5 Paul is talking about himself and his group of ministers/missionaries, however, in the grater context of Scripture and considering the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), I think it is more than appropriate to apply this passage to all believers at least in some measure. The old saying holds true, you may be the only Jesus some people meet. Yes, 21st century culture is foreign and very different from the way we are called to live our lives as representatives of Jesus and His coming kingdom; but like Mr. Locke sometimes it is the ways that we are different that make our way of life most attractive.

The above passage of Scripture says that God has trusted the message of reconciliation to us, and He has. He has entrusted it to all of us. We are all called to preach the gospel and to make disciples wherever we go. We are all called to live as salt and light in this world and to be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have (I Peter 3:15). Paul even says that it is "as though God were making His appeal through us," because in a way He is. Yes, it is really the Holy Spirit working in people's hearts that changes them from sinners to believers, but God often chooses to use people like you and me to work in coordination with that Spirit. The Spirit will bless something you say or do and use that to minister to a lost person's soul and call them to repentance.

Of course we are most useful to God when we are willing to step out on faith and try to be used by Him. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." Are you really going to respond to that amazing gift by just going halfway in your Christian life...just doing the minimum but never really giving God your all? It is time for you to get real about your faith. God deserves better than your halfway. Not only does God deserve better, but what about your friends and your family? They need to be told the truth about Jesus and to have a chance to escape the coming judgment. And what about you? Don't you want to stand before your Savior with a clear conscience on that last day? We won't be perfect, but join me today in praying and asking God to somehow use us to draw other people to Him. Ask Him to help you give Him your all and not to be paralyzed by fear any longer. Ask Him to give you opportunities to share the good news, then, when the time comes, step out on faith and trust Him to bless it. God can use the smallest action or word done in faith.

For further reading...
  • Ephesians 6:19-21- Paul uses the metaphor of being an ambassador in this passage as well.
  • I Chronicles 18:9- King David's advice to his son Solomon. Notice he doesn't urge his son to serve God with half-hearted devotion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time to Get Real: Share the Good News

Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. 
Matthew 10:32-33

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:38

Charlie Peace was a notorious criminal in 19th century England. A known burglar and murderer, Peace was eventually sentenced to hang, and on February 25th 1879 marched out to meet his fate. As Peace undertook his "death-walk" a prison chaplain walked with him halfheartedly reading from Scripture and urging repentance. Peace responded by uttering his most famous words. "'Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worth while living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”*

I first heard this story years ago and it has always stuck with me. The idea of a man crawling across all of England on broken glass to save just one soul and considering it a worthwhile task is powerful. The truth is that Charlie Peace, scoundrel that he was, preached a sermon that day that God in His grace is still using for His glory. If we really believe what the Bible teaches about Hell- that those who die without forgiveness for their sins will spend eternity in torment for those sins- then we should do all that we can to prevent that from happening. Indeed we have an even greater responsibility because we not only know that Hell is waiting for these individuals but we also know the solution to their problem. We know that "there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved" but Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). How great a crime it is to keep silent about such things.

The Scriptures above speak as plainly to this subject as Charlie Peace did. We Christians have no excuse for failing to share Jesus with the world. It is our duty. In fact, Jesus used His last words to encourage us to do the same. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Yet many of us still fail to share. There are many reasons why we do not share the gospel as we should, but one of those reasons is that many of us simply do not know how. Today, I would like to show you the simplest way I have found to share the gospel. (Disclaimer: This is not my own invention. I have found it used in many LifeWay resources and assume they developed it. I share it here in my own words and adjusted to my liking.) It is as easy as remembering A-B-C. 

A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).

B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9).

I Peter 3:15 says that you should, "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." So, I encourage you to take a few minutes and study this or another form of sharing the gospel message so that you are ready when God gives you opportunities to share. I also encourage you to commit to memory the passages of Scripture that I reference above, because you don't always have a Bible handy when you have a chance to witness. Lastly, pray that the Lord would give you an opportunity to plant a gospel seed in someone's life; and when He does, step out on faith.

For further reading...
  • Memorize the gospel plan and passages above.

* - There seem to be many variations of this story floating around. They are all essentially the same, but the quote especially seems to change a little from story to story. This Wikipedia entry seemed to me to be fairly reliable so I chose to use it over some of the other sources I came across.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time to Get Real: The Gospel Story

If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:9 

In the beginning the one true God (the all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever present One whom the Bible says is by His very nature love), in order to make His love known and in order to bring glory to Himself (Isaiah 43:7 & Revelation 21:6-7), created the world and mankind in it. He created all things and without Him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-3). The Bible says that God said to Himself “let us make man in our own image,” and He did. He created men and women both in His image (Genesis 1:27). He made them priests and Kings: Kings, in that they were given dominion over all the earth that they might rule over it in His name to bring Him glory and priests, in that they stood before Him as the representatives of all creation bringing its praise and worship to the Creator  (Genesis 1:28-30 & Revelation 1:6). When God had finished his creation, He saw that it was good.

But it did not stay that way for long. Humanity chose to rebel against God. A serpent who was under the control of the Devil tempted Adam and Eve with the promise of equality with God. The Lord had already put all of creation under their rule, but that was not enough. Just like us today, they had an insatiable appetite for more. They desired to be equal with God, and so disobeyed God’s command and ate of the fruit of the tree (Genesis 3). The Bible says that because of their rebellion not only was the creation marred with imperfection but the first man and woman died, not physically but spiritually. Since two spiritually dead people cannot give birth to spiritually living ones, all humans since Adam and Eve have been born in sin (Romans 5:12-21). At birth we are no more able to love God or desire the things of Him than a dead man is able to walk. Thus, from that day on, all of mankind has been in rebellion against God. A great gulf has been fixed between us and Him, and that gulf is our sin. For all of us have chosen to rebel against God our own ways (Romans 3:23).

The scary truth of the gospel—the truth that we don’t talk about nearly as much as we should—is that God responds to our sin with righteous wrath. God hates sin! Though this is hard for us to understand, it would be ungodly for Him not to hate it. I know that many of us like to think of God as all loving and only loving but Scripture does not portray Him that way. He is all loving but He is not only loving. His character is much too complex and righteous for that. He exhibits wrath (Nahum 1:2-3) under the right circumstances and in the right proportions. Our sin is deserving of God’s wrath and so all humans by our own choice of rebellion have become God's enemies, deserving of Hell (Romans 5:9-11).

But herein lies the good news of God’s grace. While we were still sinners... while we were still rebelling against God's authority, He chose to love us with an indescribable love and to offer us forgiveness. God the Father sent God the Son to take the penalty for our sin (Romans 5:8). Do you remember that Adam and Eve found out that the penalty for sin was spiritual death? Well it is also physical death (it just isn't as immediate as the spiritual death). Thus, because of sin all humans die and when we die we face God's judgment where those who have chosen to join Satan in rebellion are thrown into Hell (Romans 6:23). So the Father sent the Son. In Christ the Creator took humanity upon Himself, dwelt among us and eventually died for our sins. He walked this earth and was tempted in every way just as we are but He remained sinless (Hebrews 4:15). He was wholly God and wholly man. And this man, the only innocent man in the history of the world, died a criminal's death so that we could be forgiven. He bore the shame of the Roman cross so that He might satisfy God’s wrath. He died the death that we deserved. This is the greatest news the world has ever heard.

But our story does not end there, because Jesus not only died for you, He was also raised from the dead for you (Matthew 28). At the cross Jesus paid the price for your sin, but in His resurrection from the dead He beat the power that sin holds over you: death (Hebrews 2:14-15). No longer does sin have the power to enslave you. Sin has been beaten by Christ in His death and resurrection. Those who have believed in Him have been set free. What's more, in the resurrected Christ we glimpse the great promise He has made for our future. Christ has promised to return one day and put this world to rights. All the marring effects of sin will be erased. The earth will once again be what it was created to be. So too you and I, if we have believed in Jesus, will be resurrected for life. We will be given incorruptible bodies like Christ's resurrection body and we will reign with our God (II Timothy 2:11-12 I Corinthians 6:1-3, I Corinthians 15). Those who have not believed will also be resurrected, but not for life. They will be cast into the Lake of Fire which is the final resting place of those who participate in Satan's rebellion (Revelation 21:1-8).

So what must you do to accept the incredible gift of forgiveness? Romans 10:9 says that, "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." It's that simple. Believe that Jesus was who He said He was, i.e. God's Son. Believe that He died on the cross for your sins and that He was raised from the dead. Repent (turn) from your sin and confess Jesus as Lord (master) of your life. Surrender your life to Him today and experience true freedom.

For further reading...check out any of the passages above.