For Whom Did Jesus Die?

I was recently asked to speak at a Men’s Conference at a nearby church in Nassau. Initially I was told that the theme would be the “Solas” of reformed theology and that my assignment would be to teach on “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone be the glory). Shortly after receiving this assignment, the conference theme changed to: “What Is The Gospel?”. I then came to understand that I was to attempt to answer the question, as best as I could, while staying with my assigned “Sola”.

The audio message below does not provide a comprehensive answer to the question: “What Is The Gospel?”, but it does make the assertion (based on Romans 3) that Christ did not merely die for our sake, but that He died for the sake of His Heavenly Father, and His righteousness.

I am indebted to Pastor John Piper who was the first to highlight for me the God-centredness of the Gospel in his best selling book, “Desiring God”.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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I Need Thee, O I Need Thee

As a part of our congregation’s desire to promote theological education, we produce a recommended reading list for our congregation a few times a year. The list of 9 books that we recently recommended were all about the church. (Transformational Church, Simple Church, The Irresistible Church, The Purpose Driven Church, Being The Body, Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church, Onward Christian Soldiers, The Trellis and The Vine, 7 Practices Of Effective Ministry).

All nine of the books we recommended have been helpful in shaping me as a pastor and as a leader of a local congregation. I am grateful for these resources and for those who have produced them. One of the common features you’ll find when reading books about the church is there often is a prescribed number of activities or habits—“9 Marks”, “7 Practices”, “12 Traits”, 5 steps, and so on.

I recognize that such numbers are intended to focus our effort, rather than serve as an exhaustive list of things needed for ministry. Allow me then to weigh in with this brief post, offering but one trait to pursue: desperation.

Yes, desperation.

Of all the things that have served me well in my 15 years of ministry, desperation for God’s presence in my life has been the most vital asset.

That’s not to suggest that nothing else matters. Leadership matters. Good preaching is a must. There is value in strong administration. Wise delegation is critical. A mission emphasis is needed. The list is long. I get why some want to boil the list down to 12, 9, 7, etc.

There are times, however, when it has been helpful for me to focus on one thing. The pressure of pastoring effectively can be intense, and the responsibilities set before us are often numerous. What keeps my anxiety at bay is the notion that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Accordingly, I find that the one thing I must do is seek God with all that is within me. I am quite literally desperate for His help, remembering the words of Jesus, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

I’ve been reading the Book of Exodus lately and I’ve found myself resonating with Moses who, by every appearance, was also desperate for the presence of God. Moses is struggling to lead the Hebrew people through the desert and is constantly coming to God for assurance of His favor. Accommodating Moses’ desperation, the Lord replies, “My presence will go with you” (Exodus 33:14).

I love Moses’ response: “If Your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).

Moses understands that it would be a complete waste of time to attempt to lead, or do anything, without God’s help.

I long for every Christian pastor to come to that same realization. That, before we seek to implement our 24 step plan, before we launch that new outreach program, before we seek to do anything…we seek God first.

Friend, I urge you: Be desperate for God.

Few hymns capture such a spirit the way the hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour, does.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

We want our efforts to count for something. We don’t want anything that we do to be in vain. There is a way to make things count. There is a particular way to go if we want to make a lasting difference. We need to go with God…Every step of the way.

As a pastor, one of the best things I can do for the congregation entrusted to my care is to model desperation. Model desperation for the One “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Stay desperate my friends!

God Will Change You

I am currently experiencing a number of changes in my life that I’m not real happy about. My daughter recently pointed to an old photograph of me and commented on how much hair I used to have. Over the past year I’ve noticed a subtle emergence of gray hair. I’ve also noticed that my body is not coping with the rigors of sport as well as it used to. I spend far too much time with my physio therapist.

Sensing my frustration with these changes, you can imagine my delight as I read about the positive transformation spoken of by the apostle Paul in 2Corinthians 4:16. Here Paul assures us, “Though outwardly, we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2Cor. 4:16).

What’s this transformation about? What are we being transformed into?

Paul answers, “(we) are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, with ever-increasing glory” (2Cor. 3:18).

We know from Romans 12 that there are things for us to do–there are things prescribed for us as we pursue Christ-likeness. In other words, growing in Christ-likeness requires our participation. But here’s the awesome thing: Growing in Christ-likeness does not depend upon your participation alone. The reason we can be confident in our spiritual progress is because God promises to help us along.

When Paul says that we “are being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory“, he says in the same sentence that this “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2Cor. 3:18).

Now, someone might ask, “Why do I need to change? Doesn’t God accept me the way I am?”

Yes, God receives you as you are, but He does not leave you the way He finds you.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (Ezek. 36:25, 26).

By His grace, God saves impoverished souls, and in His love He does not leave us as impoverished souls.

He cleanses us. He imparts new qualities to us. In short, God changes us.

And so, even as I mourn the breakdown of my physical body, I rejoice at the inward transformation that is taking place. And as I struggle to help this process along with my imperfect devotion to Christ, I am consoled by the fact that God is nevertheless changing me.

As the hymn writer well puts it, “Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Amazing Grace!

Prayerful Life, Joyful Life

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Every Christian knows that we are supposed to pray, but I’m not sure that every Christian understands the purpose behind and the benefits of prayer. As a result many Christians fall into one of two traps: either we neglect prayer because we don’t understand it, or, we misuse prayer because we don’t know what we should be praying for.

I have met lots of people who believe that the primary purpose of prayer is to get us out of trouble when we find ourselves in a desperate situation. For such individuals, prayer is what we do when we have nowhere else to turn. But prayer is so much more than this. I submit to you this morning that prayer is the primary way in which we communicate with God.

One might want to say that reading the Scripture is the primary way in which we communicate with God, and yet, to effectively understand and apply the Scripture to our lives it is necessary that we read it prayerfully. In John 16:24, we see another heartening aspect of prayer. Not only is prayer the primary way in which we communicate with God, but prayer is also the primary way in which we enjoy God.

We could talk at length about why we ought to pray, but here we are being given a compelling reason for why would want to pray. When we pray rightly, what we gain is joy-producing fellowship with the God who created this Universe.

Would you agree that this is not a common perspective of prayer? Would you agree that, for many Christians, prayer is more focussed on what we can get from God?

By way of illustration, I’d like to demonstrate why using prayer to get things from God misses the mark. Imagine yourself buying 2 tickets for a sporting event or for a theatre production. You then give one of those tickets to a friend because you want to spend more time with him/her. How would you feel if your friend then turned around and sold that ticket to a stranger in order to gain money to spend on something else?

This, unfortunately, is what we often do with the gift of prayer. God has given us prayer in order that we may learn the joy of having fellowship with Him. But instead we have grown accustom to using prayer to get things from God.

Prayer was never intended to be a means of gaining things to delight in apart from God. The intention of prayer is to enable us to delight in God.

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The Key To Lasting Success

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The Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, has an important message for the people of our day. Some might accuse Solomon of being unduly cynical in Ecclesiastes, but I don’t think this is the case. Here is a sample of the testimony of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 2:

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards…I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me…I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (Ecc. 2:4,8-10).

Solomon had seemingly unlimited access to worldly pleasures—access to real estate, to natural resources, to money, to power, to fame, and he even had a harem. Reflecting upon all that he had acquired and accomplished, Solomon offers the following conclusion:

When I had surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecc. 2:11).

Really Solomon? Meaningless? Nothing gained? Solomon explains how this is possible at the outset of Psalm 127:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Jesus offers a very similar warning to would-be followers in chapter 15 of John’s Gospel. Jesus declares: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). What is Jesus saying here? And in what sense could it be true that Solomon, in all of his splendour, had gained “nothing”?

As I compare these texts in the light of all of Scripture, I reckon that what Jesus is saying is this: Apart from Him we are incapable of pleasing GodApart from Christ, we can accomplish no lasting thing.

I grant you that a person may become quite popular and successful with worldly matters without ever enlisting the help of the Lord. Undoubtedly, we know of individuals who have accumulated great wealth apart from having any kind of devotion to Jesus Christ. Important competitions are won, and significant milestones are reached, by individuals who never took a single moment to call upon the Lord for help.

Admittedly, there is a way to succeed without the help of the Lord, but the Bible continually warns us that this way leads to ruin. As Solomon has said in Proverbs, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Or as Jesus put it, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26).

So you see, there are at least two categories for success:
1. Success that counts for this world only
2. Success that counts for this world and the next.

Friends, I want the latter for you. I don’t want our efforts to be in vain. I want our work to count for something. I want our work to last. Beloved, I fear that all of us have spent considerable time and energy on things that will not be regarded by our Lord in eternity. I suspect that, even now, many of us are neglecting to engage in the right things—or we are engaged in the right things, but in the wrong manner.

In this passage, Jesus is reminding us of just how badly we need Him. We need Jesus to help us set our priorities. And, secondly, we need Jesus to help us complete the work entrusted to us. We may win awards, there may be dinners in our honour, we may be financially rewarded for our work in this world, but if the Lord is not in our labour our reward will be limited to this life only.

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