Admit Your Need

June 28, 2013

Who is God? What is man? What is the relationship of man to God?

These are questions of worldview. The answers we give to those questions shape how we perceive and interpret the world around us.

Time and again, Jesus warns us that the attitude we assume in answering such questions, and the presuppositions we are often unaware of, can twist our thought processes and keep us from seeing the truth God has revealed.

Let’s look at three of Jesus’ statements in this regard.

First, Luke 18:24. A wealthy man who desires eternal life has just walked away sorrowful because Jesus has told him to sell all he has, give it all to the poor, and follow Him. Jesus then says: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Why is it difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom? One reason: Many rich people, like this man, think they are in control. They think that their wealth protects them from the vagaries of life. If they believe in God, they furthermore think that they have something to offer Him – that God needs them, that God even should be thankful to have them on His side.

Jesus offered this rich man eternal joy – the very life the man said he wanted! But he walked away, because he assumed that Jesus asked him to give up more than he was to gain. He assumed that he just needed to tweak his life in some way to make himself acceptable to God, worthy of eternal life. He assumed that his wealth was either a sign of God’s favor or in and of itself useful to God. Instead, Jesus revealed that it was a barrier between him and God. The rich man’s assumptions were deadly.

We’ll consider the second and third statements together:

Matthew 18:3:   “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 11:25-26: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Jesus says that some truth – indeed, the most important truth – cannot be known apart from God revealing it. Although this statement is perfectly reasonable once we admit the possibility of a Creator God, many today begin with the assumption that Jesus’ statement is false. They assume that (a) we are rational beings and (b) we can come to know all important truths through reasoning and experimentation. With those assumptions, there obviously is no role for revelation.

But children know they need revelation. Children know they don’t know many things, and they need others to teach them. So they ask question after question – sometimes to the point of driving their parents crazy!

Children also know they are dependent creatures, who need the shelter and protection that others provide. Children thus know they are not self-sufficient – either intellectually or physically.

Note that this attitude is the opposite to that of the rich man in the earlier story. Jesus, in effect, told the rich man to become dependent on Him. And the rich man went away, sorrowful in his self-sufficiency.

Jesus tells us that all of us must assume the dependent attitude of a child. We must cease assuming that we can know all that is important apart from His revelation. If we continue to believe we are self-sufficient, we will never know what is of greatest importance. We will never see the revealed truth that is right before our eyes – the truth that the Father has revealed to little children – to both literal little children, as well as to those who have become like little children and so entered the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus tells you, He tells me: “You are needy people. Admit it! You need revelation; you need guidance; you need empowering. Acknowledge it! You need forgiveness. Confess it! Quit assuming that your intelligence, your riches, your education, your accomplishments, your position, your reading, or your moral life qualify you to come into God’s presence, or to stand as judge over Him, His Word, and His actions. Instead: Come to Me – humbly, broken, and contrite, like a little child – and I will give you exactly what you need! Come to Me – repentant, seeking, asking – and I will choose to reveal the Father to you.”

This is Jesus’ challenge: Quit trying to establish your own righteousness, your own brilliance, your own status. Quit assuming it’s even possible to do that. Instead, like a child, acknowledge your neediness. Come to Him. He promises to you rest, peace, and fulfillment.

Who is God? What is man? What is the relationship of man to God? Jesus reveals these answers – to those who become like little children.

What Christ Has Done for Us

June 20, 2013

(by Kevin Wang)

My wife recently has been sharing the Gospel with a Muslim coworker. He raises many questions about Christianity. One of these is: If God is loving and merciful, if God is almighty and in charge of the entire universe, why would He need to send a Son to earth? And why would that Son have to die? This coworker thinks God can simply forgive any sin for any man. In fact, this man said he knows a Christian who raised the same question in his church, and no one in the church could give him a satisfactory answer – so this Christian converted to Islam!

People love to hear about God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. But what exactly did Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, do for us? Why did Jesus have to become man? Why did He have to die? I will not give a comprehensive answer today; rather, let’s look primarily at one verse: 1 Peter 3:18.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

The verse begins: “Christ also suffered once for sins.” The NASB translates this as, “Christ died for sins once for all.” Jesus suffered physical and emotional pain when he was mocked and flogged; then He suffered physical death. But why? Why did Jesus die? Peter says he “died for sins.” Whose sins? Certainly not his own. The Bible tells us Jesus lived a perfect life – a life no other human ever lived. So who else does the verse refer to? The only others mentioned are referred to by the pronoun “us” in the middle of the verse. Yes, us. You and me. Jesus suffered death in the flesh for us. He, the “righteous,” died for us, the “unrighteous.” The book of Romans tells us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And “the wages of sin is death.” We often hear there are two things guaranteed, death and taxes. Well, some smart people could potentially evade taxes, but no man on earth can evade death. The entirety of human history testifies to this verdict: “the wages of sin is death.”

But Christ died for our sins, He paid the penalty of God’s judgment against sins, so that God can be wholly just – for He sees to it that no sin goes unpunished. Indeed, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). God had to send His Son to die if He was to forgive anyone, and remain just. But He did send that Son. That Son did die – and He offers us forgiveness through that death. That’s why we call the Gospel the Good News. Christ died once for all, on our behalf, in our place, for the sake of our sins. His death is sufficient to reconcile us to God, since He is the perfect sacrifice to cleanse our sins. He is like bleach that cleanses our dirty clothes from all the muddy stains; He is like antivirus software that wipes out all the harmful viruses on your computer. No antivirus software is perfect, because it is written by imperfect humans; you need to update the program periodically and rescan your computer. But – praise God! – Christ is perfect. His sacrifice is perfect and permanent. That’s why Peter says, “He died for our sins once for all.” There is no need for reinstallation or weekly updates like Microsoft Windows. It is once for all. It is everlasting. That’s why we only need to be baptized once, once for all, to signify our salvation in Christ, through His death and resurrection.

But Christ did far more for us than die for our sins. Just like a coin has two sides, what Christ did for us also has two sides. The end of this verse says, “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” On the negative side, Jesus was put to death in the flesh for our sins to satisfy the justice of God; on the positive side, he was made alive in the spirit, “that he might bring us to God.” That is, that He might show us the love of God. Just like his death in the flesh is once for all, his resurrection in the spirit is also once for all and everlasting.

God doesn’t just patch over sin, covering us for a little while, until sin breaks out again. God doesn’t just trim the weeds; God roots them out. God doesn’t offer bypass surgery; He gives us a new heart. Not a new heart of flesh, but a new heart in the spirit, because Christ was made alive in the spirit. With the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we have this intimate, infinite and permanent connection with God. The Holy Spirit is our power source that will never have a blackout, that will never short circuit. It is as if we are plugged into the power source of the entire universe. Furthermore, this power source is wireless, and has infinite range, with no areas of poor reception –because it is from the infinitely powerful Holy Spirit. So when Christ dies for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, he takes away sin from us – and He gives us new life, so that we become children of God. That’s why the Apostle Paul says, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).

For those among us who have never accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, who have never believed in His death and resurrection, today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to receive what Christ has done for you: He died on your behalf; He was raised by the Holy Spirit to give you the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters of God, by whom you may cry, “Abba! Father!”

For those among us who have already received Jesus as Savior and Lord: May we give thanks and praise to God for what Christ has done for us. May the precious Word of God soak into our minds and hearts, through the work of the Holy Spirit, so that we treasure Christ above everything else in our lives – and so that we may declare what the Apostle Paul declared:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Amen.

Hope in God and Argument with God

June 14, 2013

Is Christian hope wishful thinking, a fantasy, a pollyannish belief that against all evidence things will turn out well for me?

As we have recently considered (first, second, and third blog posts), Christian confidence rests not on our desires, nor on our intellectual investigations, nor even on our beliefs, but on God’s Word, the revelation that He has spoken, telling us truths we could never discover on our own. We are dependent on Him, and thereby on His revelation, given to us in His Word.

So how do we react when all around us is falling apart?

Such was Job’s situation. In a short time, he lost his wealth, his children, and his health. And his friends – supposedly come to comfort him – just made matters worse.

Job 13:15 summarizes his reaction:

Though he slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face.

Job has a rock solid faith in God’s goodness, in His promises, in His faithfulness to every word He has proclaimed. David expressed the same hope when he was attacked by men:

My hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:5b-8)

Yet this hope is consistent with more pain coming upon him in the future. Note that Job acknowledges that he might well die from this affliction. His hope does not consist of a naïve belief that the worst is over. Rather, he says that even if the worst is not over – even if God slays him – he will continue to hope in Him. He does not know the outcome of his suffering; nevertheless, his hope in God does not waver.

Consider now the second half of the verse: In addition to his solid hope in God, Job states, “I will argue my ways to his face.” Indeed, a large portion of the rest of the book consists of Job addressing God directly, asking Him to come and let Job argue his case before Him (see, for example, Job 23:4-7).

Once we have read to the end of the book, we might think such arguments from Job are wrong. For when God does appear, Job is unable to argue. Confronted with God Himself, he sees that he has no case. God overwhelms him with His majesty, power, and authority. So Job is left to say,

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . . I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . .  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2,3,5,6)

Nevertheless, I suggest that Job’s arguing with God earlier in the book is not wrong, in and of itself. Indeed, Job 13:15 well summarizes the condition of limited, hurting humanity before Him. He is far beyond our ability to understand; He will often act in ways that seem to us inconsistent with His revelation of His character. When He does so, it is right and good for us to cry out in our pain, to express our lack of understanding, to lay before Him the seeming inconsistency of His revelation and what we see around us.

We see men and women of God cry out like this time and again in Scripture. Examples include Psalms 39, 42, 77, and 88, Jeremiah 20, Habakkuk 1, 2 Corinthians 1, and the entire book of Lamentations. Let’s look briefly at selections from chapter 3 of that last book.

Lamentations was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. During a long siege, the city suffered starvation, leading even to cannibalism. Then there was great slaughter when the Judean army tried to escape the siege and the Babylonians swept into the city. The author writes:

He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood.  He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”  Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!  My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. (Lamentations 3:15-20)

The author seems now to be without hope. God Himself is sovereign – the author knows this, and so sees God as the source of his bitterness. He can’t get the images of horror out of his mind.

Yet keep reading:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.  It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him;  let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope;  let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.  For the Lord will not cast off forever,  but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:22-33)

In the midst of the horror, in the midst of the grief which the sovereign Lord has caused (v32), the author reflects on the revealed character of God – the revelation over the centuries of God speaking and acting: the revelation of God at work in the Garden of Eden and at Mt Sinai; the revelation through David and Solomon, through Elijah and Elisha, through Micah and Isaiah. The author’s hope has perished (v18); yet he will hope in Him (v24).  This hope springs not from a Buddhist-like belief that the sorrow he has seen is an illusion, nor from a naive optimism that things have a way of working out for the good, but because “the LORD is my portion.” That is, the author continues to hope in God – as Job continues to hope in God even while he argues with Him – because God has promised an inheritance – He Himself. And He is worth more than all the world has to offer.

With that in mind, consider Job’s arguments with God – and your own arguments. If God Himself is our portion, our inheritance, which, as Peter tells us, is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4), then our inheritance is in and of itself to know Him. So as we struggle to know Him in this life, to understand His ways, we should come to Him with questions, with seeming inconsistencies, with our struggles. We should come humbly, yes; we must come submissively, by all means; we must come knowing, like Job, that in the end we will see God and shut our mouths.  At this moment, in this life, in this age, we see “as in a mirror dimly;’ it is good and right to bring Him our questions and our struggles to understand. But He has told us that the time is coming when we will “see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we will know Him, and have Him as our inheritance.

So may we all say with Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.”

The Death of a Hero

June 7, 2013

Who are your heroes? Who sets an example that you want to follow?

One of my heroes is Sundara Rao. The father of Vijay Sastry (who visited DGCC two years ago), Sundara died in Hyderabad, India earlier this week. He was 58.

Sundara spoke little English. He had no higher education. But he was a man who did all to the glory of God. He was a man whose joy in Jesus was sparklingly evident. He was a man who out of that joy left all and followed Jesus – whatever the cost.

Born into a high-caste Hindu family, Sundara came to know Jesus as a 17-year-old, while seriously ill with typhoid. During weeks of illness, he prayed to god after god. He rejected the offer of a local pastor to come and pray for him. But after his condition continued to grow worse and worse, he relented. When the pastor came, Sundara was drifting in and out of consciousness; he only heard bits and pieces of the pastor’s words. But he prayed to this pastor’s God: “If you are the real god, save me, and I will give my life to you.”

God did save him, both physically and spiritually. Sundara then eagerly studied the Bible to learn of this God – and came to understand that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that any human can come before God. He embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior, and savored Him as his treasure.

But this devotion to Christ had a high cost. Sundara’s father told him he could not be a Christian. Sundara tried to honor his father – to express his devotion and love – but said that if he had to choose between his family and Jesus, he must choose Jesus. So Sundara was disowned, and sent out with nothing.

After a period of discipleship and training, Sundara became a pastor. Several years later he went to the village of Ventrapragada to plant a church. He began by ministering practically to the lower castes, living in their section of the village. Those of higher caste were unhappy to see one of their own mingling with those of lower caste, and approached him, offering him a place to stay in their section of the village. Sundara declined, saying he would live with those he was serving. Later the same higher caste folks asked him to come and teach them about Jesus. Sundara declined to hold separate meetings, saying they were welcome to his meetings with the lower caste folks. Jesus, he said, broke down all those barriers of caste and race. None came – for about a decade. But as Sundara cared for the sick of all castes and persevered in showing the love of Jesus to all, eventually those of higher castes began to come. The church today includes men and women from all caste backgrounds. As one elderly, high-caste villager said, “When you’re a Hindu, caste is everything. When you’re a Christian, Jesus is everything.”

Serving predominantly poor people, Sundara and his family had little to live on. But God provided for their needs – through gifts and, when necessary, through Sundara’s work as a laborer in farmers’ fields. On such days, after hours and hours of backbreaking labor,  Sundara would come home, clean up, and go out to serve the poor and the sick, or to hold an evangelistic meeting.

From early days, Sundara invested in young men. Seeing the need for church planters and pastors all around him, he cast vision, offered training, and challenged personally many youth to take their faith seriously and to go out for the sake of the Name. Over the years, dozens of churches were planted from this small village church.

God eventually used Sundara’s son Vijay to multiply the church planting ministry into what is today Reach All Nations. I met Vijay in Minneapolis in early 2009, and first met his father that summer. I have since participated in several pastors conferences and church planter training sessions with them.

Two years ago, Sundara suffered a stroke that left him almost blind and partially paralyzed. Yet he fought back, and was able to participate in preaching and training once again. Last month he suffered a major setback, and had to be rushed to Hyderabad. He seemed to be on the mend until right before he died. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Sundara had finished his race. He kept the faith. He has received his crown.

Consider these Scriptural commands and exhortations in light of Sundara’s life:

Matthew 10:37-39  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Philippians 3:7-8 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

2 Timothy 4:6-8  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, Father God, for Sundara, Your servant. Thank you for giving me the privilege of seeing so many biblical truths lived out in Sundara’s life. Thank You for saving him, for providing for him, for spurring him on to serve you with all his heart. O Father, may the ministry of Reach All Nations continue to build on the foundation Sundara laid, glorifying Your Name more than ever among the peoples of India. And may that same spirit of selfless giving shine through me and all of us at DGCC. May we be similarly focused and devoted to You, loving one another, serving those around us faithfully, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives and with our words – that we might live for Christ, count all else as rubbish, and love His appearing. Amen.