How Can I Be Sure of My Hope?

September 27, 2013

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Yet we all hope for what does not come about:

  • I hoped that the Panthers would beat Seattle this year.
  • I hoped Joel’s soccer team would win the State Cup last June.
  • I hoped to travel with Matthew to India last April.

More seriously:

  • I hoped that a friend would grow deeply in his faith over the last six months.
  • I hoped that another friend would come to faith in Christ this year.
  • I hoped that Kenya would not experience another serious terrorist attack.

I hoped. And yet none of those came to pass.

Is the book of Hebrews telling me, “Hope harder! If you just have a strong enough conviction, such things will happen!”

No. Not at all.

As the chapter proceeds, the author tells us of men and women who had such faith, such assurance of things hoped for. Some of them saw God work in miraculous ways on their behalf in this life:

[They] stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection (Hebrews 11:33b-35a).

Others seemed to be complete failures, losing everything:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:35b-38).

Yet the author confirms that all of these were “commended through their faith” (v39). All of them – both those who saw miracles and those who lost all – had the “assurance of things hoped for.”

Really? Even when they were sawn in two?

Yes. As my friend Charley Handren puts it, “You can be sure of what you hope for when you hope for what is sure.”

So, no, we can’t be sure of our hopes in sporting events, or future travel, or a friend’s spiritual growth this year, or safety from evil acts. We can and should pray for the more important of those hopes. But God makes no promise about them.

So how can we hope for what is sure? By placing our hope in what God Himself guarantees. For He is faithful – and “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18).

So consider these sureties:

  • The LORD, the LORD, [is] a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:6-7).
  • All the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ]. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
  • According to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
  • “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
  • For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

So don’t place your hope in your skills or your money or your reason or your family or your health or your education. All of those will fail you. None of those is sure. Don’t even place your hope in the steadfastness of your faith. Your faith itself is not what is sure. You can only be sure of what you hope for when you hope for what is sure.

Instead, the object of your faith must be sure. And God tells us time and again: “Trust Me. Trust My promises. Trust in My sovereign care. Trust that I have a plan. I am the faithful God. I keep my covenant to a thousand generations of those who love Me (Deuteronomy 7:9). You may suffer. You may lose all in this life. But even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you need fear no evil (Psalm 23:4). So fear not, My little flock; it is My good pleasure to give you the Kingdom (Luke 12:32).”

Hope for what is sure.

(Charlie Handren is Pastor of Glory of Christ Fellowship in Elk River, Minnesota, a fellow church in the Treasuring Christ Together Network. We were together earlier this week for TCT Network meetings at Grace Church Memphis, where Charlie spoke from Hebrews 11.)

The Call to Purity and the Fact of Sin

September 20, 2013

Do you sin?

The Apostle John tells us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

So, yes, you and I do sin.

Yet the same apostle also tells us, “You know that [Christ] appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (1 John 3:5-6 New American Standard, which is quite literal here).

So you and I must not sin.  

All Christians thus live in the tension between Scripture’s call to purity and its judgment of universal sinfulness. How do we resolve the tension?

Twenty years ago, D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge wrote a series of letters from a fictional seminary professor named Paul to a young man named Timothy who recently had come to faith in Christ. Letters Along the Way (Crossway, 1993, available now for free as a pdf download) intersperses those letters with Timothy’s descriptions of the occasion that prompted each.

The early chapters focus on Timothy learning to live the Christian life. Letter 11 is particularly helpful for dealing with this important tension:

Read 1 John – doctrine, obedience, and love go together. Read Galatians and Romans – Christology, justification by faith, and the obedience of faith stand or fall together. Read 1 Corinthians – the gifts of the Spirit, the doctrine of the resurrection, transparent love, and moral probity stand or fall together. Jesus is Lord.

I do not for a moment want to convey the impression that Christians simply do not sin. Here, too, 1 John is of enormous help. Writing to Christians, John says that, on the one hand, if anyone claims he does not sin or has not sinned, he is a liar, self-deceived, guilty of calling God a liar (since God says we are all sinners-1 John 1:6,8,10). On the other hand, John insists that Christians do not go on sinning, that they obey Christ and love the brothers (see especially 1 John 3:7-10). How can both emphases be true?

In fact, unless you hold both emphases strongly and simultaneously, you will go seriously astray. Stress the former, and you will become lackadaisical about sin; stress the latter, and you may gravitate toward some version of Christian perfectionism where you hold you have already attained perfection when all your colleagues (and especially your family!) can see you are deluded. The fact is that until Jesus’ return, we will sin. As we grow in holiness, we will become aware of inconsistencies and taints we had not even spotted before. Most of us will sometimes stumble and drift, at times rather seriously. There will be different rates of progress, different degrees of spiritual maturity; all of us will have to return to Jesus for renewed cleansing and forgiveness. But at the same time, if we are Christians, we will insist that there is never any excuse for sin. In no case do we have to sin. Though in our lives as a whole, we may ruefully recognize we will sin, in any particular instance we do not have to sin, and that particular sin is therefore without excuse. Sinning is simply not allowed in the Christian way. No provision must be permitted to encourage it; no excuse ever justifies it.

You and I live in this tension. The only solution is not a theoretical one, but a practical one, an existential one. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

That, Tim, is God’s answer to your sin and your only hope. And it is enough. Never, never treat God’s forgiveness lightly, as if you may sin with impunity because God is there to forgive you; but never, never wallow in the guilt of some sin you have committed in the fear that God is not merciful enough or gracious enough to forgive you. Learn not to flirt with sin; and when you fall, learn to beg God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ sake and press on. That is the only way you can live with a clean conscience; it is the only way that your confession of Jesus as Lord will have any bite in your life.

I write as a fellow sinner, forgiven and pressing on.

Or put another way: Ask yourself two questions:

(1)    How do I anticipate sin in my life? Like a child of God?

(2)    How do I respond to sin in my life? Like a child of God?

May we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and thus hate and fight against the sin He hates; and may we know that, as God’s children, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who paid the penalty for our every sin.

(For more on this topic, see the sermon “No One Who Abides in Jesus Sins” on 1 John 3:4-10.)

Remember!

September 13, 2013

As we celebrated last weekend God’s faithfulness over the first decade of Desiring God Community Church, we remembered ways He has touched us, ways He has refined us, ways He has guided us, and ways He has corrected us. We remembered all this – and reminded one another of the character of God, the way He has displayed that character here in Charlotte.

As a follow up, here are numerous verses from across the Bible that speak of remembering. I’ve divided these Scriptures into seven categories to help us apply them to our lives. I encourage you to meditate on these verses, to look up context for many – and then: remember!

 

Remember: God’s character

Deuteronomy 8:18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

Nehemiah 4:14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

Psalm 42:6 My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Psalm 78:35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.

Psalm 102:12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.

Psalm 119:55 I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law.

Isaiah 26:8 In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.

Isaiah 26:13 O LORD our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance.

Isaiah 46:8 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

Jonah 2:7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.

Mark 8:18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?

 

Remember: God’s faithfulness in the past

Exodus 13:3 Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten.

Deuteronomy 5:15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 7:18 you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt,

Deuteronomy 8:2 And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

Deuteronomy 15:15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

Judges 8:34 And the people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side,

1 Chronicles 16:12 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,

Psalm 77:11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

Psalm 105:5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,

Psalm 106:7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

Psalm 111:4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

Psalm 143:5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.

Micah 6:5 O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

 

Remember: God’s commandments

Numbers 15:39-40 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.

Malachi 4:4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

2 Peter 3:2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,

Revelation 3:3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

 

Remember: Our own past state, our disobedience and helplessness

Deuteronomy 9:7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.

Ezekiel 6:9 then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations.

Ezekiel 20:43 And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed.

Matthew 26:75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Ephesians 2:11-12 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands–remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

 

Remember: The Lord’s Judgment

Deuteronomy 24:9 Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.

Luke 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife.

Revelation 2:5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

 

Remember: God’s promises and His plan of redemption

Joshua 1:13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’

1 Chronicles 16:15 Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,

Zechariah 10:9 Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return.

Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Luke 24:6-8 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words,

John 2:22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John 12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

John 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

Acts 11:16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

2 Timothy 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,

 

Remember: Other believers, with thankfulness and with prayers for their assistance

Philippians 1:3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

Colossians 4:18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

1 Thessalonians 1:3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

1 Thessalonians 3:6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you–

2 Timothy 1:3-4 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.

Philemon 1:4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,

Hebrews 13:3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

DGCC 10th Anniversary Services with John Piper

September 11, 2013

This weekend we were privileged to have John Piper with us to celebrate God’s faithfulness over the first decade of Desiring God Community Church. The theme of the weekend was “Looking Back, Looking Forward, Pressing On: Gospel Ministry for the Joy of Our City and the Nations.” After an afternoon when many shared stories about what God has done over this decade, we joined other churches and ministries across the Charlotte area Saturday evening at Stonebridge Church Community to worship together, to rejoice in ways we have partnered together in the past, and to spur us on to deeper partnership for God’s glory in the future. Pastor John brought us a message from John 10:7-18, “I Have Many in This City Who are My People.” Sunday morning, Midwood Baptist Church graciously opened their doors to us. As the service focused on the joy of all nations in Jesus Christ, Pastor John spoke to us from Isaiah 12 on “Persevering in Gospel Ministry for the Joy of All Peoples.” Follow the links for audio. DesiringGod.org will post video of both talks before too long.

Many thanks to Stonebridge, to Midwood, and to the many members of DGCC who worked hard to make the weekend a joy and a success.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Pressing On: Giving Thanks for 10 Years of DGCC

September 6, 2013

Ten years ago we held our first public service as Desiring God Community Church. This weekend, we celebrate God’s faithfulness over this decade under the theme, “Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Pressing On: Gospel Ministry for the Joy of our City and the Nations.”

As we prepare for the weekend activities, give thanks together with me:

  • To John Piper for bringing in to sharp focus the biblical command to pursue our greatest joy in God;
  • To Kenny Stokes, for friendship and prayers, humble service and effective leadership;
  • To Amanda Knoke for her initial boldness in suggesting a Charlotte church plant, and for dedicated, enthusiastic service to realize that dream;
  • To Matt and Michelle, Jacob and Karen, Scotty and Lisa, Jim and Michele, and Erica, for following God’s call to go out from DGCC long term for the joy of the nations and the glory of our Savior;
  • To Vijay Sastry, Paul Chintada, P. Swamy, Caleb Rayapati, Johnson and Babu, Shadrach, Thomas, Stephen, and Elijah for partnership in Gospel ministry for the joy of the peoples of India;
  • To Rio, Renata, Alicia, Ali, and Rosemary, for partnership in Gospel ministry for the joy of the peoples of Indonesia;
  • To Steve and Paula Rumsey, for ten years of friendship and quiet, faithful, God-glorifying service to our King;
  • To Fred Balbuena, for seven years of co-laboring for the Gospel, always faithful, exemplifying a servant heart;
  • To Ed Conrad for his willingness to move hundreds of miles to help fulfill a biblical vision, and for the deep love that he constantly displays for God’s people as he helps all the rest of us fulfill that vision;
  • To Karl Dauber for his friendship and wise counsel;
  • To my parents and Beth’s parents for constant support, love, and prayers through the risks and uncertainties of church planting;
  • To Kevin and May, Sunil and Jerlin, Johnson and Vimala, Mike and Lily, George, Bruno, and many others over the years who have crossed language and ethnic boundaries to become a part of DGCC, fulfilling what we wrote on the front of our first Sunday morning bulletin in March, 2003:

God is calling us to establish a church that builds true, joyful community among believers from the many people-groups God has brought to the Charlotte area. We thus aim to be a church of the nations, with ministries to the nations, both those in Charlotte and around the world.

  • To present members of DGCC who today are living out this biblical vision more and more fully month by month, year by year;
  • To past members of DGCC who labored diligently, prayed wholeheartedly, gave sacrificially, and served faithfully over this last decade;
  • To Beth, for standing beside me and supporting me, for correcting me and calling me to account, for constant love and faithful partnership, for wisdom and grace, firmness and gentleness, in all circumstances of our life together: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, by God’s grace and in constant dependence on Him;
  • To God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son: For the great privilege of being part of a body of believers – a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession – brought together to proclaim with great joy the excellencies of the One Who called us out of the darkness we deserved into His marvelous light. Continue to use us, O Father, over this next decade, to spread that Gospel for the joy of the undeserving and the glory of Your Name, here in Charlotte and around the world.