Archive

Archive for April, 2011

Growing in Holiness

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
For them I sanctity myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

John 17:17-19

Spring is here. Flowers are blooming. Trees are budding. Grass is beginning to grow. I was surveying my lawn this past weekend and noticed that even though it is not totally green the grass has begun to grow. The growth was not near the surface but deep down near the soil. There the grass was greener than on the surface. Have you ever de-thatched a lawn? The thickly tangled dead and decaying grass is aggressively removed so the fresh, new, green grass might freely grow. It is really a tremendous amount of work!

The process of sanctification is something like this springtime ritual of “scalping” a lawn. God uses the trials and problems of our Christian life to strip away the worthless and self-defeating habits of our old nature to allow the glorious new nature of God’s holy character to appear in us and through us. It sounds like a “good” idea, but it sure is work!

Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace. We are renewed in the whole man after the image of God. We are enabled more and more to die to sin, and live to righteousness. Sanctification is something that is positional, but is also progressive. Christians are given a righteous standing before God. We are made “saints” by His doing. It is the progressive nature of sanctification we all struggle with this side of heaven. It does take much work.

The grass may be green deep below the surface, but the thick tangle of dead and decaying grass, must be systematically removed. Sanctification “is a subject of the utmost importance to our souls. If the Bible be true, it is certain that unless we are ‘sanctified’, we shall not be saved. There are three things which, according to the Bible, are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every man and woman in Christendom. These three are justification, regeneration and sanctification. All three meet in every child of God: he is both born again and justified and sanctified. He that lacks any one of these three things is not a true Christian in the sight of God and, dying in that condition, will not be found in heaven and glorified in that last day” (J.C. Ryle, Holiness).

It is true, we are made “saints” by God’s gracious call through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, but it mustn’t stop there. There must be visible evidence of sanctification in the life of one who is a believer. What are the visible marks of one who is sanctified? What ought we expect to see in him?

True sanctification does not consist simply in talk about religion. “People hear so much of gospel truth that they contract an unholy familiarity with its words and phrases and sometimes talk so fluently about its doctrines that you might think them true Christians. In fact it is sickening and disgusting to hear the cool and flippant language which many pour out about ‘conversion’, ‘the Savior’, ‘the gospel’, ‘finding peace’, ‘free grace’ while they are notoriously serving sin or living for the world” (Ryle, p. 23,24).

We must be sanctified, not only ‘in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18).

Sanctification does not consist in withdrawing from all social contact and denying our duties and responsibilities to the body of Christ. “Hundreds of hermits have buried themselves in some wilderness, and thousands of men and women have shut themselves up within the walls of monasteries and convents, under the vain idea that by so doing they would escape sin and become emminently holy. They have forgotten that no bolts and bars can keep out the devil and that, wherever we go, we carry that root of all evil, our own hearts…True holiness does not make a Christian evade difficulties, but face and overcome them. Christ would have His people show that His grace is not a mere hot-house plant, which can only thrive under shelter, but a strong hardy thing which can flourish in every relation of life…lt is not the man who hides himself in a cave, but the man who glorifies God as master or servant, parent or child, in the family and in the street, in business and in trade, who is the scriptural type of a sanctified man (Ryle, p. 25).

Jesus prayed, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). It is within the context of the body of Christ that we are sanctified.

Sanctification will show itself in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. These ‘passive’ graces are especially evident in our submission to the will of God, in remaining patient toward one another. Peter puts it this way, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously… (1 Peter 2:21-23). Within the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23), nine are named, but three of these, patience, gentleness and self-control, are unquestionably ‘passive’ graces.

“The passive graces are no doubt harder to attain than the active ones, but they are precisely the graces which have the greatest influence on the world. Of one thing I feel very sure: it is nonsense to pretend to progress in our sanctification unless we follow after the meekness, gentleness, longsuffering and forgiveness of which the Bible makes so much. People who are habitually giving way to peevish and cross tempers in daily life, and are constantly sharp with their tongues and disagreeable to all around them, spiteful people, vindictive people, revengeful people, malicious people – of whom, alas, the world is only too full – all such know little as they should know about sanctification” (Ryle, p. 28).

Has God lately been “de-thatching” the lawn of your life . . . stripping away the worthless and self-defeating habits of your old nature so that the hidden green growth of His gloriously holy character might flourish in you and through you? If you have ever de-thatched a lawn, you know it is done with great fear and trembling, wondering if the grass will grow back. It will, but it requires much attention. Systematic watering and careful fertilization is necessary for the development of new growth.

So it is with our sanctification. As God exposes and removes those dead and decaying areas of our lives, we work out our salvation with fear and with trembling, constantly aware that we must remain attentive as God works in us. Never resting one moment, we must systematically water and carefully fertilize the remaining roots with the Living Word of God knowing with confidence that it is God working through His effective grace to develop new growth in us that we might be truly sanctified.

Most gracious heavenly Father,
author of our salvation from beginning to end,
enable us we pray, more and more each day,
to conform to the image and likeness of Christ Jesus,
who is our Lord. You only expose what we are able to endure.
You know our every weakness. Your grace is sufficient to meet every need.
In weakness your power is made perfect. We are weak.
May your Holy Spirit stir in us a desire to be patient, gentle, and self-controlled.
Subdued by the Power of your Word,
may we be sanctified and made holy through Him
who has sanctified us, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

May you have a wonderful week as you experience God at work in you and through you,

Pastor Mark

Sin Stinks!

“And in Him there is no sin.”
1 John 3:5

I remember visiting my grandmother one summer when I was young. More years ago than I would care to admit, my family drove to a quiet little town on the West Central side of Missouri to a place called, Nevada, not too far from Kansas City. Because it is my birthplace and the place where “Granny” lived,  it has always held a special place in my memories.  I remember one particular summer, my cousins also visited and brought with them several little furry, black and white creatures.  Cute and cuddly with a long white stripe running from their heads down to their tales, these baby skunks were the center of attention for a few days.

Now if you’ve ever had the bad fortune of smelling a skunk when it has raised its tail and defended itself, you know it is not the most pleasant of aromas.  Polo cologne it isn’t!  If you have had the misfortune of being sprayed by one of these cute little animals, you know the odor is not something you can easily rid yourself of. That ‘skunk’ smell permeates your clothing and your hair. It seems to embed itself in your skin.  It goes everywhere you go.  It’s there even before you get there! No one wants to be around you because of the offensive smell surrounding you. It seems to bother everyone – everyone but the skunk and others who smell the same. Isn’t it interesting that the very animal whose smell is most offensive to us has no idea that they are offensive and are not offensive to one another!

So it is with sin and the sinner.  The one who is covered with the stench of sin has no idea what a vile thing he is in the presence of God. Those around him who are covered with the same odoriforous smell of depravity are not bothered by the smell either. But,  oh, how offensive it is to the One who is totally without sin.  And none of us are totally without that odor.

“Mortal man can never realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin in the sight of that holy and perfect One with whom we have to do. On the one hand, God is that eternal Being…in whose sight the very ‘heavens are not clean’. He is One who reads thoughts and motives as well as actions and requires ‘truth in the inward parts’ (Job 4:18; 15:15; Ps. 51:6). We, on the other hand – poor blind creatures, here today and gone tomorrow, born in sin, surrounded by sinners, living in a constant atmosphere of weakness, infirmity and imperfection – can form none but the most inadequate conceptions of the hideousness of evil. We have no line to fathom it and no measure by which to gauge it. The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the queen’s head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ…And a man, fallen man, I believe, can have no just idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect – perfect whether we look through telescope or microscope; perfect in the formation of a mighty planet like Jupiter, with his satellites, keeping time to a second as it rolls around the sun; perfect in the formation of the smallest insect that crawls over a foot of ground.”

(J. C. Ryle, Holiness)

Sin is detestable to God (Jeremiah 44:4). He cannot look upon that which is evil (Hab. 1:13). For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). The soul who continues in sin is the one who will die (Ezekiel 18:4). The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  It is God who judges the secrets of men’s hearts (Rom. 2:16).  The wicked will be sent away to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46). Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful (Rev. 21.27). The stench of sin will not be tolerated in the presence of God who is holy and spotless and pure. It cannot be.

There is no greater proof of the fullness of sin than at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The  entire  doctrine  of  His  substitution  and  atonement  is  evidence  of  the seriousness of sin and God’s hatred of it.

“Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction. Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops as of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (Matt. 27:46).  Nothing, I am  convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects. Never till the hour when Christ comes the second time shall we fully realize the ‘sinfulness of sin’.” (Ryle)

Our sin separates us from God. It is a stench in His nostrils. Just as we can’t stand to be in the presence of those little creatures with odoriferous scents, God refuses to allow any who are covered with the scent of sin into His presence. Thanks be to God, that by His Grace, He has provided a way for us to fellowship with Him. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God turned His face away from Jesus while he was on the cross. Our Holy God ‘forsook’ Him who knew no sin as He (Jesus) became sin for us. Our sin, and the stench of our depravity, Jesus presented to the Father, as a holy and living sacrifice. His righteousness is our righteousness as we come before the One God, Holy and Righteous, and Pure, through faith and repentance in the one who is our Righteousness, Jesus Christ.

No matter what you do to a skunk, it will always be a skunk. Even when its scent gland is removed, it still carries a distinct odor of ‘skunk’. We are still sinners, saved by God’s grace, allowed into His presence because Jesus Christ intercedes for us, but we are still sinners none the less.  May  we  with  an  ever increasing  awareness  understand  the seriousness of sin.  Individually it separates us from God.  Corporately if left unchecked, it will destroy His Church. We should rejoice that our sins are covered, but we should mourn over the remaining sin in our lives. That mourning should force us to our knees as we bow before Him asking for forgiveness, repenting of our sins and turning from our evil ways.

O My Saviour,
I thank thee from the depths of my being
for thy wondrous grace and love
in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.
May thy cross be to me
as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,
as the rod that blossoms with life and  beauty.
as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.
By thy cross crucify my every sin;
Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;
Make it the ground of all my comfort,
the liveliness of all my duties,
the sum of all thy gospel promises,
the comfort of all my afflictions,
the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,
the very essence of my religion;
And by it give me that rest without rest,
the rest of ceaseless praise.
(from the Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett)

Blessings and Peace to you all,

Pastor Mark

Nothing is Everything!

As I’ve been preparing for Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday services, it struck me once again that so many of the ‘realities’ of God’s kingdom are ‘ironies’ in this world . . the first are last, the last are first . . .the blind are those that see . . . the lame are those who walk . . . in order to live you must die and dying ushers us into another world where we are more truly alive than now . . . everything here is really nothing – only shadows of the reality that is to come where the nothing of the now becomes the everything of then . . .

I know of a place
where richer is poorer
and poorer is richer
where nothing is everything you see.

I know of a place
where wisdom is folly
and folly is wisdom,
where nothing is everything to me.

I know of a place
where the first become last
and the last become first
where nothing is everything you can be.

I know of a place
where servants are leaders
and kings become slaves
where nothing is everything to me.

I know of a place
where living is dying
and dying is living,
where everything is nothing you see.

It’s another world’s place
where the humble are lifted
and the proud are abased,
where the best is totally free.

Where is this place?
You may ask so to know.
This place is right here and right now.
You must become blind
so that you may have sight
and then enter
with faith as a child.

M C S

The Way

“I am the Way”
John 14:5

Have you ever set out on a trip with directions someone had given you? You listened  attentively as they described how to get there. You tried to  follow their directions to the best of your ability.  You were  determined to arrive at your destination without stopping to ask for clarification. Have you ever become totally disoriented, confused and lost as you frantically tried to follow their directions as you searched for the way?

If you only had someone to show you the way.  If you only had someone to lead and to guide you to your final destination, everything would be OK!  In a world of so many different paths, we often are tugged  and torn in different directions as we search for the right way. Often we find ourselves lost,  lonely, and confused asking, “Where am I going?” “How am I going to get there?” “Which way is the way?”

The crowds and the Pharisees during Jesus’ earthly ministry had been asking directions too – asking the way to the Father and in their confusion they couldn’t see that Jesus was their road map, THE WAY. He was the one who could provide clear directions to their destination.  Simon Peter in his bewilderment asked where Jesus was going that he might follow (John 13:36).  Thomas  Didymus, challenged Jesus’ statement that the disciples knew the way and the place where he was going.  Jesus responded with the well-known description of himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5).  The disciples were confused and bewildered even after all this time with Jesus. They still  thought in terms of a real place, an earthly kingdom set up by the promised Messiah, not realizing that Jesus was speaking about a spiritual destination, an eternal kingdom.

Many today become lost in a maze of deception as they search for the truth. There are those in the world who would tell you that there are many ways to the Father. They say there are many ways to salvation and eternal life. There is the way of nature. There is the way of charity and good deeds. There is the way of perfection.  But all these “ways” are attempts to climb over into the fold by “some other way.”

There is only one way to the Father.   He is called God’s “highway of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8). He is the joy of the Redeemed. He is Jesus Christ. He is the Way. He alone is THE path to the Father, to God himself, so we might “glorify and enjoy him forever.” He is the only way for the lost to have hope of eternal salvation. He is the only way for the redeemed to have confidence in that same hope.

There was once a missionary who was preaching in the villages of Angola, Africa.  After one memorable meeting with a chief and his men, this missionary asked if there were other villages that would give him the same kind of welcome and listen to his message of hope and salvation. The chief said, “Yes, there is a village right through this forest.”

“But,” the missionary replied, “I don’t know the way.” “That is no problem,” assured the chief.

He then called one of his men and instructed him to take the missionary through the forest to the adjacent village.

After traveling for several hours, the missionary said, “We have been traveling a very long time and we haven’t arrived. Do you really know the way?”

The man grinned, took his axe from his shoulder, and said to the missionary, “Do you see the marks on those trees there? I made those marks when I blazed the trail.  Do you see this axe  I hold in my hand? With this axe I cut the way through this forest. Do you see these marks on my body? They are wounds I suffered when I first pushed my way through the undergrowth to make the way.”

And then standing his full height and tapping his massive chest, the guide said with resounding confidence, “I am the way; follow me!”

Our Lord, Jesus Christ has blazed the trail for us to follow. He points to the nail wounds in his hands and the wound in his side and says, “These wounds I suffered when I made the way to heaven through the dark jungle of sin for you.  I am the Way; follow me.”

May each of you have a blessed week following in the Way of the one who has gone before.

Pastor Mark

The Suffering of Christ

“Lord, thou hast there thy ninety and nine;
are they not enough for thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer;
“This of mine has wandered away from me,
and although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find my sheep,

The words above are from a hymn written by Elizabeth C. Clephane (c. 1868). There Were Ninety and Nine graphically describes the extremes the Great Shepherd of the Sheep will go to pursue and save His sheep.

But none of the ransomed ever knew how
deep were the waters crossed;
nor how dark was the night
that the Lord passed thro
‘ ere he found his sheep that was lost, . . .

Can we ever understand it . . . the darkness of the hell that Jesus passed through to redeem His people? Sin has separated us from God. That wide chasm between God and man can never be traversed by the likes of us who are constantly getting bogged down in the muck and mire of our sinful natures.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we   might   become   the righteousness of God in Him.” We say those words so easily… ” Jesus died for my sins.” And yet there is no sentence that catches  the horror of His atoning  death  more  than  this one…”He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us…”

Jesus did not know sin. He never experienced sin. He had no sin nature. He never had a sinful thought. He was totally pure. He was completely perfect. He was holy. He was righteous. And yet He is not someone who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. He is one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin (Hebrews 5:15).

Jesus hated sin. This is the one who said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…” Now that’s pretty radical surgery by any standard, but sin was just that heinous to Jesus.   The sin that was laid upon Him who knew no sin as He hung upon the cross was so repulsive to Him that He prayed in the Garden that the Father might remove the “cup” from Him. This is the one who had been with God, the Father, from all eternity. He now faced the reality of being separated from a Holy God by the filthiness of sin not His. In His humanity, he struggled with the perfect will of God, but in His Divinity, He submitted to God’s divine plan in order to perfect even our stubborn human wills.

God not only made Jesus to be sin for us, but he punished Him for that sin. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed..” (Isaiah 53:5). Who pierced Him? Who crushed Him? Isaiah answers that question “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” (53:10). God punished Him for something He never did. It was not possible for Him to sin.

The physical suffering He experienced on the Cross was only a shadow of the greater suffering that was taking place. On the Cross all the wretchedness of our humanity was poured out on Him. Imagine being immersed in the contents of a septic tank. The Sinless One became guilty of our lying, cheating, and stealing…our adultery, hate, and bigotry…our lust, pride, and arrogance…our gossip, slander, and murder, our immorality, idolatry, and impatience. All this and more was His. The sin was real. The guilt was real. God poured out His wrath and judgment against our sin. The full weight of our hell fell on
Jesus.

James Henly Thornwell wrote,

“None but Jehovah’s fellow could have received the stroke of Jehovah’s justice in His bosom and survived the blow. The penalty of the law was no vulgar ill, to be appeased by a few groans and tears, by agony, sweat and blood. It was the wrath of the infinite God, which, when it falls upon a creature, crushes him under the burden of eternal death. It is blackness of darkness through which no ray of light or hope can ever penetrate to the soul of a finite being; to all such it must be the blackness of darkness forever. But Jesus endured it. Jesus satisfied it. Jesus bowed beneath that death which the law demanded, and which sinks angels and men to everlasting ruin, and came victorious from the conflict.”

“He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us” – Can you imagine sacrificing the life of one of your children for a friend? Can you imagine administering the death blows yourself? God loved His Son infinitely more than I love my children; yet He sacrificed Him for my life, even though I was His enemy. He administered the lethal blows Himself.

But none of the ransomed ever knew
how deep were the waters crossed;
nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed thro’
ere he found his sheep that was lost, . . .

None of us can ever begin to imagine what transpired between the Father and the Son in the darkness of that hour. So the next time we are tempted to doubt God’s love for us, we have an answer that cannot be questioned: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The proof of God’s love for us is in His Word, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. .”

Grant, Almighty God, that as we have not only been redeemed from Babylonian exile, but have also emerged from hell itself; for when we were the children of wrath you have freely adopted us, and when we were aliens, you did in your Infinite goodness open to us the gate of your kingdom, that we might be made your heirs through your Son, – 0 grant that we may walk circumspectly before you, and submit ourselves wholly to you and to your Christ, and not feign to be his members, but really prove ourselves to be his body, and to be so governed by His spirit, that you may at last gather us together into thy celestial kingdom, to which you daily invite us by the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

(a prayer of John Calvin, translated by John Owen, found in Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets. Vol. 1)

Blessings and Peace to you all,

Pastor Mark