Archive for December, 2011

Our hearts (not the actual organ that pumps blood) are the center of who we are. The heart is made up of our mind, affections, and will. It includes our passions, desires, emotions – it’s what drives us. The importance of the heart cannot be overestimated.

Behaviorism works, but not for long. As soon as the “hook” – the reward or punishment – is removed, the behavior returns (most likely in a stronger fashion). Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, wrote about the heart in a past issue of Tabletalk. (The following are selected quotes from the article “The Heart of the Problem.”)

Jesus teaches us that there is something far more fundamental to our sinfulness than the actual sins we commit. Our sins do not make us sinful. Rather, we commit sins because, at the very center of our lives, we are sinful. Sin has invaded the inner recesses of our personalities.

This is essential information for spiritual health because it keeps us from misdiagnosing our real problem. So often we are quick to blame others for our failures and shortcomings. We even mask how we do this by employing the “if-only” rationale to excuse our sin. “If only I had been raised differently…I had a better job…you hadn’t provoked me…my husband would listen to me…my church were better…” The list is endless and usually contains genuinely flawed people and circumstances that are blameworthy.

But no circumstance, other person, or activity can ever justify my sin. I sin, Jesus said, because my heart is sinful. That is a shattering reality. But we must humbly face it if we want to be spiritually healed.

Failure to accept our Lord’s teaching at this point inevitably leads us to locate sin outside of ourselves.

But Jesus teaches us that sin does not originate “out there.” Its haven is the human heart. Martin Luther came to see this and it caused him to say, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals.”

The only way to make the stream pure is to purify the fountain. And the only way to deal with  our sin is having our hearts engaged.

This is precisely what the Gospel does. God does not merely call us to stop sinning. He calls us to be transformed from within. And He provides such transformation through the power of the Gospel.

Sin is not yet purged from the Christian’s heart, though one day it will be. But its power is broken so that, by faith in Christ, we can pursue real holiness from the inside out.

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Christmas Eve I had the privilege of preaching on Matthew 1:23. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Jesus Christ is “Immanuel” – God incarnate (fully man and fully God) who took on humanity in order to save and sanctify any sinful human being who believes in Him.

Christmas morning, I was privileged to preach on Luke 2:11. Jesus began His human life in a humble cradle, willingly endured a humiliating death on a cross, and has now taken His crown as He rules and reigns at the right hand of His Father (a one-sentence summary of my sermon).

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Merry Christmas!

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forever more. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

May you be captivated by the baby in the cradle, the Savior on the cross, and the crowned King who rules and reigns forever!

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Don’t Be A Scrooge

R.C. Sproul reminds us not be anything like the Ebenezer Scrooge we meet first in A Christmas Carol. We shouldn’t say, “Bah, humbug,” about Christmas. You can read it here.

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Susan Brooks Thistlethwait, a liberal theologian, writing for the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post, advanced one of the demands of the Occupy Wall Street movement – student loan debt forgiveness – and ended up twisting and distorting the Scriptures in the process. She writes,

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ (Matt. 6:12) Forgiving debt is a moral issue. Forgiving some of the worst of this student debt is crucial literally to save this American generation.

Later, she writes,

Currently, I’m advocating debt forgiveness. It is the moral thing to do and is the right civic thing to do. This is what Jesus actually meant; real debts, real debtors, forgiving and forgiven. This is what the government is actually about  – of the people, by the people, for the people. We still have a chance to show young people that democracy can work for the common good.

Is that what Jesus meant by what He said in Matthew 6:12? Did He really have student loans in mind when He said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (NASB95)”?

Following Greg Koukl’s adage of “never reading a Bible verse” (outside of its context), it’s abundantly clear that financial debt forgiveness is not what the Lord Jesus Christ had in mind when He made that statement. The context surrounding His statement repairs Thistlethwait’s mangling of it.

Jesus delivers what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. He touches on a number of subjects, including prayer. In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus teaches us how we should not pray (verses 5-8), and, conversely, how we should pray (verses 9-15). Part of His instruction is “The Lord’s Prayer” in verses 9 through 13. While teaching about prayer, and giving the model prayer, Jesus makes the statement, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Asking God to forgive our sins is a crucial part of prayer. Receiving forgiveness from God and, as a faithful response to God’s grace, extending it to those who sin against us is a crucial part of being a disciple of Jesus. That’s what Jesus means in this context. There’s not a hint of money, finances, student loans, debt forgiveness, or “what government is actually about” anywhere in this passage.

To make it even more clear, in Luke’s account (11:2-4) of Jesus’ teaching the Lord’s Prayer, the word “sins” is used in place of “debts.” The word Jesus uses can be translated “debts,”  “trespasses,”  “transgressions,” or “sins.”  In this context, it’s obvious that forgiveness of sin is being spoken of, not the forgiveness of student loan debt.

Thistlethwait has twisted and distorted the Word of God in order to make a point, but we have to be careful we don’t do the same thing. It’s not hard to do, but when we understand God’s Word in its context, we’re far less likely. (That’s the lesson for us in all of this, not simply pointing out Thistlethwait’s mishandling of the Word.)

In the spirit of Lieutenant Columbo – “Just one more thing.” Why is it that liberals claim that any idea or viewpoint that’s based on the Bible is somehow illegitimate, except when they do it? In other words, it’s OK for liberals to use the Bible to support their arguments, but not conservatives. That’s convenient, isn’t it? It’s like a boxer who throws punches at his opponent but cries foul when he gets stung by right cross. Either the Bible is valid source for values and viewpoints or it isn’t – you can’t have it both ways.

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WORLD magazine produces a week-in-review radio broadcast and podcast called The World and Everything in It that is well worth a listen – actually more than just “a listen.” It’s very well-done in addition to being informative and enlightening. You can find the episodes here. I recommend it for your listening pleasure.

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‘Tis the season for Christmas specials on TV. By far, my favorite is A Charlie Brown Christmasl. Unlike most, you can’t not know the meaning of Christmas after watching Charles Schulz’s production. You may be surprised, though, when you understand the “story behind the story.” It almost didn’t make it on television at all. Lee Habeeb fills in the details here. If you love Peanuts like I do, you’ll enjoy reading his article called The Gospel According to Peanuts.”

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Today I had the privilege to preach on Matthew 1:1-17, a neglected Christmas passage. The following is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: God, in His grace, always keeps His promises, uses sinful people to accomplish His purpose and plan, and has provided a Savior and King for us.

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Sermon in a Sentence

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching a sermon called “Waiting” on Psalm 27. Here is a summary in one sentence: Waiting for the Lord requires an intimate knowledge of God, the public worship of God, seeking God in prayer, and the desire to encourage others to do the same.

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Tebow Time

Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos and a man not ashamed or embarrassed to say he’s a Christian. Lowry echoes my own thoughts on Tebow. Read the article here. Here are two good quotes:

Nonetheless, Tim Tebow is considered “controversial.” It’s now cutting edge to be a straight arrow. It’s countercultural to be an outspoken Christian. A player who embodies everything meant by the cliché “role model” is for his critics a figure of fun, or even hatred.

Here is a prominent player who will almost certainly never require fathers to make awkward explanations to their kids about some spectacular scandal. Rejoice, America, rejoice.

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