Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hope vs. Consolation

by Ken Harvey

God has providentially placed a few recent circumstances in my life to make me consider the reality of death. As many of you know, I’ve experienced the loss of two loved ones this past year. God has also used His Word through recent messages from Nathan Busenitz, Pastor Whitcomb and Upward to help me properly interpret my experiences and to further consider death and hope. While I’ve learned many different lessons, I would like to address one in particular: with all of the death, suffering and persecution in this world–followed by ensuing judgment–our hope should not be set on the things of this world!

What then do I hope for? Do I hope for a cessation from difficulty, tiredness, frustration from sin and disappointment in myself and others? There is nothing Christian about hoping for an end to hardship. Sometimes I want to be merely consoled with the thought of going to heaven. Left at that level, my “hope” is selfishness veiled in Christian lingo.

As wonderful as being in heaven will be, our message of hope is more than consolation. Our true and final hope should not be to leave this world behind while it is still in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), a world where the mass majority of the people are godless and heading towards hell (Matthew 7:13-14). True hope is believing that the full glory of God will be revealed; true hope is knowing that all sin, pain, suffering and death will be destroyed forever; a true hope is trusting that everyone acknowledge the greatness of God. We are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

There are plenty of other passages that can guide our thinking on this topic (1 Corinthians 15:19-28; 2 Peter 3:13; Romans 8:17-25; Ephesians 1:16-23). We should long for the triumphal return of Jesus when all of the promises of God will be fulfilled, when His kingdom will be established forever, and when, without the hindrance of sin, we will be able to see His attributes on display. Human history is moving toward a day when Christ will return and set things in order. “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Grace, Grace, God's Grace

by Garth Gaddy

The grace of God is His goodness poured out on those who don’t deserve it. It is also known as unmerited favor. There are two manifestations of God’s grace at work, common grace and saving grace. Common grace is God’s activity that gives blessings that are not part of salvation such as sustaining creation (Matt. 5:44-45), restraining evil (Rom. 2:14-15), enabling excellence in the arts and sciences (John 1:9, Rom 1:21) and maintaining order in society (Rom 13). Common grace does not lead to salvation. It does not change the heart or bring people to repentance and faith. It does, however, allow sinful humans to live for some time so that they might hear the Gospel and repent or have subsequent generations who might do the same. Common grace also demonstrates God’s goodness and mercy (Luke 6:35) and justice (Rom 2:5). When sinners repeatedly refuse His invitation, He is just in condemning them.

Saving grace is the manifestation of God’s grace that results in regeneration. It comes from God for the purpose of salvation (Eph 2:8-9, Titus 2:11). Salvation by grace begins with the Gospel call (proclaiming the message of the Gospel); then regeneration (being born again); conversion (faith and repentance); justification (declared righteous); adoption (membership in the family of God) and sanctification (initially changed and then progressively conformed to the image of Christ). All by grace, all a result of God’s goodness poured out on a sinner.

God’s grace should cause believers, having been the recipients of saving grace, to be thankful and should motivate us out of compassion to be ministers of the Gospel. God in His sovereignty is responsible for all things around us and is patiently pouring out His common grace on all people. Since saving grace begins with the Gospel call, that’s where you and I come in. God has determined to use believers as a means of communicating the Gospel to unbelievers. As long as God is pouring out grace that is common to all, we are commanded to go and make disciples of all nations.
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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Olympic Vanity

by David Morris

Personally, I think the Olympics are an amazing spectacle. The display of cultures from across the world, the pageantry of opening ceremonies, the combination of countless sports, the thrill of victories, the agonies of defeats—it all adds up to an amazing few weeks. I marvel at events I couldn’t even imagine attempting, like luge or aerials or curling. Okay, I don’t marvel so much at curling, but still, there are countless other opportunities to be amazed by athletes and all they can accomplish.

As I’ve watched this year, however, I’ve been struck with the vanity of Olympic athletes. First, vanity in the sense of arrogance and self-importance. I watched interview after interview with breathless, triumphant Olympians who proudly proclaimed their own worth. Without shame, they declared that they deserved this gold because of their hard work, or were rightly being recognized for their dedication, or were glad to see all their efforts pay off. Losers, on the other hand, looked for excuses, insulted winners, whined about judges, and basically turned everywhere except themselves to explain their losing. Humility never made it to the medal platform, it seemed, and self-accomplishment got the exclusive spotlight over and over. 

Secondly, however, vanity can mean futile or empty. I was struck with the emptiness of the games during interviews too, as athletes expressed their wins in terms of “experience of a lifetime.” Human interest stories saddened instead of inspired me, as coaches told of abandoning families in sacrifice for their sport, and young prodigies of surrendering their childhoods. Take just one sport, like figure skating, estimate the amount of hours one athlete spent in practice, multiply that by the total amount of athletes, and it all adds up to the potential for tragically wasted lives. Not that sports by themselves are a wasted life, but when used only to glorify man they are simply another idol and sinful glory-stealers from God. 

In great contrast to self-exaltation and a wasted life, Paul wrote, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The Gospel is all about grace, specifically so that no one may boast in his works (Eph. 2:9) in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:29). God is opposed to proud exalters of themselves, and those who know the Gospel should prize boasting in Christ instead of self. The Gospel is simultaneously the only way to avoid a wasted life. Instead of giving him the world, the cross of Christ meant the death of the world to Paul. When the crowning achievement of life is an odd-shaped gold medal, that is a life wasted. When the fruit of one’s life is self-sacrifice, complete abandonment to the cause of Christ and faithful discipleship, that is a life that brings glory to Christ and should bring admiring imitation from us.
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