Brothers and Sisters

To be honest, I’d love to think that in some way–if even just a small, small, way–I deserve the designation. To think that somehow I’ve done my part to merit the honor. To think that, at least to some degree, for I know it could never be all my doing, there is something in some of my actions worthy of the privilege. But as I hover over these verses in Hebrews this morning, I know better. And I’m bit overwhelmed by grace.

For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons [and daughters] to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers [and sisters] . . . (Hebrews 2:10-11 ESV)

Our God is the Creator and the Redeemer. We exist by Him and for Him. And, though we were once far from Him, He has purposed to bring many back to Him. Amazing!

But even more amazing is that He does so by bringing us to glory as sons and daughters. Son and daughters–who could merit such standing?

And to do so, He determined that the Founder of our Salvation should fully make way for such an adoption through His suffering.

The Founder of our Salvation, aka God’s Anointed. The Author of our Redemption, the Lamb of God. The Captain of our Faith, one day to be revealed to all as He is, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. O’ what a Savior!

And, because the Son was sent by the Father, and because we were set apart by the same Father, He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.

Basque in that, brothers and sisters. It is one thing for me to refer to you with such familial language, it is an entirely different matter when we are treated as family by the Son of God.

To be but His trophies of redeeming grace would be enough. To be servants in His household would gift us with more access to the Holy One than we could ever imagine. But to be welcomed around the table as kin? Behold, what manner of love! (1Jn. 3:1a KJV)

And He is not ashamed to do so. He is not hesitant to say so. Not because we’re doing our best, but only because heaven gave its best. Not because of our faltering service, but because of His once-for-all, unwavering submission–and that, through undeserved suffering. Not because of any good deeds we have done or could do, but solely because of His finished work on the cross.

Because of who He is and what He has done, He is all in to call us brothers and sisters.

Don’t know how you can chew on that for even a few minutes and not become somewhat overwhelmed with gratitude.

Because of His amazing grace. Only for His all-deserving glory.

Amen?

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Lest We Drift Away

I write myself more notes these days. Write more things down on a piece of paper and then leave that piece of paper in a conspicuous place. How come? Because things slip my mind. There one moment and then, poof, vanishes. Haven’t quite got to the point of writing something down in one room that needs to be done in the next room because I know I may not necessarily remember what I came to do when I get in that next room–but sometimes I wonder if I should!

Prone to forget. Prone for things to escape me. Not kicking thoughts out or my mind, they just kind of slip away.

And I’m reminded this morning that what can happen with trivial matters can also happen with not so trivial matters. Matters like our salvation.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

(Hebrews 2:1 ESV)

Recently I’ve heard of a couple of high-profile Christians–one a well-known author and the other a much-admired songwriter–who have “walked away from the faith.” And I’m wondering how much they actually walked away or, if it was more likely that they actually drifted away.

Doing a 180 degree turn is a lot harder than wandering a few degrees off course. But eventually the few degrees off course, intentional or not, can also lead to a total turnaround. Takes a lot to turn your back on something. Takes a lot less to just allow yourself to lean away from something. But, unchecked, you’ll end up in the some position eventually.

Drifting away. Sounds uneventful. Sounds kind of restful. Whereas training for godliness (1Tim. 4:7-8) can be strenuous; running the race (1Cor. 9:24-27) can be arduous; and fighting the good fight (1Tim. 6:12, 2Tim. 2:3-4) can sometimes be dangerous; allowing something to just flow past can almost seem desirous.

But the something we’re talking about drifting away from here is our “great salvation” (Heb. 2:3b). And that’s why the writer is contending so fervently for the faltering faith of his Hebrew audience.

“Pay closer attention,” he says. Don’t neglect it, he says (Heb. 2:3a). Be on guard against drifting away.

Don’t think, “That will never happen to me. I know where I’m going. I’ll just set things on autopilot.” That kind of thinking sets things up for a slow drift.

There is no pre-programmed, self-driving vehicle that we can get into to take us home. It is a Spirit-led, daily walk. No GPS coordinates we can punch in and then let ‘er fly. Instead we’ll need to navigate the inevitable trips, slips, and dips in life, informed by the Word of God, enabled by the Spirit of God.

We must pay closer attention as our salvation draws near. We need to have our head more in the game now than we did at first as the flesh seeks to discredit our witness, the world seeks to distract our energies, and the enemy still seeks to destroy our souls.

Lest we drift away.

I need to keep reminding myself where I’ve been and where I’m going. Keep leaning in to what I’ve been redeemed for . . . and Who I’ve been redeemed for.

I need to keep writing myself notes.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Just a Whistle Away

It’s a crazy, seemingly out of control world we live in. And perhaps seems more so to those of us who are a bit older. Who have a point of reference of three or four decades ago when, while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, things just seemed a bit more sane, perhaps a bit more predictable. The lines between right and wrong seemed clearer. The debate between this ideology and that ideology seemed more civil. The respect for most people by most people seemed greater. Feels like some of the restraints of a bygone era–whether true morality, a sense of generally accepted propriety, or just accepted political correctness–have been cast off, and life is being lived larger, louder, and with less-and-less regard for others. Like I said, seems out of control at times.

I’ve been reading in Isaiah the last couple of days and already the themes of rebellious sin, divine judgment, and yet, future promise, are coming through loud and clear. And I wonder if the latter days in Judah, when people had grown accustomed to doing what was right in their own eyes, weren’t somewhat similar to our current day.

They had so mastered sin that they hauled it about like a cart with ropes, “cords of falsehood.” They called “evil good and good evil”; darkness for them was light and light was being called darkness; that which once was considered sweet was now deemed bitter, and bitter was now called sweet. They had grown accustomed to living life in an intoxicated manner such that the guilty got off easily with a bribe and the innocent were deprived of what they deserved. And all this, ultimately, because they had “rejected the law of the LORD of host,” and had “despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 5:18-24). Out of control!

And true to the prophet’s call, Isaiah warns them of the “anger of the LORD” being kindled against His people (5:25). That though they did not “regard the deeds of the LORD or see the work of His hands” (5:12); though He was out of sight and out of mind; through He seemed a non-factor in the affairs of men; that the LORD of hosts would be “exalted in justice,” and the Holy God would show Himself “holy in righteousness” (5:16).

And here are the prophet’s words I’m chewing on this morning:

He will raise a signal for nations far away, and whistle for them from the ends of the earth; and behold, quickly, speedily they come!

(Isaiah 5:26 ESV)

When the time came for God to judge Israel, when it was time to say, “Enough is enough,” and send them away for an extended timeout, when God was ready to raise up the surrounding nations to discipline His chosen people, He would simply whistle and the nations would fall in line with zero resistance. Didn’t matter where they were or what they were doing, when God raised the banner they would fall in line according to His purpose.

A reminder this morning of the sovereign power of our God. That in a world seemingly out of control, He is always fully in charge. That His will and purposes are just a whistle away.

A reminder there is no chaos that God cannot bring into order. No rebellion that He cannot curtail. No destruction that He cannot restore. And all with simply a whistle.

A reminder our God is patient, not willing that any should perish, so He waits (2Peter 3:9). He is kind, and is working behind the scenes to lead men and women to repentance (Romans 2:4).

But make no mistake, He is not absent. He is not disengaged. In fact, He commands all things–all people, all leaders, all nations–and will fulfill His divine purposes, according to His divine timing, all for His divine glory. And it’s just a whistle away.

I can count on that. I can rest in that.

By His grace. For His glory.

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That Age

Since the day Jesus arrived back in Jerusalem, riding on a colt and receiving the praise of the crowd (Lk.19:28-40), He taught daily in the temple (19:47). And like any good teacher, He provided opportunity for Q&A. But those who took advantage of the air time from the crowds, instead of being honest and open seekers, were corrupt and self-serving subverters. In hopes of tripping Him up with His own answers, they peppered Him with their own crafty questions.

They questioned Him concerning the source of His authority–though they weren’t really interested in dealing honestly with His answer (Lk. 20:1-8). And they questioned His allegiance to Caesar, hoping that, perhaps, He’d say something that would, if not turning the crowd against Him, might provoke Rome against Him (20:19-26). And then, hoping to at least discredit Him as a Teacher of Moses, those who denied the resurrection questioned Him on His theology (20:27-33). And this they did with what they thought was a brilliant riddle sure to poke holes in the idea of a bodily resurrection.

According to Moses, they said, imagine a scenario where each of seven brothers ends up legally marrying the same woman, and then dying, over the course of her lifetime. And so, they asked, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” (20:33).

(To be honest, I might be asking a different set of questions. Like, “Is there something seriously wrong with this lady’s food-safe skills?” Or, “Were each of these dudes carrying a pretty hefty life insurance policy?” But I digress).

And it’s something in Jesus’ answer that has me thinking this morning.

And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

(Luke 20:34-36 ESV)

This age vs. that age. That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

The confusion of these riddle-makers was that they lived in the here and now with no regard for the there and then. They refused to recognize, or maybe just failed to remember, that there was more to life than just one’s “threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength fourscore years” here on earth(Ps. 90:10 KJV). That the implications of an eternal God who is the God of the living (20:39) is that there will be those who live eternally. That while this age is temporary, that age is not. And that what governs and is valued in that age is likely very different than the dynamics of this age.

And I’m thinking that those of us who have been “considered worthy to attain to that age”–not through any works or merit of our own, but through the finished work of the spotless Lamb of God on the cross and His worthiness credited to our account–would do well to ask ourselves, “Are we living for that age or are we overly caught up in the confusing riddles of this age?”

For example, as has recently been pointed out to me through a number of sources, in the church we may have so over-emphasized the marriage relationship that we’ve forgotten that the enduring, eternal relationship will not be that of man and wife in wedlock, but of brother and sister in Christ. That while romance may be glamorized in this age, it will be the family relationship–those bound together through adoption as sons and daughters of God–which will forever glorify God in that age (Eph. 1:5-6).

To be sure, we are children of the day. But we must never forget that we will soon be children of the resurrection. That while there are many good things to be enjoyed in this age, they should not distract from, or cloud the glorious things of that age.

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Tenth Fruit of the Spirit?

It’s been a good week working through Titus as part of my morning readings. And in a letter that is so concerned with teaching, and defending, sound doctrine, what has been clear is that, in a sense, sound doctrine is not the ends but the means. The goal is not just to cross our theological i’s and dot our systematic t’s, but that high and holy teaching would manifest itself in boots-on-the-ground, godly–and goodly–living.

And so, Paul wraps up this letter, which began by emphasizing the need to present and protect the faith, with an equal, or perhaps greater, emphasis on the need for all believers to practically live out the faith.

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

(Titus 3:14 ESV)

Devoted to good works–it’s something that is learned. Focused on helping others–it’s a practice to be practiced, a habit to be formed.

But what grabs my attention, in particular, is that learning to help others in need is a remedy for unfruitfulness. Thus, Paul says it’s fruit.

So, could you go so far as to say that being devoted to good works might also be considered the tenth fruit of the Spirit? That when the Spirit illuminates truth to us (Jn. 16:13); when He reveals the deep things of God (1Cor. 2:9-10); when He conveys the mind of Christ to our minds (1Cor. 2:16b)–transforming us through our mind’s renewal (Rom. 12:2)–that in addition to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22), that He also works in us a devotion, a desire, a heightened attention towards good works?

I’m thinkin’ . . .

I can’t help but hear James say, “Amen!” to Paul’s exhortation to Titus and to our people.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

(James 2:15-18 (ESV)

Eager to maintain good works. It’s evidence of faith, James says. It’s a remedy for a barren Christian life, Paul says. It might be thought of as the tenth fruit of the Spirit, I says.

To be sure, we have learned that we cannot rely on our good works FOR our salvation. But we also need to learn to devote ourselves to good works that come FROM our salvation.

We are saved by faith. But we are also saved for fruit. And being devoted to good works is fruit.

And, with such Spirit led, Spirit enabled, Spirit produced fruit, we will adorn, and trim with honor, the sound doctrine of God our Savior (Tit. 3:10b).

By His grace. For His glory.

Yeah, it’s been a good week.

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Good News. Good Works.

Paul left Titus in Crete so that Titus “might put what remained into order” (Tit. 1:5a).

Paul had proclaimed the gospel in town after town. And in every place where people believed, the lost sheep who were found came together as local flocks who were gathered. Thus, what remained was the need for shepherds. And so, Titus was to “appoint elders in every town” (1:5b).

These “overseers” were to act as “God’s stewards” (1:7). They were to manage the household of God. And, it would seem, a big part of caring for the flock involved holding firm “to the trustworthy word”, giving instruction “in sound doctrine”, and standing strongly against those who would contradict it (1:9).

But, with each reading this week in Titus, it hits me, again and again, that the goal of teaching sound doctrine goes so far beyond just imparting knowledge. Sound doctrine is about impacting behavior. Right teaching begets right living. Where there is good news, there are good works.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

(Titus 3:4-8 ESV)

If you just skimmed that, can I encourage you to go back and read it again slowly and carefully?

What a concise, theologically packed, summary of the gospel!

You have the incarnation, God in flesh, as God our Savior appeared. You have the love of God as He saves according to His mercy and not our best efforts. You have the dynamics of redemption in regeneration and renewal, and that through the active agency of the Triune God as the Father pours out the Spirit through the Son. The Son who is Jesus Christ our Savior — the One who gave Himself as the once for all atoning sacrifice for all sin. Thus we are justified, and that by grace alone. What’s more, we have been adopted as sons and daughters of Almighty God, thus becoming heirs. Heirs according to hope, the promise of eternal life.

Preach it!

What’s more, Paul says, “Insist on it!” Affirm it strongly. Assert it confidently. Articulate it frequently.

How come?

So that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.

The gospel is for good works. When we really get the good news it is apparent through good deeds. It’s a cause-and-effect sort of thing.

That’s why Paul was so set on caring for the flock. That they might be fed the word. That it might bear the fruit of devotion to good works. That it might adorn sound doctrine (2:10). That it might make known our beautiful Savior.

Get the gospel, and you’ll want to give your lives. Internalize the good news, and you’ll want to externalize the good God who resides in you through His Spirit. Pursue sound doctrine and you’ll reflect the living Savior.

Not something we make happen. Something that happens to us, and in us, and through us, as we give ourselves fully to the gospel because the gospel has been given fully to us.

Good news. Good works.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Training Grace

Not unusual, in my circles, to talk of saving grace–the unmerited favor of God which leads men and women to repentance of sin, and deliverance from sin’s bondage, by faith in the atoning work of the Son of God through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Saving grace is wondrous grace. Saving grace is amazing grace (that saved a wretch like me).

But what of training grace? Not sure I’ve ever heard that term before. Sounds too works oriented. But it’s what I’m chewing on as I read in Titus this morning.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things . . .

(Titus 2:11-15a ESV)

Seems to me that, if we looked with a certain filter in mind, we’d find that God has a mission statement. That our God is a God who works in accordance with pre-defined objectives and purposeful intentions. To be sure, it would be a multi-faceted mission statement, ’cause that’s just how our God is–a God of manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:10).

Just off the top of my head, God’s mission would entail making Himself known and bringing Himself glory. It would involve so loving the world. And, to be sure, seeking and saving the lost. And from Titus, this morning, it would also include:

To purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.

Saving souls, not so they would just sit on a shelf as inert trophies of grace, but that they would be eager and enthusiastic to get in the game as vessels in the Master’s hand. Zealous for good works. Totally committed to doing good deeds (NLT). And this, not for personal gain or recognition, but according to God’s mission and for His glory.

And in order to fulfill this facet of Divine mission, the grace of God appeared. And it brought salvation. But this same grace also trains us. It instructs us towards the goal of personal purity, and Divine possession, and zealous intention. Saving grace becomes training grace to achieve the goals of grace.

And so, the grace that rescued me also teaches me.  It teaches me to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. The unmerited favor that gave me ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart of flesh to believe, directs those toward things above so that I might release my grip on things below — the longings of the flesh and the desires for this world.

Grace is my instructor.  Teaching me, pointing me, and yes, way too often correcting me, towards living in this present age with self-control, uprightness, and godliness. Educating me on how to walk in a manner worthy of my calling. Instructing me as to how to bring every thought and every action into submission to His leading through the Spirit. Disciplining me as I learn how to put off the flesh and put on Christ.

And all in accord with His purpose:

. . . to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.

I don’t need to do good works for my salvation. I can’t. No merit in this man. But, according to God’s mission, my salvation will result in a burning desire for good works–“good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

So, to that end, saving grace will manifest as training grace. Abundant grace will be abounding grace. Unmerited favor will result in unrestrainable fervor. Real grace will make a real difference.

And to God will be the glory alone.

All because of grace alone . . . saving, training grace.

Amen?

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