Think Richly Upon Jesus

This morning I came across the video of a question and answer session from the conclusion of a Ligonier Ministries Conference.  Sounds riveting, I know. In fact, it was quite informative, covering a wide variety of questions from the audience with thoughtful and pastoral answers.  One of the final questions to the panel was a powerful one, “What is the greatest threat to the Church today?”  Before reading further, how would you answer the question yourself?

We might be given to answer that it is the cultural conflicts the church is facing today that pose the biggest challenge to the Church.  Or we might answer it is the tendency toward compromise in the basic teachings of the church to become more “relevant” to the world around us. Some might even argue that it is still the “Worship Wars” which threaten the church today, the long argument over the style and content of our worship, particularly the music of worship.

While these are all important challenges that the church faces today, interestingly, that is not where the panelist focused in their answers.

The first response to what the biggest challenge facing the church today was “Not preaching the gospel.”  By this he meant losing a love for and trust in the life changing message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Becoming tired of the word, looking for worldly means to supplement the preaching of the gospel, this the challenge the church faces.

The second response was “That I lose my love or passion for Jesus.”  The panelist clarified by saying it is not that he would deny his faith, but that he would grow cold and indifferent in his affections toward Christ. This, he said, is the greatest challenge the church faces.

The third panelist said the biggest challenge the church faces is that we would have a “shallow perception of who God is; that we would take God casually.”

Notice the common thread in all of these responses?  They are all internal, not external threats to the church.  The greatest threat to the life of the church today is not the existential, philosophical, or political climate in which the church finds itself today.  It is the threat of losing our love for Jesus.

This is the charge that the Lord brought against the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Losing this love for Christ is disastrous for the church, and threatens her witness and very life. Jesus even said, “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 lamp stand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we maintain a love for Christ?

I think it begins by thinking richly upon Christ and all that He is.

Think of His glory

Consider the glory of Christ the Lord:

(John 1:1–3) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

(Colossians 1:15–20) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

(Hebrews 1:3–4)He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

That’s just a few of the passages of Scripture that make much of the glory and splendor of Christ.  If there is any deficiency in our love and adoration of Christ, it is not because he lacks any worth, but because we think too little of his worth.  Consider the wonder of who Christ is, and let His glory fuel your affection.

Think of His love

Another way to maintain our love for Christ is to consider Christ’s love

He loved the Father.  In John 14:31 Jesus says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”  He lived in perfect obedience to the Father, accomplishing the work of salvation for which the Father had sent him.

Not only did Jesus love the Father perfectly, he also loved his people perfectly.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

Considering Christ’s life for us brings us into richer fellowship with hm. Ephesians 3:17–19 prays for us, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Think of His sacrifice/suffering

If we consider his love, we must also consider the depth to which he came to demonstrate or prove that love for us.

(John 3:16)“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

(2 Corinthians 5:21)For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(Romans 3:23–25)for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

(1 Peter 3:18)For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

In the powerful hymn of Isaac Watts we sing

Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Think of His coming in power

Thinking richly on the glory of Christ, his love and his sacrifice, are sufficient enough to fan the flames of our love for Christ.  But consider also his coming for the church in power.  He has not left us or abandoned us, but has poured our his Spirit upon the Church.  He has not ceased from his work for the Church, but continues to intercede for the Church at the right hand of God.  One day, he will return for his bride, and bring all the faithful unto himself, that where he is, we shall be also.

(John 14:3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

(Revelation 22:12–13) “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

(1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Think richly upon Christ. Look to him who is the author and finisher of your faith.  Think of Christ in his glory, in his love, in his suffering, and in his soon-coming for the church. May your consideration of Christ renew and keep your love for him!

SDG

Yakkity yak, don’t talk back…

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”
Romans 9:20

I have written before describing how our relationship with our children are good reminders of our relationship with God.  Your child’s dependence on your provision as a parent is a tremendous sign of your own dependence upon God for everything.  Your child’s begging and pleading for the desires of their heart is how we ought to come to God in prayer.  Your child’s disobedience illustrates our own disobedience from our heavenly Father.  Your love for your child, even your disobedient child, is but a glimpse of the steadfast and unfailing love of God.

As I was reading through Romans 9 today, I was reminded of another correlative aspect of the parent/child and God/creation relationship: lipping off.  I don’t know if there is a more frustrating thing as a parent than to have a child talk back in disrespect. As a parent I’ve learned the meaning of pain by stepping barefoot on a lego on the bedroom floor.  I’ve learned humility through cleaning up sick in the middle of the night.  I have re-learned Algebra, History, Biology and the Arts to help guide and shape my children through their education.  And what thanks do I get, “Whatever, Dad!”

I am not a perfect father, far from it.  I have a lot to learn, and I will readily admit when I am wrong, and often have.  But when a child starts talking back, questioning not just my decision, but the very intention of my heart, that’s too much.  It is as if they think I’m making this up as I go (which, sometimes I am), but even worse, that I don’t want what’s best for them in the long run.  I doubt that I’m alone; this is one of the most frustrating things I have faced as a parent.

And yet, aren’t we like that with God?  This evening I’m attending a Presbytery Seminar on “The Future of the Five Points,” in which 5 of my colleagues in ministry will be discussing the 5 Points of the Doctrines of Grace and how they continue to be relevant today.  What I find fascinating is that whenever Calvin or Reformed Faith are even mentioned, the automatic question is, “What about my free will?”

Okay, what about it?

By insisting upon your freedom of will, what are you making of God’s will?  Shall the will of the sovereign of the universe bend to yours?  Are you questioning the wisdom of God?  Are you doubting his heart?

The apostle Paul has laid out the gospel throughout his letter to the Romans, that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and that “God has done what the law, weakened by flesh, could not do by sending his own Son… in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”.  This is God’s sovereign work of salvation in Jesus Christ for all who are called according to his purpose.

As Paul anticipates the rejoinder from his audience, arguing “Well, if God’s will is sovereign and you cannot resist Him, why does he still hold us accountable.”  And his answer, Because God is God.  “Who are you to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'”  Ultimately, Paul’s solution to the question of free will is to compare the will of created man to the will of the eternal God; and there is no real comparison.

This is the answer that God gave Job when Job questioned the Almighty:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:4)

Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? (Job 40:8)

Ultimately, who gets the glory? Who’s will is sovereign?  If it is mine, then we’re all done for, because I cannot even plan a trip to the grocery story without something going wrong. He holds my breath in his hands (Dan 5:23).  So who am I to think that I have the strength of will to determine the outcome of my existence in eternity?  God is sovereign, therefore His will must reign supreme and work all things for the purpose of His good pleasure.  Will I not honor Him?

Please don’t think that I am being flippant or dismissive of the real struggle that many have in regards to our responsibility and God’s sovereignty. But in the end we must acknowledge that He is God, and we are not.  Will you, will I, continue to question his love, his mercy, His sovereign will?  He has ordained all things according to His will, things for wrath and things for mercy, that He might be glorified in all things.  This great mystery ought to lead us, not to divisions among us, but to join in the wonder and praise that Paul shares in Romans 11:

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.