Baseball Cards, Bladder Control, and the Gospel: Thoughts on Romans 1:16-17

•June 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Wal-Mart quite possibly is my favorite all-time store and it was the setting for two of my most memorable middle school stories.

The first story began with me scurrying into the Wal-Mart electronics section to play video games on an after-school visit to the shopping super center. This was a usual occurrence in my family as I would spend 20-30 minutes chilling there until my mom would finish her shopping and come get me. However, this day would be anything but usual…

Something happened to me that I had never experienced before nor experienced since. That afternoon, standing in the middle of Wal-Mart, with no forewarning whatsoever, I lost complete control of my bladder. Yes! I, a 14 year old boy, peed in my pants (and we’re not talking just a little bit…).

I was utterly ashamed at my inadequate ability to control myself and attempted to hide in the corner of the electronics section. I shuddered at the thought of my mom or others seeing me, but I knew I had no other choice but to call out to her for help. Luckily, my mom came to my rescue and led me out of the store as I walked tightly behind her.

I thought this was the worst possible shame I could ever experience, but soon I would find out that this was not the case.

The second story happened only a few short months later back in the very same Wal-Mart. This time I found myself standing in front of my second favorite section in the store – the baseball card aisle. I grew up absolutely loving collecting baseball cards, and I can still readily remember the joys of receiving packs of cards for my birthdays.

However, these satisfactions were not enough for me…

For a short period of time, I followed after the desires of the flesh and began stealing packs of baseball cards, pens, and small toys from shopping centers. After watching several boys from school show off their newest additions, I was sucked in to this new thrill.

This short-lived thrill lasted for about two or three weeks when my mom saw through my deception and caught me red-handed in my room one afternoon after a trip to Wal-Mart with several packs of cards that she did not buy for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a more shameful moment in my life. I was found out! I was a thief. I was a deceiver. I was a liar.

My mom immediately drove me back to Wal-Mart, made me pay for all of the cards (as well as give them all back), and made me apologize to the store manager. I can still remember the shame of that tearful apology as I had to explain what I had done. Much like my experience of shame for my inadequacy, I felt this time the shame of being fully exposed as a law-breaker.

By now (if you’re still reading and haven’t decided to click on to the next post…) you’re probably wondering how any of this has to do with Paul or Romans or the gospel!

Well, in Romans 1:16-17, Paul poignantly discusses the relationship between shame and the gospel: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

After reading verse 16, though, I immediately want to say, “But how could he not be greatly ashamed?!?!”

I mean, isn’t he aware of who he is and what he’s done? I was ashamed before a Wal-Mart manager for stealing a pack of baseball cards. Paul was responsible before God for the persecution, imprisonment, and most likely death of countless Christians.

If in fact, the gospel is the revelation of the righteousness of God, Paul should be completely and utterly ashamed of his inadequacies and unrighteousness before Him.

Ah! The beauty of the gospel of God is found in the midst of this seemingly insurmountable problem.

Paul explains that the reason why he is unashamed of the gospel is that it is the power of God resulting in salvation for everyone who believes. Even more explicitly, Paul says that this salvation is directly connected with the righteousness of God.

But as already observed, certainly this cannot simply refer to a righteousness that is obtained through the accomplishment of good deeds. Paul is well aware that he is a law-breaker and fails to meet God’s holy standards.

Therefore, the righteousness of God being revealed in the gospel necessarily refers to the righteousness of another, namely the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

The very reason why Paul can confidently stand unashamed of the gospel is that by faith, he has been accredited with a righteousness that is not his own!

The good news of the gospel is that God takes away the shame of our inadequacy and unrighteousness by providing us with a new righteousness that was purchased for us through the sacrificial death of Jesus.

I am not left in the shamefulness of my pee-stained pants or sin-soaked hands, but through my faith in Christ, I have obtained a righteous standing before God! Jesus Christ bore my shame on the cross that I myself might stand unashamed before the Father clothed in His perfect, spotless righteousness.

For this reason and this reason alone, I stand alongside Paul and proclaim, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for my salvation!

Iron Man, Spurgeon, and the Gospel: A Meditation on a Purpose Driven Life

•April 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I recently sat down and watched Iron Man again with my roommates. I particularly enjoyed the movie the second time through because I was able to follow more closely the story line of transformation occurring in the main character, Tony Stark.

The story not only tracks the external change Tony undergoes by putting on a superhero style suit of iron, but also the inward change in Tony’s thought processes towards the world he was partially responsible for creating.

One key transition scene showing Tony’s inward change has continued to stick out in my mind. In this scene, Tony and his assistant Pepper Potts have a somewhat heated dialogue with Tony, as he describes the determination of his life’s purpose.

Tony firmly states his new-found purpose: “There is nothing except this. There is no art opening; there is no benefit; there is nothing to sign. There is the next mission. And nothing else.”

This scene has been on replay in my mind the past few days until this morning when in I encountered a quote by Charles Spurgeon.

He speaks about what the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit produces in the life of the believer. He provides an answer to the question, “What is a sure sign the Spirit is at work in me?”

Spurgeon makes the penetrating observation: “If we do not make the Lord Jesus glorious, if we do not lift him high in the esteem of men, if we do not labour to make him King of kings, and Lord of lords; we shall not have the Holy Spirit with us. Vain will be rhetoric, music, architecture, energy, and social status: if our one design be not to magnify the Lord Jesus, we shall work alone and work in vain.”

And that’s when I put two and two together. One of the key components of the Gospel is that Christians must have only one design, one goal, one overarching purpose for their lives: to magnify the Lord Jesus with all of their being. There is nothing else. Your speaking ability, your intellectual learning, your musical ability, your earnestness, your hard-earned respect will all result in jack diddidly squat unless they are sought after for the end purpose of making the Lord Jesus glorious.

The indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is shining a glorious spotlight on Jesus Christ. If you have the Spirit, this is your one design. And if this is not your one design, you work alone and you work in vain.

I pray today that we might be mutually encourage to resolve to live for this one glorious purpose, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be magnified in all we do. Remember, there is nothing else. We either work by the Spirit to make Christ glorious or we vainly work by ourselves.

Grace and Peace,
John Michael

God’s Great Works: A Gospel Mediation on Psalm 57

•January 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have recently been learning a new method of meditation that has helped me to think and absorb the Bible. This method is specifically a biblical method, drawn straight from the pages of Scripture (Phil 4:8 to be exact). Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Do you see that last phrase? “Dwell on these things” is synonymous with biblical meditation. The goal of this method is to use the eight aspects of this verse to ask questions of other biblical texts to help us dwell on these things. The format of these questions are simple, such as, “What is true about this, or what truth does this exemplify?” and “What is honorable about this?” Of course, not every passage of Scripture will have answers that fit nice and neat into every category. But answering the questions isn’t necessarily the point so its ok to have unanswered questions. The point is for us to think deeply about the Scriptures and attempt to absorb all the richness of God’s Word.

I’m focusing on the first three verses of Psalm 57 and using the questions to mine the mind of God.
Psalm 57:1-3
“Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You:
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me,
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.”

Question #1
What is true about this, or what truth does it exemplify?
– God is a gracious God
– God is One in whom you can take refuge
– God’s children cry out to Him because God is a God who hears
– God acts on behalf of His children to accomplish ALL things for them
– God is a Savior- God is a God full of lovingkindness (covenantal, faithful, and steadfast love)- God is a God of truth

Question #2
What is honorable about this?
– God does not turn away from His children, but rather saves them(this reminds me of Jesus talking about how earthly fathers do not give their sons snakes when they ask for bread and how much better God our Father treats us, His children)

Question #3
What is right about this?
– David doesn’t rely upon himself
– David believes that unless the Lord is gracious (read – undeserved or unmerited action) he will not survive the oppression of his enemies.
+ David appeals to God’s graciousness BECAUSE he takes refuge in Him (contrast this with people who cry out for God to help them in their trouble, but never truly put their faith, trust, and hope in Him)
– If David truly believes that his God is the God Most High, then certainly he is right to cry out to Him in His time of need. If we really believe God is who He says He is, we ought to trust Him that He is accomplishing all things for our good (reminds of Romans 8:28).

Question #4
What is pure about this, or how does it exemplify purity?
– David’s trust in light of the “destruction” surrounding him is pure

Question #5
What is lovely about this?
– The description of the shadow of the Lord’s wings is a beautiful picture of the Lord’s protection. Maybe a modern day description expressing the same point might be “in the arms of your father.”
– Its also lovely to see the Lord accomplishing all things for me. This means that the Lord is at work even in the midst of the oppression and destruction faced in this psalm. The Lord’s sovereignty over all of life, both storm and calm, is in view here. And that…is something that is truly beautiful.
+ Notice the way the psalm says God will save David. Verse 3 says, “He will send from heaven and save me… God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.” Wait a second though, if you’re David crying out to be saved from the destruction around you, you’re crying out to be physically saved from the situation. Wouldn’t you want to hear God say, “I’m sending my angels to surround you and protect you.” Instead, though, the instruments God uses to save David are manifestations of His lovingkindness and His truth. This verse says that God saves His people by showing His love and His truth to them. Now think deeply with me. Isn’t this the same description of how the Lord saves His people today? God sent forth “His lovingkindness” and “His truth” in the person of Jesus to save us! Think about how Jesus is the fulfullment of the promise of God to send His lovingkindness. Think about how Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise of God to send His truth. One might cry out, “God if you would just send your angels to surround me and save me.” But God calls out in return, “I have sent My Lovingkindness and My Truth to be your Savior. His name is the Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, how beautiful is this?

Question #6
What is admirable, commendable, or reputation strengthening?
– David’s confident trust is admirable- David’s wisdom to cry to the Lord instead of look to himself

Question #7
What is excellent about this? (Note: the term excellent here is a term of comparison, not merely description)
+ God is excellent compared to all other forms of refuge. Note that the introduction to this psalm references David hiding in a cave. This physical cave, however, cannot provide true refuge. God alone is the refuge for David’s soul. Are there any physical places that we try to elevate to places of refuge over and above God?

Question #8
What is praiseworthy about this?
– God is praiseworthy for being intimately connected to His people. God cares for His children. God is accomplishing all things for them. God is actively saving them. God is being consistently gracious to them. Finally, God is showing His love and His truth to them. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

I know this has been a nice long one. Maybe consider this to make up for not getting to read a full Glenn-style post. I truly do hope and pray that God might be at work in you through His Spirit enlightening your eyes to the Word and conforming you to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

For the purpose of godliness!

Grace and Peace,
John Michael

Chaos vs. Contemplation: A Gospel Meditation on Psalm 48

•January 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Psalm 48 describes the city of Zion and rejoices in the Lord’s protection. As long as the Lord dwelt in the temple, the Israelites believed that Jerusalem would be protected. This psalm is a song of praise to the Lord as is marked by vs 1, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, His holy mountain.”

The second section of the psalm (vs 4-8 ) describes the protection God gives to Zion against its enemies. The picture of the situation going on outside the walls of Zion is a picture of chaos. The foreign kings were “amazed,” “terrified,” seized with “panic” and “anguish” as they came before the city of God. Outside of God’s protection, there are only problems, terrors, and anguishes.

However, the next section of the psalm (vs 9-11) displays a strikingly different image. David states in vs 9, “We have thought on Your lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of Your temple.” Inside the walls of God, the people of God can contemplate the Lord’s covenantal love. Though there are a whirlwind of troubles swirling outside the walls of the city, there is a peace available to God’s children such that their thoughts do not have to focus upon the chaos, but rather the faithfulness of God.

Are there some troubles in your life today? Does it seem like things are moving into the chaos stage with responsiblities and papers and work and relationships? Rejoice in what is freely available to all those whom trust God to be their refuge, strength, and protection. Meditate today on God’s faithful lovingkindness to you.

Love yall and praying for you,
JM

To the Fullest: A Gospel Meditation on Psalm 26

•January 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Picture this: At the end of your last semester of your senior year, you walk into your teacher’s office and challenge him to create the most thorough, excruciatingly detailed, no holds bar, everything goes exam. Every chapter, every lecture, every book, every footnote covered would be fair game for the test. This is no mere cross-section of material covered with an explicit study guide helping you prepare. Furthermore, no extra credit is going to be offered and an 100 is an A and a 99 is an F. On top of all that, you tell your professor that you have to pass this exam to graduate. Everything is on the line! And, finally, though some might view it as arrogance, before leaving his office, you confidently tell him to bring it. “Test me! Go ahead! Examine me to the fullest! I will pass!”

Psalm 26 is the first of three consecutive psalms which describe David entering into the house of the Lord in order to admire the glory of God (vs 8). This psalm has three major portions which can be clearly identified. David prays to be vindicated in vs 1, examined in vs 2, and redeemed in vs 11. Thus, I see the psalm breaking down with the first verse being David’s prayer for deliverance, verses two through seven being David’s prayer for examination, and finally verses nine through twelve being David’s prayer for salvation.

Prayer for Deliverance (Vs 1)
David’s prayer to be vindicated means there are charges against him which he obviously deems are false. David wants the Lord to judge him according to these charges and declare him to be exonerated. What criteria does David base his cry upon? His personal integrity and his single-hearted devotion the Lord.

Prayer for Examination (Vs 2-7)
David wants to be examined and tested. Can you imagine telling the all-knowing God to examine you? David is confident the Lord will clear him of all charges against him because the Lord’s lovingkindness is always before him and he walks in His truth! David also knows that since he is innocent before the Lord he may proclaim the Lord’s greatness and wonder.

Prayer for Salvation (Vs 8-12)
David expresses his love for the house of the Lord, namely the place where God’s glory dwells. David fears that if his enemies were to prevail over him, he would be kept from the Lord’s house. Therefore, his cry to be redeemed is a cry for salvation.

To wrap things up… We must strive after lives of absolute personal integrity. This can only be possible when the lovingkindness of the Lord expressed in Jesus Christ is ever-present before us. When we walk in the truth, we will become like the Truth. May it truly be our prayer today that the Lord “Vindicate us, Examine us, Test us, and Redeem us!”

Grace and Peace,
John Michael

The Treasure of Forgiven Sin: A Gospel Meditation on Psalm 32

•January 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Psalm 32: The Treasure of Forgiven Sin
Psalm 32 is an absolutely fascinating psalm. God has used it mightily in my past, and He currently is speaking it anew in my life. Two years ago, my pastor Jerry Wragg in West Palm Beach preached for nearly 2 months on the passage. Almost everything I know about this passage stems back to this time. I’ve actually been relistening to these sermons over this past week. So much of what I write is not me at all. I pray that God might use some regurgitated material to move and change you. (If anybody is interested to hear some preaching from one of my favorites, the website is http://www.gibcjupiter.org/index.php?p=archives, the mp3’s for this series is near the bottom of the page.) I’ll throw some quote marks up there for statements I just felt I couldn’t really improve on.

This psalm is written by David and actually a follow up psalm to the well known 51st psalm. A few early things to note about this psalm is that it is written as a song and it is written as a song for Israel to use in its worship. Now having read the psalm already, can you imagine writing a song about your darkest sin for others not only to read but to sing for themselves?

David writes this psalm about the ordeal with his sin with Bathsheba for the purpose of rejoicing in the freedom of pardoned sin. His conscience is clear before God! Hidden sin is not attacking his heart and mind. Forgiveness and salvation is near to him. He is free to divulge his despicableness because he is confident in the complete pardon he has received from the Lord. ‘David takes us through every dimension of his own experience before, during, and after his ordeal. We learn to treasure the beauty of God’s pardoning nature.’

He writes because he desires Israel to become imitators of him and to grasp this same joy. He not only rejoices in this freedom in private. He desires others to have this treasure a reality in their lives.

And we can confidently say today, that David wrote that we too might might treasure the forgiveness of God in our lives. ‘Do you know why sometimes our consciences are clouded? Because we do not treasure enough the beauty of God’s pardon.’ Maybe we’re still stuck at verse 3 and 4 of this psalm. David writes this for us to see the joy and freedom that actual repentence brings to us. Honestly, that last sentence is incredible. I need to hear it and believe it. We are bombarded by Satan that this just cannot be true. However, David writes about his experiences to draw us near to our need to treasure the beauty of God’s forgiveness. We are ‘incited to do the same thing he has done in order to experience the same thing he has experience.’

There is some awesome structure to Psalm 32 also. It truly is a beautifully written song. The psalm divides into five nicely-packed units: vs 1-2, 3-5, 6-7 center of the psalm, 8-9, 10-11. The psalm can be comparable to a hill top. Vs 1-2 is like being at the base of the hill, vs 3-4 is like climbing the hill, the pinnacle of the hill is vs 5-7, then vs 8-9 is like coming down the hill, and finally vs 10-11 is at the bottom of the hill. Each of these units have a specific lesson to be taught.

I’m not sure that I could really improve on the way Pastor Wragg entitled each of these section so I’ll let his titles speak for themselves. I encourage you to write each of these in your Bible to help you understand the passage. Overall, he sees the psalm as describing ‘five incentives for seizing the treasure of God’s forgiveness.’
Vs 1-2 The Freedom and Joy of Forgiven Sin
Vs 3-4 The Folly of Hidden Sin
Vs 5-7 The Fortune of Timely Repentence
Vs 8-9 The Fidelity of God’s Watchcare
Vs 10-11 The Favored Life of the Pure in Heart

Even though I know this is already long, I want to make mention of some of the beautiful things in each of these incentives.

Vs 1-2 How blessed is the man… The man who’s sin is forgiven and covered and whom there is no deceit is blessed! He is happy. He is satisfied and assured. Is this the way we speak in our times of accountability with each other?

Vs 3-4 Truly, it is pure folly for us to hide our sin. For believers, we must profess Christ as the bearer of our sin and guilt and we must trust God’s pardon over us. Notice vs 4 describes how the heavy hand of the Lord was upon David for his sin. We may be able to hide from each other, but don’t be so naive to think that we can hide from God. Remember good ol’ Jonah as an example.

Vs 5-7 This is the center of the psalm and the pinnacle of the song. David describes the fortune of timely repentance. Oh allow the Lord to surround you with songs of deliverance! If you are a godly one today, pray and repent to the Lord today.

Vs 8-9 Another incentive to treasure God’s forgiveness is that God faithfully watches over all who are His. For the obedient and repentful, God instructs, teaches, and counsels. Notice David says the Lord counsels “with My eyes upon you.” This means, God counsels us in light of having our whole life in view. God knows us intimately. God directs us in the right paths, not as one who is blind to where that path might lead, but as one who is actively moving and guiding us to His intended purpose for us.

Next check out how vs 9 too is among an incentive stemming from God’s watchcare over us. Believers cannot escape God’s guidance, even by their own folly. God will put a bit in your mouth and lead you like a horse or mule if He must. This is David’s experience. If one is stubborn and acting like an animal, God will use experiences and events to steer us into the direction He plans for us. Unfortunately, there are times where the wise words of counsel in vs 8 will do us no good because we have become like brutes before Him. Fortunately, God is resolved to save us even if this means throwing a harness of discipline over you for a time.

Finally, vs 10-11 describes the favored life of the pure in heart. Can you joyously proclaim along with David these lines of Scripture? Or have your senses been dulled and your consciences clouded by the folly of hidden guilt. Imitate David today by fully acknowledging and repenting of your sin before the Lord. Treasure the beauty of God’s pardon and experience the freedom of His forgivenss. Do not hide the work of Christ in your life, but rather put the saving work of Christ up on display by showing yourself to be a sinner. Remember Christ didn’t come to heal the healthy. He came to seek out, heal, and save the sick.

I love you all in Christ.
Grace and Peace,
John Michael

Are We to be Road Runners? A Gospel Meditation on Psalm 11

•January 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Possibly my favorite cartoon growing up was Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. The Road Runner always did what he did best…RUN! Aaaaand the Coyote always did what he did worst…try to catch the Road Runner with some outlandish plan with the help of some Acme device (although he did finally catch the Road Runner in an episode…seen here ).

In some ways, it must be nice to be the Road Runner, right? He’s always just fast enough, just clever enough, just lucky enough to never wind up being duped by his counterpart. As a Christian, I sometimes feel like if I was just a little bit faster, smarter, wiser, or luckier I would be able to avoid being trapped by sin and the schemes of the devil.

In Psalm 11 , David seemingly receives the advice from a friend to run like a bird to the mountain (v 1b). David is told that the enemy is too strong, too fast, too powerful. The trap is set. The enemy’s bow is drawn with an arrow pointed directly at the upright in heart (v 2-3). David is directed to flee to the mountain, which presumably refers to Jerusalem, because his only hope is that he’ll be able to outrun his enemies and find protection behind the walls of the city.

David responds to this “friendly” advice with the full affirmation that the Lord is his refuge (v 1a). David does not turn his back upon the Lord and attempt to find his own refuge in the mountain. David proclaims confidence in his Lord. Though the wicked bend their bow in the darkness of night, the Lord’s eyes are beholding the entire situation in perfect clarity. The Lord is on His throne in His holy temple. The wicked are not ruling this world. The wicked want to shoot arrows upon the righteous. However, the Lord will rain down upon them fire and brimstone.

David refuses to take the advice to flee like a bird, because he trusts the Lord specifically for two reasons. First, David trusts that the Lord is sovereign (v 4). He is in heaven. He is ruling. He sees everything that is going on, and He will respond! Second, David trusts that the Lord is righteous (v 5-7). David appeals to the Lord’s righteousness here because it would be an unrighteous action of the Lord to turn His back upon those who trust in Him. So by crying out that the Lord is righteous, David is crying out that the Lord protect all those who find their refuge in Him.

For us today, we need to recognize the false advice to become “Road Runners” in our Christian life. Many times, our supposed friends will give us advice to get out of the difficult situations we face. Moralism is going to tell us that if we can just muster up the ability to change how we act, we will be okay. Oprah is going to tell us that we need to rely upon the power source from within. Addictions are going to tell us that we can sooth our hurts with just one more taste. High schools and colleges are going to tell us that our education is going to result in a great job which will get us plenty of money so that we can be comfortable and safe.

However, all of these options truly fail to provide for our greatest need. The only refuge that we have is in the Lord, who is in heaven! When the enemy of this world comes at us, we must not flee to our “safe” zones and the places of refuge we have created for ourselves. Rather, we must firmly trust in our sovereign and righteous Lord who will protect and guide His people.

Oh, that we too might proclaim with David in the final line of this psalm, “The Lord loves righteousness, the righteous will behold His face!”

Grace and Peace,
John Michael

 
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