Marvelous, Infinite, Matchless Grace

[Thankfully I’m more amazed at God’s grace at the close of this year than I was at the beginning of 2014. But in 2015 I want to be increasingly stunned by God’s unmerited favor toward me in Christ. So at the dawn of a New Year, I’m revisiting some of the reasons why I love the grace of God. To help you do the same, here’s my list from a year ago. What reason(s) would you add?]

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This time of year is full of year-end lists. Everything from the top 10 or more books of the year, to movies of the year, to memories of the year. Well, not to be left out of the list mania, here’s my list of 10 reasons why I love the grace of God.

  • Reason #10: By God’s grace I believe (Acts 18:27).
  • Reason #9: I’m standing in God’s grace (Rom. 5:2).
  • Reason #8: I daily receive fresh doses of God’s grace (John 1:16).
  • Reason #7: God’s grace is sufficient for all my needs (2 Cor. 12:9).
  • Reason #6: God’s grace frees me from the tyranny of sin (Rom. 6:14).
  • Reason #5: By God’s grace I have spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6).
  • Reason #4: By God’s grace I can be appropriately bold (Rom. 15:15).
  • Reason #3: I have the daily privilege of growing in God’s grace (2 Pet. 3:18).
  • Reason #2: God’s grace is what builds me up in the faith (Acts 20:32).
  • Reason #1: God’s grace is free (Rom. 3:24).
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What Child is This?

The Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 35-37

Q&A #35

Q. What do you confess when you say: He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary?
A. The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, [1] took upon Himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, [2] through the working of the Holy Spirit. [3] Thus He is also the true seed of David, [4] and like His brothers in every respect, [5] yet without sin. [6]
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[1] John 1:1; 10:30-36; Rom. 1:3; 9:5; Col. 1:15-17; 1 John 5:20. [2] Matt. 1:18-23; John 1:14; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14. [3] Luke 1:35. [4] 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 132:11; Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32; Rom. 1:3. [5] Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:17. [6] Heb. 4:15; 7:26, 27.

Q&A #36

Q. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
A. He is our Mediator, [1] and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born. [2]
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[1] 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 9:13-15. [2] Rom. 8:3, 4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 4:4, 5; I Pet. 1:18, 19.

Q&A #37

Q. What do you confess when you say that He suffered?
A. During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. [1] Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, [2] He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, [3] and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life. [4]
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[1] Is. 53; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18. [2] Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. [3] Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet 1:18, 19. [4] John 3:16; Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:15.

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Advent, Life, and Death

Advent is at once about life and death. It’s about life in that we celebrate the first advent of Christ into the world. Indeed, the eternal Word–the One who is the way, and the truth, and the life–took on flesh and dwelled among us (Cf., John 1:14; 14:6).

But the first advent of Christ also implies death–the death of us. This is what Jesus meant when he said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Jesus says, in effect, that the one who follows him will die to self daily. In other words, our priorities, agendas, calendars, and concerns are to be in accord with Christ’s.

This is how the apostle Paul understood the Christian life: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul’s understanding of what happened to him on that fateful day on the road to Damascus was nothing less than death–death to self and his sinful pattern of existence. And it was a death that needed to be allocated daily which is why Paul declared to the Corinthians, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).

This death, however, was not an end in itself. Paul died to self so that he might live to God in Christ Jesus. We are called, after all, to be a living sacrifice (Cf., Romans 6:11; 12:1).

All of this could be summed up by the simple yet profound statement made by John the Baptist at the close of his earthly ministry and the dawn of Christ’s, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And this is my prayer for Immanuel this Advent season: that we would shine brightly as we collectively live for the increase of Christ.

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Advent Longing

Weihnachtskugel - HintergrundThis coming Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season. I love this time of the year. Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the church since the fourth century has celebrated the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ by focusing attention on the Old Testament promise of His coming, the realization of the promise in His Incarnation, and the blessed hope of our Lord’s Second Coming. Advent is designed to nurture in Christ’s church humble reverence and joyful longing. 

Like last year, I am planning a special pulpit series for Advent. I’m calling it, Advent Longing. Throughout Advent we will consider the revelation of Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18), the triumph of Christ (Colossians 2:13-15), our shameless hope (Romans 5:1-5), and our heavenly home (Philippians 3:20-21).

We will also bring back our Advent wreath with the four candles around the outside of the evergreens and the one white candle in the center. The Advent wreath is a beautiful symbol of the everlasting life that came when the Light of the World entered our sin-darkened existence.

As I type I’m listening to a wonderful rendition of one of my favorite oratorios, Handel’s Messiah. With heavenly beauty, Handel takes us through the Old Testament longings for Messiah (e.g., Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive) to the wonder of the Incarnation (e.g., For Unto Us a Child is Born) to the horror of the cross (e.g., Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs) to the matchless power of the resurrection (e.g., Hallelujah) to the glorious Second Coming (e.g., The Trumpet Shall Sound). By the end Handel knew that everything in us wants to proclaim “Amen” to the glory of God!

Advent declares to the world the wonderful truth that Messiah has come. Indeed, God is with us. And so with humble reverence and joyful longing we sing, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20) and make all things new.

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On the Blessing of Baptism

“Since Jesus commanded His church to baptize (Matt. 28:19), we would expect that there would be a measure of blessing connected with baptism, because all obedience to God by Christians brings God’s favor with it. This obedience is specifically a public act of confessing Jesus as Savior, an act which in itself brings joy and blessing to a believer. Moreover, it is a sign of the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ (see Rom. 6:2-5; Col. 2:12), and it seems fitting that the Holy Spirit would work through such a sign to increase our faith, to increase our experiential realization of death to the power and love of sin in our lives, and to increase our experience of the power of the new resurrection life in Christ that we have as believers. Since baptism is a physical symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and our participation in them, it should also give additional assurance of union with Christ to all believers who are present. Finally, since water baptism is an outward symbol of an inward spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, we may expect that the Holy Spirit will ordinarily work alongside the baptism, giving to believers an increasing realization of the benefits of the spiritual baptism to which it points.”

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Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 953-54.

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The Drama of Baptism

johnny_baptismI remember well when I was candidating for my current position at Immanuel Bible Church the search committee asking me what I thought of having drama in the church service. I knew what they meant. They were referring to how some churches like to have actors on stage during a worship service performing a skit that “dramatized” some aspect of the gospel. It’s often done as a form of outreach. Not knowing the group in front of me all that well I wondered if any of them were strong advocates for this kind of drama in church. If so, my answer sought to raise the bar.

I remember immediately saying, “I love drama in church (insert dramatic pause), the drama of the Lord’s Supper and baptism.” Thankfully the committee found my answer agreeable not only because it kept me in the hunt for the job, but more importantly because these two sacraments (or ordinances) are high drama at its best.

The Lord’s Supper pictures the drama of Christ’s body broken and blood shed for sinners. And baptism pictures the drama of how a person, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, dies to sin and is raised to new life. While far more could be said about these two dramatic presentations of the gospel, this understanding alone gets me excited for church when either is present.

On Sunday, November 9, I have the privilege of officiating another baptism service at Immanuel. I anticipate having people being baptized as young as six and as old as, well, let’s just say older. What a thrill. For the drama of going under the water and coming up out of it gives picture to the most amazing reality in the universe, namely, the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

Does it get anymore exciting than this?

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For questions about baptism or to express you desire to be baptized on November 9, please contact Pastor Mike at mikep@ibcbellingham.org or at 360.733.0672.

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What We Won’t Regret

Anna_Michael_JohnI love this list of things from Kevin DeYoung about what we won’t regret:

We won’t regret playing hide and seek with our children.

We won’t regret turning off the t.v. and putting the phone away.

We won’t regret that one night (or week, or even season of life) we let the kids get happy meals just so they would be happy and we could survive.

We won’t regret singing the same hymns over and over until they became familiar enough to sing with the saints around a hospital bed.

We won’t regret the time we spent hiding the word in our hearts.

We won’t regret jumping in a pile of leaves every fall.

We won’t regret overlooking a lot of little things that bother us about our spouses.

We won’t regret kissing our spouse in front of the kids.

We won’t regret going to bed with a messy house if that meant we had time to chase the kids around in the backyard.

We won’t regret all the wasted time with friends.

We won’t regret laughing often and laughing loudly.

We won’t regret hugging our kids whenever they’ll let us.

We won’t regret the times the kids slept in our beds and the times in the middle of the night we had to carry them softly back to theirs.

We won’t regret being a little bit goofy.

We won’t regret asking for forgiveness, and we won’t regret forgiving those who ask.

We won’t regret dancing at weddings–fast and silly with our kids, slow and sweet with our spouse.

We won’t regret giving most people the benefit of the doubt.

We won’t regret commiting to a good church and sticking around.

We won’t regret learning to play the piano, read music, or sing in parts.

We won’t regret reading to our children.

We won’t regret time spent in prayer.

We won’t regret going on long road trips filled with frustrations, but full with memories.

We won’t regret letting our kids be kids.

We won’t regret walking with people through suffering.

We won’t regret trusting Jesus.

Thanks, Kevin. I don’t regret taking the time to think about this list. Now for the doing . . .

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