No Variation or Shifting Shadow

These are the words of James, the half-brother of Jesus, as he speaks about those good and perfect gifts coming down from the Father of lights to His children (James 1:17).  He says that there is no variation or shifting shadow, in other words, God offers consistent grace, ongoing gift-giving, and never-changing goodness to the one who asks for it in faith.  The context of this statement goes back up to 1:5-6,

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”

Do you see it?  See the contrast?  Left to ourselves and our thinking, we are tossed around by the waves of emotion and circumstance, human reasoning and the latest news article, but God is rock-solid!  He doesn’t read the paper and change His policy, put his finger up in the wind to see which decision will gain Him the greatest popularity … with Him there is no variation or shifting shadow.  James describes the man left to his own wisdom as “unstable in all his ways.”  My friends, the answer to instability, to ever changing circumstances and the highs and lows of our emotions is always the unchanging God who has delivered unchanging facts that render unalterable salvation to those who believe.  

Thanks Jeff for calling us to this Life on the Rock, may we dig down to the bedrock and daily build our foundation there!

Digging with you,

Pastor Mark

Condemned Sin in the Flesh

Romans 8 is favorite to many, how can it not be?  Paul offers the great comfort of the Gospel in freedom from condemnation and life in the Spirit.  I’ve had many different “favorites” over the years – 

8:28 – The promise of good for those who love Him

8:18 – A beautiful perspective on suffering

8:31 – If God is for us, what else do we need?

8:32 – He’s given us the greatest gift, why fret about the rest?

8:38-39 – Nothing can separate us from the love of God

8:15 – Adopted by Abba!

But I’m in love with 8:3 these days – “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”  I’m forgiven because He was forsaken, I’m accepted You were condemned!  What a glorious mystery – the substitionary atonement of Christ, our alien righteousness.  God’s justice executed, Christ’s death dealing the death blow, our sin forgiven and the Law fulfilled in us.  This is theology that sings, real Gospel work that compels faith and obedience.  

Brother, sister – you sin has been forgiven!  You face no condemnation.  Life is still hard and grief is still real, and often times the consequences for sins you’ve committed and sin that have been committed against you still hold a powerful sway over your life, but seeing our story inside God’s story DOES make all the difference.  Listen to N.T. Wright’s great words, “If God is at work He will do what He will do, and His purposes are always full of surprises.  But I am convinced that when we bring our griefs and sorrows within the story of God’s own grief and sorrow, and allow them to be held there, God is able to bring healing to us and new possibilities to our lives.”   My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.  Don’t wallow in the darkness when freedom is yours.  Take your grief to the cross, preach grace to yourself, and follow Him.

Forgiven and Free,

Pastor Mark

Loathing Legalism (and praying I’m not one in the process)

Thanks Tom for a good word on legalism and the cross on Sunday.  I also got to listen to Kip Green talk to our students about this at 90@9, and both caused me to pause and consider where I’m still the legalist.  Listen to John Piper’s take here, 

“… legalism means treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. In other words legalism will be present wherever a person is trying to be ethical in his own strength, that is, without relying on the merciful help of God in Christ. Simply put, moral behavior that is not from faith is legalism. The legalist is always a very moral person. In fact the majority of moral people are legalists because their so-called Judeo-Christian morality inherited from their forefathers does not grow out of a humble, contrite reliance on the merciful enabling of God. On the contrary, for the legalist, morality serves the same function that immorality does for the antinomian, the free-thinker, the progressive, namely, it serves as an expression of self-reliance and self-assertion. The reason some Pharisees tithed and fasted is the same reason some German university students take off their clothes and lie around naked in the park in downtown Munich. The moral legalist is always the elder brother of the immoral prodigal. They are blood brothers in God’s sight because both reject the sovereign mercy of God in Christ as a means to righteousness and use either morality or immorality as a means of expressing their independence and self-sufficiency and self-determination. And it is clear from the NT that both will result in a tragic loss of eternal life. So the first meaning of legalism is the terrible mistake of treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. It is a danger we must guard against in our own hearts every day. And please know that my old self is just as prone to it as anyone.”

Yeah, me too.  I made a list of where I run in my attempt to gain God’s acceptance … it gets rather ucky and deceptive the more “mature” you get 🙂

* Attempting to serve my wife … boy won’t God smile on me when I choose to put her first?

* Counseling the cross to people … He’ll like me more if I talk about the Gospel to others, right?

* My delight in the cross … I mean I’m getting the main thing, doesn’t that earn me something?

* My study, my preaching, my passion … it’s what I’ve given my life to after all, are you watching?

* Humility … yeah, I told you it gets pretty sick.  Humility that I’m not a legalist that I take pride in which squarely puts me in the category of trying to earn God’s favor through something other than the work of Christ.  So the cross centered humility actually gets exposed as self centered legalism, Ugh!

Tom, Kip, Piper – You exposed more of my “in process” heart to me, thanks and “thanks a lot” 😦

Only in the Cross,

Pastor Mark

Partnership & Purpose

Well, what’s on my heart this morning is how much I love talking about the Gospel, like I got to yesterday morning.  And the thing that enhances that all the more is, (1) to feel like I’m doing it with a group of people who thirst for it, want it, want God to use them.  I do feel so blessed by my pastoral partners Jeff and Tom, and by a group of elders that are my friends and partners.  Then to look out at a group of people who resonate with the message, even when it hurts (I saw some squirming yesterday).  You have no idea how that fuels the heart of a preacher, a pastor, a leader to do even better than he thought he was able to.  The Spirit of God uses you to strengthen me, how cool is that!  (2) to feel like we are moving somewhere for the right reasons.  There really just is such a sense of the Spirit of God at work in this community, and I’m excited to hang on as we step out in faith.  The blessing of praying with a room full of people on New Years Eve who so want the glory of God displayed in their lives, in our world, and in this community and beyond.  May God do as He wished through us in 2009!  Let’s do our part to be people of ONE message, people devoted to PRAYER, and people given over to LOVE!


Bring on 2009,

Pastor Mark