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Jesus did not die on the cross to improve our self-esteem. He died to atone for our sin. And yet the cross does teach us a crucial lesson about our worth: We are each worthy of the wrath of God. As a manifestation of God’s unmerited mercy, the cross reveals the depth and seriousness of our sin.

Anthony Hoekema points this out:

In today’s world there is little emphasis on the biblical doctrine of sin. But a person with a shallow sense of sin and of the wrath of God against our sin will neither feel the need for nor understand the biblical doctrine of justification. When sin is ignored, minimized or redefined we no longer live aware of our desperate need for Jesus Christ nor appreciative of what he accomplished on the cross for us.

Unless we understand the nature of sin and how offensive it is to God, we’ll never understand why the cross was necessary. We’ll never be amazed by grace.

~Robin Boisvert & C.J. Mahaney in How Can I Change?

Photo: OBMonkey

Alive

“And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground,
the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’”

Luke 24:5

I’ve been saving the following video to share with you since I first saw it during The Story Tour back in December. Even though I wanted to post it sooner, I knew it would be perfect to enjoy as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord this weekend.

In her song “Alive,” Nichole Nordeman beautifully captures one of my favorite scenes in the Resurrection story—the moment when Mary Magdalene first sees Christ alive again outside the tomb.

Natalie Grant provides the vocals for this powerful song…

Death has lost and love has won! May God fill your heart with joy and peace as you worship our risen Savior this Resurrection Sunday.

“Alive” is featured on the album The Story.

Alive

Who but You,
Could breathe and leave a trail of galaxies
And dream of me?

What kind of Love is writing my story till the end
With Mercy’s pen?

Only You.

What kind of king
Would choose to wear a crown
That bleeds and scars to win my heart?

What kind of Love
Tells me I’m the reason He can’t stay
Inside the grave?

You.
Is it You?
Standing here before my eyes,
Every part of my heart cries

Alive! Alive!
Look what Mercy’s overcome;
Death has lost and Love has won

Alive! Alive!
Hallelujah, Risen Lord,
The only One I fall before

I am His
because He is
Alive.

Who could speak,
And send the demons back from where they came
With just one Name?
What other heart
Would let itself be broken every time
Till He healed mine?

You.
Only You
Could turn my darkness into dawn;
Running right into Your arms
Alive! Alive!
Look what Mercy’s overcome;
Death has lost and Love has won

Alive! Alive!
Hallelujah, Risen Lord,
The only One I fall before

I am His because He is

Emmanuel, the promised King
the baby who made angels sing

Son of Man who walked with us,
Healing, breathing in our dust

The author of all history,
The answer to all mysteries

The Lamb of God who rolled away,
The stone in front of every grave

Alive! Alive!
Look what Mercy’s overcome;
Death has lost and Love has won

Alive!

I am His
Because He is
Alive.

Alive!

Photo: M Nota

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Since a Christian has no Savior but Christ, no Redeemer but Christ, and no Lord but Christ, if Christ is not raised, He is not alive, and our Christian life is lifeless. We would have nothing to justify our faith, our Bible study, our preaching or witnessing, our service for Him or our worship of Him, and nothing to justify our hope in this life or the next. We would deserve nothing but the compassion reserved for fools.

But, God did raise “Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). Because Christ lives, we too shall live (John 14:19). “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31)…

Those who do not hope in Christ alone for salvation are the real fools; they are the ones who need to hear your compassionate testimony about the triumph of Christ’s resurrection. So don’t forget the resurrection; rejoice in it and glory in it, for He is risen indeed

~John MacArthur in “Don’t Forget the Resurrection!

Photo: OBMonkey

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Your greatest need is not your financial situation. It’s not your health situation. It’s not your marriage situation. Our greatest need is not to be delivered from our circumstances as the Jews were hoping to be delivered from the Romans.

Our greatest need is to be delivered from our sin, from spiritual captivity. It strikes me that if we have been eternally redeemed from our sin, then we will have the resources of God at our disposal to deal with any circumstance that comes into our life. Because any circumstance that you could describe that would trouble or concern or unsettle you today is, at most, temporal.

God says our greatest need is for eternal redemption. Having that through the blood of Christ shed on our behalf, having been eternally redeemed—we can, with the indwelling Christ, with the power of His Spirit and the power of His grace, face any circumstance.

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “The Payment

Photo: OBMonkey

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The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants the church to buy is the idea that it’s dangerous and therefore needs to be kept in check. By believing that lie, we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in our lives and in the church by perpetuating our own slavery. The truth is, disobedience happens not when we think too much of grace, but when we think too little of it.

As a pastor, one of my responsibilities is to disciple people into a deeper understanding of obedience—teaching them to say no to the things God hates and yes to the things God loves. All too often I’ve wrongly concluded that the only way to keep licentious people in line is to give them more rules—to lay down the law. The fact is, however, the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. Grace alone melts hearts and changes us from the inside out. Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize that God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.

~Tullian Tchividjian in Jesus + Nothing=Everything

Photo: OBMonkey

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C.S. Lewis observed that what most distinguishes the gospel from legalism is that legalism says God will love us if we are good, while the gospel tells us God will make us good because he loves us. That’s a big difference—and getting your heart and mind around it will change your life. In the light of gospel grace, we’re liberated by the recognition that God loves us in order to make us lovely, not because we are lovely (we know we really aren’t) or could ever be lovely on our own. Love precedes loveliness in God’s economy; and his love is plenty big enough to actuate within us all the loveliness we could ever dream of.

Legalism keeps insisting that Christianity is all about how we perform for God; the gospel keeps proclaiming that Christianity, ever and always, is all about how God in Christ performs for us. When we transfer trust from self-performance to Christ and his performance, we finally leap out from under the burden of having to measure up on our own.

~Tullian Tchividjian in Jesus + Nothing=Everything

Photo: OBMonkey

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Once when I was on a long flight from Asia to Los Angeles, a woman from an adoption agency was sitting behind me, holding two beautiful Korean babies. I smiled, thinking about those two infants having no idea of the life they were heading into. Within seconds of that plane landing, their lives would be turned right side up. New names, new identities, a whole new family…all things new.

Second Corinthians 5 says: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, and the new has come!” Like those babies, when we first become Christians we can’t begin to comprehend the brand-new world we’re getting into. 

In Christ we have new identities, a new family, new citizenship and—at least in the Lamb’s Book of Life—brand-new names. It’s an unfolding adventure. So today, explore it and enjoy all that your Christian life really means.

~Joni Eareckson Tada in “Unfolding Adventure

Photo: OBMonkey

Getting the Big, Beautiful Picture

“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

Colossians 1:17

If I could go back in time and teach the younger version of myself a few things about the Christian life that I understand now, but didn’t then, one of them would definitely be this—the Bible is not primarily about me. This may sound obvious to you, but to a younger me, it was anything but clear.

For much of my life when I read my Bible, it was often out of a sense of duty or guilt, with the thought that I needed to do it because that’s what God wanted me to do. Delight was at that point pretty far off my radar screen.

Although I was a believer who knew Jesus Christ as my Savior, I somehow missed seeing the central role He played in Scripture. As I read about the lives of the heroes of the faith, I saw how I needed to be courageous like Daniel, patient like Job, or bold like Paul. When I looked at the life of Christ, my focus was often on how I needed to be more loving, more obedient, less selfish, etc., etc. In short, I spent most of my life thinking of the Bible as the manual that told me how to be a better Christian.

With that perspective, is it any wonder I wasn’t delighting in the Word? I’m so grateful that God has helped me to see the Scriptures from an entirely different perspective—a perspective that keeps Christ as the focus, instead of me. 

Yesterday, I listened to a tremendous message by Tullian Tchividjian in which he described how many Christians regularly make these same mistakes. He then went on to explain why it’s so important to realize that Christ plays the starring role throughout the entire Bible. I highly recommend that you listen to his message when you have a chance.

At the end of his message, Pastor Tullian read the following excerpt from The Jesus Storybook Bible, which he says is the best book to read if you want to understand the Christ-centered storyline of Scripture…

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this story is—it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece of the puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture…

[The Jesus Storybook Bible, pp. 14-17]

Such simple, beautiful, and life-changing truths.

You can watch the video or download the audio of Tullian Tchividjian’s
message
HERE.

Photo: Andronicus Riyono

Set Free from the Spiritual To-Do List

“He canceled the record of the charges against us
and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”
Colossians 2:14

Even though I came to faith in Christ at a very young age, it has only been in the last few years that I have begun to marvel over all that God has done for me through the Gospel. For most of my life, subtle forms of legalism and spiritual perfectionism kept me locked up in fear and pride instead of living in the freedom God’s grace provides.

In recent years, God has used teachers like C.J. Mahaney, Matt Chandler, and Tullian Tchividjian to open my eyes to beautiful aspects of the Gospel that I had somehow failed to grasp. In the following video, Pastor Tullian takes about 2 minutes to highlight a truth about our salvation in Christ that he believes many Christians regularly overlook… 

What a difference it makes to approach our Christian life not from the perspective of what we must do, but from the perspective of what Christ has already done! 

Image: Billy Alexander

When the World Hates You

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own;
but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world,
therefore the world hates you.”

John 15:19

Franklin Graham appeared on Fox News this past weekend to draw attention to the plight of Youcef Nadarkhani and many other Christians who are being brutally persecuted for their faith in the Muslim world. Pastor Youcef has been imprisoned in Iran since 2009 for converting to the Christian faith and has recently been sentenced to death. 

If you were Pastor Youcef’s wife, how fervently would you be praying for his deliverance? Let’s join her in pleading for the Lord’s intervention on Pastor Youcef’s behalf and for the salvation of his persecutors.

Please add your name to the American Center for Law and Justice’s petition to free Pastor Youcef HERE. Help spread the word by sharing the petition with your friends and family.

You can read the Newsweek article on the Muslim war against Christians HERE.

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Fruitfulness has always been the acid test of true salvation. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). When John the Baptist admonished his followers to “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8), he was speaking of good deeds (vv. 10-14). Paul said we are God’s workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10) John said that all who profess Christ should live as He lived (cf. 1 John 2:6).

Bearing spiritual fruit is not something you can achieve on your own. It “comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). Jesus Himself said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

You were redeemed to glorify God through righteous deeds. Make that your priority today.

~John MacArthur in “Cultivating the Fruit of Righteousness,” Drawing Near

Photo: OBMonkey

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I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. —Galatians 2:20 

I love the well-known words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” It makes the love of God sound so far-sweeping, so big, so world-sized. Yet Jesus did not generally die for the general sins of the whole world-at-large. The early witnesses who suffered most for being Christians were captivated by the fact that Christ “loved me and gave himself for me.” They took the act of Christ’s sacrifice very personally. And so should we. Jesus died specifically for your sins and mine. This is why I love Galatians 2:20. Jesus doesn’t wave his hand over the entire earth, brush-stroking everyone with his love. Rather, he “loved me and gave himself for me.” 

This is the way we should look at the sufferings and death of Christ. They have to do with me. The stripes on Christ’s back are about his love for me personally. It is my sin that cuts me off from God, not sin in general. It is my spiritual laziness that demeans the worth of Christ. And it is I as an individual who must plead for mercy. This is why I take great relief and delight in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

Is it possible that I can be one of his “friends?” Yes, I am his friend. Jesus paid the highest price possible to give me the greatest gift possible. Oh, joy! Jesus loves even me, and he calls me his friend!

~Joni Eareckson Tada  in “He Loves Me” Joni and Friends Daily Devotional, February 20

Photo: OBMonkey

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“One anothers” I can’t find in the New Testament

Sanctify one another, humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins, intensify one another’s sufferings, point out one another’s failings . . . .

The kind of religion we really belong to shows itself in how we treat one another. Every non-gospel positions us to treat one another badly, even with a sense of duty. The lovely gospel of Jesus positions us to treat one another well. But we will follow through on whatever we believe. The “one anothers” we practice reveal the religion we belong to.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

~Ray Ortlund

Photo: OBMonkey

Growing Slowly but Surely

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

In a post at the Resurgence this week, Elyse Fitzpatrick describes a struggle to which I can readily relate—the tendency to become paranoid about our own spiritual growth. It’s an exhausting way to live, and I praise the Lord for the ways He has graciously begun to redirect my focus from “what I need to do for Christ” to what He has already done for me. 

In her article, Elyse uses the illustration of a little boy who’s so eager to grow that he stands on his tiptoes to prove he’s getting bigger. If you’ve experienced similar frustrations in regard to your own spiritual progress, you’ll be blessed by this reminder that in Christ your growth in grace is guaranteed… 

I’ve been a Christian for forty years now and I still look around at other believers and wonder, “Am I growing? Will I ever get big? How come she’s so spiritual and I’m still struggling?” I look at my life and then I look at theirs and I think, “Will I ever grow?”

Then sometimes, when I’m at my lowest, I start searching through my “good deeds,” trying to stand on my tiptoes so that I can feel happy about myself. I so want to know that I’m doing better. I really do want to approve of myself, but the more that I try to discern growth in my heart, the move discouraged I become. Others are growing and changing. I’m still fighting with the same sins.

What do I need to hear? How does the Spirit speak to me? Like the loving mom in the vignette above, the Spirit continually reassures me, “You’re growing, because I’m at work. I’ve got this all well in hand and even your sin, the failures that make you think you’re shrinking, are the building blocks of a soul that is being fit for heaven. After all I’ve done to make you my own, would I leave you now?”

Here’s how Paul sought to encourage our timid little hearts: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

What I need to remember is that the Father didn’t spare his own Son, but gave him up for me. If he would do that, wouldn’t it stand to reason that he will grow me in the way I need to be grown, when I need to be grown? He’s already graciously given me everything I need to be pleasing in his sight. So I can rest in his work and wait for the fruit of it to appear in its season, in his time.  I can trust that even when I fail he’s using my failure to make me more like him–more humble, more dependent, and more thankful for grace…

Read Elyse’s entire article HERE.

Photo: Afonso Lima

Where’s the Love?

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

At a recent apologetics event with Ravi Zacharias at Constitution Hall, Michael Ramsden referred to an unusual source to highlight a powerful truth about God’s love for us… 

Image: Billy Alexander