The Power of the Cross of Jesus Christ

“The cross of Christ is

the door to heaven,

the key to paradise,

the downfall of the devil,

the uplifting of mankind,

the consolation of our imprisonment,

the prize for our freedom.
The cross of Christ is…

the safeguard of our faith,

the assurance of our hope,

and the throne of love.

It is also the sign of God’s mercy and the proof of forgiveness.

By his cross Jesus has redeemed us from sin and atoned for our punishment.

The way to peace, joy, and righteousness in the kingdom of God

and the way to victory over sin, despair, and death is through the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Abbot Rupert of Deutz (12th century)

Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. – Acts 14:22

No other faith of mankind, religious or political, has quite so extensive a record of violent bitter opposition to its growth than the Christian church.
– Kenneth Scott Latourette

It may seem strange that Jesus should pass from peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. Yet however hard we may try to make peace with some people, they refuse to live at peace with us. Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed. Indeed, some take the initiative to oppose us, and in particular to revile or slander us. This is not because of our foibles or idiosyncrasies, but ‘for righteousness’ sake and ‘on Jesus’ account’, that is, because they find distasteful the righteousness for which we hunger and thirst, and because they have rejected the Christ we seek to follow. Persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value-systems. – John Stott

“Rejoice and be glad!” What can justify such counsel to people in pain? I see two possibilities: either this is the talk of an insensitive, ivory tower theologian who has never known what it is to scream with pain, or this is the talk of one who has seen
something and tasted something and knows something about a reality that most of us have never tasted or glimpsed. – John Piper

A Few Great Quotes from St. Augustine on Worship

Augustine: “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace till they rest in you.”

“He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves
not for Thy sake.”

“If the things of this world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love
away from them and give it to their Maker, so that in the things that please you
may not displease Him.”

John Piper:

Are we in bondage to the pleasures of this world so that, for all our talk about the glory of God, we love television and food and sleep and sex and money and human praise just like everybody else? If so, let us repent and fix our faces like flint toward the Word of God. And let us pray: ‘O Lord, open my eyes to see the
sovereign sight that in your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore’ (Psalm 16:11).

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther and Calvin

Five Keys to Authentic Community (Romans 16:1-16)

We all desperately need community. This hit me again with great force recently as I was watching the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo” starting James Caviezel as Edmond Dantes. Abbe Faria, aka the Priest, becomes a lifeline to the weary Dantes during his stay at the prison, Chateau d’if. Abbe is a great scholar who gradually transforms the unschooled Dantes into a wise, learned and cultivated man. The beginning of the movie sets forth the power of community to endure adversity and hardship.

Romans 16:1-16 also sets forth the power of community and gospel partnerships. It highlights at least five secrets to discovering genuine New Testament koinonia. This more or less summarizes my desire for our church over the past 8 ½ years.

What are these five keys? Concern (love for one another), a Christ-centered life, the importance of the cell group, a common cause, and candor. To put it more simply our church must serve as a home and a mission. (NOTE: The above sentence and basic outline of this post comes from a talk on genuine fellowship from Sam Shoemaker. The last phrase of the church serving as a home and a mission comes from Randy Pope and Perimeter Church.)

A local church can be a place of health and beauty when it follows God’s pattern.

  • Concern (deep affection and love for one another). People matter. People were important to the Apostle Paul. How so? Note that Paul says something specific about virtually every person greeted. He enjoyed real relationships of love.

One Scripture commentator declares that Romans 16 is one of the most instructive chapters of the New Testament. Why does he say such a bold statement: “Because it encourages personal relationships of love in the church” (Emil Brunner)

Notice first of all the affection and love that Paul has for his friends. “Greet my beloved Epaenetus (v.5)… greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord (v.8)… greet my beloved Stachys (v.9)… Rufus’ mother who has been a mother to the Apostle Paul (v.13). The word ‘beloved’ means dearly loved.

This list of greetings opens a door into the everyday world of the first century church – it’s a home. This chapter serves as a hall of family portraits of our brothers and sisters who’ve gone before us. It also affords us a remarkable portrait of the heart of the Apostle Paul.

The warmth of Christian friendship evident in these verses (with so many indications of warm affection) remind us that in a world of fractured families the church is so often the first family where men and women find the warmth for which they long.

(How do you and I experience this type of authentic community? Christopher Ash is the Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, and was previously the minister of All Saints Church, Little Shelford, near Cambridge. He declares that the only way to experience this type of community is “not in being passengers but rather by being active servants alongside others.”)

  • A Christ-centered life – The gospel matters. We share life together in Christ. On what are you centered?

Everyone has a “Center”.  Everyone lives for something–something that we think will give us a sense of significance and satisfaction. We all then have a “personal center.” That which is your bottom line. Your ultimate value by which you sort through all the activities of life and set priorities?  It may be money, career, possessions, appearance, romances, approval from a certain peer groups achievement, marriage, children, friendships – or a combination of a several.  Without this “bottom line”, your life would be completely meaningless.

(In Romans 16:1-16, the phrase “in Christ… in Christ Jesus… in the Lord” is used ten times). With whom do we have the privilege of advancing the gospel? We serve together with those who are beloved in the Lord (v.8). (v. 9 – the phrase “fellow workers,” v. 10 – “approved in Christ”, v.13 – “chosen in the Lord”).

  • Cell (house church… small groups). Small groups/community groups matters. Aquila and Prisca. Notice the phrase: “The church in their house” (v.5). 1 Corinthians 16:19 “Early Christians gathered on a regular basis in the homes of leading members.

Such groups not only were intimate for the members but apparently represented nonthreatening environments in which to do evangelism.

The development of authentic community life requires significant face to face relationships. Deliberate effort. It will not happen in worship or other Sunday morning ministries.

Cocooning is the name given to the trend that sees individuals socializing less and retreating into their home more. In the 1990s, Faith Popcorn suggested that cocooning could be broken down into three different types: the socialized cocoon, in which one retreats to the privacy of one’s home; the armored cocoon, in which one establishes a barrier to protect oneself from external threats; and the wandering cocoon, in which one travels with a technological barrier that serves to insulate one from the environment. We now can live in physical isolation while maintaining contact with others through the internet.

  • A Common Cause – Advancing the gospel matters. We desire to see others come to find hope, life and salvation in Christ. Expand and grow our family… (Notice the words used in v.14-15 – brothers and saints – Process of seeing natural enemies transformed into brothers… and sinners transformed into saints).

(Epaenetus – “The first convert to Christ in Asia” (v.5)

Prisca and Aquila were tentmaking missionaries and helped Paul start the church in Ephesus and had been instrumental in the church in Rome.

This passage calls for maximum effort to further God’s cause, extend Christ’s kingdom, and make the Savior known. We should do this will the same intensity that a runner has when he has his eye on the finish line.

(What will it demand of us in building this type of authentic community?)

  • Candor (What will it take to build this type of community that truly advances the gospel?) Let’s be honest.

It will demand sacrifice and hard work (Scholars debate whether Phoebe is a servant in a general sense, or whether she served as a deacon. She served as a patroness, probably with financial assistance and hospitality. Apparently Rufus’s mother (Mark 15:21 – Rufus’ father was Simon of Cyrene) ministered significantly to Paul.

It says that Tryphaena and Tryphosa and Persis “worked hard in the Lord” (v.12). It is important to note that women had a significant place in the life of the early church and engaged in significant ministry.

It will demand risk taking (v.4). Prisca and Aquila risked their lives when Paul was in danger in Ephesus (Acts 19:23–41; 1 Cor. 15:32).

Where is God calling you to take risks?  This week we’ve seen many people risking their lives to save others.  One great gambler for God in the past was C.T. Studd. He was a man who “hazarded (gambled with) his life for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26).  He once wrote:  “No craze so great as that of a gambler, and no gambler for Jesus was ever cured thank God!”  He was willing to jeopardize his own life to magnify and make known the name of Jesus Christ.  Are we?

It will demand a willingness to suffer (v.7 – fellow prisoners). Bravery, at some point you will have to stand firm for Christ against some type of opposition, belittling and ridicule.

Conclusion: God calls us regularly to reflect on what it cost Him to make us members of His family. This galvanizes us to make any sacrifice to serve Him. In fact, C.T. Studd intones: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then there is no sacrifice too great for me to make for Him.”

Facing the Temptation to Live Out of a False Center

temptation-of-christ-rohann-zuliennHow often we base our identity in what we possess, what we do, and how others perceive us. Now if Jesus was tempted to live out of these false centers and gain his sense of identity from possessions, actions, and esteem of others, how much more we who are the adopted sons are called to confront this ever-present tendency in our hearts.

All three of Christ’s temptations in the wilderness were temptations to live out of a false center… to gain his sense of identity from something other that the love and delight of His heavenly Father.

First the tempter invited Jesus to turn stones into bread, But Jesus said no to this diabolical invitation to establish himself on the basis of his doing.

Then the tempter invited him to throw himself from the top of the temple into the crowds below, so they would immediately recognize him as the Messiah. Again Jesus rejected the temptation. He chose not to base his identity on the acclaim of others.

Finally the tempter offered him all the kingdoms of the world. But once again Jesus rejected the offer, refusing to find his identity in possessions and power.

Where are you prone to try and find your sense of identity? Is it in your possessions, power, approval and esteem of others? Is it by your success in your career?

Jesus knew who he was before God and in God. He could therefore resist temptations to live his life out of a false center based on possessions, actions or the esteem of others. In Christ, we can do the same!

A Pastoral Charge to Young Men Everywhere

Not long ago, a friend of mine had a son who was turning 14 years of age. He asked me to give him a brief charge. Below is the letter I wrote to this young man.

You may not remember me, but I know your dad and he asked me to share with you what the Lord might want you to think about as you reach this important milestone in your life of turning 14 years of age.

You are in the midst of a most important transition from boyhood to manhood. It’s hard to know exactly when you stop being a boy and become a man. But, I do think the Bible reveals that a man is one who… rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously and expects a greater reward. (From Raising a Modern Day Knight)

First of all, reject passivity. As you grow up, you will find that the proverbial wheels fall off the wagon in all of our relationships when men are passive. If you’ve ever read about Adam and Eve and the fall of mankind in Genesis 3, you know that what got them in trouble in the beginning was the passivity of Adam. Adam should have taken the initiative to protect Eve from the seduction of the devil. He carelessly exposed and left her alone to face the tempter. Let me encourage you to reject passivity at every turn. Pray that the Lord would make you into a loving and servant leader like your Lord and Savior, Jesus. The Bible tells us that he is the second Adam who obeyed His Father perfectly and always resisted the advances of our adversary. In fact, he laid down His life to absorb the curse of sin and death brought about by Adam’s fall.

Secondly, accept responsibility. Most folks have a big problem with this. We naturally gravitate towards blame shifting and shaming others when something goes wrong and unravels in our lives. Again, you see this in Genesis 3 when the man blames the woman and then the woman blames the serpent. No one wants to take responsibility for what went dreadfully wrong in the Garden of Eden. One sure sign that the gospel cure has begun in our hearts is that we are able to admit when we are wrong and apologize and ask forgiveness. Growing as a Christian doesn’t mean that we sin less. Yes, we might not succumb to certain overt sins, but we face more and more the deceitfulness of our own idolatrous hearts and we are continually aware of our need of God’s grace.

Thirdly, lead courageously as Christ’s servant. At times the Arctic chill of loneliness will blow into a leader’s life when you have to take a stand for Christ. I would encourage you to secure a copy of my favorite biography. It is entitled Borden of Yale. It chronicles the life of a young man named Bill Borden. He went to Yale University as an undergraduate and afterward became a missionary candidate to China. Heir to the Borden Dairy estate, he was a millionaire by the time he graduated high school. As a gift on the event of his graduation, Borden was sent on a trip around the world. Traveling throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe, he experienced a growing concern for the hurting and lost of the world. He wrote home to say, ‘I’m going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.’ After making this decision, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: ‘No Reserves.’ 

From there Borden went on to Yale University with purpose and determination. During his first semester he began a campus-wide student movement to meet regularly, read the Bible and pray. By the end of his first year, 150 fellow freshmen were meeting for weekly Bible studies. By the time he was a senior, 1,000 out of Yale’s 1,300 students were joining together in these groups. Beyond the campus, Borden founded the Yale Hope Mission to reach out to the under-resourced and under-privileged on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut. All of this was set in the context of his call to foreign missions, which soon focused on Muslims in China. After graduation, Borden was offered numerous high-paying jobs, but all were declined in order to pursue the mission field. At this point, he wrote down two more words in the back of his Bible: ‘No Retreats.’  He committed to hold nothing back in serving Christ.

Borden next went to graduate school at Princeton Seminary, where he was ordained to the ministry. After he finished his studies, he set sail for China through the China Inland Mission, stopping first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted meningitis. In less than a month, William Borden was dead. He was twenty-six years old. But before his death, knowing that the steps of his life would take him no further, he had written two more words in his Bible; beneath ‘No Reserves’ and ‘No Retreats’ he had written ‘No Regrets.’ I hope that you’ll adopt his motto as your own: No reserves, no retreats, and no regrets.

Here’s a brief poem that was given to Bill Borden by his mother when he was young boy. Make this poem your prayer during the days of your youth. Don’t wait to follow hard after Jesus.

 

Just as I am, Thine own to be.

Friend of the young, who lovest me,

To consecrate myself to Thee –

O Jesus Christ, I come.

In the glad morning of my day,

My life to give, my vows to pay,

With no reserve and no delay –

With all my heart, I come.

I would live ever in the light,

I would work ever for the right,

I would serve Thee with all my might –

Therefore to Thee I come.

Just as I am, young, strong, and free,

To be the best that I can be,

For truth and righteousness and Thee –

Lord of my Life, I come.

Fourthly, expect a greater reward. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 reminds us of the ultimate reward: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

How wonderful to one day hear from your Savior’s lips “well done my good and faithful servant. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.” I hope that this ultimate reward will be more real and beautiful and wonderful to you than anything else in your life. It won’t be always. Thus, keep running to the cross and experience anew the Lord’s pardoning grace found there.

Let me close with the simple challenge from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:13: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” You are transitioning to manhood. Act like one. The best way I know to learn more about what that looks like is to commit yourself to grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Your friend,

Dick Cain

 

An Inspiring Definition of Evangelism

Yesterday, our pastors led us through what is the gospel and discussed ways that we can practically share the gospel with others. We enjoyed hearing a testimony of one of our own who recounted how he recently led a person to faith in Jesus. It caused me to remember this great definition of evangelism that has inspired me through the years:

“To evangelize is to so present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.”1


1                   Anglican Archbishops’ Committee of Inquiry into the Evangelistic Work of the Church, 1918.  Quoted by Ed Dayton, Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, p. 52.