By Rob Looper | August 6th, 2015 | Abortion, Planned Parenthood The truth can be horrifically ugly. Though we turn our heads, for example, from grisly historical images of genocide and recent videos of ISIS beheadings, we cannot deny the truth that men can and do inflict incredible evil upon other human beings. The recently released videos from the Center for Medical Progress have revealed this same evil is at work among us by exposing the ugly truth that the abortion industry is just that—an industry. Planned Parenthood, besides being a purveyor of legal murder, is clearly engaged in selling pieces or, as the most recent video has revealed, in some cases practically intact corpses of aborted babies for use in “research.” Several “health professionals” are clearly seen talking about methods that make the best “specimens” for sale. Quite aside from the moral repugnancy of these actions, it is illegal to sell fetal tissue from abortions. This is an ugly, ugly thing to think about. But we must not only think about it, we must take this opportunity to deal a blow to the abortion industry in general and Planned Parenthood in particular. As your pastor, I am urging you to take advantage of this moment to engage. I believe what follows is what God would have us all, as Christians, to do. First, you must inform yourself. Familiarize yourself with the facts of this current issue by going to the website of the Center for Medical Progress and learn about the Human Capital Project. Second, you must watch the videos. Yes, the videos are difficult to watch. The callousness of “doctors” talking about “specimens” while sipping wine in fancy restaurants is gut wrenching. To recoil is understandable—but to turn away is unconscionable. Third, you must pressure congress to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. A Senate vote last week failed, but there were several Democrat defectors—and there will be more if we keep the pressure up. There are several ways to go about this. Go here and sign the Center for Medical Progress petition; it calls for congress to investigate Planned Parenthood’s illegal sale of body parts. Such an investigation is in fact scheduled for this fall, in part due to this petition, but it is still important for as many people to sign it as possible to continue to demonstrate just how many are indignant. Go here to contact Jeff Miller (or your own congressman if you are outside of Pensacola) and urge him (or her) to defund Planned Parenthood. To recoil is understandable—but to turn away is unconscionable. The heat is on Planned Parenthood—God’s hand of providence is so powerfully clear here; while Planned Parenthood is reeling we must seek to plant the sword of truth deeply in its disgusting belly once and for all. Fourth, you must get involved, somehow, in Pensacola. Whether it means giving money or giving time or—even better, both—there are things we can do right here in Pensacola that will make an impact. Support and volunteer at Safe Harbor Pregnancy Medical Center. McIlwain has long supported this ministry—and there is some way that you can be involved. Click here to learn more. Practice peaceful, prayerful protest. Join a group of like-minded Christians on Friday mornings at 5:45 a.m. in front of Pensacola’s last abortion mill. It is located at 6115 Village Oaks Drive, which is behind Hobby Lobby off of Davis. Protesters are not allowed to park in the shopping center across from Hobby Lobby, but if drive to the end of the road you may park on the road next to a vacant lot. Several different groups meet there, but there is a group of folks from several churches, including McIlwain, who read Scripture, pray and often sing a hymn. If you want to attend, email me and I will give you more details. Fifth, you must pray. Pray that our government will end its funding of Planned Parenthood. Pray that he will use these recent and upcoming videos from CMP to change people’s hearts and minds about abortion. Pray that Christians across America will be convicted to take action—and that they would have courage to follow through. Pray for the closing of Pensacola’s last abortion mill—and pray that God would lead women in crisis pregnancies to connect. Safe Harbor. And pray for God to grant repentance—to our country, to Christians for their functional denial in this critical area and, if necessary, to you, for whatever excuse you have offered in the past for looking away and doing nothing. God is a gracious--and he will richly bless your prayer of repentance and faith in Christ and empower you to do his will in this so important time in which he has placed us. If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?(Proverbs 24:10-12 ESV)
By: Rob Looper
January 7, 2016 7:51 AM
By Rob Looper | April 2nd, 2015 | Good Friday, Reimagining Jesus, The Cross Many people “play” spirituality. Playing spirituality operates in pretty much the same way as does playing a game or engaging in a fun distraction or taking up a weekend activity: Your participation is voluntary, light-hearted, with minimal discomfort and enjoyable. It’s fun while it lasts, there is no pressure for a long-term obligation and, when it’s time to clean up for supper, get ready for bed or head back to reality after the weekend you put it down until the next time you want a little harmless, positive fun. You can’t play with Jesus. A person, even a whole movement, can play Christianity, or at least what they have imagined Christianity to be. But if anyone is determined truly to organize his or her entire interpretation of who Jesus Christ is, what he did (and continues do) and what it all means not only to his or her individual spiritual life but also to the very meaning of all of life for everyone, everywhere in all of history—then there will be no “playing” whatsoever. To begin with, engaging in this activity means we cannot make up our own rules about dealing with Jesus. We can only come to Jesus on his terms, which means we must use the only accurate source of information and interpretation of who he is and what he does: the Bible. This further means that we are not free to reinterpret Jesus for our own purposes or to make him more comfortable to us. This is essentially Paul’s warning to the church at Colossae in Colossians 2:8. The church in that ancient city was besieged by false teachers who were reinterpreting Jesus either through their own particular philosophical grids, for selfish gain (“empty deceit”) or by plain, ordinary worldly thinking. In every case Jesus came out serving the particular viewpoint of the reinterpreter. Paul essentially said, “Don’t fall for any of it—no matter how plausible from a human perspective their argument may be.” The main reason for his warning is because Jesus is God (“…in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”) and God cannot be “reshaped” to fit our personal interpretation. It is this truth—that in Jesus Christ is the “whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”—that makes the cross so significant. If Jesus had merely been a human prophet, then his death would have made him no more than a martyr. But because he was and is God in the flesh, his death was and is a triumph. Christ’s death on the cross is a triumphant death in several ways—but it is first a triumphant death because it dealt death its death-blow—a fact proven by what we celebrate not just on Easter but every Sunday morning, which verse 12 trumpets: God “raised him from the dead.” But it is also a triumphant death because, in his death Jesus led all those for whom he died in the same triumph over death, verse 12 also saying that “were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God.” What a glorious triumph, that we are raised with Christ in triumph over death—that we have the hope that death will not end our lives in separation from God! But the glory of the resurrection that is ours to share with Jesus comes largely by what Jesus did in his dying—and what happened to us in that dying. Throughout these verses Paul repeatedly uses the phrases “in him” and “with him” to describe what theologians call the doctrine of union with Christ. Simply put, God so identifies his people with Jesus, he so unites them with him, that everything he experienced on the cross the Scriptures say we have also experienced. Most critically, God’s wrath was poured out upon Christ in punishment—not of his sin, but ours. As Paul puts it in verse 13, God has in Christ’s death forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (2:13, 14) The triumphant death of Christ is our triumph because in it our sins are forgiven—paid for in full, the debt we owe set aside. This is triumph because we are always tempted to believe that sin is triumphing or will triumph over us. We are weak and we seem to be losing the fight—but the cross shouts to us that the fight has been fought and Christ has made the triumph: We are forgiven! This is why we cannot reinterpret Jesus; his death loses all value if we do not embrace it as his triumph for us over our sin and the eternal death that our sin deserves. If we try to embrace Jesus’ moral teaching apart from the cross, we deny that Jesus died for sinners who have no natural moral ability to obey. If we try to embrace the resurrection without the cross, we deny that Jesus had to die; the new life Jesus gives he gives only to those who were united with him in his death. Moreover, we have to ask what possible meaning can “resurrection” have apart from death? We glory in the resurrection, yes, but before the resurrection is the cross, and the triumphant death of Jesus upon it. The cross, then, is critical to all things truly Christian. It reveals all those who try to have Jesus or Christianity without the cross as deceived deceivers; as Paul says in verse 15, it puts “to open shame” every crossless idea and every one of the advocates of those ideas. Though Paul was initially addressing the pagan notion of spiritual “rulers and authorities”—essentially spirits of the spirit world—the triumph of the cross is still the same. Whether one numbers Jesus as merely one of many spiritual authorities of pagan spiritism or whether one marshals him as mere social radical who promotes the rights of the poor, the cross obliterates the viability of both, exposing them as powerless, ultimately human, ideas. There is no triumph in any view of Jesus except that of his offering himself as the sinless divine Messiah who defeated sin and death. That is why one cannot “play” with Jesus; he cannot be the object of light-hearted, shallow spiritual enamorment. We don’t “add” Jesus to our wellbeing resume or make him one of many voices on our RSS feed. The point is that we ultimately insult Jesus and even blaspheme God if Jesus and his teaching becomes one among many avenues for which we seek the development of our personal well-being or beef up our knowledge. Jesus can never be marshaled to any merely human perceived end without ultimately paying an eternal price—and there is no more powerful proof of this truth than the cross itself. From the human perspective, yes the cross was cruel—for hateful, wicked men abused and tortured Jesus—and they did it with evil joy. Yes, the cross is also tragic—for Jesus was executed as a common criminal though he was innocent of all possible human crimes. In fact, we are right to recognize the crucifixion as the ultimate of all human crimes, the murder of all murders. But it is impossible to understand the cross—indeed, the entire ministry of Jesus—in non-spiritual way, as if he and his real moment in history have only historical value. This is essentially the fatal flaw of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus; it attempts to explain Jesus and his power as a historical figure apart from spiritual reality. The result is a pitiful, cardboard cutout that resembles the world’s collective idea of who Jesus was and what he did. In other words, it isn’t the Jesus of the Bible, which means it isn’t the Jesus of history—who was, above all things, the One who triumphed by his death.
By: Rob Looper
January 7, 2016 7:48 AM
In the early 90s Lisa and I helped lead a Missions trip of high schoolers to London. We were serving in a working-class part of the city and staying in the rectory of an Anglican church whose pastor was Reformed and evangelical. It had been a busy week and we had seen some exciting things happen. It was exhausting, to be honest, and, alongside my initial jetlag I am sad to admit that I began to neglect my prayer time in favor of a little bit more sleep. I justified my lack of prayer time as a “special circumstance” and not a pattern. After all, what good would an exhausted chaperone be? By the time of our first Sunday morning there I was sleeping as late as I possibly could. That particular Sunday morning I woke with a start and was immediately crabby. I began to rush around and help corral the nearly two-dozen teens for showers and breakfast in order to make it in time for church. Well, teens are teens—they were slow and some were practically dead to the world (a bit like me that morning); they used up the hot water and others couldn’t find their Sunday clothes. It was like herding cats—and my frustration level increased. As I ran around barking orders I the thought entered my mind that, at least on the Lord’s Day, I should have taken time to begin my day with prayer. But it was too late for that now. I finally rushed back to the room that Lisa and I were blessed to have to ourselves to finally complete my own preparations—only I did not at all see the room as a blessing. In fact, the room had bedeviled me from day one because everything seemed to have been made for a child: it was half-sized. I had to duck my head to enter the room; I was forced to draw my legs up to sleep; the dresser and its mirror were more suitable for a hobbit than a human. So when I impatiently turned to the dresser to look into the mirror to tie my tie all I saw was me from my elbows down. That was it—I had had enough. I audibly growled at the inconvenience that I was forced into as I dropped to my knees and shouted, “This is ridiculous! I have to kneel to see!” As soon as those words left my mouth I finally saw my own face staring back at me—and I was completely rebuked. Of course I had to kneel to see! And I had failed to take time to kneel all week, on a trip that required just that kind of “inconvenience.” What I most needed that week was to stay refreshed and attuned to the Word and presence of God, to maintain a Godward perspective that allowed me to see through the eyes of Gospel grace. Then and only then could I truly see to the needs of the youth under my care—to be watchful over them. I speak to my Christian brothers: If you and I would act like men and be watchful—we must first be men of prayer. Charles Spurgeon was asked what was the secret to his powerful preaching and pastoral ministry; his answer was, “Knee work! Knee work!” Husbands—if we are not in regular, intentional prayer for our wives, for their daily needs and spiritual growth—then we are not being watchful over them, and we will not see that we are leaving them open to all manner of spiritual threats from our enemy. Fathers—if we are not praying for our children, like Job did, praying for their own relationship with the Lord, for their own growth in knowledge and discernment of spiritual things and for their standing in faith in their world—then we will not see that we are leaving them unguarded and open to threat in that same world. Men—not just elders and deacons—if we are not praying for McIlwain to be strong in the Lord, to grow in maturity and faith and to be a mighty witness for the Gospel and an oasis of God’s grace in Pensacola—then we are spiritually AWOL; we are not at our posts, staying awake, keeping our eyes open to be prepared for the spiritual threats that our enemy throws our way to discourage, distract and divide us. If we would act like men, then we must be committed to being watchful in prayer—over our homes, over this church—and yes, over our community and over our nation. So we must get on our knees and fight.
By: Rob Looper
January 7, 2016 7:45 AM
By Rob Looper | January 1st, 2015 | Few things are as satisfying as a good story. From the time we incessantly begged, “Just one more before bedtime, pleeeze!” to “I think I can get this next chapter done before I have to get some sleep”—stories have captivated us. Although different people are drawn to different types of writing, the common attraction among all is, I believe, the development of the story itself. It’s what keeps us reading. Heroes in impossible predicaments, sleuths combing through the scenes of “perfect” crimes, thawing of frozen relationships, tripping through the twists and turns of international intrigue—whatever the situation, we both love the story and want to see how it ends. Why, then, is it that we don’t approach the Bible this way? Isn’t it filled with drama, suspense, intrigue—and even romance? Sure, it is—more than that, it’s all true! But I believe we have a natural apprehension to reading the Bible as a story. There are a number of reasons for this—not the least of which being the suspicion that we aren’t supposed to actually enjoy the Bible but “get something out of it”—as if it were a kind of verbal medicine. I’m on a mission to change that for as many people as possible. The whole Bible is a story—God’s story—about the creation, fall and redemption of the people of God. The problem is that the Bible, though inspired by God, has been arranged by men, who grouped the books of the Bible by content and genre, not by chronology. Grouping by theme makes sense if you approach Scripture as if it were a spiritual encyclopedia—which may be one of the reasons the Concordance is perhaps the most used portion of modern study Bibles! If the Bible is indeed a story, it makes more sense to read it just like that—scene by scene, witnessing key character development, and experiencing how the passage of time heightens the increasing drama of God’s unfolding purpose. But how do read the Bible like a story if it isn’t arranged like a story? Well, thankfully, that question has been answered by the late John W. Kohlenberger, an evangelical scholar who developed a Bible-reading schedule that takes the reader through Scripture chronologically in one year’s time. By God’s providence I came across this schedule as brand-new Christian, and the first time I ever read through the Bible it was by using this format. It is the Bible reading format we have offered at McIlwain for the past 12 years. It was amazing to me to see the story of God’s promised grace unfolding throughout the history of the Old Testament into its fulfillment in the New. Kohlenberger drops the Psalms into their historical contexts so that you read, for example, David’s Psalms of repentance (32 and 51) as soon as you read the account of his affair with Bathsheba. The reading of Kings and Chronicles is interspersed with the writings of the prophets who were contemporary at the time. The same is true for the book of Acts and Paul’s letters. More than anything, this Bible-reading schedule will help head-off the near-universal complaint that most readers of traditional schedules give: “I just can’t see how it all relates and I got bogged down in all the details.” If you have never successfully read through the entire Bible, take this opportunity to make it through the Word this year. Even if you have a Bible-reading program, I want to encourage you to try this particular one this year. If you are interested, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond with the schedule. It’s only January 2, so it’s not too late to double up--for now. Don't wait too long, though. Even if this format is not for you—there are all kinds of through-the-Bible plans. Click here for a list of 12 different Bible reading plans, including M’Cheyne’s well-used and loved plan. Bottom line: read the Word—faithfully, every day and with a prayerful, teachable and expectant heart! God will bless!
By: Rob Looper
January 7, 2016 7:42 AM
A True Story By Rob Looper | October 31st, 2014 | Exactly 28 years ago, sometime between 11:00 pm, October 31 and 2:00 am, November 1, I was converted. Though I understand now that what happened then was the working out of God's foreordination before creation through his wise and inscrutable hand of providence by multiple means; and though I understand I was likely regenerated some weeks or even months before (or else I would not have begun to seek as I did)--the bottom line is that during that late night and early morning I experienced the reality of conversion. It was nothing less than the conscious engagement of my mind with the reality that I was at one moment one thing and then, in the next moment, I was something else; at one moment I did not trust in the grace of God in Christ and then, in the next moment I did. What follows is my testimony, originally written in the spring of 1987. Testimonies are, I fully realize, dangerous propositions. They can actually be mostly (or even all) about the testifier with little real testimony of the Gospel. Often they are long on the sordid past of the testifier and short on the present reality of being a new creation in Christ--allowing listeners the religious equivalent of rubber necking while driving by an automobile accident; you know you shouldn't look, but you just can't resist. This testimony, I hope, does what genuine testimonies are supposed to do: testify to the fact that 1.) I once was lost but now am found and 2.) Jesus was the one who found me. It is in two parts; the first I have left virtually unchanged from 1987 so that it reflects as genuinely as possible what I experienced 28 years ago. The second part has had only minimal editing, most of these being updates concerning the passage of time; it is an excellent window on how, in 1987, I was growing in the faith and learning to understand the world through the new eyes of God's grace. Lastly, though this is long for a blog post, it explains why Reformation Day has special meaning for me. A True StoryOctober 31-November 1, 1986 There was no use in even being in bed—there was no way that I could sleep. The ceiling never moved or changed at all the whole time I was staring at it. I didn’t see the ceiling anyway; I was looking past it. I don’t remember actually thinking of anything. It was more of an acute awareness, a stinging realization of what I really was and of where I was going. And through it all the emptiness weighed more than it ever had before, dragging me down, pulling me backward as if my very soul was being drained away at last. But there was no relief waiting on my soul. I knew that where my spirit was sinking toward was infinitely more painful than anything I could imagine, than any reality I could claim awareness of in this world. I squeezed my eyes shut. The emptiness grew. My eyes popped open again; at least there were no shadowy images looming over me when they were open. Weight after weight—every failure, every disappointment of my life—piled into the vacuum inside of me, the hole that was screaming to be filled life instead of the lies it had met at every turn. The utter helplessness began to swallow me, and as I slowly sank downward I realized that I wasn’t dying; I had always been dead. I had received all the warnings; I just hadn’t cared to heed them. At every fork in the road, at every junction of decision in my life, I had taken the route labeled “The Hard Way.” Only I hadn’t learned a thing. That is, until now. Now the futility of my life was laughing at me, pointing to every stupid choice, every lie I had believed. You should have known! You should have listened! You can’t play with fire and not get burned, boy! Empty. Emptier. An unlived life mocking me—so cruel, so finite—as I lie in bed staring at the ceiling. It hadn’t always been this way. I had such dreams! I was going to make music, music for the world to sing; I was going to make people happy with my guitar! I was going to take it all around the world, and be rich, famous, admired, do what I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to…how did I get so mixed up? That first cigarette. If I had known it would grow into three packs a day I would have never touched the flame to it. I cough blood into the sink; my lungs churn. That first joint. If I had known it would slash out whole pieces of my memory and cause me to forget what I was saying in mid-sentence I would have turned away in disgust. That first tab of acid. If I had known that it would dissolve what was left of my emotions—I carried my grandfather’s coffin, totally void of any grief; I couldn’t even cry when I saw the grave—I would have run away in horror. STUPID! What a fool you’ve been! You chose to destroy yourself. In the face of death you thought you could handle it all. How it’s mishandled you. I see that I am not an island, I am not the captain of my soul, but I see it too late...I can only steer myself toward death. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands...all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” My life—all of it, spinning in my brain—the dull pain beginning to numb my entire body, my senses…I have done nothing…I am doing nothing…I can do nothing. Oh, that solid ground were under my feet, that assurance and love cradled me…. “Their throat is an open grave…destruction and misery are in their paths…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . the wages of sin is death….” Here I am. The emptiness is sucking me into the pain that I have earned. I wait for my wages. Sinner. Sinner. Selfish, dirty, greedy, as filthy rags. How painfully clear I see myself as I am. The weight of reality is heavy, indeed! A burden pins me down, a weight too heavy for me to lift. What can I do? Where can I go? Who will give me life? I am a sinner…help me…! Jesus. Silence. All is still, quiet. Did I hear that? Jesus Christ. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” Suddenly, arms are stretched out…waiting to catch me. So warm, reassuring. I know that they will catch me. He has promised that He will. I guess I’ll just fall into those arms. Sleep. The few dewy seconds of semi-consciousness melt away. My eyes no longer flutter and I am awake. But, I am not simply awake; I am alive…as if newly born, a new creation. Something is different indeed. My step is not dreary, no burden traps me in bed to sulk. There is a new sweetness in the air that I breathe. The emptiness…could it be? No sagging weight pulls my mouth downward into a scowl; it is gone…it really is gone! I am free! I shower my first shower: through the window the first beaming rays of sun stream through the crystal spray. Dazzling tiny prisms—millions of them—dance in the steam. I eat my first meal, tasting food for the first time. What has happened to me? It is as if new life has settled into me—my thoughts, my perception. The new day goes on; what is this that has happened to me? Slowly, the night before comes into my mind. Only, now it seems so distant and foreign; I see another person lying in that bed, staring at that ceiling. Who is that despairing soul? Why does he agonize so over something he cannot possibly do for himself? Does he not know that Jesus has alre—Jesus?...that Jesus has already paid the ransom…and has overcome the world? It sinks in. Yes…yes! I know! My Lord and my God! TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS LATER Most everyone has carried a large, heavy box up a flight of stairs. You struggle against the awkward weight, gasping and grunting, your fingers squeezing the corners of the box with less and less control as it begins to slip from your grasp. Your back feels as if it will break, and your arms grow painfully weaker with every wheeze—but looking up, you see that the top of the stairs is only a few more steps away. Once you at last reach that final step you can finally let go. Oh, the flood of relief that flows over your tired, pained body when you are freed from your heavy burden! My life had become like that box. Only it was empty; empty with the heaviness of despair and purposelessness--and the stairway seemed to have no end. There was a void in my life that was screaming to be filled with the assurance that I was somebody, that my life had a purpose, and that I was loved. I had no idea who I was, nor any solid place to plant my feet and say, “This is how I know I am loved and why I know who I am.” I had bought the lie that as long as you believe in something and are sincere you will be fulfilled. I had believed in peace and love. I had believed in rock and roll. I had believed in drugs. Yet none of these were worthy of any faith. There was no truth in them; they were all counterfeit. Yet in this discovery I realized that it is not faith itself that is fulfilling but, rather, the object of faith. If you need to cross a stream, all the faith in the world in a rotten plank will still land you in the water; but only the slightest faith in a strong plank will get you to the other side. The important thing is that the plank will hold weight! Only Jesus Christ—and Him alone—is worthy of any faith. It isn’t a matter of trying to earn God’s favor by being good or going to church; it isn’t a matter of tithing, or of attaching yourself to the right religious leader, like a pastor or the Pope. It isn’t even enough to simply believe that there is a God—Satan himself meets this requirement! None of these things will bring us life and joy and peace, the promise of God. Only knowing Jesus Christ will bring that life. That night in bed something happened to me that no amount of wishful thinking could ever accomplish. What happened was a completely supernatural event: According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, the infinite, personal Creator of the universe made me into a completely new creature. In the months prior to that Halloween night I had become convinced of the reliability of the Bible, of the truth of Christ’s claims to be God, and that mankind was in a moral dilemma caused by sin: nothing less than spiritual death. I came to believe that Christ had left His position in heaven to take on human flesh and be born of a virgin, live a totally sinless life, and offer Himself as the sacrifice that would allow for the reconciliation of sinful man to God. The historical evidence convinced me that He had risen from the dead and was alive. But none of this alone meant a thing: “You believe that there is one God. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). Mere intellectual assent of these truths is not enough. That night in bed I saw that I was absolutely lost apart from Jesus Christ. There was only one thing I could do: Turn from myself. In doing that I in effect said to God, “I know that I am a sinner, and I stand condemned before You in Your holiness. I can do nothing to justify myself before You. But I believe that You, Lord Jesus, have been punished for my own sins and have borne my guilt on the cross; Your death should have been mine—but you took my place, and died for me. I rest only in Your perfect sacrifice for my salvation.” This act of faith—moving from mere intellectual belief about the facts of Christ to actually trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection alone—is nothing less than receiving the person and work of Christ into your life. The gospel of John says that, “…to all who received Him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Trusting in Christ, then, is recognizing your spiritual poverty and turning to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ. And you can only turn to someone who is really there. A fable won’t work. Just as being born physically is necessary for physical life, being born spiritually is necessary for spiritual life. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And Scripture makes it clear that this birth is a completely supernatural act performed by God. In the verse quoted above John goes on to say that those who become children of God are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (1:13). Also, it is important to recognize that the Christian faith is not a faith against reason; it is in fact the most reasonable conclusion one can reach--no blind leap is required! But there is a leap that must be made, and it is a leap of faith. It is a leap into the light, not into the dark! As Anselm, building upon Augustine, said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.” If we would make sense out of our lives, then we must turn to and trust the only One who can give us the truth. Faith is the key. Faith is both persuasion and power—and it turns us away from ourselves and takes God at his word, believing his promise. And it is faith alone—not faith plus obedience, not faith plus penance, not faith plus the right church. It is simple—and it is alone. The beauty of faith alone is that everyone, no matter what his or her standing in this world, must come to God the same way. Both the most backward of men and the most brilliant of scientists must come to God on His terms. Often Christians are accused of being more sentimental than thoughtful because they say things like, “I know that God is real because He lives in my heart.” Such statements are often attacked because they are said to be beyond the realm of verifiable proof. Ultimately, however, this is proof of God’s existence; those who have experienced the reality of His presence day by day through prayer, fellowship with other believers, and the study of Scripture are truly experiencing reality: They have come to know the living, personal Creator of the universe. The historical facts may lead to intellectual consent, but God stands on the other side of the chasm of sin with outstretched arms beckoning, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). Christ is the bridge over that chasm, and it is only when we cross that bridge, through trusting in Him, and step over to God that the reality of knowing God occurs. This is faith. What are the results? Christ meets us where we are, as unique individuals enslaved by the universal curse of sin. In my case I was immediately delivered from a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit; I had absolutely no craving for marijuana, acid, or any kind of drug; I never experienced one minute of withdrawal symptoms. In place of these God gave me a consuming desire to know Him, and I was filled with a peace that I had never thought could exist. I became hungry for the Bible, and within its pages I met not simply printed words but the risen, living Savior. 27 years have passed since that October night. And in every step I have taken I have found Jesus Christ to be faithful. As I have grown in Him, He has given me comfort, strength, and confidence in the reality of His presence. Broken relationships within my family have begun to be healed, and I have learned that, in order to communicate with others, we must first be able to communicate with God. And that is exactly trusting Jesus Christ makes possible: True communication with the God who is really there. He has given us His Word, and because of the Holy Spirit, who guides us in the truth, we are able to understand God’s communication to us, and we are also able to communicate back to Him through prayer. And He has been faithful to His promise that He would give to me His peace, a peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). I took Christ at His word. He kept it. His presence with me now by the Holy Spirit is His witness to me that He is not only with me, but that I belong to Him (Romans 8:15-17). On this witness I continue, in His presence my faith is realized and nurtured. Faith is not “sweating it out” till the bitter end, keeping my fingers crossed that Christ will show up one day and I’ll get to go to heaven. Faith is trusting God now with full assurance that what He has promised is true: Through Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of sins and a covering of righteousness. God is with me both now and forever! But faith is both a journey and a destination; heaven is not secondary for the believer. It is Jesus that I hunger to see, to fall down before the One who is my peace, my breath, my every heartbeat. How I long to see the face of the One who is now my joy and my hope! My life began October 31, 1986. The choice was clear: either hold on to myself, insist on controlling my own life, and utterly lose myself, or renounce myself, giving Christ complete control, and be found. I have been found! And all who come to Him will likewise be found. That is exactly what He has promised!
By: Rob Looper
January 7, 2016 7:39 AM
In studying for this week’s sermon on John 1:15-18 I discovered this sermon by C.H. Spurgeon. Entitled, “The True Tabernacle, and Its Glory of Grace and Peace,” it was preached on the Lord’s Day morning of September 27th, 1885 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England. What refreshment the Prince of Preachers still offers! …if God has come to dwell among men by the Word made flesh let us pitch our tent around this central tabernacle; do not let us live as if God were a long way off.To the Israelites God was equally near from every quarter of the camp. The tabernacle was in the center, and the center is equally near to every point of the circumference. No true Israelite could say, “I must go across the sea, or soar up into the air, or dive into the depths to find my God.” Every Israelite could say “He dwelleth between the cherubim: I have but to go to His tabernacle to be in His presence and speak with Him.” Our God is not far from any one of His people this day. We are made nigh by the blood of Christ. God is everywhere present, but there is a higher presence of effectual grace in the person of the only begotten. Do not let us feel as if we worshiped a far-off God. Let us not repine as if we were deserted. Let us not feel alone, for the Father is with us: “God is near thee, therefore cheer the sad soul.” Open thy window towards Jerusalem, as Daniel did; pray, with thine eye upon Christ, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead bodily the greatest nearness to us. God is never far away since Christ has come to dwell among men. …What next shall we do? Brethren, since God in Christ is in the midst of us, let us abide in joyful, peaceful confidence in Him who is grace and truth to us. Do not let us wander to other sources. To whom should we go? Shall we leave our God? Shall we leave His grace, His truth? Do not let us dream that He has changed, for He is God. Do not imagine that He has removed, for He hath said. “This my rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” Do not let us conceive that His grace and truth are exhausted; for His fullness is eternal. Let us receive strong consolation, and remain steadfast, unmovable. Let us quietly rest in the firm belief that all we can want between here and heaven, all that we need this moment and in all moments yet to come, is treasured up in Christ Jesus, who is abidingly the center of His church and the manifestation of God.
By: Rob Looper
June 16, 2014 10:51 AM
Whenever I have the privilege of introducing myself as a Presbyterian pastor, more often than not it is usually with the caveat that I am pastor in “the other Presbyterian church.” That, of course, is not strictly true, because there are several Presbyterian denominations in America: the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Bible Presbyterian Church and, my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America.There are, of course, still others not listed here, but what is significant is that most of these denominations (the venerable and historic ARP and RPCNA notably excepted) came into being because of the deadening grip of liberal, progressive theology in the two historic mainline Presbyterian denominations, the PCUSA (historically a Northern Church) and the PCUS (a Southern Church); the two joined as one national denomination in the 1980s as the PCUSA. Though there are individual PCUSA congregations that are theologically conservative, at the General Assembly level this denomination essentially denies the evangelical and Reformed distinctives that have historically defined the Presbyterian Church: the verbal inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture; the virgin birth, deity of and bodily resurrection of Christ; and the truth that faith “in Christ alone” is the one way of sinners to God (see John 14:6). In light of these things, the recent rejection in the PCUSA of the Townend-Getty hymn “In Christ Alone” because of the words “till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” is not only no surprise, it is completely understandable. Once one denies the Bible truly and authoritatively is God’s word, all that is left is human spin. You don’t like the wrath of God? That’s okay—in our modern enlightened state we “understand” that the writers of the New Testament had a hard time shaking the primitive, patriarchal view of God that their forbears possessed. Today we “know” that God is kinder and gentler—pure love. It was just this kind of denial of biblical theological truth that ultimately led thousands of Bible-believing Presbyterians in 1973 to leave the then-PCUS to form the Presbyterian Church in America. The congregation I am privileged to serve as Pastor, McIlwain Memorial Presbyterian Church, was a leading congregation in this national movement; one of our congregants, the honorably retired evangelist-missionary Rev. Arnie Maves, boasts the honor of being the very first man to be defrocked by the Florida Presbytery (PCUS) for engaging in activity that led to the formation of what would become the first Presbytery of a denomination that had the audacity to believe the Bible was really the holy and inerrant Word of God. J. Gresham Machen would have been proud. Biblically speaking, though, the love of God is actually defined by the reality of the wrath of God. From the Bible’s perspective, the reality of God’s wrath toward sin could not be clearer. That wrath arises from God’s moral and ethical perfection—that is, he is both good and just. Both of these attributes are in fact what establish God’s wrath as the good and just response against evil. Indeed, apart from the reality of the perfect wrath of a holy and just God we have no confidence that evil will be judged as evil. But what is extraordinary about the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God is that it is always put alongside the love of God: …but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10, ESV; emphasis added) We will never appreciate the love of God until we have had a personal face-off with the wrath of God. Simply put, the Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard (see Romans 3:23). What this means is that, by the nature of that reality, we are liable to the just punishment that sinners deserve, which is God’s wrath. Because God is morally and ethically perfect—good and just—he must show his wrath against sin, which assaults goodness and justice. Indeed, if he God doesn’t pour out his wrath on sin he is neither good nor just! It is precisely at this point that the awesome love of God comes into magnificent focus. Romans 3 tells us that this very God, who is filled with just wrath toward sin, is the same God who himself presented Jesus, who was and remains God incarnate, “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…”(Romans 3:25). The word “propitiation” is the key: it directly refers to the satisfaction of wrath. The point is this: God’s love is manifested in the fact that God was most definitely “not fair” toward sinners! Instead of giving us what we deserve—his just wrath—he gave us what we didn’t deserve: grace! What is more, God himself, in the second person of the Trinity, is the very One who satisfied that wrath. That is the epitome of love—that he “loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20) so that I might escape what I deserve and instead be redeemed to glorify God and enjoy him forever! What is sad about the “In Christ Alone” controversy in the PCUSA is that, in rejecting the biblical truth of the wrath of God, the leaders of that denomination have completely erased any context for defining how the cross could possibly magnify God’s love, as they suggested the words be altered to say. What was Jesus dying for if the cross was not the place where God displayed his wrath against sin? What in fact is sin if it is not the moral assault of God’s holy character and commands? More than that, why did Jesus even come? Yet all of this begs the question: the liberal, progressive theology the PCUSA has endorsed already denies the real fall of Adam that cast us into sin and rejects that Jesus is in fact God incarnate who died for sinners and was physically raised from the dead—so it really can’t affirm the wrath of God because there is no need for such personal redemption in the first place. That is a lie from one place: the pit of Hell. So, this Sunday at McIlwain Presbyterian Church we will be singing “In Christ Alone”—just as we have done many times before—as we celebrate that the love of God, where “the wrath of God was satisfied.” That is indeed how the love of God is magnified.
By: Rob Looper
March 7, 2014 8:40 AM