Friday, November 24, 2006

In the Lord

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.
(Philippians 3:1 – ESV)

Rejoice “in the Lord” – what does that mean? Really, now, what does rejoicing, when coupled with “in the Lord” mean? Well, some think that it means to be doing something joyful, and then by the virtue of being a Christian, we are then rejoicing in the Lord. It would be somewhat like if we were children at school and we were having a good laugh we would be rejoicing in the schoolhouse. In this thinking we would focus on the rejoicing part to mean that it is just the rejoicing itself that is the focal point of this question, and since we are already in the Lord as Christians it simply means to be happy at the particular time. We would be trying to find a way to get our joy, to focus on joy, that is how we are to live in the Lord. You might be able to restate it thus: those of you in the Lord, rejoice. Is this all that Paul means, though?

In a sense we can say that this could be fine as far as that goes, for yes, we should have joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Indeed the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Now think about that last statement for a minute. Friends, I have a different proposition to a make to you. When Paul speaks of rejoicing in the Lord, he is not suggesting that it is about a spirit or an attitude but about Christ Himself, that is the key. We rejoice, not in situations or circumstances but in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not a “way” of rejoicing but a “who” of rejoicing. Rejoicing in the Lord means to be rejoicing about who Jesus Christ is.

This is what we need to learn. This is the process of joy, the process to enjoy Christ as our all in all. Our desire builds as we discover the rich truths of His grace, not so much when we “do stuff”, even like ministry or using spiritual gifts. We need teachers who will teach us and believers who will help us to see the excitement in that, not to be bored. That is the problem; we are trying to find new ways to rejoice and new things to rejoice about as Christians, instead of finding ourselves rejoicing about Jesus Himself. We are focused on the joy instead of focusing on Jesus. When we focus on Christ alone we will have the One True thing we can have true joy in. We have to learn that but it takes time and real effort in a sense, and many people won’t do it so that is why we have to have so much other stuff instead of what should truly be our joy. If you truly want to be able to rejoice, rejoice in the Lord.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Peace In Our Place

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:7 – ESV)

Paul had spoken of a dispute between two ladies in the church, and he describes the process of peace to the Philippians. In verses two and three of chapter four Paul points to the bottom line, the starting point in the process of peace; to realize that the people in question were all believers.

In verse 4 Paul says to rejoice in the Lord, to think about Christ, and let those whom are in disagreement with each other agree about the worth of Christ together.

In verse 5 Paul is saying to use mercy as another means to help with disputes and to foster joy in the community (James 3:17). It is putting others before you, recognizing Jesus as present within the community to help in this matter. This describes people who are free to let go of anxieties and the things that cause stress, because they know that the Lord will take up the cause.

This has to be cultivated; verse 5 says that our reasonableness must “be known to everyone”. Not just those whom we are in essential agreement with, such as Christians, but also those who we are not in agreement with at all. We will not be able to turn the switch on and off; it is a lifestyle as much as a choice. Even outside the context of the Christian community we must allow the Lord to fight our battles for us without us becoming like the world in bitterness, malice, and evil plotting. James 5:8-9 – the Lord is always a moment closer to coming back than He was a moment ago (Romans 13:11).

In verse 6 Paul explains that prayer is an obvious means of overcoming obstacles to peace. Through prayer God reveals what the obstacles are, we see the problems within ourselves that we can handle and we gain perspective on those things we have no control of, and we ask God to control them or to give us wisdom in how to deal with them. We pray for peace in our fellowship, while at the same time remaining ready to give and receive mercy and rejoicing together around the person of Jesus Christ, with thanksgiving.

This has all lead up to verse 7, where we find our fellowship “getting the peace”. If we do these things that Paul has discussed in verses 2 through 6, this will be the result; God will provide, guide, protect and direct us to peace with one another, and He will make us of the same mind (set). It will be beyond human comprehension. We cannot understand it but we can experience it. It comes to us most clearly and powerfully, not in individual situations, but rather within the context of Christian community, as Paul is explaining here and elsewhere (Colossians 3:12-16). Relate this to what Jesus said about His peace and unity with God the Father, Son, and Spirit in John chapters 14-17.

The peace happens when you do these other things together. This is the process of joy and peace, the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). It is not arguing incessantly about meat, drink, or anything else, it is a clear understanding of Christ working among you and you see that you need to do these things Paul just talked about. It is worth it, for sure. It comes through our unity in community through working through our diversity. This same mind, this mindset, will be the same one Christ had when He came to earth, the same one He has now, and the same one He wants us to have, and prayed for us to have. Peace and joy are linked; they are both facets of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Out of our love for the Lord and for each other these spiritual answers to disputed things begin to flow. They lead to longsuffering, and on down the line to number nine, self control. There is joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Turning the Pages of Peace

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.
(Philippians 4:2 – ESV)

When looking at this verse, and the verses surrounding it before and after, they give us an object lesson – this is what to do with quarrels in the church. Verses one, two, three, and four say “stand firm thus in the Lord”, “agree in the Lord”, “help…me in the gospel”, and “rejoice in the Lord”. Start with the bottom line – we love Christ, we love each other, and we want to further God’s kingdom with the gospel. We must remember, and apparently they forgot, that everything else was less important than that common ground. We may disagree as to how we do these things, but we must start by agreeing that we want these things.

We may not be happy because we are not on the same page with someone, but we can have joy because we are at least in the same book, and all we have to do is turn some pages together, and with the help of others we can be seeing things the same way again. Also remember Philippians 3:15-17, lets make sure we are pressing on to maturity by knowing we are not perfected yet, by forgetting what was behind that we did wrong, by striving to learn more, by following the lead of others whom are our mentors, by doing what we know to do already, and by realizing those whom are mature in this way will be led by the Lord to discover and discern what is right.

These ladies weren’t heretics or apostates they were true believers, “whose names are in the book of life”. Even true believers can have disagreements. We can disagree vigorously without dividing. Do we trust God in the context of community? When we think of joy as coming from this order – Jesus / Others / You – we will be fostering joy in ourselves and in others. We have seen Christ, Paul, Timothy Epaphroditus, now the two ladies, an unnamed man, Clement, and countless others, all part of the process and the progress of joy. Disputes are inevitable, and are often necessary in order to iron our error, but how we handle, or process them is the key to whether we stay of the same mind or we split. The “same mind” (KJV) means toward the same goal, that of unity in verity, fellowship around the truth in Christ not the truth from self.

Monday, November 20, 2006

To the Letter

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?
(Luke 10:29)

The parable of the Good Samaritan has been taught on countless times, and it has much to show us with regards to the presumption of faith. There are several things that we need to point out here. First, the lawyer obviously had the wrong motive for asking Jesus this question anyway, as it says he tempted him and that he wished to justify himself.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss yourself from this aspect of the passage, however. Many times we presume upon what God means by the law, pouring our own righteousness into it. We also may at times question the rightness of what God seems to be saying, or twist the text to mean something it doesn’t by trying to read into it, like this lawyer was doing. This lawyer, in trying to justify himself, sought an exact meaning of “neighbor”, so as to have a formula for righteousness.

Imagine him at the judgment: “But I loved my neighbor, just like you said to; I followed your commands to the letter”. Of course, this shows that what he was really trying to do was get a license to be able to love only those he must in order to inherit eternal life, and to necessarily exclude all others, at his personal discretion. Again, we see the results of trying to develop an exact method using the scriptures in an overly literal, all encompassing way.

Think about the child whose mother tells her that she cannot ride her bike to the park; she goes anyway, and when her mother scolds her, she cries, “I didn’t ride my bike, I walked”. Can you see how childish and utterly ridiculous this lawyer is being in this passage now?

Still, we see that today many have not taken this lesson from Jesus. They will take one or a few verses, and then dogmatically assert that this is the prescription for righteousness, instead of comparing these verses with others, using the clear, overall teaching of the Bible as a guide. All this is doing is the same thing the lawyer (and all religions apart from true Christianity) was attempting: to bring a measure of works to the kingdom of God. Christians have been deceived into jumping through spiritual hoops. Place your faith in Christ alone as your hope, not only of salvation, but also of sanctification. Only a justified sinner can battle effectively against sin. Overcoming sin comes from a relationship not for a relationship.

Salvation is not a process, where we do this, then achieve that type of deal. There is no must do order of salvation, it is of grace alone. This does not mean that we will not do these things that are evident in a true Christian life. Yes, we repent, get baptized in water, read our Bibles, pray, and pursue sanctification. But these are measures of obedience, not means of saving grace. These things are a result of salvation, not a requirement for it.

This fact points beautifully to the next aspect of Christ’s teaching here in this parable: the idea of duty. By showing us the priest and the Levite specifically, Christ was definitely trying to convey something even more than the fact that being a neighbor means more than your own kind.

Imagine the priest; he was on his way to the service; he had no time to help; he was already going to go help his parishioners, and there were hundreds of them, not just one man. Besides, how can he be expected to care for everyone he came across that needed help, he had his own flock to care for, and God put him in charge of these people, so God would want him to take care of his own? He had a prior commitment: there will always be people that need help; his job was to help those already entrusted into his care. Christ is putting his second commandment above prior duty. Those parishioners will still be there; this man may have died, and he needed help immediately.

Imagine the Levite; he was heading to the temple; no way could he touch this man, he had consecrated himself. The temple service he was going to happened only once a year; God would be furious if he defiled his hands just to help one soul, he was sacrificing for the sins of a whole community. Again, obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), and Jesus destroys the self-righteous lawyer’s, and many believers’ attitude.

Never are we to presume that we have the right way; we must continue to seek God, not trust in our own inventions, justified by our own pathetic knowledge of God gained by scripture twisting. Duty and prior commitment, even about church matters, can be no excuse to ignore the calling by God to demonstrate Christ-likeness.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Blogs don't need a vacation...

It is coming up to Thanksgiving, and Margie and I are going to Oklahoma to see the young’uns (Chris, Mandi, and our grandson Ian)…and we are hoping to see Frank Turk while on the way…

But never fear, I have a plan, for THE BLOG MUST GO ON (on, on, on – echo effect)

If it all goes as planned you will still see posts every day next week, so thanks, and see ya…

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Gospel Made Man

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…
(Romans 1:16a)

Paul is not talking about his strength, but God’s strength. Paul is a gospel made man. Paul is not saying only that he isn’t ashamed of the means the gospel, but that he is not ashamed of the message and the meaning of the gospel. Jesus is the gospel (John 14:6).

Paul is not ashamed of the way to the gospel. The means of the gospel is preaching; it was considered a foolish medium in Paul’s time and it still is, perhaps more than ever. But faith in Christ comes by hearing the message preached (Romans 10:11-15 / 1 Corinthians 1:18-26 / 1 Thessalonians 2:13). His message included repentance; he didn’t promise the blessings of heaven without warning of the threat of hell. He knew if he preached fire it would draw fire.

Paul isn’t ashamed of the truth of the gospel. The message of the gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. John 3:16 / 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 / 2 Corinthians 5:21 – justification by faith (Habakkuk 2:4 / Acts 4:12 / Romans 1:17 / Galatians 3:11 / 1 Timothy 2:5). He knew if he preached truth people would question truth.

Paul is not ashamed of the life from the gospel. The meaning of the gospel is the weakness of man and the power of God, the wretchedness of men and the righteousness of God. That wasn’t popular in Paul’s time or today, especially with the emphases being on self-empowerment and self-esteem. The meaning of the gospel is that man cannot save himself, nor sanctify himself, he is not only weak, but he is dead! Paul is not ashamed of his weakness. Romans 3:23 / Romans 8:3 / Titus 3:5-6 / Ephesians 2:8-10 – He knew that to live for Christ meant to die for Christ (John 12:24-26 / Galatians 2:20 / Philippians 1:21 / Romans 12:1-2).

How do we know, what are the signs of being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

When we don’t preach it – Sugar coating the offense of the gospel – take off the hard edges and it won’t penetrate the heart. We are so afraid of saying no to anyone we take on everyone. We add so many side dishes no one eats the meat. The gospel plus garnish equals the power of God plus the poison of the world. It does not save. We are using the gospel as a means rather than the means of the gospel. We use other means to draw because we don’t believe in the means, and whatever we draw them with that is what we must sustain them with, be it programs, pomp, pleasure, or pragmatism. The reason we don’t preach it as the power of God is because we don’t believe it as such. We believe it is true, but we don’t believe it is sufficient to draw the sinner or strengthen the saint.

When we don’t believe it – Presenting the good news as a life improvement course rather than a life-destroying course. It is not a better life but a new life. The gospel isn’t for the upwardly mobile; it is for the spiritually mobile. It is not for those who want the strength of God; it is for those who know they are dead without God! It isn’t “just add Jesus”; it’s “lose everything but Jesus!” We must not reduce "power of God for salvation" to "power of God for human improvement" or "self-fulfillment" or "peace of mind" or any such thing. Yes the salvation of God brings peace (Romans 15:13), but not primarily. In the first instance the salvation of God is a righted relationship which spells rescue from real peril. Pragmatism rather than proclamation and entertainment rather than exhortation, as if we’re afraid it won’t work without the extras. It is people pleasing instead of doctrinal purity – redefining terms, capitulation to the culture. We change things or add a thing because we don’t believe what God did is enough for today.

When we don’t live it – When we aren’t lights in the world (Philippians 2:15), having the dimmer switch on (Philippians 1:27 / 1 Thessalonians 2:12 / Titus 2:11-14). However, this is not about your strength; again, the gospel of your justification is also the gospel of your sanctification. James 1:22 – we act in accordance with the decrees of God (Philippians 2:12-13). Remember the operative phrase; don’t let go of God. We will always be dissatisfied with our performance. For a growing Christian, desire will always outstrip our perceived performance.

What is it then that will keep us going in the face of this tension between desire and performance? The answer is the gospel. It is the assurance that we have indeed died to the guilt of sin and that there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus that will motivate us and keep us going even in the face of this tension.

We must always keep focused on the gospel because as we grow, we see more and more of our sinfulness. Instead of driving us to discouragement, though, this should drive us to the gospel. It is the gospel believed every day that is the only enduring motivation to pursue progressive sanctification even in those times when we don't seem to see progress. What God started God will finish (Philippians 1:6), and that is why we act in accordance with it and can keep on keeping on (Philippians 3:14). We need to "preach the gospel to ourselves every day."

Paul didn’t present a watered down gospel; he was not ashamed of what it says, what it means, and “what it means for me”. Paul knew that some of the people in Rome were too smart for this silly message, but he doesn’t try and make it more palatable by compromise, so unlike those today. Paul is preaching to Christians as well as unbelievers. This letter was written to believers, and so preaching the gospel has more than just “initial salvation” in mind. Do you tell it like it is, put first things first, and live like you mean it, or are you ashamed? Is it on your lips, is it in your heart, and is it evident in your life? I say this even to those of you who believe they are saved: repent, and believe the gospel to meet your needs. Be a gospel made man.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Coming Soon (Before Christmas)

Hey, just wanted to let you know that my new book will be out before Christmas, unless the Lord sees fit to stall it, but it looks like a go for sure...

I just scanned the cover and I realize that you cannot see the subtitle very well. It reads,

Devotional Arrows Aimed At The Heart

It will be available on Amazon whenever it is finally published, and I will include a link here at the site as well...

Thank you to all who have helped me to sharpen my skills as a writer. I hope and plan to have two more books published during the next year as well.

May God be glorified in this endeavor.

Even So...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Worldwide Ministry

…among all the nations…
(Romans 1:5 – ESV)

The Gospel is for all people (1 John 2:2 / Revelation 7:9), not just Jews but Gentiles as well, not just men but women and children, not just whites, but blacks, browns, yellows, reds and anyone and everyone else who calls on Jesus to save them (Galatians 3:26-28 / Colossians 3:11).

In context this is also Paul telling us that he had received an apostleship that was to be world wide, he knew his mission was to be obedient to the vision no matter what (Acts 20:22-21:14). Paul was to show the crucified with Christ life in all the nations of the known world.

We apply this by saying that through Jesus Christ and only through Him we receive grace for everything we need to be obedient to the faith anywhere and everywhere we go. Our mission is also “world-wide”, we are to live the gospel throughout our world to all the people we encounter or whom see us in action.

Your ministry, no matter how big it gets, will ever have a chance to be as effective, in terms of percentage of people reached, as it is right now. Think about it. If you were on television throughout the whole world, and were able to reach a billion people, how many would actually be tuning in? Even if half of those people watched, which is a near impossibility, this would only represent 50% of the people you could reach being reached with the gospel. However, in your little world, right now, you can live and speak out the gospel to every single person you ever come across – in other words 100% of the people you could reach, you can. There is a lot to be said for that sort of spiritual economy.

People want a big ministry, one that is world wide, but it must start with your own world now. If you are faithful in this world, perhaps God will expand your borders, but how can He trust you with more if you will not be faithful in a little? You must live prophetically, as if your ministry is worldwide right now, because in truth, it is; you never know the reach of God through what you do right here in your little arena.

Every single person who is a Christian has a worldwide ministry, they just need to redefine and clarify in their own minds exactly what that means. What people usually mean by worldwide ministry is worldwide impact, but they define that as worldwide visibility. Tell me where that comes from? Too often we feel like worldwide impact must equal worldwide visibility, but we do not need to be known by the world for God to use our prayers and other things to reach people all over the globe, and for generations to come after we have left this earth.

We have better than worldwide visibility; we have God seeing everything we do, universal visibility, the most important kind, that is why the Apostle Paul told us, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24 – ESV). We also have a promise from God that our service is significant, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Disciple At The Doctor’s Office

And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.
(1 Peter 3:15 – NLT)

Well, Sam, there are obviously a lot of things you will need to do if your mother is diagnosed terminally ill. The doctor will probably give you an idea of how long she might have to live. Your insurance agent and your family need to be contacted and any other business like the will and such must be taken care of.

Of course, these are all the routine things that everyone has to go through when facing a tragedy. The real question is how will you go on from here, and just what is going to happen to your mother, and the rest of your family and friends, for that matter. Let me ask you a couple of questions, Sam. If your mother is diagnosed with a terminal illness and she dies, do you know what will happen to her? What if this were you, do you know what would and what does happen to you when you die?

You see Sam, my friend may only have a sprained ankle, but even if he found out he had a terminal illness, he would have peace, and so would I. We have both found out something that is greater than any sickness or sorrow we might have to deal with. Just like everyone else we know that we are eventually going to die, but we have a hope for the future even after death. My friend and I both know that death isn’t the end of our existence, and that life after death is going to be a wonderful time, and we are actually looking forward to it.

Doesn’t that sound a lot different than most of what you hear these days? The reason for this hope we have is that both my friend and I are trusting in God that He will take us to heaven when we pass on. We believe in Him, and He has given us a hope that is beyond anything you can think of. I know that God will take care of you and your mother, if you want Him to.

The truth, Sam, is that God has taken care of the death penalty we all have to face because of sin. Sin is doing the wrong things we all do. I have never known anybody that was perfect have you? Actually, though, God Himself came to earth as the man Jesus. He lived a perfect life in our place, a life that God can accept into His perfect presence in heaven.

We still die, but instead of having to pay for our sins, Jesus came to earth to pay them for us. If we trust Him, we have our sins paid for and God can accept us into heaven based on that fact. If we don’t accept Jesus, well, there isn’t any way we can pay for our wrong deeds ourselves, and we will be separated from God forever. That is the bad news, but the good news is that just like me and my friend, you and your mother can have this wonderful peace that we have, and both of you can see each other again in heaven when you die.

Now, Sam, wouldn’t you like to accept Jesus right now, and get this thing taken care of? Then you can share the greatest news ever given to your mom as well. Wouldn’t that be the best thing you could do, especially if she is diagnosed with the terminal illness? Let’s pray.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Use All The Tools

HT: My man, Frank Martens , our discussion over on his blog led to this post

…but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.
(Exodus 4:10)

Play to your strengths, says the world, and by “the world” we mean not only the secular world, but the church world as well. We try and make up for our lack of tools, not ones that we think we don’t have, but ones we think aren’t good enough to use. Instead of learning to use them more effectively and maximizing their use, we relegate them to the bottom of the toolbox, hoping no one will have to see them. We overcompensate and underestimate what God is trying to do with us as preacher, leader, layman, husband, wife, employee, and so on.

Lets put this in the context of the preacher first. It is like the preacher who may have the right message but delivers it with no passion at all, because he is “just not into that sort of thing”. Or like the preacher who can rev up the engine, but who spends no time in the study. Content and delivery, you can have both, it is much harder, but a preacher with no passion in his voice is patently ridiculous in this day and age. Yes, it makes a difference today, and it should. It might not have back then, but today it does, and yes, it really bothers and bores people to hear someone read the bible in a choppy, no inflection, monotone, metronome way.

The passion rises up out of the preacher when he is most passionate about God. When the preacher prizes God most, the passion about it comes out. The great preachers of today wouldn't hold my interest as much as they do if they had a passionless voice and staid delivery, no matter how good the words were. You can and you must have both content and delivery power.

Of course we must realize that God's Spirit can and will work through non-passionate, monotone preaching. Meaning, IF (not that a preacher should) a preacher/missionary was NOT a great non-monotone teacher, God's Spirit could work through his words regardless. The Spirit can and often does, but it is in spite of not because of their style, and vice versa, of course.

This is simply a matter of preference, mostly, but for many, they ought to give heed to their delivery. We often have this tool in the box but fail to sharpen it because, sinfully, we compare our gift to someone else's, and think it less, and so being prideful we don't share what we have. I may never have the exegetical prowess of John Calvin, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't do exegesis (God forbid!)...

Moses said his voice wasn’t good enough, but God asked him just who did he think made that mouth of his? You may not have the voice of a great singer, but God made your voice, so sing out loud the praises of His name. No matter what it sounds like to others, it sounds wonderful to Him, exactly as He designed it to be. You may not be able to do something as well as the next guy, but work at it, strive to be excellent for the glory of God and He will reward your diligence.

Using all the tools is being as God would have you to be, like Him. Think about it. God uses all the tools; some are more gifted speakers but God uses less gifted ones, some are more gifted in this or that area but God uses less gifted ones as well. How many times have you heard or seen someone with all their sophisticated argumentation, sincere pleading, and scriptural knowledge try and get someone to come to Christ, and then some supposed half wit talks to them once and they immediately fall to their knees in submission to Jesus?

God uses all the tools. So should you.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Saturday Sermon: The Ultimate Issue

For those of you who graciously come over to my place on your weekend, allow me to introduce to you a feature that perhaps I will be able to do more often, that is, when my sermon manuscript is done early. Without further ado, here is your Saturday Sermon...

Romans 2:4-10 – The Ultimate Issue

Vs.4-5 – In verses 1-3 Paul spoke to people who thought that they must not be so bad after all because they aren’t filthy like those others are, and that is why they have a better life. Paul is saying they have a better life in spite of who they are not because of who they are. They are just as guilty and they are without excuse. Point # 1 – God’s goodness is meant to lead us to address the ultimate issue. Paul tells them here that the goodness of God has kept the wrath of God from them and from you for now, not forever. People presume on God’s goodness and think they can just play the game of their lives any old way they want to. Paul is telling us all no way. Jesus tells us to store up treasure in heaven but some are storing up wrath in hell.

Those hypocrites who may not be doing those outwardly bad things are inwardly the same sort of person, and they have done some of the same things at least some of the time in their life. The point is not that they haven’t done them as much or aren’t doing them now it is that they have done them at all. It is not a matter of degree but of doing it even once, which means that they are not perfect (James 2:10). They may conform on the outside, but they are corrupt on the inside. They are not surrendered to God they are slaves to sin and self. Of course nobody sins just once, and conversely, many are not as bad as the vilest, but don’t let these things confuse the issue for you. All our righteousness is as filthy rags compared to the holiness of God (Isaiah 64:6).

We spoke before about common grace and we see it here explicitly. God’s kindness is giving you a chance to repent. These verses are directing our attention to the eternal state, to heaven and hell. This is not a matter to trifle with; it is about the eternal state of our souls. If you leave here today with just a casual thought about what is being said, and then just simply go out to play, as most here in America will do, then you are making the biggest mistake of your life. Because of God’s goodness, you can play now, but you will pay later, if you do not stop playing around. If you continue to presume upon the goodness of God, one day, perhaps today, you will find yourself alone and without God in the blackness of darkness forever. I am talking to both young and old, you do not know what will happen to you when you walk out that door.

Point #2 – we presume on God’s goodness and avoid the ultimate issue. So many want to just play around and pretend that if we ignore this issue, THE issue, that it will somehow go away. Paul was saying that we had better make sure of what we are doing, because they thought they were alright because they weren’t as morally corrupt as others, but Paul says they are heaping up wrath to be revealed. The wrath of God is thereby separated into two different categories: (a) that wrath which is presently being revealed against sinners as we saw in the first chapter, and (b) that coming wrath of God, which is yet to be revealed against sinners.

Presuming on God’s goodness is more than deadly. It is a shame to see old people who have presumed on God for so long and become so hardened that they don’t want anything to do with spirituality. Even when faced with the grim reality of death, they want nothing to do with life after death, they only want enjoyment and entertainment. It is the same in hospitals and hospices; we see a television in every room. I don’t blame them, we are all constantly drilled with the notion that the most important thing we have, the reason for all that we do, whether work, school, or whatever, all of this is so that we may entertain ourselves, so that we can have some fun, so that we can avoid the ultimate issue. That was the problem Paul is describing and it is the same problem today; we are avoiding the ultimate issue, but no matter ho hard we run from it, it will catch up to us, if not now, then in eternity, where it will be too late (Hebrews 9:27).

All through life and even at death’s door people want to ignore the issue and distract themselves and medicate themselves with their chosen poison. Adults grow up and want to blame someone else for their problems, and we hire people to lead us back into the past to heal our wounded heart. Christians ought to know better than this. They should know that sin is the problem, and that sorrow is a part of Christian life. It reminds us this world isn’t all there is and we are to remain repentant. But many have been sold the idea that emotional pain is a “disease” that must be cured. It is just like those people Paul is talking about, “it isn’t us, it’s someone else’s fault”. The goodness of God may bring us pain and sorrow, better than comfort today but hell tomorrow.

Some people may see their sin but they don’t see the solution, and that is why they medicate, ignore, distract, avoid, deny, and do anything they can to escape the coming wrath, and the wrath against their conscience. They do this so long and so strong that their consciences are finally what the apostle Paul calls seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). Paul describes it as being past feeling (Ephesians 4:19). They will look to anything and everything but Him. They will even try “being good”. They are hard and cold and dead to God.

The truth is that this hardening has been going on since we were children. We think we can let our children “off the hook” of making them go to church, read the bible, and such, but we are only setting them up for ultimate failure. We think they will grow out of it but they won’t because we won’t. It is ironic that we know we are supposed to mature out of wanting nothing but fun; we teach children this when they are young, but wonder why they don’t follow it when they are old. It is because while we teach this we don’t live this, we continue to foster the idea of fun as the ultimate pursuit. We either train them in the Lord or they are trained by the world.

When training children, we don’t talk like children we get them to talk like us; we don’t act like children we get them to act like us. However, when the only thing we do different than our children is smoke and drink and cuss, well then no wonder that is what our children do when they want to sound and act grown up. And then we want to punish them for imitating us, for doing what we taught them to do. Ironic. We are teaching them to do it when we define adulthood as being able to do these things, instead of modeling and defining maturity as Christ does, not as what you are allowed to do, but as what it is best to do. Maturity is not learning to develop our self-indulgence but learning to deny it.

How many people have you known who are old in years but are still as self indulgent as a teenager? It is no wonder our children grow up the way they do. We have such a confused conception of joy, we think to have joy means the same thing as to have fun, and we have lost the value of doing things meaningful, significant, and truly fulfilling. We are teaching our children to avoid the ultimate issue. We presume on God’s goodness, thinking we’re okay, and we teach our children, our spouses, each other, and ourselves this deception.

Vs.6-10Point #3 – we all must face the ultimate issue. He has just told us that all the Gentiles are under the wrath of God and has indicted the Jews and the moralists as well, saying that none of us are righteous and that all of us are without excuse. But now he tells us that we need to pursue goodness and the path of righteousness in order to inherit eternal life, and that if we do not, we will have eternal wrath. Is Paul saying that we are all going to hell? Yes, unless there is a remedy, and that remedy is the gospel, the righteousness we need to inherit eternal life. We need to face the ultimate issue, and we can do so without fear if we have Jesus.

The Jews and the Gentiles are in the same boat. The judgment of God will be applied in the same way using the same standard. God will be just. It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or if you are a Gentile, all persons are going to be judged according to the same standard. That standard is perfection. No amount of goodness by any individual in history is enough to justify them. No one has been or will be holy enough to merit eternal life; only Christ was and is perfect.

He is showing us once again the need for the gospel and in the same way that he said it is to the Jew first and also the rest now he is saying it again, “each” means individuals regardless of class, race, gender, location, nationality, or the like. The eternal life of every one in this room depends on the kindness of God, not our goodness. But it is not something we can presume upon. He gives it to those whom seek it with repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).

This text is saying the only path to eternal life is the path of righteousness. But what Paul has said before this and in the New Testament and our lives and the world all reveal to us that none have or ever will walk it except Jesus. But we can follow Him on that road by faith. We will not walk it perfectly, but His walk not our walk is what saves us. That is the gospel and out of gratitude for it and love for Him we attempt to walk that same path, knowing that our walk will be imperfect and that we will stumble and fall, but that God will pick us up and if we will get up and want to walk again He will empower us to do so. Like a child learns to walk so too we learn to walk and we grow stronger as we walk, but we must be careful to keep our eyes on the One who walks before us and that is what under girds us and keeps us from stumbling. Humbly look at the goodness of God, and repent of straying from or staying off of the path. Follow Jesus.

Someone who is saved does not presume upon the goodness of God, they act in accordance with it. The Jews whom Paul was chastising here were God’s called out people, they knew about God; they weren’t like those people in Romans 1. They knew they were called out ones, and yet they presumed this meant that they could just coast along, and they are wrong, dead wrong. God is calling you out; you must answer the call with humility and repentance and not with hypocrisy. Just because you know the truth doesn’t mean you are trusting in it. Those that do not walk the path at all are saying that they have no faith. Wrath or mercy, which do you want? Follow Jesus, and you will have mercy, follow your heart and you will have wrath.

THAT is the ultimate issue.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Sublime Strength Of Submission

…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
(Ephesians 5:21 – ESV)

The idea of submission is a misunderstood and misapplied doctrine today in the church as well as in the secular world. It would seem that the world, with its mantras of “look out for number one”, “don’t fence me in”, and “you can’t tell me what to do”, and so on, has crept into the church. The power and blessing of submission, the protection it affords and its various purposes go unnoticed and unheeded.

Certainly this is the case with the world. With the rampant lawlessness of parents, runaway divorce rates, the excess of corporate executives, and the promulgation of perversion by Hollywood, it is no wonder children are becoming more and more rebellious with each passing generation.

The Christian community often fares no better than the rest of society when it comes to obedience and submission to authority. Perhaps this is because our leaders are not under authority themselves. Many in the Christian world have forgotten or have not been taught the sublime strength that can be had by being submissive.

Christians, by nature of their relationship to God through Jesus Christ have agreed to abide in Him and obey His authority. This includes those parties invested with delegated authority on this earth. All authority starts with God, and from the Supreme authority we recognize delegated authority.

In Romans 13:1-2, the Apostle Paul states this clearly when he says “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” Peter echoes this when he says to “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake (1 Peter 2:13a).”

Christians are to be submitted to their employers (Colossians 3:22-25 / 1 Timothy 6:1-2 / Titus 2:9-10), to governmental authorities and policemen (Titus 3:1-3), and spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Wives are to be submitted to husbands, and children are to obey their parents (Colossians 3:18-20). The younger are supposed to submit to the elder (1 Peter 5:5). All people who claim the name of Christ are to be involved in submitting themselves one to another. Many more examples could be given, as the Bible is pregnant with the order of obedience to authority.

Many Christians want to equivocate on the clear teachings of the Bible by asking questions regarding the nature of submission in relation to obedience. Obedience is about our actions toward authority, while submission is about our attitude toward authority.

The Bible teaches unconditional submission, but not unconditional obedience. Full submission would include those times when we don’t agree with those in authority over us or feel that they are wrong. Even though the Bible differentiates between submission and obedience, the only time we are not to obey is when we are told to do something that is in direct contradiction to God’s written Word. That contradiction must be based on fact not feeling.

Understand that authority structures in human relationships are designed by God to accomplish His purposes, and that the authority rests in the office, not the one who holds it.

Heaven has an authority structure, with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, then the archangels, cherubim and seraphim who are all submitted to those above them. Satan’s kingdom has a hierarchy (Ephesians 6:12), and he and his minions are at war with God’s children (1 Peter 5:8).

Within the church, God has established an order of leadership (1 Corinthians 12:28), and given qualifications for leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-13 / Titus 1:6-9). The purposes of those called to lead are manifold. They are to equip the saints for service, engage in the work of the ministry, and edify the body of believers in unity and with knowledge so that they are not carried away with false doctrine (Ephesians 4:11-14). Our submission to God’s ordained leadership will help further God’s Kingdom and is our part in this process. This system also provides training and a proving ground to those who desire to lead. Understanding Kingdom authority will keep us from getting into serious trouble (Acts 19:13-16).

The ultimate reason for authority structures is to give us a chance to be like Jesus in self-denial by means of submission. God’s ultimate purpose for His people is to conform them to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). We cannot be disciples of Jesus unless we follow Him, and this means talking up our cross by denying ourselves (Matthew 10:38-39 / Mark 8:34-35 / Luke 9:23-24 / John 12:24-25). Submission is self-denial. Jesus was totally submitted to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42 / John 5:19). He said that whomever would be the greatest would be the servant of all (Mark 10:43-44). When we submit to authority and are persecuted anyway, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus, and fulfilling the purposes of God in our life (1 Peter 19-21).

The blessings of submission are numerous. Power is discovered in submission, it places us in position for Christ to be made manifest in our lives (Galatians 2:20), and we find deep joy in the position of submission within the pursuit of obedience. Isaiah 1:19 declares, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.”

There is tremendous freedom in submission. We are set free from the anger and bitterness of wrong actions toward us, and free to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. By the disobedience of not submitting to authority, we are in rebellion. Rebellion is like witchcraft, and this is why so many suffer so needlessly.

Obviously preaching and teaching on the subject of submission should not be neglected. As a leader in the church, it is of utmost importance to get the members to understand these vital truths and to apply them to their lives. However, the people we are trying to reach will not believe what the people delivering the message don’t believe themselves. The question now becomes, how should leaders model these principles to their congregations?

Leading a flock is about helping others glorify God by imitating Jesus. The true shepherds humble themselves under God’s will and see themselves not as rulers but as servants and stewards of those whom are in their charge. Humble church leaders stand behind the spotlight and keep everyone focused on giving God the glory. In this way they become models for the flock as the Apostle Peter instructed (1 Peter 5:1-7).

In serving the people we should be careful to serve God first, and a key to this is to be thankful in the position God has placed us. This attitude will cause you to win in any situation, it will bring you strength, and this strength will minister to everyone around you. Free submission to ordained authority will create an intriguing appeal and proclaim the excellence of Christ. It is the will of God that we are thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and thankfulness reveals a submissive spirit.

Having a servant’s heart is a key to modeling submission to the flock. When we as leaders obey the command to be submissive to one another, we are following the example of Christ (Philippians 2:3-9). In this way we set ourselves apart as a leader who practices what he preaches.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Willing and Weak

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.
(Matthew 26:41)

This was Jesus admonishing Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was under great stress, and was going away to pray to the Father before His crucifixion on the cross of Calvary. He knew that the disciples were also about to go through a trying time. The Lord realized that they were tired and that Satan attacks most often when we are weak physically, emotionally, or spiritually. He also knew that prayer is the way to combat the temptations.

This simple statement, the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak reveals a profound truth. Christ knew that trying to control our flesh was practically useless against our temptations; and our will power can only hold out for so long. These things may manifest in the physical, but they are spiritual battles, and we must fight spiritual battles with spiritual means. You must wage spiritual war with spiritual weapons. Unless we are alive to the Spirit, we are no match for our own selves. Is it any wonder why unbelievers seem to fall into the most egregious sins even when they really don’t want to?

For Christians it should be a different story. We can still be controlled by fleshly desires, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit, which gives us a real choice to do God’s will. God’s people are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit (Romans 8:5-9). However, even though we are not “in the flesh” as Christians, we still have to deal with our flesh (Romans 7:18-23). When we are following the desires of our natural bodies, like reaching for that drink as a recovering addict, the flesh is controlling us. When we allow ourselves to be controlled by our senses, rather than the Word of God, we are “walking after the flesh”, and not walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17).

One of the most important facets of the sanctification of believers has to do with relying on the Holy Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13). This is accomplished by renewing our minds (Romans 12:1 / Ephesians 4:23), which is taking control of the soul, and putting our bodies under subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27), which is crucifying the flesh and its passions (Galatians 5:24). We must continually realize that our old man was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6), and we must put on the new man (Ephesians 4:24 / Colossians 3:10). This is why we must keep being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), which is being controlled by the Spirit in the sense that we are following His lead as dictated in the Word of God.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Everyone On The Team Gets A Ring

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
(Romans 1:6)

Paul was speaking to the church in Rome as a whole, but also to individuals, those who would believe. You are also part of the mission, “among whom are ye also”, means you and me and everybody that is a Christian. You are included in God’s grace if you have faith. You have been blessed with all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). You have all you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). You are more than a conqueror (Roman 8:37). You have been given a lively hope (1 Peter 1:3). All things work together for your good (Romans 8:28). You have an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled (1 Peter 1:4), and God always causes you to triumph in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14)!

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 the Apostle Paul speaks of being an ambassador for Christ. We too are to be ambassadors in our world. We need ambassadors everywhere, no matter where you live or work or roam, it is important that you are there. The battle is on many (every) fronts, and so we need ambassadors EVERYWHERE. You don’t need to go somewhere or be somebody to be special, you are already special to God right where you are.

The winning team of the sports season rewards everyone that had a part in that season. Everyone is needed, from the owner, to the coaches, to the punter and kicker, right down to the “practice only” players; every one on the winning squad gets a ring.

The battle is on all fronts, and that is why we need ambassadors on all fronts: social, geographical, intellectual, and personal, as in personality. As Christians, we are all given differing gifts, in differing degrees, and we travel and live in different spheres. So do all people, they have different mindsets, different abilities, and different personalities. There are people that you may reach that I will never even see or speak to, or that are in a different "way" than I am right now. God will use someone, someone like you, to reach them.

God in His grace allows us the privilege to show forth His character to our world, and collectively, to the whole world. He shows the wondrous love of Jesus through all our different personalities. One Lord, yet many different faces. What a joy! Vive la difference!

Oh the beauty of Christ!

Sunday, November 05, 2006