Destination – Unity…

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NIV)

He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

After four days, we still do not have official election results.  Indeed, it will be interesting to see the outcome amid all of the discrepancies as they are discovered and resolved.  But there is one thing I know without knowing the election results … that God has made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Yes, regardless of election outcomes, the unity of believers … those called out of the world to minister to the world … is what God has made known to us through His Word and His Spirit. For the Holy Spirit has been given to us as “a guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” has been accomplished.  This is to the praise of His glory!

I think it would provide us both inspiration and assurance to read the opening of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.  As I read it this morning, I was amazed again with his overview of the plan of salvation God prepared for those who would come to faith in His Son, our Lord Jesus. And I pray that the Spirit will impress on you as well the truth of what Paul has unraveled for us – the mystery of His will – which God ordained in Christ Jesus.  Let this Word of God fill you with hope and readiness … instill in you an eternal perspective of the life God has given us in Christ.  Amen.

Ephesians Chapter 1 (NIV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He (God) chose us (believers) in Him (Jesus) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11 In Him (Christ) we were also chosen (made heirs) having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him (Jesus) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, 19 and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 He (God) exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.

To me, it is clear that the call and purpose of the Church is to be the physical body of Jesus Christ in the earth. Though Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly realms … far above all earthly rule, authority, power, and dominion … everything has been placed under Him, including the Church.  As His Body, His fullness resides in us, so that we might be His eyes and ears … His arms and legs … His hands and feet … His heart and soul. Indeed, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-7: “In our relationships with one another, we should have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” And so I think the application is that we are to be the “human likeness” of Christ Jesus in our families … in our local churches … in our communities, states, and nations. Wherever we are guided to serve others by the Spirit of God, we are to have gracious influence and fruitful impact. And in this context, I again pray we will all stay focused on the eternal inheritance that awaits those who persevere in faith.  May His promises motivate and encourage us to bring glory to God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Pursuit of Humility…

Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We have read and discussed this passage before.  It ties well to the theme that we have been studying this past week; and it challenges us to view the command to love one another through the lens of humility.  To be humble in our interpersonal actions with others is another way we emulate and facilitate the love of God.  Again, we have Jesus as our role model. And it is actually His example that Paul will reference as the spiritual standard for humility. He urges us to have the same attitude (mindset) as Christ Jesus.  Here is the larger context for us to consider:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Here are where my thoughts go when I read this passage:

1.         Our mindset is to be the same as Christ Jesus.  Our motivation … our drive … our passion is to be like Him.

2.         Though God is Spirit, we understand His nature as God through Jesus in a physical form … made in human likeness.

3.         We, made in the image of God and also in human form, are to take on the nature of a servant just as Jesus did.

4.         We have been “saved to serve,” and it is this humble nature that equips us to do so with love.

5.         Obedience is the mechanism through which we achieve this humble nature to walk in love.

So our lesson is to develop an attitude … a mindset … a servant’s heart and nature … that will value others above ourselves.  We should not only consider our own interests, but focus on the interests and needs of others. And I love the exhortation Paul wrote to Titus in this regard:

Titus 3:1-8 (NIV)

1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ Colossians 3:12-13

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Walk In Love…

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Our verse today continues on the theme of love as the full expression of what it means to walk with God.  Paul opens up this passage with the exhortation to “follow God’s example” of what it means to love. And I especially like that Paul preferences that we should do so “as dearly loved children.”  To me, knowing that we are beloved and cherished by our Heavenly Father is the greatest motivation we could have to emulate His love.  And we know experientially that agape love He has poured out to us through His Son … our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! The way of love we are to exhibit has been defined by the merciful love we have received in Him. As we have noted before: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Cf. John 13:34) So, I want us to look at our verse in the larger context presented:

Ephesians 5:1-20 (NIV)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Note how Paul contrasts walking in the way of love with our former conduct as unbelievers. Before we encountered the love of God through Jesus Christ, we were unable to walk in perfect love. Paul illustrates this and provides us with practical, concrete examples of the tension between light and darkness … between love and the absence of love.  Just as light exposes the darkness, so the love of God exposes the behaviors we exhibit as humans that are unloving, unkind, and therefore, unholy. We are enjoined to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we can truly walk in the way of love. Christ Jesus demonstrated the sacrificial love the Father has in mind for each of us to imitate. And He challenges believers with this spiritual standard: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Cf. Luke 9:23) James and Peter weigh in on this instruction as well: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Cf. James 3:13) And, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (Cf. 1 Peter 1:22)

Although love is spiritual, it will always express itself in the physical or natural. God, the source of all love,  Love is the outcome of faith … the fruit of the Spirit.  Indeed, every fruit of the Spirit is rooted in love. The Apostle John affirms for us:

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

2 John 1:6 (NIV)

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.

I just feel impressed that the Spirit of God is very concerned that we as believers not only hear the command to walk in love, but to make it actionable in our lives. As I have shared before, God saved us … created us in Christ Jesus to do good works which He prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10) Thus, we have been saved to serve! This is His call on the life of every believer! We just need to be obedient as opportunities to share the love of God with others present themselves. And as the inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews advised: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds….” (Hebrews 10:24) Yes, being the love of God in this world is the responsibility and purpose of the Church.  We are called to be the physical expression of God’s love to the world … and I pray we will do so with intentionality as we see the Day approaching….

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

God Is Love.

1 John 4:16 (NIV)

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

I think most people today just really have a hard time understanding and accepting an eternal truth God has been speaking into His creation – HIS LOVE!  There are folks who give little thought to our Creator much less His Being or His nature.  But the Apostle John, an eyewitness and beloved disciple of Jesus, shares with us His encounter and experience with the love of God. Let’s read our verse in the surrounding context:

1 John 4:7-21 (NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because He first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

So what we find here is the foundation on which love itself rests: GOD.  We cannot see love any more than we can see God, but we see the purpose of love and how that is manifested in our human experience. We cannot see love any more than we can see the wind, yet we can observe its effect and know that it is just as real as something we can see. My point is that we might need to understand love more as a spiritual phenomenon rather than a physical one. Why?  Because the Word of God declares to us both truths about the nature of God: God is Spirit (John 4:24) and God is Love (Cf. 1 John 4:8,16). These are the core of His Being and what the Father has chosen to reveal to us. Oh, I pray that we will come to the knowledge that love is to become the core of our own being in Christ. Read Verse 17 again:This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.”

Yes, love is completed … it is perfected in those who become the visible love of God in this world. As the Body of Christ in this world, we are appointed to be like Jesus. We are conformed to His image through the power of His love for us.  As Verse 19 above asserts: “We love because He first loved us.”  Until we encounter the love of God through Christ Jesus, we cannot complete His love in the world. Perhaps this is why Paul wrote: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The blood of Jesus atones for us … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) And, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1) Without faith in the finish work of Jesus on the cross, we will not come to know or embrace what He taught us: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Indeed, we know love when we know Jesus….

So, I will pray over us (as Paul did the Ephesians) that the love of God sent to abide in us through His Spirit will bring us to the fullness of love that He desires to be completed in each believer:

Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Be Like-Minded…

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Although Jesus has called us out of the world … believers are authorized and commissioned to be in the world as His Body.  We, the Church, are saved to serve … to be the eyes and ears, hands and feet, heart and mind of Christ in this world.  In order to fulfill our role, Paul admonishes us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world; but rather, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Cf. Romans 12:2) And so, our verse today reminds us that being united as believers in Christ changes us and how we relate to one another. What we have received from Him is to be shared in a spirit of unity through the bonds of love and peace. (Cf. Ephesians 4:3) The Apostle Peter urges believers to be like minded … to be sympathetic … to love another and to be compassionate and humble just as our Lord Jesus. (Cf. 1 Peter 3:8) Whatever blessings we receive through abiding in Christ Jesus, we are to share those same blessings with others.  Unity is a testimony to our faith, and God the Father is glorified through the fruit we bear. (Cf. John 15:8)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~ Galatians 3:28

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Remain in My Love…

John 15:10 (NIV)

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.

A simple message of obedience … wrapped in a greater context if we want to consider HOW we can keep His commands:

John 15:1-17 (NIV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to youRemain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

I want to outline some of the salient points that Jesus made in this passage using the vine and branches metaphor to guide our understanding of His Word:

1.       God the Father is the gardener!  He is the One who planted the True Vine! Jesus is the True Vine!

Isaiah 11:1-5; 10 (NIV)

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.

Revelation 5:5-6 (NIV)

5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, that is, the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. 

Revelation 22:16 (NIV)

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

2.       We (those who believe in Christ Jesus) are the Branches of the Vine!

This means that believers emerge from the vine.  We are an integral part of the Vine.  We have no existence or life except that the Vine has produced us and we are an inherent part of its growth.  It is from the branches that flowering buds will emerge, fruit will be set (borne), and a harvest will come forth … from ALL the branches that have formed from the Vine.  I believe this is the image of the metaphor Jesus has used to illustrate not only our relationship to Him and the Father, but also to manifest the depth of His life-giving love for us. Always remember that God the Father “tends” to the Vine.  He observes the branches and their well-being.  The Father notes those branches which are producing fruit and He prunes in order for them to produce even more fruit. Branches in Jesus that do not produce fruit, He cuts off. And what is the key to fruit production? Abiding in the Vine! ALL the resources we will ever need and utilize to produce fruit will come from the roots and through the Vine. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Verse 5) So each individual branch must understand that nothing less than an intimate relationship with Jesus will be able to produce the harvest that the Father is looking to receive from His Vine….

3.       If we keep (obey) His commands, we will REMAIN in Jesus … we will abide in Him and remain in His love.

Jesus states that He is the example of obedience for us.  As we visualize the obedience of Jesus to the Father, we see that His intimate relationship with the Father stems from HOW Jesus lived in obedience.  His relationship was that of Son. What did Jesus say? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” (Verse 9) As Jesus bore the image of the Father, so we are conformed to the image of Him. The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews gives us some additional insight into how we too can become empowered for obedience:

Hebrews 5:7-10 (NIV)

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

First we observe the prayer life of Jesus.  He offered up prayers and supplications with fervent cries and tears to God! Note the intensity described here….  Second, the prayers of Jesus were heard by the Father because of His “reverent submission.”  I truly believe from this verse that “reverent submission” is the most important element of prayer.  As the Prophet Isaiah noted: “Our iniquities have separated us from God, and our sins have hidden His face from us, so that He will not hear.” (Cf. Isaiah 59:2) But Jesus was filled with the Spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He delighted in the fear of the Lord.  And I think we are to have the same mindset if we desire to obey His commands and for His love to remain in us.

As Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered, I surmise that we must enter the same “winepress” in the pursuit of obedience. Sometimes God refines us in the furnace of affliction. (Cf. Isaiah 48:10) So as I ponder the idea of suffering in order to learn obedience, I am reminded by the thought that suffering will be manifested in the natural realm … in our bodies as we die to sin. (Cf. Romans 6:2) It is inevitable! Sin itself will not die; rather, we have to die to it!  And the process of sanctification will often feel like suffering as addictions are withdrawn … as strongholds of bitterness and unforgiveness are uprooted … as the iniquity of the tongue is tamed …  and as a myriad of temptations are resisted and escaped. Yet, “In our struggle against sin, none of us have resisted to the point of shedding our blood.” (Cf. Hebrews 12:4) But that is the course we must pursue if we are truly serious about holiness in our lives. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:1)

4.       My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

If we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, then we will all the more need to prepare for the suffering that accompanied His love for us! As Jesus shared His heart with the disciples, He told them that He was willing to lay it down for them.  Jesus called them friends!  And this is important to see: “You are my friends IF you do what I command”. This is my command: Love one another! “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.”  (Cf. 2 John 1:6) Since by the example of Christ Jesus we know that the love of God is sacrificial, our love for one another will manifest as sacrificial as well. And we need to understand that sacrificial love will bring some degree of suffering into our lives … suffering that we will be challenged to endure unless we abide in the Vine through reverent submission to Him. Still, through suffering we learn obedience; the obedience that comes from faith (Cf. Romans 16:26) … the obedience that leads to righteousness (Cf. Romans 6:16) … and the obedience that accompanies our confession of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:13)

Love requires an emptying of ourselves.  It challenges us to be servants to others.  As Paul admonished, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”  (Cf. Romans 12:1) Paul goes on to instruct us to be devoted to one another in love; honor one another above yourselves; share with the Lord’s people who are in need; live in harmony with one another; live at peace with everyone; and do not take revenge. (Cf. Romans 12:9-21) And Paul wrote similar instructions to other churches: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Cf. Philippians 2:3-4)

Well, I have tarried here a while, but I hope that something has been said that will inspire you to look at the condition of your branch within the Vine.  Is your branch healthy?  Is it growing?  Is it producing fruit?  Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  Is the Father being glorified through your life and mine?  These are important questions to ask ourselves in order to cultivate and nourish our intimacy with Christ. It is imperative that His Word abide in us … that we are fervent in prayer … and that we pursue reverent submission to Him in all aspects of our lives.  This is HOW we will be equipped to “keep His command” to love one another as He has loved us.  This is how we will bear fruit … fruit that will last.  Indeed, I pray that we will hear these words of Jesus and put them into practice…. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Praise and Prayer…

Psalm 138:2 (NIV)

I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame.

As I think about our time of corporate prayer last night, I find this Psalm to be an incredible affirmation of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to those who love Him.  For those who were gathered last night, I think you will agree that this Psalm captures what our hearts experienced before the presence of the Lord.  I will reprint its reflective words for our reference:

Psalm 138:1-8 (NIV)

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame. When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me. May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great. Though the Lord is exalted, He looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, He sees them from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.

It is important for God’s people to “pray without ceasing” and to seek even greater intimacy with the Lord. Though we have always been admonished to continually pray at all times, there seems to be a heightened sense of urgency that has been revealed to His Church to emphasize the intercessory power of prayer.  As we contemplate the times in which we live, we need to embrace that prayer changes things … mostly because it inwardly changes our hearts to align with the heart of the Father.  It softens and molds our hearts to see the brokenness, oppression, injustice, and darkness that has over taken the lives of so many people around us.  God deeply wants to bring healing and hope; forgiveness and salvation; liberty and life to the world … but most often His work is done through people. This simply means the people He uses to address the evils in our world must have willing hearts to do the work needed. Believers need to press into the presence of God until we, like David, can proclaim: “When I cried out, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul!” Indeed, it is prayer that prepares us to be bold … to be courageous … to be servants to those God is calling to Himself….  Jesus shared this perspective with us:

Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”

Luke 10:1-3 (NIV)

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

When we pray … we “ask” the Lord.  And here Jesus tells us to “ask” the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field. Why? There is a vast multitude of people to be brought into the Kingdom of God, but there are few who are willing to work and make it happen. When Jesus said ask, it was not about asking the Lord to send someone else; rather, it was about asking Him to become one of the workers. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Cf. Isaiah 6:8) Oh, my personal prayer is be bold and courageous … to say, “Here I am. Send me!” What is your prayer?  When we pray and ask the Lord Jesus to change hearts and to change lives … to change the world … just what are we expecting Him to do? Exert His divine, supernatural authority and power? Indeed He will, but I believe He will do it through His people. Right? Are we not His Body in the world? Are we not the ones supposed to do the work in His harvest field?

James 2:14-17 (NIV)

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

So I encourage and challenge us to think more deeply about the role of prayer in our lives and in our walk of faith.  It is one thing to ask God to do something about the suffering in this world.  It is quite another to ask Him for boldness and courage to be a worker in His harvest field. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) Indeed, as His Body, we have been appointed to go into the harvest field. As Paul admonished, we have been asked to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is our true and proper (spiritual) worship. (Cf. Romans 12:1) We have been anointed with spiritual gifts to serve. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) And we have been empowered with boldness. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) Yes, it is prayer that will get each of us to that place of alignment with the heart of God to accomplish His work.

One final thought. How often have we heard people ask, “Why does God allow suffering in this world?”  Perhaps, you have asked this or a similar question.  I know that I have.  But the answer I have received was quite unsettling.  God asked, “Why do you allow suffering?” I had to stop and deeply consider His response to me. Do I allow suffering? How have I done so?  Well, in a word: “Inaction.” Yes, inaction is the opposite of what James and John admonished us to do. Indeed, there are many actions we can take to address the problems of this world if we will but take time and look for the opportunities. So, we need to get bold and get busy! “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Cf. Galatians 6:10)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. ~ John 13:34-35

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Love of Another Kind…

Romans 12:3 (NIV)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Our verse is a reminder to be humble as we exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of the Church.  I would like to reprint the surrounding context (entire chapter) for us because it clearly articulates what Christian behavior should look like.  This is so important if we are to have a relevant and credible voice within the current cultural struggles going on in our nation and around the world.  Although we are not OF the world, we are certainly IN the world … and with great purpose: to be light in the midst of darkness! So, yes, we are to be engaged in building the Church … the Body of Christ in this world … to be a refuge of truth and grace!

Romans 12:1-21 (NIV)

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of youFor just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with the faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in loveHonor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Quoting Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Quoting Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

To me, Verse 21 is a great summary of how we are to respond to the spiritual battles taking place right before our eyes.  Do not be overcome by evil!  If we (believers) respond with hate, we are vulnerable to being overcome by the evil confronting us. But if we respond with truth and grace, we are empowered to overcome evil with good.  For all the hate and evil that Jesus endured, He never responded with hate.  Even on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Cf. Luke 23:34) Yes, Jesus challenges us to be radical … to do the unexpected … to be merciful:

Luke 6:32-36 (NIV)

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

So I think Romans 12 can be a wonderful guide for us … a template for self-checks on our behavior and conduct not only for our relationships with fellow believers, but also for our relationships with non-believers.  Let us not think more highly of ourselves because we belong to Christ; rather, let us give thanks that by grace He has saved us through faith to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He has empowered us with His Spirit to be salt and light in this world … to engage with those who live in darkness that they too might receive the gift of repentance and come to the knowledge of God. How I pray that we will not be overcome by the prevalence of evil … but that we will overcome evil with good.  “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-control.” (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Not Of This World

Philippians 3:20 (NIV)

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ….

I love our verse today because it relates a truth that we need to remember in our walk of faith – this world is not our home….  As always, let’s look at the surrounding context:

Philippians 3:7-21 (ESV)

But whatever gain I had (in the devoted practice of Judaism), I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ21 who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.

Here, Paul explains how his devoted practice of Judaism established upon the Law of God (as He revealed it through Moses) had an incorrect understanding of how God wants His people to enter into relationship with Him.  RELIGIOUS practice and rituals had become a “works based” approach to fellowship with God until Christ Jesus was sent to the world to bring the light of love and spiritual intimacy as the “way” to abide and rest in the Father.  Paul shared, “Indeed I count EVERYTHING as loss because the surpassing worth of KNOWING Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Verse 8) The word “knowing” used here connotes a deep, intimate relationship and the idea of being devoted, faithful to that relationship. And from that relationship, the concept of “work” changes.  Work becomes “servant oriented” as in “to serve” the one to whom you have aligned your devotion.  I think of John 15:5 where Jesus asserted, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  This is the essence of “knowing” Jesus … abiding in Him.

And I think this is the context in which we should examine our Verse of the Day.  When our relationship to Christ Jesus deepens … as our devotion to Him matures with understanding … we will come to a realization that the world is not our home.  Yes, it is where we dwell … but it is not where we abide.  Our citizenship … our place of domicile is Heaven!  We are just temporarily “out of the country” in which we were born.  I love how Jesus articulated this for us in His priestly prayer recorded in John 17:

John 17:6-21 (ESV)

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

What a powerful prayer offered by our Savior and High Priest.  And within His prayer we see what Paul, the Apostles, and other disciples learned: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” When we are born-again of the Spirit of God, our citizenship is transferred from earth to heaven.  And from there we await the return of our Savior … our King … our Lord Jesus Christ.  So if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to read the Parable of the Talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 or the Parable of the Ten Minas recorded in Luke 19:11-26.  Though we have become sons and daughters of the Father, Ephesians 2:10 explains what God has purposed for each of us:  “ For we are God’s handiwork (workmanship), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So I believe these parables afford us greater insight into the purpose for this relationship we have received IN Christ Jesus.  We are created to do good works … to serve in the Body of Christ (His Church … the called-out ones) with the spiritual gifts and talents that the Holy Spirit has distributed to each one just as HE determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Indeed, when we abide in Jesus Christ … we WILL bear much fruit – the end result of our good works of service.  In John 15:6-9, Jesus said, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” And, so, as I read ahead … the rest of John 15 … I realized how Jesus opened the eyes of His disciples (and our eyes as well) as to what this “abiding relationship” with Him entails.  Notice how Jesus shifts the relationship from “servant” to “friend” on the basis of His love.  Let’s read it:

John 15:9-17 (NIV)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

What Jesus has made known to us is this: God is Love! (Cf. 1 John 4:8-20) God demonstrated His love to us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) We demonstrate our love for God in this: We keep (obey) His commands. (Cf. John 14:15) And He said, “This is my command: Love each other.” (Verse 17) But the love Jesus speaks of is not a facade of love … or the distorted love of the world. No, Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” (Verse 12) His definition and expectation for our obedience set the bar extremely high!  Why would He do that?  Why would Jesus challenge His “friends” to “lay down their lives” as He did?  I am reminded of what the Apostle John wrote: “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.” (Cf. 1 John 2:6) Yes, you and I have a cross to bear as well.  And, perhaps, this brings more insight into this teaching: “When He had called the people to Himself, along with His disciples, Jesus said to them, “Whoever wants to be my disciple, must deny themselves, and take up their cross daily, and follow Me.” (Cf. Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; and Luke 9:23)

So I will finish with the remainder of John Chapter 15 because I think it is quite connected to all the message of love and the events we see unfolding in our nation:

John 15:18-27 (NIV)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ (Cf. John 13:16) If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (Cf. Psalm 35:19; 69:4) 26 “When the Advocate (Holy Spirit) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father—He will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Gentle Answer

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Our verse is another exhortation from Paul … and guidance regarding our relationships with one another. 

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (NIV)

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Implicit with encouraging one another is how we speak to one another.  King Solomon gave this advice:

Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

In looking at the events that continue to ensnare our nation, I pray that we will continue as believers to find ways to speak words of encourage … words that reflect the command our Lord Jesus gave us: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  (Cf. John 13:34) And, “Forgive one another as the Lord forgave you.” (Cf. Colossians 3:13)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!