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!

Happy Father’s Day!

Ephesians 5:25-26 (NIV)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word….

I hope all those who are fathers and grandfathers enjoyed a Blessed Father’s Day!

As we finish this week of examining the gift of fatherhood and the roles that men have been ordained by God to fulfill in His Kingdom … we turn our attention to the position that afforded us the honor and privilege to become a father – the role of husband.  The relationship that a husband and wife … father and mother … have with each other greatly influences the role each partner plays in the development of their children and the capacity of their children to fulfill the 5th commandment of God – “Honor your father and mother.”  If the relationship between parents is unhealthy, strained, uncivil, fractured, or out of balance, the fall out upon the minds and hearts of their children is inevitable.  I’m not talking about the natural disagreements that arise in the course of normal human relationships (for we were all uniquely created). These are generally negotiated and resolved within the bonds of love.  Rather, I am speaking to the visibility of a relationship that no one would characterize as honorable or pleasing to God … where unity has been lost or displaced with self-centeredness, covetousness, worldliness, bitterness, malice, etc.

Now, I realize there are many human factors and dynamics that enter into the covenant relationship of marriage; but my thoughts today are directed at men and our God-ordained responsibilities for the union of our bodies with another.  And I believe the inspired wisdom that Paul brings to our attention here should direct the approach of our hearts to the covenant of marriage.  After all, God made a covenant with those whom He chose for salvation … and gave to His Son, Christ Jesus, to receive forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.  He has been faithful to us; and that truth, in itself, should dominate the heart of every man to whom God has entrusted the precious gift of a woman to have and to hold from this day forward.  Men, when two became one flesh, we made a vow … we made a covenant with our wives to be united to our own souls … and to be faithful to them in all things.  If you can receive it, then I ask you to consider this: If there is a schism in your marriage relationship … then I encourage you to look intently into your own heart and soul. Why? Because I believe there you will find something that you can change or correct …  actionable steps … spiritual surgery to foster the restoration, healing, and strengthening of the intimacy you both were created to experience.  Yes, whether we realized it at the time or not, we made a promise to be like Jesus in our relationships with our wives.  And whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:6) Indeed, that is the standard that the Apostle Paul is exhorting us to achieve here….  Let’s look at it further in context:

Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her 26 to make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing with water through the Word, 27 and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Cf. Genesis 2:2432 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The passage begins with this instruction: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The text and the context are absolutely clear! The foundation of the covenant relationship we share with our wives is out of reverence for Christ Jesus. Did you see it? “Reverence for Christ Jesus!” You must see this truth and it must abide in your heart more than anything else!  You cannot love your wife in the manner God has ordained for you if you do not have reverence for the One who created you and redeemed you and commanded you: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  How did Jesus love you?  Unconditionally! Sacrificially!  Yes, if you and I (men) want marriage relationships that our children will see as genuine … the kind they will readily respond with honor for their father and mother, then we as the heads need to self-examine our hearts.  As David (a man after God’s own heart) wrote in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Let there be no doubt: True love for our wives begins and flourishes with our reverence for Christ Jesus!

And while Paul speaks to women about their responsibilities in the covenant of marriage, I truly believe that he wants to emphasize the God-ordained role of the man to LEAD the relationship.  And he uses the relationship between Christ and His Church as the metaphor and example to help men understand this critical mindset.  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” The text does not say, “similar to” the way Christ demonstrated His love for His Body.  No, it instructs: “JUST AS!”  The pattern and the example have already been demonstrated.  The question for us, men, is whether we intend to identify with what Christ has revealed to us and to emulate it in our marriages?

The profound mystery Paul referenced is found in the inspired narrative written by Moses and recorded in Genesis 2:18-24 – where God creates a woman from the man to be his helper!

Genesis 2:18-24 (NIV)

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

I had never thoughtfully considered this passage until now … and I am flooded with thoughts and applications of the metaphor Paul uses when he states, “But I am talking about Christ and the Church.”  Think about it. If Christ is represented by Adam and the Church is represented by Eve; then the pattern of the woman taken from the man makes sense.  The Church, the body of Christ, was formed out of Christ Himself. Another perspective is that God brought the Church to His Son to be His helper … even though His helper came from within Him. Jesus is the Head of and united with His Body … just as Adam and Eve became ONE flesh.  And as Christ determines how His Body should function, so men are charged with the functioning of their marriage!  I can see it in my spiritual mind … but it remains a profound mystery.  Like many things, I can understand “how” this makes sense … but like many things, I do not understand “why” this makes sense.  But the connection points me to the greater weight of the parallel that has been drawn for me: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  Just as I am united with Christ and abide in Him … so I too am united with my wife and she abides in me.  And because she abides in me, I am responsible for her … just as Christ is responsible for His Body.

Well, those are my thoughts as this Father’s Day comes to a close.  As I survey all that is going on in our nation and our world; the more I am convinced that many of the problems we face are the consequences of innumerable men not fulfilling their God ordained roles of Provider, Protector, and Priest.  We have been called to be the leaders of our homes! And the first relationship in which we exercise that authority is within our marriages.  It is the foundation of all enduring relationships that will follow. We have to get that one right … if we want to have relationships with our children that will lead them into their own covenant relationships with God … and eventually their own spouses and children. Oh, there is so much more that could be said here, but I will end with this time-tested observation – the greatest testimony and the best gift you can give your children is a Christ-centered marriage. Why?  Because your children will learn that the most intimate relationships they will ever experience in life begins with reverence for Christ Jesus.  And in my estimation, that gift is absolutely priceless.     

Reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. ~ Proverbs 9:10

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Sent To Save…

John 3:17 (NIV)

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

This verse is perhaps the greatest news to share with anyone who is struggling with their past failures and feeling unworthy of the redemption and reconciliation God the Father has offered to us through Jesus Christ!  Self-condemnation can be a vicious stronghold to break if our concept of a God is one of judgment and wrath alone.  To be sure, Scripture reveals both the judgment and wrath of God … but both are reserved for those who reject Christ Jesus … and do not place their faith in Him.  Indeed, this verse declares the kindness and love of God so that each person is given the opportunity to repent of their sins and failures.  Let’s look at this verse in context:

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

God sent Jesus to be the atonement for the sins of the world. That is the purpose for which God gave Him.  It is the atonement of His blood that we are to believe and receive … to place our faith in Him and to proclaim His self-sacrifice as all-sufficient to pay our sin debt … to redeem us from the condemnation of sin.  Whoever believes in Him is no longer condemned! They have been set free … forgiven … released.  They are no longer under the law of sin (Cf. Romans 7:23-25) … but now abide under the law of liberty! (Cf. James 1:25) So the application here is to believe!  Believe the testimony of God regarding His Son whom He sent to be our Savior. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Cf. Romans 2:4) As the Apostle John expounded: when we reject the testimony of God about His Son, Jesus, we have in essence called God a liar….

1 John 5:9-12 (NIV)

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

God does not want us to live under the weight of condemnation, but God has made it clear the decision that each human must make about Jesus.  Believe and receive eternal life OR reject and remain in condemnation.  God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) A person is not condemned for what they have done … the sin they have committed … or their failure to live up to the moral law God has decreed; rather, a person remains under condemnation for rejection of God’s grace … for refusing the forgiveness and redemption He has offered to us through the death of His Son.  Think about it a moment.  God willingly sacrificed His One and Only Son for the sin of the world.  Jesus is the only atonement God would accept because of His own holiness.  The blood of an animal sacrifice is insufficient to purge sin. (Cf. Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 66:1-4; Hebrews 10) So when a person rejects what God has done … what has God ordained for true life in Him … He allows that person to receive the condemnation they refused to have propitiated on their behalf. When a person rejects Jesus Christ … they reject the Father as well. (Cf. John 5:22-24; 1 John 2:22-23) It is not a loving God that sends a person to hell; rather, it is a loving God who makes provision for a person to be saved from the condemnation and wrath of sin. That provision is His Son … Jesus!

Romans 8:1-10 (NIV)

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesusbecause through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

Do you know anyone who feels condemned or has fallen into self-condemnation?  Share this good news with them!  God has made provision to remove all condemnation through Christ Jesus. Let condemnation be replaced with conviction! Yes, let conviction bring confession … so that we agree with God that His word and righteous decrees are holy and just. Oh, there is hope for the sinner who feels condemned! There is freedom for the captive and the broken-hearted! For the kindness of God is intended to lead us to repentance! God sent His light into the world, and His light has overcome the darkness! (Cf. John 1:5) Let us share that light with whoever will believe…. Amen.

So Now You Know ….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Taxing Situation

Romans 13:6-7 (NIV)

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I’m pretty sure this verse comes around on Income Tax Day each year…. While none of us really like paying taxes (and there are too many to count); taxes are quite necessary for the functioning of our society.  And understanding the necessity of taxes to fund needs for the common good and welfare, probably none of resent taxation itself. Yet, I believe our disgruntlement and frustration stems from how our tax dollars are allocated or spent. My personal criticism is how I feel tax resources are wasted by our government. Nevertheless, let’s look at our verse in the surrounding context and similar passages with this theme in mind:

Romans 13:1-8 (NIV)

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Thus, we are to submit to the authorities over us. This has been a principle for the people of God since the time of judges and kings being appointed over the people of God … and different forms of government have been forged over the millennia of history:

Ecclesiastes 8:2-6 (NKJV)

say, “Keep the king’s command for the sake of your oath to God. Do not be hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand for an evil thing, for he does whatever pleases him.” Where the word of the king is supreme; and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” He who keeps his command will experience nothing harmful; and a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment, because for every matter there is a time and judgment, although the misery of man is great upon him.

Titus 3:1-3 (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. 

Yet, we find that even kings and government authorities can abuse their roles and fail to fulfill their appointments by God:

Isaiah 10:1-4 (NASB)

Woe to those who enact evil statutes and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights; so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your glory or wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out.

And there can be conflict when we disagree with those authorities.  Here is an example that illustrates that tension:

Acts 4:18-22 (NIV)

18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.

So where does this leave us?  What is the application?

1 Peter 2:11-17 (NKJV)

11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from sinful desires which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 Live as free people, yet not using liberty as a cover-up for evil, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NIV)

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

So, today, Father, I lift up and pray for all those in authority over us.  I pray that they will seek You, O God, for wisdom and understanding … to make laws and regulations that will conform to Your will for all people … that honor and protect widows and orphans … that will not oppress the poor … that will preserve the sanctity of life You have given … that will honor Your Word in all truth.  Protect and bless those in government who administrate your will for the peace and well-being of your people.  Rebuke, correct, and disciple those authorities who do evil in your sight and do not uphold Your Word.  May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven through those You have appointed to govern over us.  And, Father, in all things, may we conduct ourselves in a manner that honors and glorifies You and Your Name … that we might expose darkness and bring light and hope to those around us.  In Your Name I pray.  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

He Was Despised

Isaiah 53:3-4

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted….

It is the last day of March 2020!  Last day of the quarter!  Unfortunately, it is not the last day of the Coronavirus….  We are only a few days away from Palm Sunday … the start of the holy week leading up to the crucifixion … and then three days in preparation for the resurrection … Easter.  Somehow it all seems surreal at this moment in time and history.  Many of you, like myself, cannot remember an Easter Sunday when we were not at church for worship and celebration of our Lord Jesus.  I suspect this Easter will be a “first” of broken traditions in many ways….

When I read our verse for today … I had to pause again and reflect on its solemn tone and its prophetic description of the Messiah who would appear over 700 years later.  The words and imagery recorded by the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 53 provoke such a deep sorrow within my soul every time that I read them. Yet within the lines of pain and anguish and sadness and brokenness lies a message of love so profound … so overwhelming … so unmerited and undeserved.  It reveals the incomprehensible depth of love God has for you and for me … that He would send His Son, Jesus, to bear the iniquities of us all … to bear our sin … to make intercession for us … to redeem us from the captivity and penalty of sin … to atone for the justice God required without hesitation or regret….

After the writer of Hebrews recounted those who lived by faith (Chapter 11), he commented: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:39-40) But more important, the writer concluded, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:1-2)

Did you see it?  Its reads: For the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. How many of us find or experience JOY in self-sacrifice?  Would any of us knowingly … willfully … joyfully allow ourselves to die on behalf of death row inmates?  That is what Christ did!  All of us … every one of us was on death row.  For the wages of sin is death! (Romans 6:23) That is the justice each human is destined to receive. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah) died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) This is what … or rather who … Isaiah foretold would come.  This is what God had already planned before the foundation of the world!  How can any human heart not be compelled to respond to the love of God?

Ephesians 2:1-4 (NIV)

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful human nature, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Indeed, for those who believe in Jesus Christ, God withholds the penalty of death due for our transgression. The death sentence is pardoned because of His great mercy! Likewise, for those who believe in Jesus Christ, God gives us eternal life for our reward.  The gift is unmerited … undeserved because of His grace! Again I ask, “How can any human heart not be compelled to respond to the love of God which is in Christ Jesus?”  Yet we still live in a world filled with disbelief … some even in vehement rejection … just as it was when Jesus walked among His own people:

John 12:35-41 (NIV)

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When He had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid Himself from them. 37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the Prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message; and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Cf. Isaiah 53:1) 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal (save) them.” (Cf. Isaiah 6:10) 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

The issue of faith can be distilled down to two forces: light and darkness.  There is a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness; and a person belongs to one or the other.  Jesus declared to all: “I AM the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Cf. John 8:12) And in John 9:5, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world!”  What is the implication of His statement? Well, as long as the Church (the Body of Christ) is in the world, we are the light of the world. As long as the Church follows Jesus and submits to His authority, we will not walk in darkness nor lead others into darkness; rather, we will shine the light of the Gospel that leads to life … eternal life.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Ephesians 5:1-14 (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 truth10 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.”

So where am I headed with this train of thought?  Well, I had to ask myself the same question. Ha!  Let me cite another passage to bring this all together. In the conflict between belief and unbelief … in the conflict between light and darkness in our world …  the only light there is or will ever be is the light of God found in Jesus Christ!

John 1:1-13 (NIV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankindThe light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through Him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. 11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. 12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

So here is the application.  A person cannot become a child of God except through faith in Jesus Christ.  We cannot become children of light … we cannot be the light of the world … we cannot expose the darkness of this world … unless we have some to faith in Jesus Christ … the Word of God … the Messiah … the Holy One of Israel … the Light of the world. So, what is the glory of this Messiah that Isaiah saw and declared to Israel? Who is this Messiah that came to His own and His own did not receive Him?  In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  I want to remind us to remember and reflect upon the Messiah … our Lord and Savior Jesus … the One whom we have not seen except through the eyes of faith! Peter said, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Do you want to see Him … the One you love … the One in whom you believe … the One whose love for you is undeniable? Behold Him, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin….  Remember this portrait! This is Jesus … our Messiah!  He is the love of God.  He is the light of life … the light that shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….  Amen.

Isaiah 53 (NIV)

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.

Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.
From arrest and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death,
though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,
He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 After He has suffered, He will see the fruit of His suffering and be satisfied;
by knowledge of Him my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong,
because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Called to a Holy Life

2 Timothy 1:9-10

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

I believe this verse is a good follow up to the study sent out yesterday.  It succinctly presents the purpose of the salvation we have been given through Jesus Christ.  He saved us. Period.  Jesus completed the entire work.  His sacrifice on the cross … to shed His own blood for the remission of our sins was/is totally sufficient.  His death served as the “propitiation” for our sin.  The blood of the Lamb of God was the only (and eternal) sacrifice acceptable to God the Father to “impute” righteousness to us. (Cf. Hebrews 9-12-14) It is the only method by which our transgression … our sinful conduct is absolved.

Here are some additional scriptures that explain and illustrate this truth:

Romans 3:20-26 (NIV)

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement (propitiation), through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 God did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Hebrews 2:14-18 (NIV)

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels God helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason Jesus had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement (propitiation) for the sins of the people. 18 Because Jesus Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.

1 John 2:1-6 (ESV)

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the atoning sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in Him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Jesus must live as Jesus did.

1 John 4:9-11 (ESV)

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Do you see the implications these apostolic writers have presented in connection with the sacrificial atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ?  His atoning sacrifice, His propitiation, has purchased our redemption … our salvation.  His propitiation has imputed righteousness.  His propitiation brings us to the knowledge of God and the understanding of His Law … the Law of Love.  His propitiation manifests the love of God so that we might love one another in the same manner.  His propitiation brings us to the purpose of salvation … HOLINESS!  As Paul shared below, He saved us and CALLED US TO A HOLY LIFE!  His blood atonement cleanses us and consecrates us to God.  It initiates the process of sanctification … to be set apart unto God and not “of this world”.  To be IN HIM means that we belong to His Kingdom … the Kingdom of Light!  And therefore, we are being transformed into the same image of Jesus from one degree of glory to another. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18)

Yes, the purpose of salvation is to rescue us from this world … from its dominion of darkness … and to reconcile us with God – to restore our fellowship with the Father.  Faith is required to receive the grace of salvation; but moreover, salvation is essential to initiate the process of transformation … to be conformed to the image of the Son – Christ Jesus. (Cf. Romans 8:29) As Paul admonished, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (rational service). Do not be conformed to this world (the kingdom of darkness), but be transformed (brought into the kingdom of light) by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Cf. Romans 12:1-2)

Salvation is not because of anything that we have done; rather, it was/is initiated by God through Christ Jesus because of His own purpose and grace.  And Paul notes, “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time … and this is quite a profound statement.  It has a connotation similar to what the Apostle John recorded in the Book of the Revelation:

Revelations 13:5-8 (NIV)

The beast was given a mouth to utter haughty words and blasphemies and it was allowed to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander His name and His dwelling place; that is, those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

The LAMB mentioned here is referenced more than ten times in Revelation.  Jesus was declared by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Cf. John 1:29) So, these declarations in Scripture bring further context to Ephesians 2:10 which states: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So, I believe that we can conclude that the plan of salvation for human beings was ordained before the creation … if we can even comprehend what that means or describes.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (Cf. John 1:1-2) And all this points to a purpose which God ordained … and that is for us to be holy – just as He is holy.  As Paul further explains:

2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 7:1-2 (NIV)

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (Hebrew for wickedness – or the leader of the forces of darkness)? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”  (Paul is possibly quoting Cf. Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27) 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (Paul is possibly quoting Isaiah 52:11) 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”  (Paul is possibly quoting 2 Samuel 7:14; Jeremiah 31:9)

The point here is that we are saved for a purpose; and when we examine the Scriptures we discover the purpose is to deliver us from darkness … to bring us into the Kingdom of Light so that we might be conformed to the image of God … to the image of His Son.  So I will close with this prayer Paul shared in his epistle to the Colossians:

Colossians 1:9-20 (ESV)

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience; 12 giving thanks with joy to the Father, who has qualified us to be partakers in the inheritance of His holy people in the Kingdom of Light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. 19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Not For You To Know

Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense.  Indeed, life is more mysterious than understood.  But that’s okay!  Really! We do not have to understand everything.  In fact, it is probably best that we do not understand everything….  Now I’m not saying that ignorance is bliss; but I am saying that sometimes the unknown is best … a safe harbor for us.  The unexpected can actually be a source of great joy … especially when we connect the dots and see the picture God has actually drawn out.  Not “knowing” puts us in the position of exercising our faith … it requires us to trust God.  And faith is the desired outcome of every context we encounter in life. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen. (Cf. Hebrews 11:1) And without faith, it is impossible to please Him; for whoever would draw near to God must believe the He exists and the He rewards those who seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6)

So why this commentary on the matter of faith?  Well, I think it has an intimate connection with our verse.  What we think and understand is based on our limited, finite human knowledge. The thoughts of God are higher than our thoughts.  How God operates is not determined by how we believe He should operate. I think of Job – when God questioned him:

Job 42:1-6 (NKJV)

1Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

We simply do not know the beginning to the end. King Solomon observed:

Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 (NIV)

What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. 12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. 14 I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. 15 That which is has already been, and what is to be has already been; and God requires an account of what is past.

There really is no way to fully know all that God does or why He allows (permits) what happens in our lives.  Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Cf. Proverbs 19:21) And we can rest assured that His purpose is for our good … even when we cannot see it.  He is conforming us to the image of His Son.  (Cf. Romans 8:28-29) We can be certain that He is perfecting our faith.  (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) Indeed, there is no question that God will be glorified through all that He does. (Cf. John 11:4) So, let’s keep it all in perspective and submit ourselves to the Lord.  (Cf. Isaiah 40:28)

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!