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!

Whoever Has Ears…

Revelation 3:14 (NIV)

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God.

We have a timely word for us this morning, and I want us to really consider all that has been said in this prophetic message to the Church in Laodicea.  Before we begin, I think it might be interesting to have some geographical and historical information on Laodicea:

Laodicea was an ancient city located on the Lychus River in the Hellenistic regions of Caria and Lydia in Asia Minor (now modern-day Turkey). It was one of three cities in the Lychus River Valley (the other cities were Colossae and Hierapolis); and we know that churches were founded in each of these three cities, probably by Paul’s convert named Epaphras (Cf. Colossians 1:17; 4:12-13). It was founded by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus II, who named it after his wife, Laodice, in 250 BC. In 188 BC, the city passed to the Kingdom of Pergamon.  After 133 BC, it fell under the Roman Empire and later became the Roman Province of Phrygia. It was located on a major east/west trade route and noted as a banking center. The surrounding area was a fertile agricultural and pastoral region, especially suited for raising a special black sheep for which it became famous worldwide. It was Antiochus III who transported 2,000 Jewish families to Phrygia from Babylonia, so Laodicea had a very large Jewish population. It, like Pergamum, was a center for the worship of the healing god Asclepios. The city was the site of a medical school which was noted for its ear and eye salve.

With its large Jewish community, very early Laodicea became a seat of Christianity and a bishopric The Epistle to the Colossians mentions Laodicea as one of the communities of concern for the Apostle Paul. It sends greetings from a certain Epaphras from Colossae, who worked hard for the Christians of the three Phrygian cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hieropolis. Asking for greetings to be sent to the Laodicean Christians, Paul requests that his letter be read publicly at Laodicea (Cf. Colossians 4:16) and that another letter addressed to the Laodiceans (a lost epistle of Paul) be given a public reading at Colossae. Some Greek manuscripts of the First Epistle to Timothy end with the words: “Written at Laodicea, metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana”.  So the historical and scriptural manuscript records confirm the existence of Laodicea, the church that was founded there, and give us additional context for the prophetic message to this church community found in the Revelation 3.

I do not pretend to be an eschatologist or a trained scholar of church history; but what I do contend is that the words in this passage from Revelation 3 reveal truth for us to consider in the light and context it has been presented to us by the Apostle John.  As he instructed in another epistle: “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in Him.” (Cf. 1 John 2:26-27) And so I pray the anointing of the Holy Spirit will fill us with wisdom, discernment, truth, and understanding of what John has recorded in this revelation.

Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV)

14 “To the Angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 

We have already learned about the historical church founded in Laodicea.  What I simply wish to draw our attention to is the author of this passage: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

These are the words of Christ Jesus who IS the “Amen.”

The word “Amen” is derived from the Hebrew word which means “certainty,” “truth,” and “verily”.  “Amen” is often used at the end of a prayer to mean “so it is” or “so be it”. It is a declaration or affirmation of what has been spoken. So, I believe in this context the word can be understood as “truth”.  These are the words of “The Truth”.  Jesus claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to Father except through me.” (Cf. John 14:6)

These are the words of Christ Jesus who IS “The Faithful and True Witness”.  This is understood and supported by the “testimony” Jesus gave of Himself:

John 5:36-38 (NIV)

36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has Himself testified concerning me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, 38 nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one He sent.

John 8:12-19 (NIV)

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 The Pharisees challenged Him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” 19 Then they asked Him, “Where is your father”? “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

John 10:35-37 (NIV)

35 If He called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36 what about the One whom the Father set apart (sanctified) as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.

John 12:48-50 (NIV)

48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

These are the words of Christ Jesus who IS “the Ruler of God’s Creation”.  The NKJV translates this sentence: “the Beginning of the Creation of God”.

Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

John 1:1-3 (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.

So we find in this list of “attributes” a clear description of the Lord Jesus Christ as the author of the words and the message being communicated through the Apostle John to the Seven Churches – and specifically to the church at Laodicea.  He is the Truth … He is the Faithful Witness … and He has power and authority over all creation. This means Jesus is sovereign over us! So now, let’s look deeper into the message:  

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Here we understand the omniscience of Christ … “I know your deeds.” And Jesus describes their state of ministry as neither cold nor hot … but lukewarm. It is probable that there is no “love one another as I have loved you” going on with the people in this church. To me, it is clear that Jesus is referring to their works … their ministry; and His displeasure with them is quite evident from the tone. The language used is the Jesus would “vomit” them out of His mouth.  The metaphor indicates that lukewarm, apathetic, indifferent followers make Jesus sick to His stomach.  If you and I are not “on fire” for Christ and being witnesses of the Gospel in both word and deed, this warning of “rejection” should catch our attention for sure….

17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

As we discovered in our background above, this could be an allusion to Laodicea as a center of banking; a center for black wool; and a medical center for eye salve.  The tragedy of their prosperity was that they thought they had so much when, in reality, they had so little in terms of the true riches of Christ (Cf. Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:2). The same judgment was made of the Church in Sardis when Jesus admonished: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (Cf. Revelation 3:1-2) Again, the issue is dead or nonexistent works (deeds); works that are unfinished and should be fulfilled.

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

This is an interesting statement: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire….”  The metaphor may be an allusion to Isaiah 55:1-3, and it brings to mind another passage as well:  

Isaiah 55:1-3 (NIV)

1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These (all kinds of trials) have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 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.

Perhaps, the gold refined in fire is FAITH….  And to possess faith in Jesus Christ is to possess the true riches.  I am reminded of the counsel Jesus had already given through His teachings:

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 13:22 (NIV) – From the Parable of the Sower

22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

Luke 16:10-12 (NIV)

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

James 2:5 (NIV)

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?

Jesus counseled them to “buy from me white clothes to wear so you can cover your shameful wickedness”.

Revelation 19:6-8 (NIV)

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride (the Church) has made herself ready.Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Revelation 19:11-8 (NIV)

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his Head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God14 The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of His mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” (Cf. Psalm 2:9) He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus counseled them to “buy from me salve to put on your eyes, so you can see”.

Psalm 146:6-8 (NIV)

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— He remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.

Isaiah 42:16 (NIV)

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

Mark 10:51-52 (NIV)

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

John 9:24-25 (NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether He is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

John 9:39-41 (NIV)

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with Him heard Him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

Jesus counseled His Church to examine themselves and to consider their lack of fruitfulness. Though members of His Body, deception of their true spiritual condition had drawn them into idleness, indifference, and attachments of darkness.  The shame of nakedness (the sinful human nature) refers to our spiritual poverty and defeat. But Jesus wants His people to be victorious over our sinful nature. He wants us to come and obtained from Him the true riches of faithfulness and steadfastness; perseverance in love and care for one another; and the joy of His salvation. There is no other source for what we truly need to live effective and productive lives in Him. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Cf. Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6)

Jesus declares His affection for the Church.  He has rebuked them in righteousness and judgment.  He has spiritually disciplined them.  So He is expectant of prompt repentance from the people!  The members of His Body there need to receive what Jesus revealed and give full consideration to what Jesus has exposed in the condition of their hearts. While this message was for the Church in Laodicea, I think it could be directed at the modern church of our generation … especially the Western Church … the American Church … which has said, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But we do not fully realize how this spiritual attitude has rendered us wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked….  Indeed, in this present hour, we are being called to humble ourselves and to repent … to turn from our wicked ways and to seek His face … and then Jesus would restore and heal us.

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Jesus said to the Church: “Here I am!”  I am available to you … even standing at the door of your heart and knocking. The implication is potential but not certain action.  The person or the church must respond! So, we need to hear His voice … as the voice of a Shepherd.  We need to open our hearts to His rebuke and disciple.  For Jesus does so because He loves us and wants us to stay the course of faith and to do the good works which God prepared for us in advance to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) If we open our hearts to Him, He will enter and initiate fellowship with us. Eating a meal together has long been a sign of covenant, friendship, and fellowship. Yes, we will experience the intimate relationship with Jesus that He desires for us to have with Him but we must respond to His invitation….

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on His throne.

This concept of being victorious is repeated through the messages to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation.

Church in Ephesus:

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Cf. Revelation 2:7)

Church in Smyrna:

The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the Second Death.” (Cf. Revelation 2:11)

Church in Pergamum:

To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Cf. Revelation 2:17)

Church in Thyatira:

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nation – that one will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery” – just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. (Cf. Revelation 2:26-28)

Church in Sardis:

The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the Book of Life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and His angels. (Cf. Revelation 3:5)

Church in Philadelphia:

The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (Cf. Revelation 3:12)

Church in Laodicea:

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Cf. Revelation 3:31)

When I look at this list, those who are victorious are those who have kept their first love; those who have endured hardships; those who have overcome afflictions and poverty; those who have persevered in suffering and persecution; those who have not denounced the faith or followed false apostles; those who have served God and others. These will receive the rewards Jesus has promised to them in these messages to the churches, and there is great reward in faithfulness with God, and Jesus wants us to know so….

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 (NIV)

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 5:3-5 (NIV)

In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

This phrase is repeated within the message delivered to each church as well. It is an invitation to take note and to heed the rebukes and disciplines administered.  It is a call for repentance and the renewal of faith … even in 2020 as we observe the signs of the times.  He knows our deeds … our works … any many of us are found “deficient” because faith without works is dead faith.  It is through our deeds that we profess and live out our faith in Jesus. There are warnings against idolatry and sexual immorality … to which we will be held accountable. So Jesus wants us to wake up … pay attention … and listen to the Spirit of Truth.  He is our Advocate:

John 16:13-15 (NIV)

13 But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what He will make known to you.”

Well, I know this has been quite lengthy, but I just felt led to expound on this message … to this particular church.  I believe in some ways the lukewarm church in Laodicea reflects the modern church of our generation. We need to heed the rebukes Jesus spoke to this church and to repent if we individually and communally want to be effective witnesses in these latter days.  I hope this study will prompt us to dive deeper into the Word of God and allow it to penetrate even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and to judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. (Cf. Hebrews 4:12) We should not be deceived, but be reminded that God will not be mocked. A person will reap what they sow. (Cf. Galatians 6:7) Because as we have seen, there is nothing in all creation hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Cf. Hebrews 4:13) And as Paul wrote: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5)

So let us be earnest and repent! Let us get on fire and make a difference in these days that God has granted us to live! Let us each complete the works God prepared in advance for us to do! Let us be faithful and true witnesses ourselves! Let us open the doors of our hearts and invite Him into the intimate place of our souls.  Let us persevere and be victorious in our confession and practice of faith! And let us hear what the Spirit says to the churches!  In Jesus Name I pray, Amen!

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!

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!