Monday, December 17, 2012

Going Deeper for December 16, 2012

This week's question is timely.  "Why is it taking so long for Jesus to return?"

I am sure in the wake of the events of this past Friday in Newtown, CT more of us are asking that same question today.  During advent we traditionally look backward and forward.  We look back to imagine what it was like for God's people to await the coming of the Messiah, and we look forward as we realize that we too are waiting for Jesus to come back and make all things new.  So this is a particularly good question during advent.

In order to explore the dimensions of this question, I invite you to read 2 Peter 3:1-18.

(Read 2 Peter 3:1-18)

The first thing we notice as we read through this chapter is that our question is not new.  Even Peter's contemporaries (who lived within 50 years after Jesus died, rose, and ascended) were wondering the same thing.  So this question is an important one, and it comes out of the existential experiences of real life.

Peter's contemporaries were persecuted, and their friends mocked them because of their hope for Jesus' return (see verses 3-4), and I imagine they felt the same way we often do.  So what should we do?

The Bible tells us two things in particular about the timing of the end of all things.  First, "It is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by His own authority." (Acts 1:7)  Second, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14)

Now these might be less than satisfactory as answers, but it is all we can say because it is all God has said.  Therefore, the question we must ask is this: "If it is not for us to know when, then what is it for us to know?"

Well, Acts 1:8 answers Acts 1:7 by telling us: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be My witnesses from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
So our first response is to obey Jesus' call for us to be His witnesses.

And this is in line with Jesus' words in Matthew 24: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world ... and then the end will come."

This does not mean we can force God's hand, and move up the timeline by working for these things to happen, but it does mean these things (preaching the gospel of the kingdom to all nations) should be our priority.

But how?  How do we obey Jesus' call to be witnesses?

Peter answers that for us in 2 Peter 3.  While he talks about the end, and the Lord's patience (see verses 8-9), and a day being like a thousand years to God and a thousand years like a day, he also offers instruction on how we should live as Christ's followers as we wait for His return.

"I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking." (2 Peter 3:1)
"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live wholesome and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." (11-12)
"So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him." (verse 14)
"Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be glory both now and forever!  Amen." (verses 17-18)

So you can see that Peter urges us to live godly and seek more of Jesus as we await His return, and as we do that, we will also see God transforming us into Jesus' likeness by the Holy Spirit's power so that we can become true witnesses in obedience to Jesus' call.

So what about you?  Do you have anything to add?  Please feel free to share your comments.  I know this is a significant question, and it certainly deserves our time and attention as together we listen for God's voice in the midst of the noise that so often surrounds us.  Thank you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3, 2012 - Real Questions People Ask

In a document called "The Heidelberg Catechism" in Question and Answer 21, true faith is defined as: "not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in His word is true, it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others but I too have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation."

And the question I have, especially when it comes to today's topic, is what does it mean to have "a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in His word is true"?  It seems the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism assume that definition of faith and move onto develop it into the source by which we receive God's salvation in Christ.  But what they assume, I think we need to carefully consider.

Today's topic is a real question referred to me.  "If the Bible's account of the creation of all things is true, then what do we do with dinosaurs and cavemen?"

In order to answer this question, we will have to deal carefully with what "God reveals" in His word.

(Read Genesis 1:1-2:3)

The first question we have to ask is: "What is God revealing in His word?"

Clearly God is revealing, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  This is the indisputable fact revealed in Genesis 1.  Everything else is less clear.  In other words, the "Who" is very clear, the "When" is less so (In the beginning), and the "How" is framed in the language of poetry (e.g. Light is created on the first day, but the lesser light and greater light not until the 4th day).

So we need to think carefully about what exactly God is revealing and why, so that we do not speak beyond what God Himself has revealed to us.

What God is revealing is not framed in the language of science (i.e. "what about dinosaurs and cavemen?")  In Genesis 1, God does not tell us precisely "how" He created all things.  Yet science is concerned with learning "how", and so science studies God's creation to discover what God is revealing in and through His creation (what we call "general revelation").  This is appropriate and fitting to the nature of scientific discovery, and we should applaud these efforts because science discovers what God is revealing through His creation.

However, since "what" God is revealing in Genesis 1 is not framed in the language of science, (i.e. dinosaurs and cavemen) then we should not expect Genesis 1 to offer scientific answers.  After all it is not God's intention to do so.

So what exactly IS God revealing in Genesis 1, and why?

As I said previously, God reveals that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth".  So now the question we must ask is "why" does God choose to reveal that truth in Genesis 1?  This is not now the language of science, but the language of theology (a study of what we call "special revelation" which is what God reveals about Himself and His operations in the world in the Bible)

In theology, we see that Genesis 1 has a context.  It speaks of "the beginning" but it does so to people who are many years removed from that significant creation event.  Therefore, we must ask: "What did those people (the ones addressed many years after the creation event) need to know?"

They needed to know "why" they should worship their God, and not the gods of other nations.  They needed to know that their God was greater, higher, and more powerful than all other so-called gods.  Thus, in the language of poetry, the writer communicates the truth of the supremacy of God to the people who are called to worship Him and Him alone.

Other nations worship things (sun, moon, and stars for example), but God's people are called to worship God and God alone.  The sun and moon had names (for example, chemosh was the name of the sun god in the Ancient Near East), and the nations around God's people worshiped them by name.  In the Hebrew language "shemesh" is the name given to the sun.  Yet in the creation account in Genesis 1, the author does not name the sun and moon, instead he calls them the "greater light" and "lesser light" (see verse 16).  Why?  It was because the author of Genesis 1, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wants God's people to know that the gods of the nations are nothing more than creations of the one true Almighty God; their God: Yahweh.

So in conclusion, we must be careful to think clearly about "what" God is revealing in His word and "why" so that we can best understand exactly what He wants us to know about Him and His operations in this world as He reveals them.

Hopefully this makes things a little clearer.  I am sure there are objections and questions you want to share, so please do.  Let's continue this conversation as we seek truth in the service of God and the advancement of Christ's reign here on earth.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of November 18, 2012

Today's topic involves "mystery".  Now we should recognize that "mystery" is not so much a problem to be solved, as it is a greater reality to be appreciated.  We should appreciate that God's ways are not our ways, and that His ways are beyond our ability to trace out.

So with this in mind, let's dive deep into the mystery of this week's reading.

(Read Romans 11:1-36)

It is very timely for us to discuss these things right now.   This weekend attacks have occurred between Hamas in Palestine and the Israeli military.  Unfortunately, many civilians on both sides of the "fence" have suffered loss.  So it is of utmost importance that we embrace this mystery regarding the "remnant of Israel" even as we pray for peace in that region of God's world.

So clearly Paul says, "God did not reject His people", but why?  Some might argue that it appears God has indeed rejected His people since earlier Paul had said, "What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness has not attained it." (Romans 9:30-31)  So why can Paul now say, "God did not reject His people"?

Well, the reason is because of the remnant.  The "remnant" is the "7,000" who have not turned their backs on God, but have instead embraced His promise in the person of His Son Jesus.  Jesus is the true "seed" of Abraham (see Galatians 3:16) and the fulfillment of all of God's promises.

This is how we can also understand the imagery of the olive tree.  (see verses 11-24)  Jesus is the olive tree.  Wild olive branches (Gentiles) were grafted into Jesus through FAITH (i.e. believing God; particularly His promise fulfilled in Jesus), and the natural branches (Jews) can also be grafted in through that same FAITH.  (see verse 23)  However, without FAITH no one is included in Jesus, and no one is grafted in, no matter whether they are "wild" or "natural" branches.  The Bible says clearly, "Without FAITH it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).

So back to today's situation in Israel, and the conflict between Hamas and Israel.  We should not believe that Israel has a divine right to do whatever it pleases.  Yes they can defend their borders, their citizens, and their interests.  However, we should not think that the current nation of Israel has God on their side.  The question, as has been asked time and time again, even when Joshua encountered the "commander of the army of the LORD" is not "Is God on our side?" but rather "Are we on God's side?"

All who place true FAITH in Jesus (Believing God; particularly His promise fulfilled in Jesus) are on God's side, but all who persist in unbelief have rejected God and His promise fulfilled in Jesus.  This is the bottom line, and it is, in my humble opinion, the best way to embrace this "mystery".

So what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?  Why or Why not?  Let's discuss.

p.s. I will take the week off next week due to the short week and the Thanksgiving holiday, and I will start fresh in December with a new focus.  I would like to wrestle with real questions your family, friends, and neighbors have asked when you have spoken about your FAITH.  What are their objections?  What questions have they asked that you feel ill equipped to answer?  Let's discuss those questions together.  So either comment on this blog, or comment on Facebook.  Together we will seek God's answer as we continue to go deeper into God's Word together.  Thank you!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of November 11, 2012

How can anyone (no matter who they are) be saved?

(Read Romans 10:1-21)

How can anyone (no matter who they are) be saved?  Paul cuts through the controversy and confusion by offering a clear answer in verse 13, "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."

So calling on the name of the LORD, and more specifically believing God's promise fulfilled in Jesus is the ONLY way to be saved.  And that way is open to "everyone" no matter who they are!

Unfortunately, too many folks try to make things more complicated than they need to be.

Some will promote the idea of "replacement theology" when it comes to God's relationship with Jews.
"Replacement theology" says basically that Christians have taken the place of Jews as God's people.
"Replacement theology" has unfortunately been used to commit many atrocities against Jewish people from pogroms to the holocaust some form of "replacement theology" has been used to justify injustice.

Others will promote the idea of what I will call "two covenant theology".  In an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of "replacement theology" they posit that God has two covenants (unbreakable promises), which are ongoing and exist side by side still today.  They believe God's promise to the Jews will yet be fulfilled.  They will once again receive the promised land, the temple will be rebuilt, and the Jewish religion will flourish in the sovereign nation of Israel.  In addition, they believe Gentiles (non-Jews) have been "grafted in" to the people of God through faith in Jesus.

However, this does not make sense either.  If this were true, then why would Paul make it his "heart's desire and prayer to God" that the Israelites might be saved?  If they were already going to inherit God's promises through being Jewish, then why would they also need to be saved?

There is much more to say here, and I hope some of you will take time to respond and offer your own thoughts, but before I end let me offer you mine.

Paul is very clear in Romans 10:13, "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."  He is also very clear that the identity of the LORD is Jesus (see verse 9).  So anyone who calls on Jesus  (believing God's promises fulfilled in Christ - see II Corinthians 1:20) will be saved no matter whether they are Jew or Gentile, everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved!


p.s. While I would appreciate your comments on today's blog post, I would also request that you share with me some real questions you have been asked by non-believers or skeptics when you have engaged them in conversations about Christianity.  I would like to offer a series of posts, which grapple with some of these very difficult questions and propose a framework for discussing them with grace and truth.  So please share your questions.  I would love to hear what challenges you have been facing in your attempts at bringing Jesus to others, and I would be honored to join you in that significant journey.
Thank you!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of November 11, 2012

The identity of the true people of God has been up for debate for quite some time.  We have seen in Paul's letter to the Galatians how this issue has shaped the discussion concerning the "good news".  Is it the natural children of Abraham (i.e. Jews) who are the people of God, or some other group?

As I have come to understand God's Word, the true identity of the people of God is found in Jesus. Jesus is the true Israel (Abraham's seed) and all who are in Christ (by God's grace received through faith) are also the people of God.

So in order to further support this understanding I invite you over the next few weeks to join me in
"going deeper" into part of Paul's letter to the Romans; specifically chapters 9 to 11.  This first week we will "go deep" into chapter 9.

(Read Romans 9:1-33)

Let me start by saying this is a very complex part of scripture.  It is filled with mystery because it deals with something as unknowable as the mind of God.  We cannot fully know God's mind, but guided by the Holy Spirit and with God's word as our compass we will seek to "go deep" into truth.

Also to frame this discussion it is clear that Paul is passionate and filled with anguish in his heart as he speaks (v. 1).  These are not easy subjects, and they are not intended to be handled without emotion.

I think for this first week, the key components for our discussion are found in verses 1-8 and 30-33.

In verses 1-8, Paul speaks of all that belongs to the people of Israel: "Theirs is the adoption as sons, theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises ..." (v. 4-5)  Clearly the people of Israel have had a special relationship with the living God.

But not all of them.  This is where the argument gets difficult.  We must imagine Paul holding back tears as he says the following words.  "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children ... In other words, it is NOT the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring."  (verses 6b-8)

As Paul has said in Galatians, "Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham." (Galatians 3:7)  Clearly those who believe in Jesus (specifically God's promises fulfilled in Jesus) are the children of the promise and regarded not only as children of Abraham, but also children of God!

Now we will move to verses 30-33 to see how Paul sums this up.

"What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles (non-Jews), who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the "stumbling stone".  

And the "stumbling stone" is Jesus.  So then all who place true faith in Jesus (specifically God's promises fulfilled in Jesus) are the true people of God.  Jesus is the narrow door which leads to God.

We will talk more about this next week, but for now what are your thoughts?  Do you agree?  If not, what is God's relationship to the "natural children" of Abraham today?  Also, if this is true, how does it make you feel to know that in Jesus you have become forever a child of God?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 28, 2012

In a few days we will remember the Reformation, which occurred primarily in Europe in the 16th century.  At the heart of the Reformation was a desire to reclaim "the truth of the gospel".  So in that same vein I would like to explore this same "truth" in light of what the apostle Paul says in Galatians 2 and Ephesians 2.

(Read Galatians 2:1-21 and Ephesians 2:1-22)

Twice in Galatians 2, Paul mentions "the truth of the gospel" and in both instances he describes actions he took in order to protect it against false teaching and unChristian practice.  In verse 5, he refuses to give into the false teachers "so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you", and in verse 14 he rebukes Peter and Barnabas because he "saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel".

So what is the truth of the gospel which Paul is protecting?

Certainly it is the truth that salvation comes from God by grace through faith in Jesus (His life, death, and resurrection) for us.  But I think there is more.

When we read Ephesians 2, we see the same thing.  In verses 8-9, Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."
Clearly this is the truth of the gospel, but there is more.

If we read verses 11-18, the more becomes readily apparent.  Paul is not simply talking about reconciliation between God and human beings, but also reconciliation between human beings and human beings as the truth of the gospel.  Listen to how he develops this thought in verses 14-18:

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." 

In Jesus, we are one (both Jews and Gentiles).  And in Jesus we "both have access to the Father by one Spirit."  So the "truth of the gospel" goes beyond just personal salvation but to the greater truth that God is reconciling "all things" to Himself in Christ (see Colossians 1:19-20).  

So what do you think?  Is there more to "the truth of the gospel" than what we usually emphasize?
If so, what is it?  Why do you think we have not emphasized it?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 21, 2012

(Read Luke 18:9-14)

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector has always spoken directly to my heart.  You see, I am a recovering Pharisee.  I am one of those who tends to "look down on everybody else".  So I have to ask myself, "Am I confident in my own righteousness, or does my confidence come from somewhere else?"

This is not really an easy question to answer.  It is rather difficult to discern my own heart and seek to discover where my real confidence lies.  I pray that my confidence is found in Jesus alone, but I cannot always be sure.

But here's the good news: whether I am confident in Jesus alone, or whether some semblance of confidence in my own righteousness still exists, I know that I belong to Christ, and His finished work on my behalf is enough even to cover my own tendency towards self-righteousness!  To God be the glory!  Great things He has done!

But how can I say that?  Well, let's look at another scripture.  This is one I find gives me incredible comfort when I feel I am falling back into my pharisaical tendencies.

(Read II Timothy 2:11-13)

"Here is a trustworthy saying, ... if we are faithless, He will remain faithful ..." 

That small verse from God's enduring, eternal, living word gives me great hope.  It is all about what God has done and not what I have done!  Jesus saves!  Hallelujah!  Praise God!

So in response to Jesus' words,"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted", this is my prayer: "Lord, help me to humble myself so that you can lift me up.

What about you?  Do you tend to be more like the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?  Where then do you find your confidence?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 14, 2012

Are we seeking to please people or God?

The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 1:10, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God?"  He writes this in context of his defense of his apostleship (authority in being sent by Jesus) and a re-proclamation of his gospel (given to him by revelation from Jesus - see Galatians 1:12).

Since we are in the midst of an election season in America, now might be a good time to take stock on this question.  We must search our own hearts and consider: "Are we seeking to please people or God?"

(Read John 12:20-50)

Jesus is the eternal Son of God who took on flesh.  He is God in human form.  In these verses, He describes Himself as "the light" (see verses 35-36, 46) and instructs us, "Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."

Following this admonition, the gospel writer John, refers us to the failure of some to believe in Jesus (v. 37).  He quotes the prophet Isaiah and shows that people's unbelief actually fulfills these prophecies.
Then John turns his attention to Jewish leaders who did believe in Jesus, but "would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God."

Is that us?  Do we refuse to confess our faith because of fear?  Do we love praise from people more than praise from God?

These are not easy questions, and they do not yield easy answers.  Sometimes fear causes us to conform to the group's consensus because it is easier than "going against the grain".  And this happens on both sides of the aisle.  In conservative circles, there is pressure to conform to the consensus regarding what is perceived as liberal agendas.  And in liberal circles, there is often equal pressure to conform to the consensus regarding what is perceived as conservative agendas.  But what if God is calling us to say something that needs to be said, or to confess something that needs to be confessed?

No conservative and no liberal is completely right in everything they say.  Each of us needs to be able to hear challenges from the other side.  The Holy Spirit often places us in situations to give testimony to Jesus and His glory, and like the Jewish leaders in John's gospel we are called to speak up.

So what about us?  Will we be willing to speak up?  Will we put our trust in the light so that we may become sons of light?  Or do we love praise from people more than praise from God?  What are some of your thoughts?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of October 7, 2012

Last week I ended by asking the question, "If we are being conformed to the likeness of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, then why do we not see more evidence of it in our lives?"  So that is where I would like to begin this week.

(Read Philippians 2:1-18)

The apostle Paul begins with a description of all we possess in Christ (see verse 1) before instructing us on what it means to live in Christ (see verses 2-4).  So it is in scripture that the indicative (what is) always precedes the imperative (what should be).

And we continue to see this pattern developed throughout the rest of this chapter.

Our life in Christ is patterned after the Christ's own life, where he "made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (read slave)", "humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross."  Then this same Jesus who humbled Himself has been "exalted" by God and given "the name that is above every name".  It is the trajectory of Jesus' own life which the pattern for our own.

But if this is true, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit, then why do we not see more evidence of it in our lives today?

Paul identifies the problem as well as the solution very succinctly in verses 12-13.  "Therefore my dear friends .... continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

The problem is found in our refusal to neglect our own responsibility in being conformed to Jesus' likeness.  Unfortunately, we do not commit ourselves to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling", and that is why we see limited evidence of Christ's life in us.

However, the problem also points to the solution.  If we are willing to commit ourselves to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling", God will continue to "work" in us "to will and to act according to His good purpose."  In short, God will always do His part, so we must be also be willing to do ours.

So what is our part?  How can we "work out our salvation with fear and trembling"?

I think the secret is found in following the pattern of Jesus' own earthly life.  It begins with making ourselves "nothing", "taking the very nature of a servant", "humbling ourselves", and "becoming obedient to God" in everything.  To state it very simply, working out our own salvation begins with recognizing God (WHO He is) and His authority over our lives.  As we choose to submit to Him, He will work in us to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

In submission to God through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit's power we will increasingly be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

So how is God asking you to humble yourself and submit to Him this week?  Can you hear His voice? Are you willing to obey?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Going Deeper - September 30, 2012

What does it mean to be a "new creation"?  (See 2 Corinthians 5:17 - "If anyone is in Christ he/she is a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.")  Are those words literal or merely figurative?

(Read also Romans 8:28-39; esp. 28-30)

"For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son ..."  

God's purpose for you and I is that we would be conformed to the likeness (image) of His Son.  That is why He predestined us, called us, and justified us.  His purpose in all of it was that we "be conformed to the likeness of His Son".  This purpose holds out bright hope for tomorrow (see verses 31-39), but also hope for today.

So in what way is God conforming us to the likeness of His Son today?

I think it is helpful here to distinguish between what theologians call the "broad image of God" and the "narrow image of God".   The "broad image of God" is the result of creation.  All human beings are created in the image of God.  However, the "narrow image of God" is something only believers in Jesus receive through the Holy Spirit's work.  

The "narrow image of God" relates to God's character; His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, His heart, etc.  These things are sometimes called God's "communicable attributes".  These "communicable attributes" define the way we are being conformed to the likeness of God's Son in accordance with God's purpose.

The Bible actually uses lots of different metaphors to describe this purpose: "born again", "new creation", "new heart (heart of flesh vs. heart of stone)", etc.  But all of them mean the same thing.  They are speaking of the reality that the Holy Spirit (third person of the triune God) comes to live in everyone who places true faith in Jesus and that the Holy Spirit is at work in us to make us completely new!  Therefore, these words are not merely figurative, they are very literal.  Each metaphor is a means to describe the mystery of sanctification (the process by which God is making us new/holy).

If that is true, then why do we not see more evidence of it in our lives?

That will have to be a question for another day.  For now, I invite you to reflect on what has been written (in God's word and in my blog), and to share your own thoughts about why we do not see more evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives.   I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts ...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of September 23, 2012

Is it better that we are weak or that we are strong?

This seems a particularly relevant question with respect to the violence that continues to rock the world.   For example, how should Christians respond to militant muslims intent on killing them?  I believe the answer will be different for Christians than it will for sovereign nations, and yet it is the Christians who have the only answer that promises to bring true, lasting peace.

(Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

The apostle Paul understood what it was like to be attacked.  He was being insulted, downgraded, and unfairly labeled by other teachers in Corinth who felt themselves to be superior to Paul.  And so Paul responds by doing a little boasting himself, but his boasting is different.  He chooses not to boast about his great accomplishments (how many churches he planted, or how many people had come to know the Lord because of his ministry), but instead he chooses to boast about his weaknesses (verse 5).

Why?   What strength can possibly be found in weakness?

Paul had received the answer through divine revelation (verse 9), "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Paul boasts about his weaknesses because he knows that when he is weak, then God's power works through him to make him truly strong.

And so that is why Paul chooses to boast only in his weaknesses.  (verse 10)  "For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Do you agree with Paul?  Can you give examples of when God's power rested on you in your weakness?  Are there other scripture passages, which might bring further light into this conversation?
Let's discuss!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of September 16, 2012

I believe that the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift a believer receives.

The fact that we receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life because of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is also the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit unites us to the person of Jesus Christ so that through faith we receive all the benefits He has achieved for us.

Last week we saw that the Spirit is "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession" (Ephesians 1:14).  Today Paul writes again about the hope that we have because of the redemption that is coming to those who have received the Holy Spirit.

(Read Romans 8:18-27)

The glory that will be revealed in us (v. 18) is a glory free from the "bondage to decay".  Paul even says that all of creation is waiting for the sons of God to be revealed so that creation itself will be "liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God"
(v. 21)

And this is our hope (we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit).  It is what we are waiting for, and the Spirit is the key to it all.   The Holy Spirit not only unites us to the person of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit also "intercedes for us" thereby deepening our connection to the Living God (who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

The Holy Spirit is the greatest gift a believer receives because the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of God's desire to be with His people.  In the Old Testament, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all learned that God was their greatest blessing.  If they had God, they had everything, and apart from God all that they had meant nothing.  And it is the same with us.

As believers, our greatest blessing is God, and since the Holy Spirit is God, then the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift a believer receives.

So what do you think?  Do you agree?  Is there something better that a believer receives?  Is there another dimension to the Holy Spirit as the greatest gift?  Do you know other scriptures that also make this point?  Let's discuss.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of September 9, 2012

In our world, a deposit (a few dollars down) is a "good faith" agreement that we will at some point in the future complete the transaction by paying the full purchase amount.  Because we live in an imperfect world things don't always work out, but the deposit means something nonetheless.

Now, in the economy (household) of God, what does a deposit guarantee?  Well we know that unlike us, God never goes back on a promise.  So when He makes a deposit it is more than just a "good faith" agreement.  It is a "perfect faith" agreement because God is faithful to always keep His promises.

(Read Ephesians 1:3-14; esp. 13-14)

True faith in Jesus Christ (His life, death, resurrection, and ascension - with His accompanying promise to return) is the means by which we receive forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal life, and the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit.  But when Paul talks about the Holy Spirit as "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance" what does he mean?

Well to be more specific, Paul calls the Holy Spirit "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory."  Does that make things a little clearer?  No.  Okay.  Let's break it down a little more then.

The deposit, unlike too many of our "good faith" agreements, is a perfect guarantee (it will certainly take place) of our inheritance (eternal life with God) because the guarantee is made by God Himself!

Remember that in 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul says, "no matter how many promises God has made they are 'Yes' in Christ."  So God does not make idle promises.  He answers "yes" to all His promises and He does so in the person of Jesus.  He has in the past, and He will in the future.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit (who we receive by means of true faith in Jesus Christ) is a deposit (a "perfect faith" agreement from the One who remains faithful forever) guaranteeing (it will certainly take place) our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession.

In other words, Jesus Christ will return.  He will judge the living and the dead, and He will make all things new!  It is most certain because God has promised it.  And God never goes back on a promise.

But when will the inheritance be fully ours?

Paul says, "... until the redemption of those who are God's possession."  So we are in a holding pattern, waiting until the day Jesus Christ returns as God's "yes" answer to yet another promise.  But waiting until when?  "... until the redemption of those who are God's possession." 

This means that if Jesus Christ has not returned, then those who are God's possession have not yet experienced the "redemption" that is theirs through true faith in Jesus Christ.  So that means there is work yet to be done.

God brings people to Jesus, as we bring Jesus to people.  So if there are more people to be brought to Jesus, then that means you and I have more people to whom we must bring Jesus.  This is what it means to be "On Mission with God".

So what are your thoughts?  What do you think Paul means when he calls the Holy Spirit, "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession"?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of August 26, 2012

Why do you think people (ourselves included) should read the Bible?  We hear that admonition all the time, but what is the goal?

Is the goal merely to gain knowledge?  The Game Show Network is offering a new show called "American Bible Challenge" and as part of the promo the host of the show (Jeff Foxworthy) says, "If you don't know your Bible, you haven't got a prayer."  So is the goal of reading the Bible simply to gain trivia knowledge, or is there something more?

(Read Jeremiah 9:23-24)

These words of the LORD are offered in the midst of a pronouncement of judgment upon God's people.  They are being punished because they have forsaken the LORD and His ways, and have chosen to pursue other gods instead.

Yet in the middle of this long pronouncement there is a call, an invitation from the LORD Himself.

"Let him who boasts boast about this:
        that he understands and knows me,
        that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth,
        for in these I delight." (verse 24)

Therefore the goal of reading our Bibles is that we might get to know God.  He reveals Himself in His word by His Spirit, and the invitation to read God's word is given so that we might come to know Him.

Jesus also commented on this topic in John 5:39.  In a discussion with the religious leaders of His day, Jesus offers this invitation, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."

The purpose of studying the Scriptures and reading the Bible is not to gain information, but to meet God and come to know Him for Who He is by what He has done.

So what do you think?  Why do you think people (ourselves included) should read the Bible?  Do you agree with my answer, if so how will it change the way you read the Bible?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of August 19, 2012

Are you humble?  If so, how humble?  If not, why not?

Humility is a strange thing.  As Christ followers we are called to be humble, but the moment we recognize our humility, we are in danger of becoming prideful about it.  Yet humility is our calling, and so we should concern ourselves with how humble we are.  So again are you humble?  If not, why?

(Read I Peter 5:1-11)

So what is the source of humility?  How can we actually be humble?

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." (v. 6)

The true source of humility is recognizing God; His authority and His power, while also recognizing that our place is in submission to Him.

But how can we actually be humble?  How do we show that we are humble without becoming prideful about our humility?

I think the answer to that question is service.  If we choose to serve, rather than be served, we will show that we are humble.  And we can avoid pride in our humility by not expecting anything in return.  Service that is rooted in a sense of entitlement ("I will do this so that I will get that") is not really service.

Note how Peter commends the elders to serve and then assures them that they will be rewarded by God at the proper time.

"Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock."  

Elders are called to serve because service is the way of Jesus.  Jesus Himself came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.  (see Matthew 20:28)  And the same is true for the "young men".

The "young men" serve by willingly submitting to the wisdom of those who are older.  Now this does not mean that older Christ followers are never wrong.  No mere human being is infallible.  However, even when young people disagree with "those who are older" there are ways to disagree without showing disrespect.  This is what it means to submit humbly.

In the end, true humility seeks to serve without counting the cost, or considering the benefits.  Willing service models the heart of God, and receives a reward that can never be taken away.  (v. 4, 11)

So what about you?  Are you humble?  If so, how are you showing it?  If not, why?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of August 12, 2012

There are many things which can distress us in this world, and in particular in the North American culture.  What distresses you the most?

After thinking through that question for a while, read Acts 17:16-34 and see how Paul handles things which distress him in the Greek and Roman culture?

As Paul is waiting in Athens, "he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols".  But how did he respond?  Did he put together a campaign to protest the idols in the city?  Did he gather the church in worship so that he could preach against the evils of the Greek and Roman culture of the day?

No.  Paul "reasoned" with Jews, Greeks, and even Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.  He did not start by condemning them.  He started by speaking their language.  He "reasoned" with them.  And after "reasoning" with them he gained a hearing.  So let's look at Paul's message.  What did he say, and how did he say it?

(Read verses 22-31)

Paul begins by recognizing that they are "very religious", then he uses one of their own cultural symbols (an idol to "the unknown god") as an opportunity to share the truth about God and the good news Jesus brings.

In the end, he still calls them to "repent" (see verse 30) and explains the truth that there is only one God, who sent His Son Jesus to judge the world with justice (notice this is Jesus' job and not ours).  And Paul proclaims the truth that Jesus is the true Son of God because He was raised from the dead.

All the elements of the good news are there.  Jesus as Lord, Savior (through His life, death, and resurrection), and rightful judge.  But Paul does not begin with judgment, rather he begins by working within the culture to present the good news in a way people can understand.  

So what do we learn from this?  How should we handle things in our culture which distress us?
Let's discuss ...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of August 5, 2012

The kingdom of God is a wonderful, powerful reality, yet it is also a profound mystery.  How does the kingdom come?  We pray "Your kingdom come", but how does it come?

(Read Luke 17:20-37)

"The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is' or 'There it is' because the kingdom of God is within (among) you." (Luke 17:20-21)

So the kingdom of God is within or among the people to whom Jesus is speaking.  But what does that mean?  For years I wondered about that saying.  I thought about it related to today.  The kingdom of God is within or among us as followers of Jesus.  And I think there is some truth to that statement, but it is not the most important truth.  The kingdom of God comes in the person of Jesus, and Jesus was right there with them in their midst.  That is why the kingdom of God was among them.

But what about God's people, all who have placed true faith in Jesus, are we not also considered the body of Christ?  If then we are the body of Christ, and Jesus Christ is the ONE who brings the kingdom, then do we not have some role in its coming?

I answer "yes" and "no".  "Yes" because we proclaim the truth that Jesus reigns and that all who trust in Him are God's children and heirs of Christ's salvation.  In other words, all who believe are loyal subjects to Christ and His kingdom.   But I also say "No" because the kingdom ultimately comes at Jesus' return.  We say and do things now that point to the reality of His kingdom (His reign), but we cannot bring the kingdom.  Only Jesus has the power and authority to do that, and He will.

At the end of time, Jesus says, it will be just like it was in the days of Noah and Lot.  Jesus will return very unexpectedly and He will judge the living and the dead and make all things new!  This will be the kingdom to which we are looking forward.  And He is coming soon!  The king will return, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!!!

So what do you think about the kingdom of God?  Because it is an "already" and "not yet" reality there is lots more to say.  So let's discuss!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of July 29, 2012

What is the only debt that ought to always remain outstanding?  (And no it is not the US national deficit).

(Read Romans 13:1-14)

This is a rich passage.  It deals with our responsibilities to the governing authorities that have been instituted by God, as well as our responsibilities (debts) to others.  And finally it offers the reason why these things are so important.

So we have a responsibility to submit to our governing authorities.  Do you have a hard time with that?
If so, let us remember that in submitting to the governing authorities we are submitting to God who placed them over us.

Sometimes the governing authorities are not that nice, and they do not always stand for what we believe.  However, God did not tell us to submit to them because they are worthy of submission.  Rather God told us to submit because those in authority over us have been placed there by God and His authority.

And that is what we see in the book of Daniel.  Right away in the first verses of the first chapter, we see God placing Nebuchadnezzar in authority over His own people.  And we see Daniel and his friends submitting themselves to the king's authority as long as the king does not ask them to betray the LORD.

So no matter how difficult it may be, we are called to submit to authority (even paying taxes, revenue, respect, and honor - see Romans 13:7).  Yet our responsibility to the governing authorities is only the beginning.

Our responsibility to others is to "love one another".  This is the debt that ought to always remain outstanding (for all you trivia buffs like me).  The debt to love is something we always owe to everyone.  And Paul adds it is the summary of the law.

But why?  Why should we submit to authority and continue to love one another?  Paul gives us the answer in verse 11.

"And do this understanding the present time." 

The present time is the time of salvation that is nearer now than when we first believed.  The time is growing short.  This world is not our home, and soon Jesus will return and make all things new.  Jesus is the true King of kings, and He will assert His authority over all things on that great day!

But for now, we are called to submit, to love, to clothe ourselves with Jesus, and in everything to trust God.  He will fulfill His promise, and He will renew all things and we will see Him "face to face".
Oh glorious day!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of July 22, 2012

Last week's tragedy in Colorado leaves us with questions.  How could this happen?  Where was God?  etc.

Anytime evil is perpetrated these questions come up.  Do I have complete answers?  No.  None of us will fully understand the problem of evil in light of the sovereignty of God.  However, I do want to reflect on a scriptural truth that can hopefully offer some comfort, or at the very least frame the discussion.  Again, I will offer my thoughts and invite you to offer yours.

Yesterday, the sermon text was Psalm 146.  In verses 7-9 we see a description of the things God does because He remains faithful forever (see verse 6).  In verse 9, the psalmist says, "The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked."

Those words might be hard for us to read following such an awful tragedy, however, they also ring true and bring unspeakable comfort and hope in the face of this menacing evil.

Did God frustrate the complete diabolical plan of this young man?  Obviously not.  There are 12 people  dead and several others wounded to show that He did not.  Nevertheless, there are also other details coming out that demonstrate the hand of God "frustrating the ways of the wicked" in the midst of the chaos of that night.

First, there was the young man who turned his head just a split second before a bullet entered his neck narrowly missing vital nerves which would have left him paralyzed.

Second, there is the man who was shot in the neck, but the bullet barely missed his carotid artery allowing his life to be spared.

Third, there is the lady in the apartment underneath the suspect's own apartment, which had been wired to explode as soon as anyone entered the door.  Hearing the loud music she went up and knocked on the door asking him to please turn down the music.  In her frustration she discovered the door unlocked.  She was about to burst in, but at the last second "something" told her not to go in.

These are just a few evidences of the LORD frustrating the ways of the wicked.  The young man who perpetrated these heinous acts had even bigger plans for the pain he wanted to inflict, however some of those plans were frustrated.  There is no telling how many more people would have been killed if his apartment bombs had been detonated, or his bullets had found their awful mark.  

All in all this is an awful tragedy.  I do not in any way want to minimize it, nor do I want to say this was part of God's plan.  Evil is never part of God's plan.  However, I do want to affirm that these few incidences of the ways of the wicked being frustrated cannot simply be chocked up to coincidence or fate or chance.  These incidences of frustration are the work of an almighty God who was at work that horrible night frustrating the ways of the wicked.

I invite your thoughts on this as well.  What do you think?  Where was God?  How do we deal with the  reality of evil in light of God's full sovereignty?  Let's discuss.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of July 1, 2012

According to the Bible, judgment is not our job.  There is a judge and He (Jesus) will judge the world with grace and truth.  But if judgment is not our job, then what is?

In James 5 we learn that we are called to patience (to wait on God) and to prayer (seek God - praise Him, thank Him, confess to Him, and ask Him for good things).  In prayer we are called to offer "requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving" for everyone so that all men will come to know "the truth that there is one God and one mediator between God and men the man Christ Jesus ..." (see I Timothy 2:1-6)

This is our testimony (there is one God and one mediator between God and men ...) and it is our calling to pray that more people will come to know the truth, even as we wait for Jesus to return!

In light of this, let us consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.

(Read I Corinthians 2:1-16)

Paul says he "resolved to know nothing ... except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  (2:2)  This was the content of his message and it was mediated by the Holy Spirit. (2:13)  So what about us?  What is our message, and how do we trust it is mediated?

I am learning that one of the hardest things for us to give up is control.  We like to control everything: conversations, outcomes, people, and in our worst moments (if we are honest) we even like to control God.  We are not comfortable with God operating outside of the boundaries we have set for Him (and we tend to justify the boundaries by saying they are boundaries God Himself has set).  But if we think about it that is not the case.  God is free.  He is unbounded, and He operates in ways we don't always expect.  So are we willing to let go of our need for control?  Are we willing to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified?  Are we willing to rest in that testimony and let the Spirit do the work?

These are questions with which we as the church must wrestle if we are to embrace a "missional" identity in the world in which we live.  So what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?
I invite you to share your thoughts.  Let's discuss as we seek to go deeper into God's word together.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 24, 2012

Is it possible to be right and wrong at the same time?  I think so.  We can be "right" with respect to the content of truth, and yet be "wrong" because of how we apply it.   Paul speaks about this possibility and offers us a principle to consider with respect to it.

(Read I Corinthians 8:1-13)

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

Paul demonstrates with respect to "food sacrificed to idols" that there is knowledge and there is love, and he argues that love should trump knowledge in the application of truth.  This is the principle, and it carries through for lots of things.

In the knowledge portion, Paul is convinced of the truth and believes that understanding the truth enables us to live in freedom before God because of Jesus.  However, he does not concede that our freedom should be freely exercised no matter what, especially when it causes harm to others.  So if in the exercise of our freedom we cause others to sin, then we are "wrong" even though we are "right".

So this means that in applying truth there is no "black and white" because love trumps knowledge.

What do you think?  Do you agree with this principle?  Can you think of instances where the principle should be applied?  Also, is it true that in the application of truth there is no "black and white"?   Let's discuss.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 17, 2012

Yesterday we talked about true wisdom; wisdom that comes from heaven.  According to James it is "first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere." (James 3:17)

Take a moment to think about that list and hold it up as a mirror to let God examine your life.  Is that the kind of wisdom you have?  Are these the things people see when they look at you?

Peter talks about some of these things in the second part of I Peter 3.

(Read I Peter 3:8-22)

Now let me say right up front that I am not interested in dealing here with the mysteries found in verses 19-21.  I don't know who the spirits in prison are, and I understand the remarks about Noah to be more focused on baptism as the pledge of salvation whereas Jesus' resurrection (including his life and death) are the source of our salvation.

No what I would like to talk about is the other stuff we often skip over because we are curious to solve mysteries and demonstrate our knowledge.  The Bible says, "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up".
(I Corinthians 8:1)  So I would like to explore the other parts of this chapter so that we can meditate on our common call to love.

In verses 8-9, we see a nice parallel to the things James says in the second part of chapter 3 about wisdom that comes from heaven (see quote above).   

When we hold up God's word as a mirror here, do we see these characteristics evident in us?  Do we live in harmony with one another, are we sympathetic, do we love as brothers, are we compassionate and humble?   Use the mirror.  Hold it up, and let God examine your life.

Similarly, we read the quote from Psalm 34 (I Peter 3:10-12), and we see here more challenges and calls to a greater love.

Do we keep our tongues from evil and our lips from deceitful speech?  Do we turn from evil to do good?  Do we seek peace and pursue it?

According to the psalmist these are some of what defines "righteousness" in God's eyes.  So is that what we see in ourselves?  Is that what others see?

Remember the mirror is to be held up so that we look back at ourselves.  We are not using this standard to judge anyone else.  This is the standard by which we are standing before God as those who now reside in Christ, and asking Him to show us any offensive ways so that we can be lead in the way everlasting.

What do you think?  Is this idea missing in the church today?  What would happen if we were to focus on cultivating our character rather than seeking to demonstrate our knowledge concerning the mysteries of God's word?  Think on what it means that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up", and we will examine that text more next week.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 10, 2012

In James 2, we learned that true faith is seen in the things we do, and how we do them.  The deeds which come from faith are first and foremost about the heart that is behind them.  A changed heart is what motivates and directs a change in what we do.  True faith unites us to Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit so that we become more like Jesus by developing the character of Jesus.  So how does this relate to all the areas of our lives?

(Read I Peter 2:13-25)

"For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls." (verse 25)

Peter points to the need for renewal of our souls (a heart change) in order to live well in Christ.  We need Jesus to be "the shepherd and overseer of our souls" through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  And the evidence of God's ongoing work is found in our willingness to submit to authority.

(Read verse 13)

We submit because Jesus submitted.  He was the "example" for us (see verse 21).  We submit because He submitted on our behalf.  "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness." (verse 24)

Notice that this is not just our motivation, but it is the source of our submission.  Jesus died, and when He died we died.  We died to sins and now because of the Holy Spirit at work in us we live for righteousness.  It really is not an option.  It is God's work in us that makes us live for righteousness.

This is the same thing said in the opening Q&A of the Heidelberg Catechism (a tool used to teach the Christian faith in the church with whom I serve).  "Christ by His Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life AND makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him."  The "makes me" is not simply that Christ motivates me, but that the power of the Holy Spirit changes me from the inside out so that I will live for Him.

So what do you think?  What does this passage say to you?  How are you seeing God conform you the image of His Son Jesus so that you become more like Him?  What questions might you have about this process and how it works in the life of a believer?  Let's discuss.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 3, 2012

How should we live now that by faith we are united to Jesus Christ?  

This is a huge question, and in a lot of ways it defies strict definition.  What I mean is there is not some new list of rules and laws to keep, rather maturity in Christ is a process shaped by ongoing dialogue between you and God through His word, by His Spirit, and in community with other believers.  

All three of these aspects (God's word, Spirit, and God's community) are all mentioned in the "going deeper" reading for this week.  

(Read I Peter 2:4-12

You see that right away in verse 4 Jesus is mentioned as "the living Stone", and believers are mentioned as "living stones" being built into a "spiritual house" to be "a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  

So we see God's word coming alive in the person of Jesus, and we see the Holy Spirit building us up to be a "spiritual house" and "a holy priesthood".  And this is where we see the community of believers.   We are all together being built into "a spiritual house" and "a holy priesthood".  

But what does "a holy priesthood" and "a spiritual house" look like today?  

If we go to verses 9-10 we see the "holy (royal) priesthood" restated along with other descriptions of the community of believers: "a chosen people", "a holy nation", "a people belonging to God".  We also see the reason we have been called by God to these roles "... that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."  

But again how do we do that?  

In verses 11-12, Peter offers sound instruction on what it means for us to live "in Christ".  

He begins with what we should avoid, and goes onto what we should do.  

So we should "abstain from sinful desires which war against our soul".  Notice that Peter is not saying merely abstain from sinful actions, but even abstain from sinful desires.  Recall that in James 1:14-15 the process leading to death is described.  It begins with temptation combined with evil desire.  It continues with desire giving birth to sin (action), and sin when it is full grown giving birth to death.  So we can see in light of James, why Peter tells us to abstain from sinful desires because they truly do "war against our souls".  

Now that Peter instructs us what to avoid, he leads us to see what we should do instead.  "Live such good lives among the pagans that, ... they may see your good deeds and glorify God ..."  So not only should we abstain from sinful desires, but we must also live good lives, which produce good, God-honoring deeds.

But again how do we do this?  

Our ability to do what Peter instructs does not come from ourselves, it comes from God.  The Holy Spirit works in us what is pleasing to Him.  The Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus; God's Son.  The Holy Spirit enables us to resist sin (even sinful desires) and empowers us to live good lives that honor God.  

So now I am curious.  What do you think this means for you today?  What desires is God asking you to avoid, and what good, God-honoring deeds is He asking you to do instead?  Let's be courageous and discuss this so we can help one another live according to all of God's truth.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of May 27

(Read John 16:5-15)

In this passage, Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will bring conviction with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.  It intrigues me that the conviction is not the type of conviction we might expect.  When we usually think of conviction we think of feeling bad about bad things we have done, but that is not what Jesus says the Holy Spirit will bring.

Rather the Holy Spirit will bring conviction with regard to sin because people don't believe in Jesus, with regard to righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father, and with regard to judgment because the prince of this world (read Satan) now stands condemned.  Each of these convictions points people to Jesus because He is the good news!

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost is the day we remember how God sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church for worldwide witness.  In honor of that event and everything that has happened since, I would like to share the story of the mission to Hawaii.

A few weeks ago my wife and I visited Hawaii and while we were there we learned a fascinating story about the beginning of the mission in Hawaii.  Humanly speaking, the story begins with a young man named Henry, but spiritually speaking we know that this story, like all mission stories, begins with God.

In the early 1800's a young man named Henry (probably not his given name) Obookiah was being raised to follow in his grandfather's footsteps as a Kahuna (a tribal priest).  Since the task involved preparing sacrifices (even at times human sacrifices), Henry was not all that thrilled.  So he took the opportunity to board a whaling ship from New England and try his hand out in the world.

Eventually, Henry found himself in New England and after converting to faith in Jesus attended a small Bible college where he began to prepare to be a missionary to his people in Hawaii.  Henry prayed often that God would send His Holy Spirit to convict the people of Hawaii with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment and to lead them into truth.

As Henry prepared he also shared his heart's desire with others.  Soon he had a group committed to join Henry on the mission to Hawaii.

Unfortunately, in 1818, as excitement grew for the trip, Henry contracted typhus fever and died.  This sad turn of events could have ended the plans for the mission to Hawaii.  However because of Henry's prayers many in the group agreed to go forward with the mission.

With Henry's assistance they had already begun to form a dictionary for the Hawaiian language and learn how to speak in the language of the island's natives.  The preparations had been made and the mission left in 1819 and arrived in Hawaii in 1820 (almost one year after their departure).

But like I say humanly speaking this seems like a story about a man named Henry, but spiritually speaking we know it is a story about God.

In answer to Henry's prayers, God had already begun to work among the people in Hawaii.  In the time between Henry's departure from Hawaii and the arrival of the missionaries, the people had turned their backs on their traditional religion.  In addition, as they turned their backs on traditional religion they also began to seek truth and a reliable source of truth.  Moreover, they had received a prophecy that said a ship would land in their harbor with people who held a black box which would reveal to them the truth they sought.

So when the missionaries arrived in 1820, they not only spoke the native language, but they also found a people who had been prepared to hear and believe the truth about Jesus!

The church that was founded by the original missionaries still stands today and still holds weekly worship as well as houses a vibrant local congregation.  Also, Youth With A Mission (YWAM) has its training headquarters in that same town (Kailua Kona, Hawaii) where missionaries from all over the world are trained in evangelism and prayer and then sent out all over the world to witness to the truth about Jesus!

This story is amazing to me because it reveals once again that salvation is God's work, and that the mission on which we have been sent is not primarily our mission; it is and always has been God's mission.

May the Holy Spirit bring you comfort and peace even as He sends us out to share comfort and peace with others.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of May 20

The relationship between the church (as God's people through true faith in Jesus Christ) and the world (those who are without hope and without God because they do not place true faith in Jesus) is something about which we should all think deeply.

Recently this has come to the fore with the debate over same sex couples, civil unions, and marriage.  So once again we need to go back to God's word and think more deeply because faithfulness to God and His mission in this world requires it.

(Read I Corinthians 5:1-13)

Paul offers harsh words for the immoral man INSIDE the church, but reserves judgment on those OUTSIDE.  He makes clear that judging those outside the church is not his business, rather Paul trusts that God will judge those "outside". (see verse 13)  So what does this passage have to say to us about the relationship between the church and the world, and what it means to be faithful to God and His mission in this world?

Well first of all when God judges those outside what is His criteria of judgment?

(Read John 3:16-21)

God's criteria for judgment is simple.  "Whoever believes in him (God's Son) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (i.e. Jesus)"  God's criteria is based on true faith in Jesus.  Whoever believes is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already.

So how should the church relate to the world then by being faithful to God and His mission?

In my very humble opinion, according to the word of God, I submit to you that our concern should no longer focus on behavior, but ultimately on belief.  Our goal should be to trust God, place faith in Jesus, and help others do the same.

But how does this relate to the situation of the immoral church member in I Corinthians 5?

I think one thing of which we should take particular note is the word "proud".  "A man has his father's wife.  And you are proud!"  The issue of pride is significant because it relates to faith.  In order for a person to maintain true faith in Jesus, pride must be put to death.

Recall what Jesus said in John 3:20-21 "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light ..."

So again, in my very humble opinion, the issue is pride getting in the way of faith.  The person who belongs to God through true faith in Christ will regularly open him or herself up to God's light, and let God expose the evil that remains in them.

Therefore, the church's role in judgment is to drive people back to God through humble faith in Jesus.
So in discipleship we cannot make a list of "do's" and "don't's" as the criteria for when to apply formal discipline, but we must handle each situation and each person with wisdom concerning not only their behavior, but also the attitude of their hearts.

For example, according to Paul, it might be just as fitting for the church to expel an immoral brother for greed as much as for sexual immorality.  (see I Corinthians 5:11)

But in order to do this well we must know one another well enough that we can also discern each other's hearts.  This is the difficult task of discipleship, and it is the realm of the church for the church and cannot be confined to a list of "do's" and "don't's".

So what do you think?  Let's talk about this because faithfulness to God and His mission in this world requires going deeper.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of May 6

Peter was reinstated by Jesus during what seemed like an "ordinary day at the beach", and was recommissioned to be a fisher of men and caretaker of Jesus' sheep (see John 21).  So how did that call shape Peter's life and how did it shape his understanding of salvation?

(Read I Peter 1:1-2:3)

Right away at the beginning of this letter we see Peter's understanding of salvation summarized.  "To God's elect ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood."

These are profound statements indeed!  Notice that the emphasis for salvation is completely on God.  This is God's work.  He chose, He sanctifies for obedience and He sprinkles with cleansing blood.  Salvation is God's work from beginning to end!  And we see that continued in the rest of the passage.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth ... an inheritance ... kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power ..." 

The emphasis is definitely on God and His work in bringing us salvation received by faith!  So the call to obedience is the response to God's work in Jesus.  This was what Peter came to understand during that "day at the beach" and it shaped his work as a caretaker of Jesus' sheep.

What about you?  What do you learn from this passage about our call to be not only fishers of men, but also caretakers of Jesus' sheep?  Let's discuss.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 22

Reconciliation is the reason God sent Jesus, and therefore I believe "the ministry of reconciliation" ought to be the church's #1 priority!  Why?

(Read Ephesians 2:1-22)

In these verses we see God reconciling us to Himself in Jesus ("it is by grace you have been saved" - see verses 1-10) and we see that when God reconciled us to Himself He also reconciled us to one another.

(Read verses 11-13)

"Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called 'uncircumcised' ... remember at that time you were separate from Christ ... without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you have been brought near through the blood of Christ."  

This means that in Christ you and I (as true believers) have been brought near to God and included in the people of God as heirs of His covenant promises made to Abraham and Israel.  Therefore, if we are included in the people of God, then in Christ there is no more divisions (racial, ethnic, tribal, etc.).  Instead there is now one new people with peace coming from the "one new man"!  (see verses 14-16)

When God reconciled us to Himself He did so in Jesus, so that Jesus brought together all of humanity as our representative to God, and in bringing together all of humanity in "one new man" He reconciled us to God together.  Thus making peace and putting "to death their hostility".

This is truly amazing!  However, Paul is not done.

(Read verses 17-22)

Notice how Paul builds his case.  He starts by showing us that in Christ we have peace (even having "access to the Father by one Spirit").  He then shows us that we are now fellow citizens with God's people - because in Christ we are recipients of all God's promises given through apostles and prophets which all build on Jesus Christ Himself!  Finally, Paul shows us that we (the people of God) are now the building (the temple) in which God lives by His Spirit!

Absolutely amazing!  We are God's house, so wherever we go God goes with us!  This offers both comfort (we are never alone) as well as responsibility (we are His agents in this world).

This is why I believe "reconciliation" and "the ministry of reconciliation" ought to be the church's #1 priority.  We have been reconciled with God in Christ and now we are called to extend that same reconciliation to others.  

At least that is my take.  What do you think ought to be the church's #1 priority?  Why?  Let's discuss!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 15

In Luke 24:49 Jesus promises, "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  The power Jesus is talking about is of course the Holy Spirit.  But what is the Spirit's power like?

(Read Ephesians 1:1-23; esp. verses 15-23)

The apostle Paul begins the first 14 verses telling us all we have ("every spiritual blessing") in Christ.  We are chosen, predestined, loved, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, God's grace, and wisdom to know and understand the mystery of His will.  We also have been marked with the Holy Spirit given as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.  All good stuff!

Then in verses 15-23 he offers a prayer.  He begins by giving thanks as well as praying.  He offers 4 distinct prayers.

           1) I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the    
               Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better.
   I pray that ... the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know
           2) the hope to which he has called you.
           3) the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints,
           4) and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  

It is the fourth request where I would like to draw our attention in particular.  "His incomparably great power for us who believe."  Earlier in verse 13, Paul had said, "When you believed you were marked in Him (Jesus) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."  So it is logical to deduce that the incomparably great power to which Paul refers in his fourth request is the Holy Spirit.  But what is the Spirit's power like?

(Read verses 19b-21)

That power; the incomparably great power for us who believe; is the same power by which God raised Jesus from the dead!  It is also the same power by which God seated Christ in power "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come."

Now there is no other name which has as much power as Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit Jesus has given us this same power!

So the next time we find ourselves in a situation where we see God opening a door for us to share the good news about Jesus, we can find strength not in ourselves but in God's incomparably great power for us who believe!  I pray with Paul that you may know "His incomparably great power for us who believe" and that God will give you confidence to obey Him in faith when He calls.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 8

In Ephesians 1:18-20, the apostle Paul prays, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He (God) has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead ..."  

So in the aftermath of Resurrection Sunday, I ask what is that power and what does it mean to us today?

(Read Romans 6:1-4)

In Christ we may live a new life.  But what does that new life look like?

(Read Romans 6:5-14)

Jesus died, and then He rose again so that now in His new life He cannot die again.  Through faith in Jesus we too have "died with Him", but that is not all.  We too through faith have also been raised with Him to a new life.  Therefore, it is time we begin to live this new life by living for God!

But let me be clear.  Living our new life in Christ does not mean learning to follow rules, or just being "good".  This is not moralism, and it is not done in our own human strength.  Our new life is the work of God in us through the Holy Spirit because of our faith in Jesus.  This is God's power at work in us.  It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!  And it is at work in us even now so that we too can live a new life for God.

You see grace is not the same as license.  Grace does not give us permission to do bad things (as we will see in the next part of chapter 6).  Rather grace is God's power making us new, shaping our wills, and guiding us into truth.

(Read Romans 6:15-23)

"You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (verse 18)  

Righteousness means both that we are made right with God through Jesus' atoning work, but it also means a way of life that is pleasing to God.  However, there is a catch here.

Notice how Paul says we are no longer slaves to sin and now have become slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  The catch is that no matter what we are still slaves.  (see verses 20-22)  Slaves are not free (in the sense of free to do whatever they choose), rather slaves are bound to a master.  Our master used to be sin leading to death.  But now in Jesus Christ our master is righteousness (God working in us by the power of the Holy Spirit) and the new life we have been given leads to holiness and eternal life!

Yet eternal life is not something we earn!  (Read verse 23)  Sin's wages = death, but God's gift = eternal life.  God gives us the gift of eternal life, which we receive through faith in Jesus.  And this whole process makes us slaves to righteousness.  So that we do what is right not according to the rules, but by the work of God's spirit in us by faith in Jesus.  This is the new life, and it is what we are called to live in the aftermath of Jesus' resurrection from the dead!

So what about you?  Do you have questions?  Does this make sense?  How can we offer ourselves as slaves to righteousness today?

Let's discuss.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 1

This week I almost hate to speak.  In light of what Jesus has gone through to bring us to Himself, words seem a little out of place.  However, life in Christ develops as we reflect on His word in communion with Him through prayer.  So again we will reflect, listen, and ask God to help us see truth.

(Read Galatians 5:1-26)

Let's think deeply about a few particular phrases Paul uses in this chapter.

1) "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (verse 1).  What was Jesus' intention for His people?  Why did Jesus do what He did?  He did it to set us free, and He set us free so that we would live in freedom.
One is passive and the other is active.  Being set free is what God does for us in Jesus, yet living in freedom is something we do in Christ.  What do you think about that?

2) "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (verse 6).  How does faith express itself through love?  What does that have to do with living in freedom?  Again faith is relatively passive.
We have faith in Jesus, but our faith is not active it is passive.  By faith we rest in Jesus and thereby begin to live in freedom.  However, love is active.  Love is what we do.  It involves good deeds, kindness, and care for others.  Love is active.  Love is the action generated by faith in Jesus.

3) "You my brothers were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love."  (verse 13)  True freedom is never found by indulging the sinful nature.  Sin separates us from God, and any separation from God is not freedom it is bondage.  Instead living in freedom is serving one another in love.  Freedom is active.  It is God-focused and others-centered.  Freedom means we are less concerned about ourselves and more concerned about God and others.

4) "So I say live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (verse 16)  Living by the Spirit is how we live in freedom.  Freedom is not possible for us.  We cannot live in freedom on our own.  It is only through the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to live in freedom.  The Spirit gives us the gift of faith by which we receive Jesus Christ and all His benefits.  The Spirit also moves us away from serving ourselves and more toward loving God and serving others in love.  And this leads us to our next verse for reflection.

5) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law."  Living in freedom comes as we live by the Spirit,
and the Spirit produces fruit that looks more like Jesus in us.  Notice that a lot of the "fruit" leads us away from ourselves and towards God and others.  This is true freedom, and when we live by the Spirit there is no more need for law.

6) "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."  Life in Christ happens as we live in freedom and living in freedom occurs as we live by the Spirit.  You see this all goes beyond mere religion.  Religion offers a set of rules, laws, cultural mores, rituals, etc. for people to keep to attempt to re-bind their severed relationship with God.  However, religion cannot do it.
Yet where religion fails, Jesus Christ succeeds!  In Christ we are reunited to God (made forever right with Him).  In Christ we have the Holy Spirit living in us.  In Christ we are free and thus are called to live in freedom.  In Christ we are finally able to obey God.  Apart from Christ we can do nothing, but in Christ we will bear much fruit.  (see John 15:5)

So as we journey this week with Jesus to the cross, let us remember why He did what He did and let's ask God to help us live in freedom ... for God's glory and Christ's kingdom!

So what do you think?  Does this make sense?  Do you still have questions?   Let's be bold and share our thoughts, our questions, and our struggles as we seek to live in the freedom for which Christ has set us free.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of March 25

As we draw closer to the commemoration of Jesus' death and resurrection, I would like to turn our attention to what we believe when we say "I believe ... the forgiveness of sins".

This statement comes from The Apostles' Creed.  It, as with all the statements in the creed, is foundational to understanding what it means to have "true faith" in God.  But what does it mean?

According to the Heidelberg Catechism it means, "I believe that God, because of Christ's atonement, will never hold against me any of my sins nor my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.  Rather, in His grace, God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment."
(See Q&A 56; Psalm 103:3-4, Micah 7:18-19, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; I John 1:7, 2:2; Romans 7:21-25; John 3:17-18; Romans 8:1-2)

Let's take this statement one piece at a time, and then I want to look at one of the above scriptures as well.

Notice that the reason God can forgive is only "because of Christ's atonement".  Christ's atonement is "the act by which God restores to harmony and unity the relationship between Himself and human beings". (definition from Nelson's Bible Dictionary)  The act of course is Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.  Only by that act can we be forgiven.

In light of that act, let's look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; especially verse 21.  "God made Him who had no sin to be sin (or a sin offering) for us, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God."

In order to understand this verse, we need to consider our definition for sin.  If sin is primarily behavior; i.e. if sin is the bad things we do, then this verse makes no sense.  How could Jesus become "sin" or even a "sin offering" if He never did anything wrong.  Jesus could not become bad behavior.  However, if sin is separation from God, then we can understand this verse and Jesus' words from the cross more clearly.  On the cross, Jesus cried out (quoting from Psalm 22:1), "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"  If sin is separation from God, and Jesus became sin for us, then we can understand that on the cross Jesus became separated from God for us.

In that act of becoming separate from God, Jesus took on God's wrath against all sin (all who are separated from God).  So that when Jesus rose from the dead, He conquered sin, and forever restored the relationship between God and human beings; i.e. made us righteous or forever "right" with God.
Now all who believe in Jesus (that His life, death, and resurrection were for them), receive "forgiveness of sins"; i.e. eternal life a.k.a. freedom from judgment.

So "forgiveness of sins" is eternal in Christ because in Jesus we are reunited to God.  For those in Christ there is no more condemnation (see Romans 8:1) because Jesus has removed our separation from God, so that we now belong to Him for all eternity, and He will never leave us or forsake us!

This is good news!  This is gospel!  This is what we are called to proclaim to the nations!

So let's discuss.  If sin is not primarily behavior; i.e. bad things we do, but is separation from God, then how does this affect the way we witness and practice discipleship today?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of March 18

Jesus' first recorded message is in Mark 1:15.  He said, "The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!"  And that simple message completely changed the world!  The word "repent" has two possible meanings.  One meaning says "change your behavior", and the other meaning says, "change your way of thinking".  As I have been studying Luke's gospel in light of the parable of the two sons in chapter 15 as well as other passages, I have become more and more convinced that it is more important that we change our way of thinking than that we change our behavior!  What do you think?

(Read Romans 4:1-25)

What did Abraham discover?  And how did his discovery change the world?  Abraham discovered that God cares more about faith than about works (or good behavior) because "Abraham believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness."  This is radical stuff!

Look at verse 13 especially, "It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith."

This same discovery impacts our relationship with God as well.  Look at verses 23-24, "The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness - for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."  And then these words are applied in verse 25, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." 

So righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ and not by good behavior, therefore it is more important that we change our way of thinking than that we change our behavior!  What do you think?  What are the implications of this?  How does it shape the way you see yourself, others, and the world?