Sunday, July 12, 2020

FROM HIS FULLNESS



“And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

John 1:16

It is important for us to understand something theologians have called, "Common Grace." God is not simply working in the lives of believers. He is at work in every human being. “We have all received grace upon grace.” Every throb of your heart muscle, every breath of air and the ability of your body to draw oxygen is given by God through His Creator/Sustainer Son. The universe and the Earth that sustains life are given by grace. All human ability and ingenuity comes through Jesus. John 1:14 says His glory is the glory of the only Son from the Father, “full of grace and truth.” He lavishes grace and truth upon all humanity.

The ability to understand anything comes through the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. Believers are sometimes confused about the value of abilities that we developed before we came to know Christ personally. But when you understand that your ability to sing or play the piano, paint or speak eloquently is given you personally and individually by Christ, you see how your natural ability works together with spiritual gifts given you after the spirit of God has come to dwell in you. Of course they sometimes form a counterbalance to our spiritual gifts. Moses had a speech impediment, and yet the book of Deuteronomy is a record of the marvelous sermons Moses preached to the children of Israel at Mount Horeb. I remember hearing the testimony of a high school wrestler who had a learning disability that had kept him from reading anything. Yet when he came to Christ he began to voraciously read God's word with amazing understanding.

However our natural abilities usually work in perfect union with the gifts and calling that God gives after we come to Christ. The great intellect of someone like Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer was certainly active before they came to know Christ. But God mightily used their intellect in conjunction with their spiritual gifts in the calling of God upon their lives.

Some of that grace comes through the conscience. The Bible says the law of God is written on the hearts of men. No one is shocked to discover that God forbids bearing false witness. People know innately that murder and theft are wrong. This is from common grace. You also find people who do not know Christ sacrificing in love for other people, being honest to their own hurt, and living in peace with their neighbors. These are all expressions of common grace.

We can rejoice that God is at work throughout the world around us. In these troubled times there is a peace that comes from the assurance that God is at work all around us. His Spirit touches people whose mindset and world view reject God at every turn.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

THE WORD OF ENLIGHTENMENT



I am astounded by the number of deep truths that rise to the surface of John chapter 1. Some of them are expressed by the reciprocating metaphors of the word and the light. Look with me at these verses.

John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:4
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 1:9-14
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
All reality is explained in these metaphors. Here are a few things that are revealed.

All Creation Is Explained.
Astronomers have discovered many evidences that we live in an information rich universe. So many variables had to be precisely what they are for the universe to exist and accommodate life. From the discovery of the complex code of DNA, we have learned that instructions produce every characteristic of plant and animal life.

Your genes are not an accident

Detailed instructions never are.

These all demonstrate intent

By the Creator of the Stars.*

Jesus was the living word that burst forth when God said, “Let there be light.”

All Consciousness Is Explained.
In Him was life and His life shines through all humanity. The bright light of human consciousness does not come from inanimate matter, plus chance, plus time. It comes from the living, creating, producing person of God through His Son. All your ability to understand anything is given you by a living, conscious, personal, loving God. Growing in spiritual consciousness comes in relationship with Jesus, the Word of God.

All Communion Is Explained.
Those who receive Him trusting in His name become children of God. We were not made to be independent beings. By His authority and transforming power, and at His invitation you can become God's own child, we are reborn into His family.

All Glory Is Explained.

Light is not simply a metaphor for understanding. The glory of God is depicted as light. Through the light of Jesus in creation, history, and in our lives we bask in the everlasting glory of God.

*From A Poem Penned by God, in Take me to the Garden 

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Friday, June 5, 2020

THE SECRET OF COURAGE




One of the most courageous actions recorded in Scripture is found as Joseph of Arimathea going to ask for the body of Jesus. It does not take much imagination to understand what Joseph must have been thinking when he considered going to Pilate. He must have known he would lose his place on the Sanhedrin and in society by doing that. He had to have considered the fact that connecting himself to a condemned criminal might cost him his life as well.

To be honest, I find the lack of courage one of my greatest character flaws. So I am drawn to this event, praying that God will rub some of Joseph’s courage off on me.

Joseph’s act is displayed for us is in Luke 23:50-53
“Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.” 

First, Joseph must have carried out this act in Humility.
We might compare his behavior with that of Peter the night before. Peter boasted to the Lord that he was ready to go with him to prison or death. And Peter did show amazing bravado that night. He followed those who arrested Jesus right into the High Priest’s court. Can you imagine doing that? I can’t. He even sat down around a fire with the servants of the High Priest. But Jesus told Simon who he was facing on this night, and who it is that may attack your courage. “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat.” I think it is clear that Joseph did not boast to Caiaphas or Pilate that he was going to do this thing. He just went and asked.

I think he must have acted with Resignation.
Joseph could not have known what consequences he would face by going to Pilate and then going among the soldiers who hung Jesus on the cross. He had to have been willing to face them to have carried this out.

Joseph was motivated some by his Expectation.
The Bible says he was expecting the kingdom of God. I don’t know what Joseph understood of the kingdom of God, but he must have had a sense that God himself was involved in this matter. Luke does not tell us that anyone else helped Joseph take his body down. But John does. Do you know who was with him? It was Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night in John 3. It was Nicodemus whom Jesus told about being born again. It was Nicodemus who may have understood that Jesus was not just of this world.

And I believe he had to have some Conviction.
I don’t know how much Joseph believed then or even later about Jesus. But he had to believe enough to risk his life.

Finally, I think some of Joseph’s courage may have come from Devotion.
I don’t think you can picture that scene without recognizing Joseph’s respect for Jesus. And I suspect it took more than respect for him to go through the ranks to speak to the highest ranking officer in Roman Syria. I believe he likely had a sense that Jesus had come from God. Nicodemus certainly did, as others may have. Nicodemus said, “We know that you are a teacher come from God. For no one could perform these signs if God were not with him.” And I suspect courage born in my heart will come from the realization that God is God, and devotion to Jesus His Son as Lord.

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Thursday, June 4, 2020

DO YOU SAY SO?








Some years ago I heard a Muslim man in a question and answer time with Ravi Zacharias say Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God.




That is not true. A case in point is found in Matthew 16. When Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus did not just say Peter was right, He said flesh and blood had not shown Peter this. Our Lord’s Father in Heaven revealed it to Peter. Jesus had first asked His disciples who people were saying he was. He then asked who they thought He was. Jesus consistently wanted others to recognize Him.




In Luke 23:3 Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And He answered, “You have said so.” I assume Jesus was referring to something Pilate had said privately to his wife or other confidants. But this is a pattern that applies to us. Whether you serve or reject Him, the day will come when you will confess that He is Lord. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:10,11 that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.




Here are some important principles that can be drawn from this fact.




Jesus wants everyone to consider who He is.

Have you thought about this question? Have you honestly and openly looked at the New Testament claims about Jesus? Have you considered His character revealed in scripture? Are you aware of the prophecies made about Him from the Old Testament? Have you considered His love and promises to those who come to know Him? Are you aware of the price He paid to forgive your sins?




Jesus wants us to recognize Him.

Your eternal destiny depends on your recognizing Him, surrendering your heart and will to Him, coming to know Him yourself.




Jesus wants us to tell others who He is.

God draws people to Himself, but He usually draws them by His truth from the lips of His followers. He told His followers that we are His witnesses.





So who are you saying that He is?




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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

WHY DO YOU ASK MY NAME?


One of my favorite events in scripture is the night Jacob wrestled with God. I don't believe you find anything like this in any religious teaching other than the Bible. The God who created the universe humbles Himself to wrestle with a man. The story is in Genesis 32.

Jacob feared that he and his family would be attacked by his brother, Esau, and an army of 400 men with him. Jacob sent his family and all his possessions across the Jabbok River to protect them. And left alone, all that night a man wrestled with him. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip and put it out of joint. If he hadn't known before, Jacob now knew who this was. This is not the first time in scripture or even in Jacob's own family, that God appeared to someone as a man. I am convinced that Jacob wrestled with the preincarnate Christ whom The New Testament identifies as the I AM who appeared to Moses at the burning bush. He told Jacob to let go of Him because the night was over. But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Jacob, already crippled so that he would limp for the rest of his days, knew he was now risking his life for the blessing of God. And in blessing him God changed Jacob's name to Israel.

But then we read in verse 29 that Jacob asked Him, “Please tell me your name.” He said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” Why did Jacob ask his name? If he didn't already know whom he was dealing with, he wouldn't have asked Him for a blessing. And we read in verse 30 that Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

I remember something from my childhood that impressed me deeply. My father, who was usually a very quiet man, talked about an answer to prayer that he thought could never happen. And Dad said, “God had to have done that!” That statement from my father encourages me to this day. Many of you can look back on some time in your life in which you were absolutely certain of God's intervention. Your’s, like my dad’s, may have been an impossible answer to prayer. It may have been a miraculous rescue. You may have trembled at the wonder of the universe. You might have been stunned by the complex language of DNA, or the calculated peregrinations of migratory birds. You could have sensed God’s very presence in a prayer meeting, a worship service, or in your private devotions. And you knew it had to be God. Whatever it was, sometime later you asked if that could really have been God. You may have asked a friend or a mentor their opinion. You may even have asked God, “Was that you God?” even though, somewhere in your mind, you knew it had to have been. While most if not all of us have had experiences like that, we sometimes need to remember that He is just as real when we no longer sense His presence. He is God even when He is not wrestling with you.

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Sunday, May 17, 2020

THE SIN OF THE CHURCH

What sin is enveloping the church in these days?


Any sin is serious. And God's people are not immune to the enemy’s temptations, although we are given armor against them. To some extent, it is not unusual for God’s people to be sucked into whatever sin dominates our culture. But those who desire to be godly will seek deliverance from the sin of the world around us.

The sin that is shaking our country is slander. It is prevalent on Facebook and other social media. It seems to have consumed politics. And yes, it can be found even in God’s church. We are tempted to think that castigating those we disagree with or that we feel are attacking us is the right thing to do. That is an ungodly notion. The Bible clearly condemns slander.

In Mark 7:21,22 Jesus listed slander as one of those things that come from within our hearts and defile us before God.

In Ephesians 4:31 Paul directs us.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

This includes all bitterness toward those whose politics, world view, or lifestyle we abhor.

1 Peter 2:1 calls God's people to stop slandering others.
“Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

Like a number of sins, slander defies several of the Ten Commandments. First it breaks the command not to bear false witness. If you say or write something that you have not verified about anyone, a neighbor, a politician or a public figure, you are saying you don’t care as much about the truth as God does. I have heard people defend this by saying, “Well, most of what I said has to be true.” I wish I could say that ruins your whole argument. It certainly does for me. But in this post-truth era, people may not care whether everything you say is true or not. But you can be sure that God is not with you in that tirade.

Slander also breaks the command not to murder. You may be scratching your head at this one. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus said,
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Jesus called hatred, murder in your heart. We need to strive not to minimize the seriousness of this evil.

Possibly a little more obscurely, slander challenges the first commandment. God said “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” Pride and hypocrisy are the seeds of slander. The person committing this sin pretends to be better than the person we are slandering. Slander puts into words the worship of your own thinking, your attitudes, your fears, your politics, and even your bitterness.

Some of you are cut to the heart by what I have written. God bless you. Some of you have known all along that hatred of our enemies is not Christ-like. But what are we to do?

First we need to turn to God with a repentant heart. That includes those of you who have not participated in this sin as far as you know. We are all part of the church, and many in the church are guilty of outrageous slander. We must not approach them with an arrogant spirit. Before we say anything to anyone else, we need to pray like Nehemiah and Daniel prayed when they confessed the sins of their people. They had probably never participated in those sins, but they recognized that they were part of the people of God who had sinned.

We are to pray consistently, both for our enemies and for those who would hate and lie about them rather than loving them in the name of Christ. Pray for God to help us love both those who slander and those who are slandered.

And trust that God is sovereign. The saying, United we stand. Divided we fall. Can be traced back to one of Aesop. In a different context, Jesus said, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” Although especially in this time of pandemic, I see bright sparks of unity in America, I fear that our nation might not survive the divisiveness in our culture and politics. Trust me, you will not enjoy the destruction this country. And whatever emerges will be worse, maybe worse than anyone could imagine. I am not suggesting that we not disagree with one another. I am crying out to God and to God’s people that we set an example for the rest by not hating or believing the worst about those with whom we disagree. However, even if God’s people seek to be holy in the midst of all this, I am not sure what will happen in our nation as a whole. I am certain that no matter what happens Jesus is Lord, He is coming back, and God is still on the throne. Our security is in Him. Therefore, “love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

HOW ARE YOU WORKING FOR SUCCESS?








I am writing especially to you who are pastors, but much of what I have to say will apply to any believer in Jesus Christ. I suspect that much of what is pressed upon us by the church growth movement and its widely accepted continuations are little more than superstition. Some of these things remind me of the labors of Jacob in the 30th chapter of Genesis. Jacob put striped sticks before the eyes of the livestock while they were breeding so that they would bear striped and spotted offspring which were to be his wages.

I have recently been trying to memorize chapter by chapter through Genesis. And frankly, I had great difficulty with this chapter. I did not believe for a minute that what those animals saw had any relation to how their offspring turned out. However, I am pretty sure that Jacob believed it while he was doing it. And low and behold, it worked! Jacob became extremely rich. That may be the mantra of some in the church growth movement. Whatever works must be right.

I didn't really get any peace about this until I was into the 31st chapter, and discovered that at least eventually Jacob found out that his strategy was not what increased his flocks. And Moses had to have known it when he penned chapter 30. God made the animals produce the offspring that were designated as Jacob's wages, not his machinations.

Now, let me say emphatically that the Bible teaches that God and God alone adds numerically to His church. I am aware that by God's grace and in union with God's Spirit we, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:11, seek to persuade people. But we do not do it with cleverness, sidestepping truth that is uncomfortable, or appealing to worldliness. We persuade in the fear of God, the conviction of the word of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is not to say that you can never bring success by gimmicks. I once heard someone quip, "That church would have grown if there wasn't a God." But I strongly suspect that if you reach people by any means but the movement of the Holy Spirit, they are still lost. And they will often do harm to the fellowship before they leave completely.

What then can we do to become successful? Let me suggest some things that lead to long-term success, at least in the eyes of God.
  1. Seek to grow in the Lord by saturating yourself in God's word.
  2. Seek to grow in the Lord as you obey what God shows you of His will.
  3. Pray earnestly and lead others to pray for God's will and work in their lives and in His church
  4. Pray for people all around you, and help others pray for deep connections with people who need to hear the gospel.
  5. Compassionately minister to needs that God shows you.
  6. Consistently teach and train your people to walk with God and touch the lives of others.
The scriptures give us the fodder for this kind of development and teaching. Things like the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 and those things that pertain to life and godliness listed in 2 Peter 1 and in many other Scripture passages that God enlightens in your heart, in your preaching and teaching, for your organization and encouragement of the flock, and in the lives of your people.

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