Sep 16

A Passion to Be Like Him

A Passion to Be Like Him

 

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,                                                                        (Phi 3:8-10 ESV)

As we seek to be holy people the primary need is to exalt Jesus.   All too often we have suggested that holiness is an “it” that God does “it” in my life.  So we ask, “Have you got “it?”  Has God done this process, [this thing].  Have you had “the crisis?”

But the question is, is Jesus the sole, only, reigning Lord of my life?  Is Jesus’ mind being recreated in me?  Is Jesus being glorified by my behavior?  Are people being drawn to Jesus because of my life?  Is Jesus becoming more beautiful, more desirable because of what He is doing in my life?   Any movement that focuses on Jesus which calls attention to Jesus, which glorifies Jesus, can’t go very far wrong.  But if we make our emphasis on us, on our performance, our behavior, our actions, we are walking on the edge of the cliff.

Sanctification is Jesus.  It is not an “it.”  It is a HIM and if we will focus on Jesus, if we will put Jesus at the absolute center of our lives and deny His place to anything else, holiness is going to follow like morning follows night.  Exalt Jesus, focus on Jesus, focus on the reality.  Holiness is a passion not a performance.  It is a passion for Jesus, a passion to know His ways, a passion to know His life, a passion to be like Him.

Sep 09

Happy or Blessed? (2)

Happy or Blessed? (2)

 

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

       nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law (torah) of the Lord,  

       and on his law (torah) he meditates day and night                                       Psalm 1:1-2 ESV

 

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.                                                                           Psalm 2:12 ESV

 

Last week we talked about the first basis for being in a blessed condition. It is to know and delight in God’s instruction manual, his torah. But alongside that one there is a second, one that is introduced in the second Psalm. That is a proper relationship to Yahweh’s anointed king, his Messiah. Why don’t we instinctively turn to God’s Word for guidance for living and instead turn to the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers? It is because of the fundamental strain of rebellion found in all of Adam and Eve’s children. WE will be kings of our lives.

 

But that way is not the way of blessing; it is the way of disaster, as humans have proven ever since the third chapter of Genesis. So, if we are to be blessed, what must happen, according to Psalm 2? We must recognize our rebellious character, and recognizing it, turn from it by willingly allowing another King, God’s Chosen, to take control of us. But notice how the verse ends. It takes us beyond mere submission to the King who is justly angry at our rebellion, and instead invites us to crawl up into his arms and take refuge in that gracious love revealed in his Cross. There is blessing.

 

Can we be blessed and unhappy at the same time? Of course! All of us experience circumstances that are unpleasant and grievous. To put a mask of happiness on our faces in such occasions is simply to live a lie. But if we have been delighting to live in God’s instructions and are hiding in the arms of Jesus, we are blessed, because we have resources in his word and his presence to meet those circumstances and triumph through them.

Sep 03

Happy or Blessed?

Happy or Blessed?  (1)

 

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

       nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law (torah) of the Lord,  

       and on his law (torah) he meditates day and night                                       Psalm 1:1-2 ESV

 

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.                                                                           Psalm 2:12d ESV

 

What is it to be blessed? Is it to be happy? No, it is not, for happiness is a fleeting emotion like every other emotion. But being blessed is a real condition that exists apart from any emotion. To be blessed is to receive good and favorable things, most especially the ultimate good, that life-giving fellowship with our Maker both now and forevermore.

 

The two passages printed above give us the ultimate bases for being blessed. They occur at the beginning of Psalm 1 and the end of Psalm 2. Many commentators believe these two psalms are intended to act as the introduction to the entire collection of psalms. The “book-end” effect resulting from beginning the first with blessing and ending the second in the same way supports that idea.

 

So what are the two bases for blessing? First, If we are to experience all the good things our Creator wants to give to us, we must not only be familiar with God’s instruction manual for life, his Torah, his Word, we must take delight in knowing it and doing it. Our Designer has given us the manual for experiencing life at its best. Why are we surprised when, having ignored it, our lives fall apart?

Aug 27

Don’t Sin

Don’t Sin

 

Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.                                             (Rom 6:15-18 NLT)

 

When we read Roman 6 we get the very clear impression that Paul intends for us to stop sinning. That is, we will stop doing the things we know Jesus, our husband, hates, the things that nailed him to a cross.  Can you imagine a wife saying to her husband, “Oh, honey, you know I love you, and I know you hate it, but I just can’t stop throwing cigarette butts all over the floor.” Paul calls that kind of behavior slavery. He is speaking of the addictive power of sin. We are either in its grip or we are not. We are not talking about unintentional or ignorant acts and attitudes which still need the covering blood of Christ, but about stuff we know full well is wrong.  We have to make a choice, Paul says: we will either be a slave to sinning, or a slave to doing what our Savior loves, what is right. So who rules your life? Who is the master whose command you cannot help but obey. Sin is addictive; it is dominating; it is destructive. You cannot be “a little bit” addicted to heroin. You are, or you aren’t. “Thank God! Once you were slaves to sin…. Now you are free from your slavery to sin.” Is it true? It ought to be

Aug 18

A Story for Finley

A Story for Finley

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you…

1 John 1-3a NRSV

 

You ask me when I first knew he was God? I can tell you the day and the hour. It was in the Spring of that third year. We were in Perea across the Jordan, on our way to Jerusalem. We had begged him not to go. But he just looked at us, and said, “You still don’t understand, do you?” and turned around and walked on. So what could we do? He was the Messiah after all, odd as that seemed on the surface, and we, ragtag bunch that we were, were going to be his government officials. We would show those Jerusalem bigwigs something – maybe.

About the third watch of the night, I heard him get up. He was doing that a lot those days. He told us he was praying, and I thought I would follow him and try to find out what he was praying about. But the next thing I knew, my eyes popped open and the sun was just about to come up over those eastern hills. I looked up and there he was, sitting on the little knoll just above where we had stretched out to sleep. So I got up as quietly as I could and crept up the hill until I could lay behind a bush off to his side and see him in profile and maybe hear whatever he was saying. But he wasn’t saying anything. He was just sitting there.

Then I became aware of a little bird hopping along the ground, going from bush to bush, until finally it was right at his feet. He looked down at it, and a little smile crossed his lips. Then he held out his forefinger to it, and quick as a flash, the little bird hopped up onto it. It looked at him for a moment, and then opened its beak wider than seemed possible and began to sing at the top of its voice. It wasn’t a very melodious song; the little thing didn’t have the greatest voice, but as it sang the smile on Jesus’ face got wider. Finally, the song ended and the two just looked at each other. I was too far away, of course, to actually see the look in the bird’s eyes, but I knew without any doubt at all that it was a look of absolute adoration, the adoration of a creature for its Creator.

Then Jesus slowly lifted his hand with the bird still perched on his outstretched finger, and raising his eyebrows, nodded. I knew what he was saying. He was saying, “Thank you; now go do what I made you for. Go and fly!” Slowly, almost reluctantly, the little bird raised its wings. Then it leapt into the air and soared away, singing as it went.

Without looking at me, Jesus said, “Good morning, John.” He knew I had been there all along! I got to my knees and looked up, and there on his face was the same little smile that had greeted the bird. I fell on my face. “Dear God, this rather ordinary-looking man, who spoke in the country accents of Galilee, with whom I had talked and laughed, from whose dirty, dusty feet I had sometimes untied sandals, whom I had seen tired, frustrated, crying – was God!” Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and he said quietly, “Get up, my son.” As I rose to my feet I saw that smile again and on either side of it outstretched arms. I threw myself into his embrace, and in that moment felt the arms of Life about me, and more than that, the arms of Love—Eternal Love. Oh yes, I knew.

Aug 12

The Grace of Holiness

The Grace of Holiness

 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.                                                     (Col 3:12-15 NIV)

15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor  to be with you forever–17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.             (John 14:15-18 NIV)

 

God has called His people to live holy lives, lives which manifest His character, especially in our relationships with one another. But whenever we try to do that, we seem to fail. So does God call us to something that He knows we can’t do? Oh no. God calls us to something for which He supplies the energy, the motivation, the life, the love. The Comforter has come – and through him Jesus himself has come (John 14:15-21)! Holiness is nothing other than the work of the Holy Spirit as He reveals in us the character of the Living God: the character of love when we are not loved in return; the character of purity in a world which is increasingly deceptive and immoral; the character of self-forgetfulness in a world that says, “Take care of yourself, baby, for you’re all you’ve got. If you don’t protect yourself, you’ve lost everything.” But Jesus says, “Whoever saves his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39).

Called to holiness and empowered in holiness by the Holy Spirit coming upon our lives. God grant it.

Jul 29

The Mockery of our Enemies

The Mockery of our Enemies

 

After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials. I told them, “You are hurting your own relatives by charging interest when they borrow money!” Then I called a public meeting to deal with the problem. At the meeting I said to them, “We are doing all we can to redeem our Jewish relatives who have had to sell themselves to pagan foreigners, but you are selling them back into slavery again. How often must we redeem them?” And they had nothing to say in their defense. Then I pressed further, “What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations?                                                    Nehemiah 5:7-9 NLT

 

Mocked by enemy nations? What was Nehemiah thinking about? I suggest that his reasoning was something like this: one, we claim to worship a God who is unique in all the world, who is, in fact, the only God; two, the evidence that our claim is correct is that this God does not act like the other gods; three, evidence for claim two is that he does not value people as those gods do, namely, on the basis of their wealth, their political clout, or their social standing, but values all people equally; four, this is demonstrated by his requirement that if we are in the fortunate position of having money to lend we cannot charge interest if we lend to other members of our nation.

But, in fact, to Nehemiah’s horror, that is exactly what was not happening in Judah. The wealthy were gaining more and more control over the land by forcing the poor to mortgage their property to them to guarantee their loans. Evidently the interest rates were ruinous, with the result that the poor were losing their land, land that actually had been a gift from God.  The rich clearly were not conducting their lives in awe and reverence for God and his commandments (i.e. no fear of God).

What was the result? The result was mockery from the enemy neighbors. I suspect it went something like this: “Oh, you hypocrites! You say your God is the only God because he is different from all the rest and expects a different kind of living from his people. Oh, yeah? Well, then why are you living just like us? You don’t really believe in your so-called God. He is just a convenient crutch you use when it’s to your advantage.”

The application to us is pretty obvious, isn’t it? If we claim that Jesus is the only Savior, and buttress our claims with statements that he can give new life and new living to people he saves, then our lives had better give concrete evidence of that new life. To paraphrase Nehemiah, “Shouldn’t we be determined to show the life of Christ in everything we do so that the enemies of the Gospel will have no grounds to mock him or us?”

Jul 22

Fear or Love

Fear or Love

 

Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.                Acts 9:31 NRSV

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.                                                 2 Corinthians 7:1 NRSV

 

In an earlier devotion (65) I wrote about a correct understanding of the fear of God. I said there that it is not the fear of punishment (what John is talking about in 1 John 4:18) but rather a way of living. It is to live with a correct understanding of reality and of your place in it. It is to live carefully and responsibly, in the knowledge that your life is a gift, and that you are accountable for what you do with it.  It is really important to recognize that this is not an Old Testament Idea (obey God because you are afraid of him) that is replaced by the New Testament idea (obey God because you love him).

As the scriptures above show, the fear of God and the love of God go together. Many of my former students remind me of something I have frequently said in class: “If the little God who lives under your bed loves you, that is not particularly good news; but if the God who could fry you alive by looking at you loves you, that is good news.” To have stood at the foot of the Cross and realized what is actually taking place there – that the Eternal, Infinite God, Life itself, is dying for us – should definitely not diminish our awe of God and our determination to do nothing that would hurt or displease him. Rather it should move us to a new dimension of that determination. It should determine us, in the words of the Apostle, to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.”

 

Jul 16

Righteousness, or righteousness?

Righteousness, or Righteousness?

…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.                        Philippians 3:9 NIV

In 2017 we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, beginning with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral. In many ways, that whole movement has centered around the question of righteousness. Is our acceptance by God dependent upon our righteous behavior, or not? Luther, as so many others before and since, was in despair over his inability to find peace with God although he did everything he knew to live according to every standard of righteousness the Church set forth. Then he came to grips with verses like the one quoted above: righteousness is not the result of our efforts, but the result of faith!

What a relief! He could stop struggling to be good enough for God, and simply trust God through Christ for his righteousness. This is good news. When our behavior not only falls short of what others expect of us, but more than that, of what we expect of ourselves, we can rest in the sufficiency of God’s grace. Ahh!

But is our “righteousness” simply a matter of judicial record? Does God simply account us as righteous because of Christ so that our actual behavior is of little or no importance? This is where a good deal of Protestant thinking has gone in recent years. Surely the truth, as is the case in so many instances, is between the two extremes. Does our acceptance by God depend on how righteous we are? No. But are people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells expected to live righteous lives? Yes!

The issue is: how do I live a Christlike (righteous) life? Do I do it through my own effort? That can only produce pride and bitterness. Or is it the result of dependence on (faith in) Jesus? In that case the result is humility and gratitude. The whole issue is the one of relationship. Righteousness is not the goal – intimacy with Jesus is –  and righteous behavior is the happy, and maybe even inevitable, byproduct.

Jul 10

I Will Praise You

I Will Praise You

 

O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?

2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

5 But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.

6 I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me.                                             Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6

 

About half of the psalms in the Bible are in the form of a lament. This form has four characteristic features: direct address to God (such as, “O my Lord”); complaint (“why have you forsaken me,”); petition (“come quickly to my aid”) and a vow of praise in the future (“I will praise you in the great congregation.”)

There is a very profound truth in this form, as seen in Psalm 13. That truth is that complaint and faith are not mutually exclusive. Too often, we have been taught that if you have “real faith,” you will always “look on the bright side,” and will never allow circumstances to “get you down.” So, if when you face real difficulties, you become  down and depressed, and feel as though God has turned his back on you, the obvious conclusion is that you have lost your faith in him. Too often the result of this kind of thinking is that we try to deny what we are really feeling and to pretend to something that is not so. That is not faith; it is only pretense!

What these 75 or more psalms do for us is to give us the permission to be real. To be subject to emotional highs and lows, and to be affected negatively by negative circumstances is simply part of the human condition. To be honest about them is not necessarily a sign of a lack of faith. It is simply to tell God what he already knows, believing that he is big enough to accept it!

But if the psalmists are conscious of the reality of what they are going through and their feelings about that, they are equally certain that God is going to respond to their cries and that the day will come when they will be able to tell everyone what a great God he truly is. Nor is there a hint of emotional blackmail here. There is no “if you answer my prayer, then I will give praise to you.” Praise is simply a certainty. Although it is not true in all cases, in many psalms this vow is stated with completed action verbs. We don’t have such a verb form in English, so we must put it in the future tense. But for the psalmist the praise is already given; it is a “done deal.”

This is faith: the confidence that in spite of the reality of feelings of abandonment and rejection by God, of inexplicable and undeserved pain, he who has proved himself faithful in the past is still at work and that praise for his wonderful grace is a foregone conclusion.

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