A Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin.  His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ!  Why?  Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ.  Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.

That is a struggle with which I am familiar.  That is something that I can identify with.  I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking.  I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus?  The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).

What do I do?  I keep reading!  Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation!  NONE!  The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17).  The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!

I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it.  I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!

Conversational Scripture Reading

Have you ever tried praying Scripture back to God? I’m talking about actually speaking the text back to Him using conversational pronouns (I may have just made that term up, but you get the point), for example, changing “He” and “the Lord” to “You”.  It makes for an amazing prayer and worship time.  Give it a shot.  Here’s a good one to start with: Psalm 18:1-3

Ummmm…just one word of warning: be careful to know the context.  Every passage in Scripture is not suitable for this kind of reading.  There are sometimes specific prophecies, instructions, etc. that were for a particular people at a particular time.  Pick the ones that are obviously more universal, in nature.  If you have questions about whether a specific passage fits the bill, shoot it to me and I’d be happy to try and help you figure it out.

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Getting it Right

One of the things I had to learn once I started seminary was how to effectively and rightly interpret Scripture. I guess I hadn’t though much about it up to that point. I figured you just read the Bible and did what it said. From time-to-time, I would have people ask me, “Do you interpret the Bible literally?” Hm. Wasn’t sure how to answer that. I guess so. At the time, I didn’t understand what they meant. I later learned that some people interpreted everything literally. Since there are passages that instruct women to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel…” (1 Timothy 2:9-10), some churches have decided it best that women not wear make-up or shorts or anything other than long dresses. While I respect their desire for modesty and am totally in favor of the appropriate amount of cover-up, make-up, in my humble opinion, is not a bad invention. Therefore, I assumed that I didn’t take everything literally.

On the other hand, there were those who argued for allegorical interpretation of Scripture. In this case, stories like Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Noah and the Flood were not historical events but stories made up in order to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. I definitely didn’t fall into that category.

So, when I got to seminary, I learned how to properly interpret Scripture. I learned that it is important that we seek out the author’s original intent according to the context in which he wrote. What was he trying to say when he wrote what he did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I learned that there are different genres in Scripture just like there are different genres in other types of literature. As such, they must be interpreted accordingly. For instance, poetry can’t be interpreted the same as history. Imagery is used that cannot be taken literally. If it were, then a painting of the bride that Solomon describes in Song of Solomon 4 would end up looking like a strange work of art by Pablo Picasso…more like the Elephant Man than a beautiful woman.

During my studies, I discovered a device that is often used in Scripture called “Phenomenological Language.” When someone uses this literary device, they are simply describing what they see as they see it without using technical jargon or concern to describe what is actually happening. For instance, in Psalm 19, David, in describing the heavens that God created, writes:

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Now, if we take that literally, we have a lot of problems with Scripture. As a matter of fact, this verse has been used by some who believe the Bible is full of errors. They say that if God essentially wrote Scripture, it should be known that the Sun does not actually move, but that the earth revolves around a stationary sun. This, therefore, proves Scripture errant. These people fail to realize the phenomenological language that is being used to provide word-pictures. David is simply looking up and describing the heavens as he sees it. The reality is, we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun yet we do the same thing today! Think about it: “What time is sunrise today?” “Did you see that beautiful sunset?” “I love watching the Sun rise over the ocean.” What are we saying about the nature of the Sun’s actions in relation to the Earth when we talk like this? Nothing. That’s not what we’re talking about at all.

In light of this, it’s important that we understand how we interpret language. Otherwise, it can completely derail our understanding of Scripture and how we live our lives.

I have another one for you. We talk about “going to church.” How often do you talk to your family and friends about going to church? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Do you go to church every Sunday? What church to you go to? What are we doing? We’re using phenomenological language! It looks like we’re going to church, but that is not the reality. The Bible describes the Truth behind the language in places like 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Again in Romans 12:4-5, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” As a matter of fact, there are over 20 passages in Scripture that talk not about going to church, but being the Church! Our understanding on this point makes all the difference in the world as to how we respond to it.

If I believe that I simply go to church on Sunday, then my level of commitment and involvement is very limited. I go to the store to get what I need and leave without another thought of it. I go to the movies and am entertained for a couple of hours and then get on with my life. I am, essentially, a consumer who gets what I need and then moves on with that experience having little impact on the other parts of my life.

If, on the other hand, I understand that I am the Church, that changes everything! I cannot be a father only when I’m around my children or a husband only when I’m around my wife. These aspects of my identity shape everything about me. They determine decisions and actions, attitudes and thoughts. That is me. In the same way, I cannot be a part of the Church only when I’m there. I am a part of the Body of Christ at all times and in all places. That fact should also shape decisions, attitudes, actions and thoughts. It should determine how I function within the Body as well:

I don’t ask whether I should serve. I assume that. Instead, I ask “Where should I serve.”
I don’t ask wether or not I should give. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “What should I give?”
I don’t ask whether or not I should participate. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How do I participate.”
I don’t ask whether or not I should be a witness for Christ at work and play. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How can I be a good witness in my context?

I hope you can see the importance of understanding Scripture rightly, and how our use of language matters, as well. If I talk too much about “going to church,” that will eventually shape my thinking about it. Instead, I need to begin reminding myself at all times and in all ways, that, because I have been adopted by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sealed by the Spirit, I am the Church. In so doing, I’m changing the way I identify and interact with all of the other members of that same Body of Christ, serving, giving and going with the right attitude and determination to glorify Him in all things.

One of the Fruits of Being Justified By Faith

A favorite section from R.C. Sproul’s classic, The Holiness of God:

When our holy war with God ceases; when we, like Luther, walk through the doors of paradise, when we are justified by faith, the war ends forever. With the cleansing from sin and the declaration of divine forgiveness we enter into an eternal peace treaty with God. The firstfruit of our justification is peace with God. This peace is a holy peace, a peace unblemished and transcendent. It is a peace that cannot by destroyed.
When God signs a peace treaty, it is signed for perpetuity. The war is over, forever and ever. Of course we still sin; we still rebel; we still commit acts of hostility toward God. But God is not a cobelligerent. He will not be drawn into warfare with us. We have an advocate with the Father. We have a mediator who keeps the peace. He rules over the peace because He is both the Prince of Peace and He is our peace.
We are now called the children of God, a title granted in blessing to those who are peacemakers. Our sins are now dealt with by a Father, not a military commander. We have peace. It is our possession, sealed and guaranteed for us by Christ. (chapter 7)

A call to and reason for worship for all who have experienced this peace!

Thirsty

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One of the problems I have had throughout my life is that I often don’t realize I’m thirsty until I’m bordering on dehydration.  I seem to get parched quickly and, before I know it, a headache sets in. By that time, it’s too late to avoid the pain, though it is essential that I begin the re-hydration process so I don’t perpetuate it!

I have realized another thing: I have the exact same problem with my spiritual life!  I often get so busy or so distracted that I develop tunnel vision.  I fail to drink regularly from my source of strength (the Word of God) and to be poured into from men of God who preach the Word faithfully (through podcasts, books, etc.) and before I know it, I’m bordering on spiritual dehydration.

When that happens, everything suffers: my family, my interaction with God (prayer becomes minimal), my preaching and my other relationships.  Everything suffers!

Turns out, that’s where I’ve been lately…spiritually dehydrated.  My message yesterday was a confession of this and a challenge to all of us to pause and take a spiritual inventory of whether or not we’re drinking in things that are less than satisfactory at the expense of drinking in that which fully satisfies.

In John 7, Jesus stood up at the end of the Feast and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

In one sense, this is speaking to those who have never received Christ and have been made aware of their condition without Him.  What about for those of us: those who have trusted in Christ, but go through times of drought?  

Come and drink!

The problem for someone like me is that we don’t always realize we’re thirsty!  How can we deal with a problem we don’t realize we have?  The solution is quite easy.  Actually, it’s the same solution that we would use for physical conditioning:  Stay hydrated!

Really, that’s it.  The way to know that I’m always physically hydrated is to develop a lifestyle of drinking water throughout the day…every day.  So, for a man, that’s about 3 liters a day.  For me, that’s a lot of water, but if I want to stay healthy, I need to do it or deal with the consequences.

Practically, for my spiritual health, I have to do the same thing.  I have to be in the Word every single morning, develop a lifestyle of regular prayer and ask people close to me to keep me in check.  In other words, “the basics”.  The problem for people who have been disciples for long periods of time is that we sometimes feel as though we’re OK if we miss a day or two.  The result is that even though it might not have a huge effect immediately, it begins an erosion process.  We quickly lose focus and direction.  Excuses come easy and often and the damage slowly begins to show.  We can’t let it happen and the only way to prevent that is consistency!

So, are you thirsty?  

Maybe like me, you need to stop running long enough to find out.  How are your relationships going?  How long has it been since you spent time reading Scripture (that wasn’t to prepare a sermon or to teach a Bible class)?  How’s your prayer life?  These are all indicators of your level of hydration.  Check it out before you start really hurting.  For me, it’s manifested itself in feeling burned out.  For someone who wants to spend the rest of their life pouring into others for the sake of the Kingdom of God, that’s the worst feeling I can have.  

We’re in the race together.

That being the case, let’s decide to protect each other from this unhealthy state and take seriously the instruction of Hebrews 10:19-25:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Make sure you stay hydrated so that your healthy enough to finish the race as strongly as you’ve begun!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Martyrdom Lives

martyrJust read an excerpt from a Relevant Magazine article in On Mission:

More than 2,000 Christians died for their faith last year, according to Open Doors.  The conflict in Syria accounted for the largest group of Christian deaths, some 1,200 casualties.  The total number of confirmed martyr deaths reported 2,123 for 2013, includes no numbers for North Korea, where no official Christian deaths were recorded, but most certainly took place.

If we think people aren’t dying for their faith in Christ all around the world even today, we are ignorant of the truth.  If we believe that it can’t happen in America, we are naive.

“…and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13b)

When Doctrine Comes Alive

Last night, we had one of our Institute classes at The Gathering.  If you’re not familiar, Institute is currently an in-depth systematic theology class we take some of our members through.  It can be rather intense and challenging to complete.  I have to say, though, I am so proud of those who have taken on the challenge and are seeing it through to the end.

The topics we covered last night were all related to the doctrine of Christ.  I am always amazed at the blessing that comes through studying doctrine.  That’s usually the stuff people find cold, stale and boring.  Man, that couldn’t be farther from the truth!  As we talked about the expansive nature of the Father’s love, the Son’s obedience and the Spirit’s power, we were left in awe.  It just reminded me of how little we “get it.”

GrudemHere’s an example of what I’m talking about:  In dealing with the crucifixion of Christ, in his book, Bible Doctrines (which is our text), Wayne Grudem uses that sickening feeling we get when we know that someone is mad at us to describe something of what Christ must have felt.  We sometimes lose sleep.  We experience a nagging, gnawing in our stomachs and can’t wait for it to be made right somehow in order to relieve the agony we have experienced.  When Christ died, the full wrath and fury of God the Father towards ALL of mankind was directed at and poured onto Jesus.  All of it…in full force…at one time.

If we experience intense feelings when human relationships are damaged,  how unbelievably intense must that have felt for Christ for the Father to not just turn His back on the Son, but to rage against the Son because of us; so that He didn’t have to rage against us?  Do you get that?!

Regardless of how awful we think the crucifixion of Christ was; no matter how much we think we have a grasp of it…no! It was worse than that.  “But I think I get it.” No, you don’t.  It was worse.  Unimaginably worse. Incomprehensibly worse.

As we thought through these incredible truths, we concluded that there is only one place to land; only one, real response:  worship.  Not just the “outer expression” of worship, but the deep, inner sense of awe and wonder, thanksgiving and praise that should be what leads to the outward expressions.

Too often, what we call our outward expressions of worship aren’t anything close to real expression.  They’re frequently little more than Pavlovian responses to hearing certain music.  The cool, emotion-driven song starts playing, the hands go up, the tears start flowing.  Sadly, there is often little substance.

That is not to say that we should become conscious of what others are doing in worship.  “Do they get it, or are they just ‘going through the motions?'” Quite the opposite.  We need to become conscious of what we are doing in worship.  Is it worship in spirit and truth? (John 4:24)  Is it honest and is it based on the reality of what Christ has done?  Is it in response to the substitutionary atonement that Christ has secured for His children and the sanctifying work of the Spirit that gets us through this life victoriously?  Is it a natural outflow of our meditation on the depths of the Father’s love for us that He would reserve the full load of His intense fury for His own Son?  Is it real worship because we understand that the glory of God is so important that all of this is done to magnify it?  Do we really get it?

It’s when we spend the time thinking through, studying, wrestling with and realizing the deep things of God as revealed through Scripture that the heart becomes engaged and the outward responses are true expressions.  This is why we have to go deeper than the spiritual milk Paul talked about and dig down deep into the nourishing meat of Scripture…yes, even those cold, stale doctrines…

…which are anything but.

Making Time: Learning to Invest This Precious Gift From God

TIME has been on my mind a lot lately.  As I near the end of another year, I’m analyzing what has gone well and what hasn’t gone quite as well (notice the gracious way in which I didn’t say those things bombed?)  One thing that I haven’t done so well on is managing time.  I can think back to many opportunities missed and time that I let get away from me.

On Sunday, I preached a message called “Making Time,” in which I looked at some of the characteristics of time and then what Scripture says about it.  Three important things for us to remember about time is that it is a gift, it is limited and it is progressive.  It is the only gift that God gives that we can’t receive again.  Once time is gone, it is simply gone.  It can’t be saved, paused or rewound.  It moves forward without mercy.  So the only thing we can do is manage the time we’ve been given.  The problem is that most of us have done a really bad job at this. We’ve spent so much of our lives killing time, we should probably be convicted of murder!

Look, I know that it’s virtually impossible to make every minute productive.  Frankly, I’m not saying that we should.  We’re not made to “produce” 24/7.  God built in rest and has made us to enjoy free time, having fun and re-energizing our lives.  I do, however, think that it is possible…and proper…to work towards making every moment, even free time, meaningful.  That’s the idea behind 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  This clearly says that everything is to be sanctified before God, taking all aspects of life, even the simple and mundane, seriously regarding the time that is dedicated to it.

So, what else does the Bible say about how we spend our time?

First, it communicates that we need to approach how we manage our time with humility.  Look at what James says about it:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Since time is a gift that we’ve done nothing to receive, we need to humbly consider how we are going to use what we’ve been given.  We need to realize that we are mortal and, as mortals, vulnerable.  We are not, in any way, promised tomorrow, so we do well to make the most of today, grateful to God for the “then” and the “now,” without assuming the “later.”

That leads to a second thing the Bible tells us to consider in managing our time:  We must take stock of our time using the gift of wisdom (James 1:5).  This means that we need to think about how we are spending our time and what we’re using it on. Here’s how Paul put it to the Ephesians:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17

Are we using our time in accordance with our calling?  If you do not understand what God wants you to, specifically, do with your time, you will fill it up with things that waste time; things that don’t honor God or bring satisfaction or purpose to your life.

The remedy, then, once we understand where our time is going, is to invest it.  Once we take stock in our time, we can find the culprits that steal our time and re-claim or redeem it.  As we eliminate those things, we see margin being built into our lives–precious free time that can then be used for those things that are of the most value–things like family and friends, church, work and rest.

It is often very hard, but if we’re going to be healthy individuals, we have to find the balance between work and rest, the extreme of either bringing us to a state of imbalance, leaving us either workaholics or slugs!

 

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