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!

Morning Encouragement

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.

~Lamentations 3:19-29 (ESV)

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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I’m Journibling Romans

No, I didn’t misspell it. I’m actually Journibling.  It’s supposed to be a combination of “journal” and “Bible” in which you become a scribe, actually writing out the text of Scripture, giving you an opportunity to think through what you are writing and also, by writing, a greater shot at retention.

It’s a pretty cool idea that you may want to check out and try for yourself.  Journibles have been put together for several books so far, with (I’m sure) more on the way.  Currently they’re on sale and can be purchased here.  Let me know if you get one and what you think.

The Amazing God of Manasseh

To read the account of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-17, 20) is absolutely amazing in regards to the mercy of God. Manasseh did everything he could to provoke God. Reading about his faithlessness and sin toward God is like watching a fatal train crash. I found myself actually getting angry at him myself as it was mentioned he went as far as burning his own sons as sacrifices to idols. How could God ever forgive someone for something so vile?! Besides that, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.” God spoke to them and they refused to listen and “he did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

And yet…

There’s that phrase…and yet. It often follows when talking about God. I can read about the horrible way God’s people act and of how faithless we can be, then follows, and yet.

Manasseh was entirely faithless…completely faithless, AND YET God was faithful. The following is a remarkable passage in light of Manasseh’s depth of depravity:

12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Look at that! God was moved by his entreaty and forgave him. Is there really no depths from which God cannot restore? Is there really no one too far gone that God cannot bring back. If God can bring Manasseh to restoration after such amazingly depraved actions, surely there is hope for anyone…there is hope for us.

The Lord, my God, is an alarmingly merciful God. Yes, a God of justice and judgment, but of mercy and grace. Thank you, Father, for your abundant and sufficient loving-kindness. Your mercy endures forever!

What are some ways God has shown you the “and yet” kind of grace?

The Depths of the Cross

As we enter into this week before Easter, called Passion Week, I read what I believe is one of, if not the most profound and rich sections of Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.  Living in a world where misguided terrorists regularly commit suicide, killing not only themselves but countless others along with them in a vain attempt to become “martyrs” for Allah, Chambers puts the death of Christ in perspective, standing in stark contrast not only to those mass murderers, but even those who willingly give their lives for others and the cause of Christ:

Never associate the idea of martyrdom with the Cross of Christ. It was the supreme triumph, and it shook the very foundations of hell. There is nothing in time or eternity more absolutely certain and irrefutable than what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross— He made it possible for the entire human race to be brought back into a right-standing relationship with God. He made redemption the foundation of human life; that is, He made a way for every person to have fellowship with God.

As you turn your attention towards Easter Sunday, I encourage to read through and think about the depth of meaning in the cross of Christ as is communicated in this Chambers classic, The Collision of God and Sin.

Doubt-Less – 1 John 3:19-24

Have you ever had serious doubts about your salvation?  I think we all have from time-to-time.  Sometimes they’re well founded because it is possible to spend an entire lifetime going to church, doing all the religious ritual stuff, “doing good,” never having entered into a saving knowledge of Jesus (beyond head knowledge to the heart level, where Jesus–not the Jesus stuff–has become the center of your life).

Sometimes, though, even those who have trusted Jesus begin to have doubts…serious doubts…about the condition of our souls.  This should certainly give us pause, understanding that these are often times when we have drifted away from the relationship with God we have had, being blocked from him by sin.

Our conscience plays a vital role in remedying this as we listen when conviction comes, realizing what has happened, and moving back to Him through confession.

“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”

This is really the key to maintaining a healthy and right relationship with God:  keeping His commandments, namely, loving Him with all our hearts and loving each other.  Love is the commandment.  This can take a thousand different forms, but that is the bedrock foundation upon which our faith is founded, having been loved to the extreme by Jesus Christ who makes this whole thing possible.

Some of the expressions come through sacrificing our needs and wants for that of others.  Giving sacrificially to those who do not have enough to sustain them (which is not a political issue–liberal, progressive, conservative or otherwise–so let’s stop making it one), or simply being there for a friend who is hurting.

So many ways are there of loving and yet I find myself often “condemned” in my soul, as John says, because I’ve not done any of them.  As we’ve said before, real faith is that of actions, not merely lofty rhetoric.  Keeping the commandment keeps the doubt at bay and, then, if those times when Satan is the one convicting, John reminds us that “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

It’s easy to talk big…but we need to stop long enough to listen to what are our hearts telling us.

One Life

What difference can one life really make? When we think of people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or others who have been in extraordinary positions, wielding extraordinary power, perhaps we say one life can make a tremendous difference.

It’s another thing, though, when we talk about us ordinary folk with limited resources and limited opportunities isn’t it? Yet, in Scripture I read about one ordinary person following another who made tremendous impact on the world. Think about just a few: Abraham…nothing special. Joseph…nothing special, either. David…a shepherd…nothing. Peter, the fisherman…nope. I could go on and on with individuals who were “nothing special” but accomplished spectacular things. Or should I say, had spectacular things accomplished through them? That’s really it, isn’t it? It’s one thing to be given power and prestige and accomplish great things. It’s another thing, entirely, to be an average joe living an average life and accomplish things.

I say this because everybody…yes, everybody…wants to accomplish great things; they want to make a difference; to leave their mark on the world. Everybody wishes they had more influence, power, and position to do more than they feel capable of. And yet, just like (and I do mean just like) all of those amazing people in Scripture, we have the capability of having great things done through us. So, I’d like to take just a minute to reflect on the characteristics of these individuals so that we can learn how to accomplish God-sized things and make an impact on the world around us. I’ll list the top five characteristics:

1. They yielded to the call of God.

2. They…hmmm.

3. ……..

OK. Let me start again:

1. They yielded to God.

2. See #1.

That’s really it. They yielded to God and through them, God did extraordinary things, giving them extraordinary power and ability to accomplish all He chose them to do.

How hard it is for us to tap into the power the Holy Spirit has already put within us because we find it difficult to set aside our own dreams and desires and simply yield to His desire! But that’s where the power is. That’s it, there is nothing more.

At Memorial, I am focusing on praying for rain and preparing our fields in expectation of the coming rain. Starting this Sunday, I will preach a four week series on “April Showers.” For me and, hopefully, for our congregation, it is a month of expectation, where we begin to focus on the preparations of God’s Spirit as He comes upon us and begins to do extraordinary things through us. I believe this can and will happen. Why? Because He said it would. Hosea 10: 12 reveals the nature of God as He deals with His unfaithful people:

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

Fallow ground is land that has been prepared for crops, yet is unseeded. How easy it is to grow hard and fruitless, yet God says to begin preparing the field and seek the Lord. Why? That His rain may come!

Last week, I showed scenes from the movie, Facing the Giants, which focuses on a coach who completely yielded to the call and purpose of God. Another minor character is Mr. Bridges, a gentleman in the community who has come to the high school for years, praying for each student as he would quietly walk past the lockers, calling on God for a revival. In the movie, that’s exactly what happened. In real life it can, too!

It is hard for me to swallow that reality most of the time. Usually, I am good at making excuses as to why I can’t expect extraordinary things to happen through my life. Yet, I have the same ability that every one of these people had…the ability to yield.

M.I.A.: The Strong, Silent Type

I have been reflecting on Charles Spurgeon’s devotion for this morning which referenced Matthew 27:11-14. That’s the section that tells of Jesus before the governor, being asked as to whether or not He was the “King of the Jews.” Jesus only response was, “You have said so.” It then follows that Jesus would give no answer to the Jewish leaders.

Now, obviously, there are several ways to look at this. One of which is to simply say that Jesus gave no defense on His own behalf because He had no desire to be released. The endgame was the cross and, therefore, He would do nothing that would jeopardize the mission, such as arguing His way out of conviction (which He demonstrated numerous times that He could have easily done).

Though I think that is a right way of thinking, Spurgeon points out the important example that Jesus set on another level. Sometimes it is best to strictly keep our mouths shut. Jesus was accused of many things, yet He did not feel it important to make great defenses on His own behalf; He did not argue against them. In doing so, His accusers fell under their own accusations and became the targets of the wrath of God, though Jesus, Himself, stood guiltless.

I most certainly believe that there is a time and a place to give a defense of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I believe we Evangelical Christians spend too much time defending ourselves. There is a world of difference between presenting a clear portrayal of the message of Christ love in a way that will clear up misunderstanding of who Christ is and arguing for our own rights or defending our own stands on any number of issues. We are called not to stand up for our rights as Christians, but rather the simple Truth of the Gospel. That is the major issue I have with many politically focused evangelical leaders today who argue for morality, ethics and godliness in society at the expense of alienating the very ones that we are trying to reach. I am all for morality, ethics, and godliness…I just don’t believe they come through debate, legislation, or boycotts.

Spurgeon said, “The anvil breaks a host of hammers by silently bearing their blows.” I believe there is great wisdom in that. I believe that we would find our influence growing among those hostile to the Faith more quickly by bearing the blows that come our way with dignity and grace and a quiet faith that Christ will deliver us in His time than by going on the attack, singing our battle cry of Onward Christian Soldiers. Anyone can become a political special interest group and fight for their rights. Respect comes when we do that which is counter-cultural and actively love those who are waging the attacks. You want to talk about blowing minds.

That’s not a pacifist perspective I am advocating (as I am not a pacifist at heart). There are times when standing up and fighting for causes is important, such as justice for widows, orphans, the outcast, etc. However, I’ve never read that our own rights are among those things to be fought for.

Sometimes, the greatest weapon of offense is a strong resolution to keep our big mouths shut and take the blows to the glory of Christ.

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