Wednesday, August 31, 2016

on the just and the unjust

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:44-45

Jesus asks for us to view people and act toward people as God does. That is a big command. God's primary action with humanity is a gracious benevolence toward sinners, even as he must at some point punish all sin. Each day of life granted to both good people and bad is an act of divine mercy. The Lord's nourishing rain will fall on both the just and the unjust.

I don't have the power to give a day of life to myself or to anyone. I can't bring sunshine or rain. But I do have the power to care for people and treat them with respect. And that should be granted, like God's own heart grants life to each person, to anyone, regardless of their status as believer or unbeliever, and no matter what kind of sinner I may think them to be. I should especially be merciful to grant human care to people that I see as lost in sin.

If I see all people as granted life by God so that they might have time to repent, why not also extend my benevolence? I should share God's love and the gospel out of respect for God's love for His world. He loves us even as sinners. Christ's death and resurrection forever prove that to be true and call me to consider how I might be a means to proclaim the gospel to those whom God grants merciful life daily in hopes of it leading to repentance.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

the Holy Spirit and fire

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Matthew 3:11

John the Baptist had a sharp edge to his short and powerful ministry. He was the last of those who looked and felt like Old Testament prophets. He drew people to the desert in multitudes to repent of sin and be baptized. He prepared the way for Jesus. He preached about the coming Messiah as a person of power and judgment.

John saw the power of Messiah imminent not in political action, but as the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Messiah would be leading a ministry that would immerse believers in the Spirit of God. Clearly this was more than just a temporal deliverance. John was preaching of a salvation that would come in Jesus.

John the Baptist also pointed to a Messiah Who would have the power to judge sin rightly. He would purge with fire (a definitive work exclusively the domain of God as any reader of the Old Testament prophets would know) and would purify His people again. The world would come into contact with God's justice in the Messiah. Jesus would also be the only judge.

Of course Jesus is both Holy God and the refreshing giver of the Holy Spirit. He brings the baptisms of the Holy Spirit and of fire. The first came upon His disciples at Pentecost and continues in each believer upon salvation. The second is found in His authority to judge and Jesus will come again on the white horse of Judgment with a fire that will purge this universe. Jesus is the giver of life and the judge of all men. He is mightier than I.

Monday, August 29, 2016

public displays?

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 6:1

There are certain spiritual disciplines that have an observable external element to them. We are warned by Jesus to be careful that we don't concentrate on the part that people see and thus exclude ourselves from the right motivation before God for His reward.

Jesus begins with giving (Matthew 6:2). In Jesus' day some Pharisees were so pretentious in their giving that they made a show of the gift, blowing trumpets in the streets as they made their way to the temple for the contribution. Jesus wanted us instead to give discretely, solely for the Father to see and reward. How that fits in a culture where giving is "rewarded" with a tax break from a massive taxing agency of the federal government is still for me to sort out. It kinds of makes me reticent about charitable deduction as a motivation.

The principle also holds true in prayer (Matthew 6:5) where we are warned against both public displays in our prayer and showy language in our prayers to get the notice of people. Instead, Jesus encourages private prayer focused on the holiness of God for the will of God. This kind of makes me rethink what role public prayer has in worship and in civil life. When it exists how can it hold to Jesus' own clear teaching? Maybe it means I ought to be more thoughtful when considering prayer in the public square.

And finally in fasting (Matthew 6:16), Jesus warns against making a fast public knowledge, instead asking us to only do so for the Father's eyes. He sees in secret and will reward our hearts. Public displays of religious devotion should make us suspicious of our motives, according to Jesus.

Friday, August 26, 2016

your name, your kingdom, your will

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven."
Matthew 6:9-10

The simple phrases of the Lord's Prayer are filled with deep significance. If I really prayed like Jesus taught me to, my heart would engage with the Father's  heart. I'd care about God's name, God's kingdom, and God's will. I'd want what God wants because I'd be concerned about God's holiness. I'd want what God wants because I'd want His will done in the world.

I must confess that though I have a head full of the definitions of Your holiness (complete with proof texts), my heart is often far from Your holiness to my own sinful shame. You have clothed me with Christ's righteousness, but I need to confess and repent. I need to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts". Oh God, You are holy (so holy that magnificent archangels echo that one word back and forth across Your throne forever) and may my life be a way for You to show Your holiness! Would You make holiness sound out and echo from my heart and into my life?

I want Your will to be done, my God! I want to help make disciples of all nations. But I focus on my own kingdom way too much. Lord Jesus, give me a driven focus and a singular consuming vision of Your kingdom in whatever days of this life that I have left! I want Your kingdom to come on earth as I obey You, follow You, and make disciples of the people You bring my way!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

now near

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:13

Jesus' blood has brought me from death to life, from judgment to peace, from enemy to son, and from sinner to saint. Because of His salvation which was freely given and which I believe, I can be near to God even though my sins had alienated me far from God. And though I was once bound in sin's chains as its slave, now I am free to serve my Savior who has lovingly brought me to Him by His atoning sacrifice.

When I became a Christian my whole universe changed. I was remade. I was born again into a new life. I came from death to truly living. I was delivered from the worst life and from eternal punishment to a new life and eternal joy in the presence of my Lord.

The cost was unsightly -- the death of God's own sinless son on my behalf. The benefits are inestimable -- riches in Christ more precious than anything in the universe. How can I not love my Lord and be thrilled to spread the gospel to others who are in equal lost desperation?!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

finish line

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8

Paul is anticipating the end of ministry, not because he is heading into a restful retirement, but because of his impending martyrdom. He wrote Timothy from a Roman imprisonment, awaiting to appear before Caesar Nero. History tells us he was executed by Rome. And so, he looks at his life of service to King Jesus and sees it as a good fight, a finished race, and a kept faith.

And Paul anticipates with joy that no matter what Nero has in store for him, Jesus has a reward for him worth receiving: the crown of righteousness. Paul longs to see the Jesus Whose gospel he has faithfully preached for so long. He is ready for his reward.

I still feel strongly that I am in the middle of the fight with much great ministry ahead. The finish line seems a ways off, but I cannot know the plan of God fully. I will be done when He says so. One day, He will let me know the work is done. Oh, that I will have been faithful to the gospel until that day!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

the number one requirement for successful ministry

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:15-16

So much of ministry is about consistently doing the same thing. For thirty-six years now I have felt the burden and daily call of such ministry upon my heart. I was sixteen when I "felt" the definite nudge of God to consider a life of vocational service to Christ's church. And the pastoral epistles have always had special encouragement for me from my youth onward.

Christian discipleship and character must always be the mark of the man of God. He must be mature. Timothy was told to set an example to all believers in a life of Christlike consistency of words, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity (1 Timothy 4:12). And beyond the baseline of character is a sincere and extreme commitment to scripture. Ministers must be men of character as well as men of the Word! Scripture must be read, preached, and taught both in the assembly and with individual ministry. It is the only source of ministry hope, encouragement, and doctrine.

How does this happen? Church leaders must be immersed in proper doctrine and must smell and taste of holy living. It is a lifestyle. Being in the Bible is the first practice each morning, and the last thought before sleep, and must saturate my day in between. Every day I wake up and repeat that important practice in order to immerse myself in the things of God. That's how ministry becomes rewarding, because only then do I stand a chance of moving beyond my sinful motivations into the realm of holiness. It is all about a daily scriptural, ethical consistency. That's the number one requirement for successful ministry.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Worship, Wonder, and Work

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Acts 1:9

I would like to imagine what it would have been like to have been with Jesus' disciples on earth. At this moment the culmination of three years with the Master, as they witnessed His arrest, trials, death and resurrection, they must have stood there speechless as He left them. They had just had weeks with Him again post-resurrection, think about that... weeks talking and walking with a man who rose from the dead... and then one day on a hill He informs them they are to make disciples of the world and just lifts up away from them into the clouds.

They were so dumbstruck that God had to send two angels to remind the silent crowd of disciples to go do what Jesus had just said! They were so shocked by His departure that they stood around craning their necks for another glimpse of Him in the sky! But now was the time to work like He had just commanded them to do.

And this work of spreading the gospel everywhere to every person possible is still His command for His followers. Standing in wonder at God must never supplant the work of the Great Commission. Both of them must happen. Worship and disciple making must be what His disciples always do. Jesus left us expecting we would do it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

doctrine strengthens for gospel proclamation

So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Acts 16:5

Strong churches... healthy churches... grow. They are strong with the gospel and preach it, proclaim it, and live it in such a way that outsiders hear the gospel, believe it, are converted, and are added to the church. As Paul began his second missionary journey in Derba and Lystra, he delivered the apostles' decision from Jerusalem to these gentile churches.  The result of good doctrine was that they were strengthened. And the good response to sound doctrine was gospel growth. That's the way it should be.

I need no "church growth" strategy from the latest mega-church rockstar pastor. I always want to lead the church with sound doctrine just like this passage shows! Without that, we have nothing strong. But doctrine never pulls us from the glory of the gospel. It builds us up to boldly proclaim the death and resurrection of our Savior and His atoning sacrifice. Doctrine all points to Jesus and our salvation. That should make us gospel preachers while we are simultaneously doctrine teachers!

May this pattern of sound doctrine strengthening the gospel proclaiming church always mark my pastoral ministry until the day You are done with me!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The church is not optional.

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
1 Timothy 3:14-15

Jesus is building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Scripture describes a pattern for the church. When the church assembles, certain things must happen, certain leaders must teach and serve, and the gospel must be proclaimed, guarded, and defended solely by the church.

The church is first and foremost God's household. He has designed the church to be like family. It is close. It is practical. It is day to day. It has structure, direction, and leadership as the church worships God and centers on the gospel.

Church is the place where God lives. He is at work in the church. In each Christian life that is gathered, Jesus lives. And the church is His unique Body. Find the church to find Jesus alive!

The church also uniquely supports and displays the truth to the world. The church is absolutely essential to the spread of the gospel. We must make disciples and then gather them into organized local churches so that God's design is honored.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hold On

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
2 Thessalonians 2:14-15

Hold on to the gospel...
it is the message saving your soul.
Proclaim Jesus' death faithfully
knowing in His resurrection you are whole.
Stand firm.
Hold on.
To this gospel Jesus called you.

Hold on to the teaching
passed on from apostles' doctrine.
Clearly known now in the pages
is the truth of God now given.
Stand firm.
Hold on.
The truth will set you free.

Hold on to the glory
yet to be revealed by the Lord.
Be patient in affliction
staying faithful to His Word.
Stand firm.
Hold on.
Jesus is coming soon!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

what goes with brotherly love

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

Five things follow the commendation to continue in brotherly love from 1 Thessalonians 4:9. First is the instruction to live quietly. This means that the best Christian witness can be found in a barely noticeable stability... a calm confidence that is like what Eugene Peterson calls a "long obedience in the same direction". We don't draw attention to ourselves, but we do live for Jesus!

Second on the list is the admonition to mind your own affairs. I am most responsible for my actions and motives and must pay attention to my soul. I shouldn't meddle in the Holy Spirit's work in other lives unless I know that they are unrepentant in open sin.

Third on the list is good, old fashioned, hard work! Perhaps some of the Thessalonians, confused about Christ's return, had given up working. Paul calls them back to good, rewarding, physical labor to provide for themselves and commends it as a Christian virtue.

Number four speaks to the world that is watching us. When we do these things, unbelievers will notice, as we walk properly before outsiders. It is a light that shines on the gospel so that the final result can be a self-reliance (be dependent on no one) that models the gospel well. Brotherly love is accompanied by these things. Disciples of Jesus who are healthy in their faith will look this way.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What Christians should do... in the simplest of terms

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

There is one command in the Great Commission: MAKE DISCIPLES. Literally it is one word that we could coin in English from it: "disciple-ize". It is the life's work that Jesus expects of His followers. We must be disciples who through proclamation of the gospel make other disciples of Jesus.

There are both a "where" and a "how" to this command. The "where" is worldwide... "go" to "all nations". That's pretty intense. The word "nations" is the same Greek word that gives us "ethnic" in English. No people group on the planet is exempt from Jesus' scope of vision. All ethnicities need the gospel.

The "how" is also clear: we baptize and teach disciples. How do we know someone has truly trusted the gospel? Jesus' own clear expectation is that their statement of belief is followed by a public identification with Him and His church in baptism. How do we grow as disciples? We teach what Jesus taught and continue to learn from Him. Thus we make disciples of all people groups, baptizing them when they believe, and teaching them to follow Jesus.

Friday, August 12, 2016

He knew what He was doing.

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
Matthew 26:1-2

Jesus knew the cross awaited Him. He knew that the authorities wanted Him dead. He knew at the Passover meal with His disciples that within hours He would be crucified. It did not surprise Him. A conspiracy was in the works, but Jesus was well aware of it all. He was not caught up in the trap like a victim as much as He was willingly ready to die because His time, a fixed event from God from eternity past, His time to die, to secure our salvation had come. Our redemption was nigh.

Jesus is totally in control, even as it seems that others have the upper hand. He is marching toward the cross even as enemies are conspiring at hidden levels to get Him to the cross. He is boldly declaring that both crucifixion and resurrection await Him as He prepares His disciples for what is about to occur.

Jesus knew the lengths to which He would go to save us. In all courage He boldly went to Golgotha as our Savior. He is stronger than any Olympian, bolder than any super hero, more courageous in the fray than any soldier, for Jesus defeated death by dying and brought eternal life as He was raised from the dead. And this He offers in His love to all who will believe in Him!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

nailed to the cross

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14

This is a beautiful description of what it means to be forgiven by God. Jesus did all the work. I can only believe it and trust in Him. I was dead in my sin and powerless to save myself. I was unable to do a thing, but Jesus made me alive in His resurrection, forgave my sin completely, and visibly cancelled the debt my sin had piled against me.

And all my sins are forgiven because the long list of my offenses were nailed to the cross. I do not bear the condemnation. Praise the Lord! I am free from the death burden my sin made me carry and that I surely deserved.

I'll never regret coming to Christ, cognizant of my sin. and longing for a Savior. For even though I was a child at the time I believed, a was a dead sinner of a child even then. And Jesus has given me life. It is this new life that has changed me. It is this new life that I share when I tell others this good news.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

exercising my citizenship

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Philippians 3:20-21

These words are spoken by Paul after warning the Philippian church to steer clear of those who were enemies of the cross. These people work against the gospel and will be destroyed by their fleshly appetites. They delight in sins of which they should be ashamed, and their limited focus is exclusively worldly. See Philippians 3:17-19 for Paul's exact words on the matter. The bottom line is Christians follow NOBODY, no example and no leader who lives like this.

In contrast we are not citizens of any country or system here on this earth in the ultimate sense. We can't be. We belong to heaven and patiently await the arrival of our King and Savior. Jesus will transform our bodies just as His is now transformed by His resurrection. His power as Lord of the universe directs our lives. No earthly leader, no belly worshiping sinner who should be ashamed of their sinful arrogance can do anything remotely as great as that!

And I will act on earth as a citizen of heaven first and foremost.  It isn't about being conservative or liberal or Republican or Democrat. Those are mere trivialities beside the weight of glory that resides with my Jesus. I want the gospel to define me and will not place trust in any enemy of the cross. That would be a betrayal of my Savior. My citizenship is under my King, Jesus! This is always true, and will be true no matter which blonde wins the coming presidential office to lead a culture further from God.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

a Christian growth primer put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:22-24

There is a process for Christian growth in this passage that is crucial for Christians to understand. It is how we move from being controlled by sin to demonstrating God's renewal of us in holiness. God provides all we need, but we must also actively, personally engage in the process.

First we put off the old self. The image is vivid... like changing our clothes. This assumes a proper understanding of what God through scripture and the Holy Spirit's conviction calls sin in us. It hits us at the most personal of levels... at our deepest personal wants and desires which are often, as the passage states, deceived by sin. My most personal of thoughts, my deepest wants must first be assumed to be tainted by sin.

Secondly, we must be renewed in our minds as God's Word and His Spirit begin to challenge and change our thinking. I have to be under the exposure of God's Word, saturating my thinking with God's thoughts, in order to give His Spirit something with which to work. This is the ONLY way we can be transformed in our minds and spirits first and avoid legalism or Pharisaical false righteousness. It is described for us in the command to be transformed in our minds through the Word of God in Romans 12:1-2.

Finally, we put on the new self. We must know what scripture reveals as righteousness and do it. We must let the Word of God, not our own selfish desires, dictate our lifestyle choices, and then we can know growth, maturity and the likeness of God in us in true righteousness and holiness.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

a sinner saved by grace through faith

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Such a familiar passage to me is still such a deeply personal life truth! And as I meditate upon its impact and meaning, the gospel comes to me afresh in a very power reflection. This truth has made me who I am in Christ.

I have been saved from my sin. The peril of hell's punishment which my sins deserve was taken away by Christ's death for me. And now by God's pure grace I am saved. And this came to me through faith. I could do nothing to save myself. I could only, by faith, trust the gospel and the work of Jesus Who saved me.

I was totally impotent to do the work of my own salvation. I would never be good enough, because my sin is that bad. It was why God freely gave His Son for my sin, why the gospel was preached to me freely, so that I might believe. I cannot brag on my own goodness. I'm a lousy sinner, but God's grace, through faith in Jesus is amazing! He saved me! Praise the Lord!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Dwelling Place for God

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:22

There is a new temple
not made of stone
not overlaid with gold
no central location
but it has one occupation
to be the place Jesus lives

Jesus is seen in people gathered
there His presence lives
as His people to Jesus give
their worship and praise
for the lives He has raised
the people of His church are His place

And when I too join
in a church's praising adoration
my soul with the congregation
where Jesus always lives
and grace there He gives
in the church, the dwelling place of God

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

the flesh vs the Spirit

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Galatians 5:24

This statement is made as part of a line of clear teaching by Paul and is hard to understand outside of placing it in that line. There was evidently some church infighting in Galatia that came as a consequence of the church lapsing into legalistic practices. Paul warns them against "biting and devouring one another" (Galatians 5:15).

From this warning Paul instructs them to walk by the Spirit in order to fight fleshly desires. Legalism actually feeds fleshly pride and desire since it is dependent solely on our own efforts and not the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:16-17). It can only lead to bad fruit showing up in us and in the church. We must be led by the Spirit in order to avoid the works of the sinful flesh and to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:18-23).

It is in this life of rejecting my sinful efforts that only feed sin in me and in learning to grow in the Spirit's fruit that I can crucify fleshly desires and passions. If I claim to please God, but show the works of the flesh in my heart and actions, I have lapsed into works thinking and sinful legalism just like these Galatians did.

Spirit life is evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit bearing itself out in my life and in the church. It leads to peace (Galatians 5:25-26). And being led with the Spirit's fruit on display makes my life and church life a wonderful experience!

Monday, August 1, 2016

messy sinner, magnificent Savior

And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:48-50

Sinners in repentance look scandalous to the self-righteous, but Jesus brings them forgiveness and peace. What just occurred in this episode could hardly have been more controversial for Jesus. At a dinner with Pharisees and religious leaders (a rare moment in the gospels for sure), Jesus is placed at the center of the night when the dinner is interrupted by the town's notorious prostitute, who in broken repentance washes Jesus' feet with her own tears of broken confession and then wipes his feet dry using her own hair as the towel. It's got to look crazy to everyone there. Everyone, that is, except Jesus.

In context Jesus has shown extraordinary power in healing a centurion's son at a distance at Capernaum and then raising a dead man DURING HIS OWN FUNERAL PROCESSION at the town of Nain. He was doing so much healing ministry that John's disciples were sent to ask of Him His mission. It is clear in the context that Jesus has overwhelming power to turn any bad situation around, and goes after those in the worst of pains and difficulties, responding to the broken world around Him. He does that very same thing for this repentant woman in the most personal of interactions. He forgives her (something only God can do) and gives her peace (again, a work only God could do). And it made no small stir among the squirming sanctimonious dinner guests to have Jesus simultaneously accept this woman, receive her worship, and forgive her sin.

As a Christian, my hope is that Jesus is working in and through me. So it follows that if Jesus is working in me, I'll expect messy sinners to be a part of my life. I should not cloister with the judgmental. I should welcome those under judgment! I hope that I can tell the gospel to sinners whom Jesus loves so that they might come to the same place this woman did, and that I too can love them the best that I can like Jesus. I need to be done with sanctimony.