Thursday, September 19, 2013

Abundant Life

"...I came that they may have life,
 and have it abundantly."

John 10:10b

Abundant life is found in the pursuit of God-honoring holiness.  It is holiness-the humility of spirit, the mourning over sin, the hunger and thirsting for righteousness-that will produce in us that happy blessedness that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount.  Abundant life is life that is freed from the power of sin and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, focused on the pleasure of God and resting in His love.  The first step we must take is to admit that we were created for His pleasure rather than for our own.  Our true happiness and abundant life springs out of setting our eyes, our hopes, and our desires on Christ and keeping them there.  Once we determine to keep our focus on Christ, love for our neighbor will grow.  This love of God and love for our neighbor will energize us to reach out and offer God's love and freeing truth to others.  It will motivate us to study and live lives of godliness so that others will be blessed.  If it is your heart's desire to live a faithful Christian life to God's glory, walking in Christ's promised abundant life, you won't succeed in your goal if your start with yourself as the center or focus of life or if you start with human philosophies as your guide.  You must begin at the right place, with God as the source and meaning of all life, with His glory and pleasure as paramount, and with His Word as the light upon your path and the only guide for life.  Abundant life can be yours because you have a loving Shepherd who is watching over you.  He has provided a lush pastureland for your nourishment; He has given you living water; it is He who restores your soul.  You can find a rich, rewarding life with God now and for eternity and you can share this life with others.

Taken from the preface of "Women Helping Women", Elyse Fitzpatrick and Carol Cornish, General Editors...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

From Anger, to Anguish, to Complete Peace, Rest, and Trust

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant, through Christ."  

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

We live in a sin encrusted world, where bad things happen to us, and the result is pain and suffering.  Perhaps you have lost a job and the result from that is you have lost your home.  Or maybe like me, you've experienced sexual abuse by your father.  Mine was minor, but yours was full blown rape. It causes anger to spring up from our hearts.   Perhaps you are suffering with an illness or you are watching a child suffer with an illness.  Circumstances come into our lives because we live in this sin encrusted world, and when it does it brings pain and anguish and we respond in different ways to the pain and anguish we are experiencing. Sometimes we feel abandoned by God, and sometimes we experience anger towards God. We have raised our fist, questioning how He could let this happen to us. 

Let's look for a moment, at Jesus, and step into His place. 

On the road to the cross, and on the cross, Jesus experienced the vitriol and hatred of man, in the form of spit, lashes on His back that ripped His flesh open, a crown of thorns crushed into the skin on His head, and nails driven through His hands. He knows physical pain and suffering because of the wickedness of man's heart. If you have ever experienced physical pain or emotional pain because of a wicked heart, Jesus has been there. He understands the suffering you have gone through, or might even be going through now. He can identify with it, and does. Isaiah 53:11 tells us Jesus had anguish in His soul but we know He harbored no anger towards those who put Him on the cross.  At one point, He looked upon those who drove the nails and said these words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."   The Roman soldiers had no idea they were crucifying the Creator of the universe, the Son of God, very God Himself, the One who gave them physical life. I want to look for those Roman soldiers in heaven.  The fact that Jesus forgave them gives me a hint that they possibly came to Christ later on. This forgiveness given to them by Jesus is also an example to us, that we are to release, to put off anger towards those who have sinned against us, and live with a spirit of forgiveness. 

Do you live with a raised fist toward God, angry at your circumstances and what has happened to you?  Jesus understands the pain, the anguish in your soul with what has happened to you, the circumstance in which you find yourself. God's Word tells us He has never abandoned us. He never leaves us. We cannot flee from His presence. Let your raised fist relax into an open hand.  It is ok to ask why. Jesus asked why, in His anguish and pain and suffering. We know God the Father turned His back on His Son because He'd become sin, so we could be clothed in His righteousness.  Any anger we feel towards God needs to be directed back to the sin against us.  It was sin, too, against God.  Then, release it into anguish over how sin put our Savior on the cross. Our very own sin.  The truth of God's Word tells us that what man intends for evil, God means for good. The suffering of Jesus brought us the wonderful gift of salvation - it restored our broken relationship with God. Joseph suffered under the hands of his brothers but learned later it took him into Egypt where God would later use him to preserve His chosen people, because the Savior would come through his lineage. In our suffering, we can live with expectation that God is going to use us in the future to bring benefit and His goodness to others, like Jesus' suffering did, and Joseph's suffering did. 

God is not responsible for the evil in this world. If we are angry at Him, our anger is directed at the wrong thing.  He is angered and grieved by sin and we need to be angered and grieved by sin, but not angry at God.  For His children, in His wisdom and love for us, He causes evil to bend to His wishes, He turns evil into benefit.  

We don't always have the clear picture why, like Joseph did, but let these truths sooth your soul and bring you to a point of complete peace, rest, and trust - you've never been abandoned, Jesus is always with you, and you are loved with an everlasting love.

(***Friends, I believe anger at God is never justified.  As our knowledge of our Gracious Heavenly Father grows, we will come to see that His love and presence and grace was always with us, during our trial.  Any anger we have towards God now, or have experienced towards God in the past, we need to confess and repent of it.  I was never angry at God over what my father did.  I was angry at my father.  This was written to help any of my friends who have ever been angry at God.  Love you all.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Saved and Changed, By Jesus

"But we all, with unveiled face, 
beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,
 are being transformed into the same image 
from glory to glory, just as from the Lord,
the Spirit."  2 Corinthians 3:18

The Bible tells us that Satan has authority over the kingdoms of this earth, but he is under God's sovereign control.  The Bible tells us that the heart is desperately wicked, and needs to be changed, but just like a leopard cannot change his own spots, we can't change our own, wicked hearts.  With Satan ruling and the wickedness of the heart - this is why we see the evil that occurs all around us.  We are all born with the capacity to do very evil things.  I’ve never murdered anyone, but I’ve been angry and have said hurtful, mean things.  Jesus said that anger is just the same as murder.  None of us can say we’ve never done anything wrong.  We’ve lied, we’ve stolen, we’ve been unkind - we have all done something sinful and sin deserves punishment and the Bible tells us sin’s punishment is God’s anger, death, and separation from God. 

Here's the good news - Jesus saves people from God’s anger.  Jesus saves people from the death that separates us from God.  Jesus not only saves us - Jesus changes sinful people!  He is changing me!  Jesus can change you, too. 

So how are we saved and changed by Jesus?  It's not by following a set of rules.  It’s by admitting to God that we are sinful, that we do not meet up to His glory and perfection.  We confess our sinful hearts to Him.  We repent of our sin.  This means we turn away from our sin and we turn to Jesus and the perfect righteousness of Jesus.  Jesus is righteous and perfect.  Jesus, being God, has never sinned.  It wasn’t found in Him, at all.  At His first coming, two thousand years ago, Jesus died on the cross.  He allowed Roman soldiers to nail Him to the cross.  The Bible tells us that while He hung on the cross, He became sin.  He exchanged identities with us.  He became the sinner and God poured out His anger and wrath on Jesus, paying the price for sin.  God the Father turned His back on Jesus and separated Himself from Jesus - this was His greatest suffering.  It wasn’t the nails or the crown of thorns that hurt the most – it was the relational break from the Father when the Father turned His back on Jesus, because He’d become sin, and sin cannot be in the presence of holy God.  Jesus had always been in perfect relationship with the Father, but while on the cross, the perfect relationship was severed.  It had to be, to make the payment for sin.  When the payment for sin was made, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  After that, Jesus gave up His spirit and His body died.  But three days later He joined back with His body and the Father raised His body from the dead, because the Father was pleased with the sacrifice He made on our behalf!

If we believe that Jesus did this for us, if we accept His paying the price for us, if we believe He became sin for us, and that God the Father poured His anger for our sin out on Jesus, if we believe Jesus rose from the grave, conquering sin and death, we are then given His righteousness, and God the Father then looks at us and sees the righteousness of Jesus.  We are saved from death, and we are changed from sinner to saint!  God no longer views us as a sinner - He sees only the righteousness of Jesus.  The wonderful thing is that our hearts are changed.  We have new desires, we want to do what honors and pleases the Lord, when before, we lived to only please ourselves.   

You’ve probably noticed that Christians still sin.  At salvation, we begin a transformation process, where we become more and more like Jesus, in practice.  The word for this in the Bible is sanctification.  At salvation, at the moment we believe the good news message, our position and standing before God changes. We are no longer under His judgment and condemnation.  Our standing before God is forgiven, cleansed from sin, pure, holy, righteous.  We are a new creation.  The transformation process is becoming what we are in position, perfect.  We never hit perfection in our practice, until we die and shed our bodies, but we grow in the likeness of Jesus and His perfect character.  The Bible tells us what we will begin to see produced in our lives.  Before, it was anger, bitterness, jealousy, drunkenness, immorality, envy.  The list is ugly, isn’t it?  After we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us and then we will see love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness begin to be produced in our lives.  The Bible calls this the fruit of the Spirit.  As Jesus disciple, or follower, after we are saved, we are called and commanded to study the Bible – to spend time learning more and more about Him.  As we study His Word, we learn what Jesus is like and what He wants us to be doing.  Our knowledge of Jesus increases, our obedience grows, and we become more and more like Him.   We are transformed more and more into His likeness.  We are being changed.

One day, Jesus is returning, as judge, ruler, and King of the earth. He is going to bring all the evil to an end, and righteousness is going to fill the earth.  He is going to throw Satan into hell where he can no longer influence and deceive mankind.  The question is, will Jesus return as your judge, or as your Savior, as the One who stepped into your place, bearing God’s anger, and then giving you His righteousness, and changing you? 

If we die, never having repented, we will pay the price for our own sin, and the Bible tells us our suffering will be forever.  Jesus suffering was great.  Truly great.  How great was it?  Think about it – in paying the price for your sin and my sin, and for the sin of anyone who trusts in Him, what Jesus suffered in six hours on the cross was an eternities worth of suffering.  He experienced an eternities worth of separation from the Father.  

Jesus loves you and wants to be your Savior.  The Bible tells us He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked - in the death of those who don’t want to be changed.  Can you think of any good reason why you wouldn’t want His love, and salvation?  Can you think of any good reason why you wouldn’t want to be changed, and given His righteousness and peace?

I sure can’t.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How Can We Know We are Saved?

We can have confidence we are a child of God when our grip on the things of this world loosen and we cling to who Jesus is, more and more tightly.  These actions don't save us, but are indications that Jesus has saved us and is transforming us.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Greatest

Is there anyone or anything greater than Jesus Christ?

The Maker is greater than what the Maker makes.

The made, creation, displays vividly the glory of Christ, the Maker.

The made, the follower of Jesus, lives for the glory and fame of The Maker, Jesus Christ.  We love to sing and shout about His glory - we love to exalt Jesus!  Sundays are the best, when we gather collectively, and engage in joyful, sometimes soft, sometimes loud, lifting our hearts and hands and eyes to Him, songs of worship and praise!

His followers are not perfect at living for His glory and fame - we battle pride, to make ourselves the greatest.  We battle idolatry, making anyone or anything else greater than Jesus.  There is forgiving grace for this, when we confess the sin, and we are grateful for this forgiving grace.

When all is said and done, there is no one and nothing, greater, than Jesus Christ.  Someday, every eye will see Him and every knee will bow to Him.  Those who willingly bow, now, with the heart, coupled with repentance, will bow willingly and joyfully at His return.  The willing bow, now, results in a joy-filled eternity in the presence of His glory and kindness and goodness.  The forced bow, at His return, results in an eternity away from His glory and kindness and goodness and presence.  What does that look like?  Darkness, no light.  Separation.  Isolation.  The nashing of teeth.  Never ending, terrible, terrible suffering.  What we suffer here on earth, before becoming a follower of Christ, and after becoming a follower of Christ, is nothing, compared to what we will suffer without Him, in eternity.

Jesus loves you with a love as great as He is great.  His greatness is infinite.  His love has no limit and no boundaries.  Let Jesus be The Greatest in your life, now.

Friday, September 6, 2013

It's Not Too Late

Psalm 145:9 - "The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works."

Matthew 5:45 - "...for He (God the Father) causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Luke 6:35 - "...the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men."

God's lovingkindness and grace extends every minute, of every day, to everyone who lives in His creation. Every leader, of every country is experiencing it - President Obama, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, all three of these men are experiencing it.  Hitler experienced it.  Pilate experienced it. Judas experienced it.  Osama Bin Laden experienced it.  You and I are experiencing it.  Every breath we take or anyone has ever taken, is because of the favor and mercy and kindness of God, because all have sinned and fall short of His glory. (Romans 3:23)  Here's the good news - God's grace never ends for us when we call out to Him, in repentance, and accept the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf - Jesus in our place.  God's goodness does come to an end however, at death, if we refuse, ignore, or walk away from His free gift of salvation through His saving, changing, eternal grace.  Every single one of us needs to be changed because every single one of us is born with a heart for the capacity for the worst evil.  We are also born in rebellion against God and His ways.  Everyone one of us needs to humble ourselves before Him, admit our need for His saving, changing grace.  We need to turn from our sin and to Jesus. We can be the nicest person ever, trying to gain heaven by good works (this falls short of God's glory because we are attempting to gain eternal life by our own plan and goodness).  We can be the cruelest person ever. We can have ended a baby's life through abortion. We can be involved in pornography.  We can be involved in adultery. We can be liars.  We can be thieves.  God's saving, changing, eternal grace is given to all who call upon Jesus, no matter what we have done.  There is no one else, but Jesus, by which we gain God's saving, changing, eternal grace.  We cannot be saved by our own works.  We cannot be saved through the prayer or works of a friend or family member.  We cannot enter into the family of God through Buddha, through Baha'u'llah, or through Muhammad.  It's all about Jesus, and Jesus alone. He only, made the payment for our sin and without payment for sin, we cannot enter into the kingdom and presence of holy, perfect, righteous, good, merciful, gracious, loving God.  At death, we become objects of God's wrath, for eternity, because of our sin, if we have not turned from our sin, to Jesus Christ.   Let today be the day of salvation for you.  Let Jesus be your wrath-bearer.  It's not too late, to exchange your sin for Jesus righteousness, to be forgiven, to be washed of your sin and dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, having God the Father look at you from this day forward and into eternity, with the perfection of His Son - as if you'd never sinned, and as if you've always obeyed and pleased Him.

Titus 2:11 - "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men..."

Titus 3:5 - "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."

John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

Acts 4:12 - "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

2 Corinthians 5:15, 18 - "And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf...He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

1 Peter 2:24 - "And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed."

(I love what Mark Driscoll posted yesterday - "Forgiveness from Jesus is not a license to sin.  If you're in Christ, the last thing you want to do is betray the One who is faithful to you.")