Posted in Galatians

World View

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

William Temple (1881-1944) was a philosopher, professor at Oxford, and ultimately the archbishop of Canterbury. His great concern was that Christians would embrace a world view that puts man in the center instead of God. Here is an excerpt from his writings:

“The least popular part of traditional Christianity is Original Sin. I was doing it before I could speak, as has everyone else. I am not ‘guilty’ on this account because I could not help it. But I am in a state, from birth, in which I shall bring disaster on myself and everyone else unless I escape it.  Education may make my self-centeredness less disastrous by widening my horizons. But this is like climbing a tower which widens the horizons of my vision while leaving me still the center of reference. The only way to deliver me from my self-centeredness is by winning my entire heart’s devotion, the total allegiance of my will to God, and this can only be done by the Divine love of God disclosed by Christ in His life and death.

In making the world, God brought into existence vast numbers of things, like electrons which always have to obey His law for them and do so. But He made creatures – men and women – who could disobey His law for them and often do so. He did this in order that among His creatures there might be some who answer His love with theirs by offering to Him a free obedience.

This involved a risk in that they would naturally take the self-centered outlook on life, and then, increasingly become hardened in that selfishness. This is what has happened. To win them out of this, He came on earth and lived out the Divine love in human life and death. He is increasingly drawing us to Himself by the love thus shown, but this task of drawing all people to Himself will not be complete until the end of history.” (Devotional Classics; page 224-226)

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians

Taking the Trash Out 

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 2Corinthians 2:14

Alice and I once returned to our home to a horrible smell. Something was rotting in our trash can so we quickly tied up the bag and moved it to the outside garbage bin in our garage. The smell was so bad that I was already looking forward to Monday morning when I would take it to the curb and the trash man would take it off our property forever.

A Christian’s life is supposed to smell like faith, hope, and love; “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him,” but sometimes it smells like something else. In our trash cupboard there is one bin for trash and one for recyclables. There are at least three bins in the Christian life that need to be quickly tied up and given to God or a bad smell starts coming from our lives.

  1. The sin bin – When the Holy Spirit makes it clear to us that we have sinned against God or people we need to quickly and fully confess and repent. If we justify ourselves it doesn’t go away, it starts smelling like condemnation. The Holy Spirit exposes our sin because it comes between us and God and wants only for us to confess it so we will have confidence again. (1 John 1:9)
  2. The trouble bin – Part of living on this planet is that we face various types of troubles every single day. If we don’t get them to God right away our lives start smelling like anxiety and eventually fear. God allows troubles because He wants us to trust Him and to get to know Him through His intimate care of us.
  3. The disappointment bin – When we are disappointed with God or people we become vulnerable so we must give our disappointments quickly to God. When we don’t, they turn into discouragement and if we let discouragement go long enough, it becomes depression.

You know, there’s an interesting thing about our trash man – he will only take the things that are at the curb. He never comes into my garage looking for the garbage. If it’s not at the curb, it doesn’t get picked up. It’s time to let go and let God!

Posted in Mark

Easier and Harder

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me… whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospels will find it.” Mark 8:34-35

In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis compares being good through the power of the natural self to paying taxes. Conscience and culture make demands as to what “good and acceptable” behavior is, so we submit to them with the hope that after we have met those demands there will be time left over to do what we want to do. We pay taxes because it’s our duty, but we mostly think about the money we’ll have left over to spend however we want to.

“The Christian way,” he maintains, “is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ‘Give Me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.’

“Both harder and easier than what we are all trying to do. You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, ‘Take up your cross’ – in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute He says, ‘My yoke is easy and My burden light.’ He means both. And one can see why both are true.”

We don’t have to try to change the old self; it must die. As we embrace this death, we are absolutely free to live in the resurrection life Jesus abundantly provides through the Spirit.

Posted in 1John, Luke, Matthew

Increase Our Faith

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” … “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Luke 17:5; 10

In response to His disciples request for increased faith, Jesus told about a servant who shouldn’t think he deserves anything special for all his work. What does this have to do with faith?

If you approach God as a servant who is looking for pay you will limit grace in your life because grace isn’t given on those terms. Serve God and keep His commandments because you love Him, but don’t allow a spirit of entitlement to get on you because of your sacrifice or great devotion. After you’ve obeyed God completely, remind yourself, “I am an unworthy (undeserving) servant. God owes me nothing.”

In obedience, we must think of ourselves as servants, but in prayer we must take our position as beloved children. (1John 3:1)  A master gives a servant wages based on the servant’s performance, but a father gives his children gifts based only on his love and available resources. Jesus said to us, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will the heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:11) In Luke’s gospel He says the Father gives “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The Father gives good gifts, natural and spiritual, not to those who are good, but to those who ask as His children.

Jesus said to pray as children of God, saying, “our Father.” We are adopted children who come to God through the blood of Christ with only the claim that we are loved, and we are His.

One of my favorite Dennis the Menace cartoons shows Dennis and his friend, Joey, eating a plate of cookies. Joey asks: “I wonder what we did that Mrs. Wilson made us a plate of cookies?” Dennis explains: “Joey, Mrs. Wilson doesn’t make us cookies because we’re good; Mrs. Wilson makes us cookies because Mrs. Wilson is good!”

The gospel is not about our performance, but about God’s generosity. To have increasing faith, we need to think of ourselves as both unworthy servants, and God’s favored children.

Posted in Luke, Matthew

Me First

“And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say goodbye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:59-62

Is there anything wrong with burying your father or saying goodbye to those at home? Of course not. Then why did Jesus say what He said to these seemingly sincere people? One uses the phrase, “permit me first,” and the other says, “first permit me,” yet both preface their requests by calling Jesus, “Lord.” They call Him, “Lord,” but want to set their own terms in following Him.

Jesus is calling you and me to put the kingdom of God first, not ourselves, and not our families. If these two had left everything for the kingdom, it’s very possible Jesus would have given them the assignment of going home first, like He did to the demoniac who was delivered in the chapter before. (Luke 8:39) But Jesus telling you to go home is very different from you telling Jesus that you’re going home before following Him.

I think that family is one of the main idols of the evangelical church in America today. People run their lives around their children, their grandchildren, or their extended family, and just assume that God’s okay with that. Listen to the words of Jesus, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37) If family is first you won’t even be able to serve them in a right way because they are in the middle instead of Jesus. This is unhealthy and will end up leading the family you love subtly away from Jesus instead of to Him.

Jesus gave everything for us and He’s asking us to give everything back to Him. When we do, there is a freedom from self that brings a great rest into our lives. Let’s set our hands to the plow called the kingdom of God and trust God with everything else, including our families.

Posted in Galatians, Romans

Who’s in Charge?

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16-17

The last time I was in Honduras we worked with a family who was temporarily taking care of a two year old named Angel. Angel couldn’t talk yet, but he had no trouble communicating what he wanted to the three older girls in this family who watched over him. There was rarely a big scene over Angel because all he had to do was threaten displeasure and his desires would be instantly met. He ate what he wanted when he wanted it, and slept only when he was in the mood.

I started calling him, “Little Napoleon”, because he was a tyrant over these three girls. One image I clearly remember was Angel listening to music with an ear piece while walking around in circles (nothing on but his diaper) while one of the girls held the CD player and frantically tried to stay up with him so the ear piece wouldn’t come out.

There’s a “little Napoleon” that lives in you and me called the sin nature. It has endless desires and wants to be catered to constantly. It wants to be immediately gratified and complains if there is ever a delay in meeting its needs. The sin nature finds reading the bible, praying, fasting, or going to church boring, and much prefers the instant thrill of the media industry. It doesn’t forgive, but rather uses anger and pouting to get its own way. If the sin nature is denied its way in one thing, it immediately seeks to find comfort in any number of other ways without thought of what’s right and wrong, or of how it might affect those around. It doesn’t like to serve, but lives to be served.

Parents need to decide early that they are  in charge, and not their two year old. Have you given notice to your sin nature that it will not run your life? It will submit if you count yourself dead to its power through your identification with Christ’s death and then live by the Spirit through identifying with Christ’s resurrection. (Romans 6:1-14)

Posted in Genesis, Romans

No Fear

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Romans 8:15

God doesn’t want us to be afraid. Fear is a slave driver that steals joy, peace, and love from us each day and reduces the potential of our lives. Fear of sickness; fear of financial lack; fear of rejection; fear of the future; fear of getting old; etc, God wants to free us from the oppressive power of fear.

According to our text, the Holy Spirit was given so that we would have confidence that God is our Daddy (Abba) and that He will help us whenever we cry out to Him. As I have been studying Genesis I’ve noticed that the biggest issue all of the Patriarchs faced was fear. God came to each one of them at different times with the exact same message: “Do not be afraid.”

Abraham had just freed Lot from his captors but knew that the defeated armies would seek revenge on him. He was afraid. The Lord then spoke to him, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1) Not just “a” shield; but “your” shield.

Isaac kept having wells stolen from him that were needed for survival. He finally dug a well that seemed safe, yet he was still afraid. God came and spoke, “Do not be afraid. I will bless you.” (Genesis 26:24) God wanted Isaac to have something more than present provision; He wanted him to be free from living in the fear of future lack.

Jacob was old and was afraid he couldn’t make the long trip to Egypt required by his circumstances. Once again, God spoke and said, “Do not be afraid… I will be with you.” (Genesis 46:3-4) He didn’t just want to get Jacob from point A to point B; God wanted Jacob to enjoy the trip without any fears. He wants the same for us.

He is our Defender, Provider, and Guide. No fear!

Posted in Hebrews, Mark, Psalms, Romans

Speaking from what God has Spoken

“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5b-6

God wants you to know that He will never desert you or forsake you. People will come and go, even those who love us the most can’t be there all the time, but God is always with us. One of His covenant names is Jehovah Shammah, which means, “The Lord who is present.” Psalm 46:1 says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Do you believe this? If you do then take the second step of faith and speak it with confidence. It is important that we speak what we believe.  To overcome our fears, we need to believe in our hearts God is with us, and confidently say with our mouths that He is our helper.

Romans 10:10 gives the importance of believing first in our hearts, but then also speaking with our mouths. “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Jesus gives the same principle of faith in Mark 11:23: “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

Some have used this verse to teach “name it and claim it,” which has led to many abuses and caused many to throw out the baby (the importance of confession) with the bath water. But look closer at this verse and you will see that it’s not about confession first, but about believing in the heart first, and then speaking from the place of faith.

The only way you can ever believe with your heart is if God Himself has spoken to you first. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word (rhema) of Christ.” A rhema (the Greek for “word” used in this verse) is a specific word from God for a specific situation. After God has spoken into our hearts (about a specific mountain we are facing), we complete our faith by speaking with our mouths what God has said about our circumstances. That’s when mountains move!

Posted in Matthew

The Scandal of the Gospel 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

What is going on in this parable? It was common in that day to bury treasures because banks weren’t reliable and nothing was safe in houses because of the frequent plundering of wars.   As this man was walking along it is possible that erosion had exposed some piece of the treasure that led him to dig and discover what was there. The present owner was not aware of what was buried in his property because he offered to sell the field for a price that didn’t include treasure’s value.

The joy the buyer felt when he went and sold everything he had was from the deal he knew he was getting.  What he was paying for the field was nothing compared to the value of the treasure hidden in the field so he couldn’t wait for the transaction to be done. Anyone who heard the story later would feel bad for the owner who didn’t get much in return for such a great value.

What does this have to do with the kingdom of God? Those who understand what they are receiving in return for what they’re giving up will be filled with joy because of the scandalous deal they’re getting. I can imagine an angel coming to Gabriel after the gospel plan became clear:

“Sir, I’m here on behalf of many of the angels that are having trouble grasping this new plan. Let me get this straight, human beings who have rebelled against God and abused each other day after day are being offered complete forgiveness, are being adopted as sons and daughters, and are being made kings and priests forever? Those who deserve hell are being given heaven? Is this fair? And what is God getting in return? Their weak faith, wavering love, and often empty promises of obedience? Many of us don’t feel this is right, sir.”

“It’s not about fair,” I can imagine Gabriel replying. “It’s about God’s love and generosity. This is how He wanted it and we are to serve these heirs of salvation no matter how scandalous it may seem to you and me.”

Posted in Hebrews, Jeremiah, Romans

Seeking God 

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

God tells us that if we will seek for Him with all our heart we’ll find Him, but there is a problem with this. Sin has so corrupted us that we are unable to wholeheartedly seek God without God’s help. “No one is righteous, no, not one… no one understands, no one seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

It’s sad, but even though we are able to be wholehearted about football or shopping or even our version of religion or church, it is not in us to wholeheartedly seek God without the Holy Spirit first inviting and freeing us to do so. When He reveals our sin, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for forgiveness; when He shows us our emptiness, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for His fullness; and when He shows us the depth of our need, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for His help; but when left to ourselves we are apathetic toward God. Even when the Holy Spirit is helping us discern our dependence, we are able to harden our hearts instead of seeking God. (Hebrews 3:15) We do have a role to play.

The scripture quoted above from Jeremiah is in the context of the Jewish captivity in Babylon.  Is it any wonder that right before the verse quoted above, God assures them of His purpose for them, “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) The judgment they were going through was not because God didn’t love them, or because He was mean and didn’t want them to have prosperous lives. It was because they weren’t listening without these extreme measures. Even then, they had a choice, and so do we today. If everything is stripped from us we can either be offended with God, or allow our desperate situation help us to be wholehearted in our seeking of Him.

Jesus died on a cross so that we could find forgiveness, help in time of need, a sure promise for the future, and a living relationship with God right now. So let’s respond quickly to the Spirit’s promptings and make this relationship our greatest priority while trusting God’s goodness for everything else.