From Treasure to Trash to Treasure

March 29, 2013

I want to thank Matt, our Sunday School Superintendent, for giving me the idea for this blog.  Every Sunday, for our Sunday School opening, he gives a short meditation to all the adult students before we go to our classes.  I will expand on his presentation – a subject especially appropriate for this time of year.

From Treasure to Trash to Treasure: that’s exactly how they treated Jesus during the last eight days of what we refer to as Holy Week.

Treasure – Why did they receive Jesus with such excitement when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt that first Palm Sunday so long ago?  Why did they lay down palm branches and their very own cloaks, thrown down before Him to ride over as He descended the Mount of Olives?  Why did they exclaim “Hosanna to the son of David:  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest….Blessed is the kingdom of our father David, that comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest.”  (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10 NKJV).  It was because of prophecy.

Remember, even the common Jew was generally trained up in the ways of the Lord and was familiar with Old Testament scriptures, especially the major prophecies affecting the future of Israel.   Matthew tells us in Matthew 21:4 & 5 (NKJV) the reason why Jesus sent His disciples to procure the donkey’s colt for Him to ride…

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell the daughter of Zion [Jerusalem], Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of an donkey.

But there is much more to the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 than just this one verse!  Go on to verse 10 (NKJV):

And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim,
    And the horse from Jerusalem;
    The battle bow shall be cut off:  
    He shall speak peace to the nations;
    And His dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    And from the river to the ends of the earth.

Considering that the Jews had been under the heel of heathen conquerors for over six centuries, and for the 90 years subservient to the hated Romans; and considering that in several Old Testament prophecies God had promised that Israel would throw off the yoke of oppressors, and regain its former glory and dominion as in the time of David and Solomon; is it any wonder they got excited over Jesus riding into Jerusalem as the potential King of Israel on that Palm Sunday?

Zechariah 9:10 says enemy armies – chariots and horses – would be cut off from both Ephraim in the north and Jerusalem in the south – the whole country of Israel!  The King of the Jews would speak peace to the nations, that is, He would be in such a powerful and dominant position, He would lay out the treaty terms!  And the extent of this renewed Israelite kingdom?  “…from sea to sea….”  Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament explains it this way:  “…from the sea to the other end of the world where sea begins again.”  The prophecy goes on:  “…from the river [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth,” in all directions!  Israel would rule again!

Can you see why Jesus was received so exuberantly as He rode into Jerusalem obviously fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9?  What a treaure!

Trash – A few days later it became apparent this man was not the military Messiah/King the Jews wanted.  Probably many in the crowd outside of Pilate’s palace that morning had also been part of the exuberant multitude who had shouted “Hosanna…”on Palm Sunday.  Now, stirred up by the priests and Pharisees, they were screaming, “Crucify Him, crucify Him…”!  (Luke 23:21).

It is really either a love or hate relationship.  You either accept who Jesus is or you reject Him.  You either trust His sacrifice on Calvary to cover your sins or you depend on the value of your own works.  You either love Him or push Him away as an enemy.  There is really no middle ground.  Jesus Himself put it this way in John 15:18-21 (NKJV):

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.

How sad to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as Trash!

Treasure – But on the third day He rose from the grave.  He defeated death, the devil, sin and hell!  And He offers that same victory to those who put their faith – their lives – in Him!  As Jesus said in John 10:10 (and as discussed in the March 15th blog), “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  Could there be any greater treasure than eternal life (forever with the Lord and with believing loved ones) and the abundance of the fruit of the Spirit in this life now?

From Treasure to Trash to Treasure – Where is Jesus Christ in your life?  Or maybe the question should be, “Where is your life in relation to Him?”

The Great Exchange

March 27, 2013

II Corinthians 5:21

Jesus died to take away my sins.  What a wonderful gem of truth this is!  And there are many scriptures that show the cleansing power of His blood, of what He accomplished on the cross.  Here are just  a few references from the Bible that put forth this truth:  Isaiah 53:5, I Corinthians 15:3, 4; Colossians 2:13, 14; I Peter 2:24; I John 1:7; I John 4:10.

But while many evangelical Christians tout the truth of Jesus Christ taking upon Himself our sins, I have rarely heard the second part of that transaction expounded.  Yes, there is another part to that which Jesus accomplished on the cross, and it is brought out wonderfully in II Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV):

 For He [the Father] made Him [the Son] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Do you see the two parts of the transaction?  He took our sins upon Himself, and He gave us His own righteousness.  That’s why I call it The Great Exchange!  Let’s look more closely at the two parts of the great exchange.

I see it as a changing of our clothes.  There are at least six ways this is depicted in the Bible, all six show the insufficiency of our own poor self-attempts to cover our nakedness:

•    In Genesis 3:7, after Adam and Eve, in disobedience to God’s specific command, had eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it says, “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons [or loin coverings].”  Well, leaves may provide a covering, but they are temporary at best.  Just wait until the fall of the year comes around!!!  God later provided the skin of an animal to cover them, the first instance of shedding of blood in the Bible – an act pointing toward Jesus’ shed blood.

•    Leprosy, in the Bible, is a picture of sin and what sin does to a life.  In Leviticus chapters 13 & 14, God sets down regulations for dealing with the dreaded contagious disease of leprosy.  The leper was considered unclean and was forced to be isolated from everyday society.  But a form of leprosy could also be contracted by inanimate objects such as houses and pieces of clothing.  In the case of clothing, if the infected piece was considered to be beyond cleansing, the examining priest was commanded to “…burn that garment, whether warp or woof, in woolen or in linen, or any thing of skin, wherein the plague is:  for it is a fretting [persistent] leprosy; it shall be burnt in the fire.” (Leviticus 13:52).  Who would ever want to cover their nakedness with such a piece of leprous clothing?

•    In Isaiah 59:5 & 6, the Lord is calling down judgment upon Israel’s disobedience.  Among the descriptions of their sins, it is written, “They…weave the spider’s web….Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.”  I don’t know about you, but I would not want to parade about in public wearing only spider’s webs!  Besides, such webs might have the weaver still attached!

•    In Isaiah 64:6, God views our sins thus: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”  Filthy rags is a bit of a euphemism.  Actually the idea is mentruous rags, ceremonially unclean in Hebrew thinking (see Leviticus 15:19-27), but it would be unthinkable to wear any rags so blood stained as common clothing in any society.  And before God, such garments are depicted as  “…our righteousnesses…” – the very best we can do!  What does the worst we can do look like to Him?

•    In Zachariah 3:1-5 Joshua the high priest is standing before the Lord.  But he first appears in his own righteousness, and it says in Zechariah 3:3, “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments….”  But God commanded in verse 4, “Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him He said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.”  This is the high priest!!  If anyone was thought to be holy, it was the high priest!  But he too was covered with filthy rags and needed a change of clothing from God.

•     In Luke 15;11 through 32 is recorded the parable of the prodigal son.  This younger son prematurely collected his inheritance, burned through it with sinful living in a foreign land, and ended up feeding pigs – quite a predicament for a Jew!  When he finally came to his senses and went back home to his father, he arrived wearing the tattered and dirty clothes of a pig-herder!  Such horrible looking and smelling garments were the result of sinful living, not fit for his father’s son.  So the first thing this young man’s father told the servants to do was to “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet….” (Luke 15:22).  His pig clothes were not acceptable!

You see, in the great exchange that Jesus accomplished on the cross, it says in                II Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us….”  But if He stopped there, that would leave us naked and exposed.  The second part of the great exchange is “…that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Isaiah 61:10 says it best:  “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.

In Jesus Christ I no longer wear the leaves, the rags, the spider’s webs of sin.  I am clothed with the robe of righteousness – God’s very own righteousness!  I stand before God now, not as a sinner, but as perfect as Jesus Christ is Himself!  I wear His robe of righteousness!

Thank you, Lord!  What a great exchange it is!!!

Perfect Peace in a Dentist Chair!

March 25, 2013

Isaiah 26:3, 4

I don’t like dentists!  Well, it isn’t really dentists that I don’t like, it is being in the dentist chair on the receiving end of a filling, a root canal or worse!  Actually, I like my dentist.  He is a very nice gentleman, and over the years he helped to greatly reduce the fear I used to have of dentist appointments.  Still, root canals are not one of the favorite things on my ‘to-do’ list!

One day, a few years ago, I was facing just that – a root canal.  I gotta tell ya, I was nervous.  I was so nervous that my dentist prescribed Valium to calm me down, to be taken an hour before my appointment.  “Be sure to have your wife drive you here,” warned my dentist.

When I arrived home, I looked at the prescription and thought, “This is ridiculous!  Why do I need Valium when God has promised me peace?!”  I recalled a gem from God’s Word that I had committed to memory years before, Isaiah 26:3 & 4:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.  Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength….

I could use a good dose of peace facing this root canal.  And God said He would do it – keep me in perfect peace – if I would stay my mind on Him, that is, put my mind on the Lord and His promise and keep it there.

So I did not fill the prescription of Valium.  Instead I focused my thinking on the promise of God’s supply of peace which He was offering me.  In my mind I went over Isaiah 26:3 & 4 again and again, thinking about it, meditating on it, chewing on it, digesting it, and getting it down deep inside me.

Two days later I drove to my root canal appointment armed with nothing more than God’s promise to keep me calm.  Before the doctor started his procedure, I asked him, “Jim, can you tell if a patient does not take the prescribed Valium?”

“Oh yes,” he said.  “I can tell right away!”

“Well, I didn’t take it!”

He shook his head, a worried look on his face thinking he would be having a rough time with a very nervous patient.  “We’ll see how it goes, but I will know.”

He began the procedure while I sat calmly in the chair.  He deeply injected my gums with Novocain and I didn’t flinch.  I didn’t squirm even through the nerve-shattering whine of the dentist drill.  As a matter of fact, I almost fell asleep!  After poking, prodding, digging and so on for fifteen or twenty minutes he stopped, leaned back and asked, “Are you sure you didn’t take the Valium?”

“No,” I said, “I took something else!”

“I knew it,” he exclaimed!  “What did you take?”

I said, “I took a good dose of Isaiah 26: 3 & 4:  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.  Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength….

Jim is a man of faith.  He looked closely at me and said, “I wish my other patients would take that kind of medicine before they come here!”

No, it was not an earth-shaking event.  But it was a Chip-shaking event, and I learned when I am grounded on the Rock Christ Jesus, the Rock doesn’t shake.  And I don’t either, even in a dentist chair!

Ezekiel’s Miraculous River

March 22, 2013

Ezekiel 47:1-12

It is an interesting passage in Ezekiel 47:1-12.  I reproduce it here from the NIV:

The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.
He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.  As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep.   He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist.  He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.  
    He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”
    Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river.  He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh.  Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water  flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.  Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea.  But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.  Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

Notice some things about this miraculous river:

•    It relates to a future millennial temple in which God’s shekinah glory again dwells.
•    It starts from a trickle from the temple, but increases greatly in volume of flow the further away its course takes it.
•    There are four measuring points shown to Ezekiel along the course of the river, each 1,000 cubit (approximately 1,750 feet – according to Ezekiel 40:5, the royal cubit was used in measuring the temple and river.  This cubit was approximately three inches longer than the standard cubit of about 18 inches).
•    At each measure, the river was deeper (by a multiplier of about three).
•    The fourth measuring point was approximately 7,000 feet from the temple, about a mile and a third.
•    The river produced life wherever it flowed.
•    The river had no other input to add to its volume, but increased miraculously!

So it was increasingly life-giving!  Ezekiel’s river truly was a miraculous river!

Now why are we looking at a river in the Old Testament?  Because it relates closely to the “…rivers of living water…” (John 7:38) we examined in the last blog.  Some points that relate:

•    We “…are the temple of the living God…” (II Corinthians 6:16); individually “…like living stones, [we] are [together] being built into a spiritual house…” (I Peter 2:5 NIV).
•    Jesus is the source of the living water (John 4:10-26).
•    God dwells in us by His Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19), and by His Spirit we have the glory of God shining in our heart (II Corinthians 4:5),  and so (potentially) out of our lives (Proverbs 4:23).
•    The Holy Spirit (another Comforter just like Jesus – John 14:16) generates “…rivers of living water…” that are to flow out of our lives.  And, as does Ezekiel’s river, that living water produces life wherever it flows.
•    The flow of that water – and so it’s effect – increases as it gains distance from its source.

Let me illustrate what I mean by this last point.  I have a friend whom I led to the Lord almost twelve years ago.  She opened her heart to Jesus and seriously pursued her new-found faith.  She is the first generation (the first measurement of the flow) of the living water that proceeds from my life.  She, in turn, has affected her husband who has become a very active Christian, and her son who put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the second generation (the second measurement of the flow).  Her son married a strong Christian woman and they are bringing their two children up “…in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).  The son is recently ministering to his close friend whose mother just passed.    This is the third generation (the third measurement of the flow).  And on and on it goes, rivers of living water flowing more fully and powerfully the greater the distance from the source.  It started with a trickle from my life, and is turning into a mighty river touching more and more lives for the Lord.

Wow!  You never know what God is going to do through His obedient children!  To think that my life (and yours too!) can be pictured by Ezekiel’s miraculous river!

Rivers of Living Water

March 20, 2013

In the March 15 blog, we considered what Jesus meant when He said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”  The abundance is not in material wealth or perfect health or freedom from life’s troubles.  It is a life, whether in troubles or not, that manifests the fruit of the Spirit: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”  (Galatians 5:22 & 23 NIV).  A Christian manifesting these characteristics will have abundant life in any circumstance!

Then in the March 18 blog, I showed what I discovered comparing Ephesians 5:18-21 with  Colossians 3:16-19: out of the life that is filled with the Spirit flows the same things that proceed from the life that is filled with the Word of God.  Read the blog, compare the two scriptures and I believe you will agree with me that to “…be filled with the Spirit….” (Ephesians 5:18) is the same thing as letting “the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…” (Colossians 3:16).  This gem takes a lot of the confusion and mystery out of the different interpretations of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

Now the fruit of the Spirit, it stands to reason, is manifested more and more in a life that is filled more and more with the Spirit – or the Word of God.  It is the Holy Spirit that generates that fruit.  By the way, it is fruit, not fruits!  There are not nine fruits of the Spirit, but nine manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit.  You don’t pick and choose which fruits you want!  The Holy Spirit generates the fruit as He sees fit – and we need all nine manifestations if we are going to live life abundantly!

Get this straight; it is the Holy Spirit who generates the fruit, not you.  I grew up on a Connecticut dairy farm.  We had an apple orchard next to the barn where we three boys spent many hours playing.  I never heard an apple tree groaning or grunting, straining to put out apples on its branches.  If the tree was healthy, if it was in good soil, if there were sufficient water and sunlight, then the apples just happened!  The apples were, you might say, a by-product of what was right in the life of the tree!

You don’t push and strain to produce “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”, the fruit of the Spirit just happens when the conditions in the Christian life are right!  When you get richly into the Bible (and it getting richly into you), when you pray and obey – the fruit of the Spirit will happen in your life!  It really is the difference between struggling and snuggling in your Christian life!

To what extent are our lives to be filled with the Holy Spirit and so with His fruit?  In John 7:37-39 (NKJV), it says this:

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Since Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit has been given to the Church, to believers to dwell within them producing resurrection life in them.  He is the seal of their eternal life, their teacher, guide, and gifter.  His gifts include the fruit of the Spirit.  He is the living water Jesus spoke about in John 7:38.

But sometimes we think of that living water as bubbling deep down inside us. We think if we look deep enough into our heart and life, we can say, “Yep, there He is, the Holy Spirit residing within me!” But that’s not what Jesus said!  He said, “He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  It’s like an artesian well, abundantly flowing up and out like rivers of living water!  Not just a river, but rivers!

Can you imagine your life with rivers of “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” flowing out of it?  Do you know anyone like that?  He or she sure does seem to draw people to themselves – and to God!  Such a person is a powerful witness to Jesus Christ!

It all starts with being “…filled with the Spirit…, letting “…the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom….”  Then you will manifest “…the fruit of the Spirit…” and the more the fruit of the Spirit flows out of your life as “…rivers of living water…”, the more people will be drawn through you unto God.

Simple, isn’t it?

Be Filled With What?

March 18, 2013

So we are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, huh?  It would be great to have consistently in our lives what is written in Galatians 5:22 & 23, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  It would certainly help with all the problems we face in life.  But how do we do that?

When I began to study the issue, I found a lot of confusion.  The fruit of the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, being baptized with the Spirit, and the how-to concerning all that.  But then I came across the answer.  Where?  In the Bible, of course.  God always has the answer in the Bible – sometimes by direct instruction, sometimes by example, or comparing scripture with scripture, or a general principle that can be applied in different areas of life.

In the case of the fruit of the Spirit in my life, I figured it had to be tied closely with what Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18, “…be filled with the Spirit….”  And I found the answer by comparing scripture with scripture.

To really see what I am talking about, open your Bible to Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16. Mark them both with a bookmark because you will be flipping back and forth.  In Ephesians 5:18 Paul says, “…be filled with the Spirit….”  But there is only a comma after that statement.  He goes on to describe what will flow out of your life from being filled with the Spirit:

…speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and   making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.  (Ephesians 5:19-21)

And Paul goes on in Ephesians 5 and into chapter 6 describing submission applied to family and working relationships.

Now, if we pick it up in the middle of Colossians 3:16, Paul writes:

…teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.   Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.  (Colossians 3:16-19)

It is the almost the same words, and the same order of subjects as in Ephesians.  Both descriptions are flowing out of a filled life.  But what is filling the life?  In Ephesians 5:18 it is the Holy Spirit.  In Colossians 3:16 is written,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom….

I have to conclude that letting the word of Christ – the Bible, Scripture – dwell in you richly is closely tied up – if not the same thing as – being filled with the Holy Spirit!!

Well, this takes a lot of mystery out of what it means to “…be filled with the Spirit….”!  My job is to “Let the word of Christ dwell in…[me] richly….”  I do that by dwelling richly in the Word.  I read and/or study – even memorize – the Scripture every day.  I want to get it inside of me richly, because then God has what He needs to fill me with His Holy Spirit.  I do what I am supposed to do, and God does what only He can do!

Now this is not bragging, but I hope it is an encouragement to what can be accomplished with some discipline.  Years ago I decided to read through the Bible, in various translations, once every six months. It only takes me 20 to 30 minutes a day.  Currently I have almost completed reading through the Bible for the 92nd time!  You don’t have to read through the Bible 92 times, but you can start to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….”  Do it regularly!  Let it become a daily discipline!  You will find that more and more you will “…be filled with the Spirit….”!

In Wednesday’s blog, I will show the outflow of the fruit of the Spirit and what it will mean for your Christian witness.

Abundant Living

March 15, 2013

Much is made in some Christian circles of what Jesus said in John 10:10:

    I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Abundant life – doesn’t that sound appealing?  But to what kind of abundant life is Jesus referring?  Too often it is the idea that God wants all His children rich, healthy and happy. All you have to do is ask and believe, and “you too can be a millionaire in perfect health!”  But most of us are not millionaires and most of us have our share of aches and pains, and sometimes a lot worse!  So what is Jesus talking about?

I do believe that the Lord is referring to the life we live, here and now, upon this earth.  You see, He speaks twice of life in this verse, first life and then life more abundantly.  The first mention refers to spiritual life, given to those who are spiritually dead by being born again.

Spiritually dead?  Yes, for it says in Ephesians 2:1,

     And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins….

We are all born sinners – with a sin nature – and that nature separates us from God – spiritual death.  If this situation is not corrected by accepting into your heart and life Jesus Christ and the redemption He purchased for you on the cross, that condition of spiritual death becomes permanent, and it is called eternal hell!

But God has given us the opportunity to be born again – spiritual rebirth – that connects us back to our Creator by the Holy Spirit.  It says in John 1:12,

    But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he power [authority, right] to
    become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name….

That’s life, eternal life, which means we will be with God now and forever.  And the forever part is called heaven, and obviously life in heaven is going to be abundant!  So the second mention of life in John 10:10, life more abundantly, does not refer to heaven, because that would be redundant.  Of course eternal life in heaven will be abundant, much more abundant than anything we have experienced here on earth!!!

So life more abundantly in John 10:10 must refer to life on earth, life in the here and now.  If it is not riches and health, what is it?  Turn to Galatians 5:22 & 23 and read in your own Bible what God has provided for you.  This is from the NIV:

     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It doesn’t matter what situation you find yourself in, even hard trials and testings; if you have the fruit of the Spirit in your life, you will get through that situation just fine.  I call that abundant life!!!  Just take the first three manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace.  Even if you are facing a life-threatening circumstance, you will not be overcome if you are filled with love, joy and peace.  And the other six manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit is like a bonus!

In my next blog, I’ll discuss what the Lord has shown me concerning how to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s really not complicated!  Until next Monday, may God hold you in…

     …love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and     self-control.

A Little Help Here, Please!

March 13, 2013

Philippians 2:12, 13

Here is a gem I mined from the Bible a few years ago.  It has helped me perhaps more in my Christian life than any other single truth I have discovered.  If you can embrace this gem for living, it will revolutionize the way you live out your life in the Lord!

You see, I struggled with being obedient to what God wanted me to do.  I know, we all struggle.  But I mean I struggled!  I have an addictive/compulsive personality that has battled against what the Word plainly tells me to do.  After going through all sorts of psychological and personality tests at The Center For Career Development And Ministry near Boston, I have the dubious distinction of being told by the director, “You are the most addictive person to have ever gone through our facility!”  Gee, thanks!

So I have struggled – against addictions to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, pornography, over-eating, and a few more things I can’t think of at the moment!  I totally identified with what Paul wrote in Romans 7:15-24 (NIV),

     I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I
    hate I do.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
    For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what
    I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep
    on doing….For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another
    law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my
    mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
    What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?   

I just could not seem to come into what Paul exclaimed in I Corinthians 15:57 (NIV):

     But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then I discovered Philippians 2:12 & 13:

    Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only,
    but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and
    trembling.  For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good
    pleasure.

Now if Paul had stopped at verse 12, I would still be in the same predicament.  In effect he said, “I have told you what you are supposed to do in your Christian life.  Go, and work it out – do it – with fear and trembling!”  I had the fear and trembling part down pretty well.  But how was I supposed to work out my salvation so God would be pleased with me?  After all, the one thing I want to hear when I stand before my Lord is “Well done, good and faithful servant,” ( Matthew 25:23).

But go on to verse 13:

     For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good  pleasure.

This is the key, the gem, to working out my salvation.   Paul says that God works in me, not just to do it, but also to will it.  He gives me the want to!  And I have learned that when I really want to do something, I have no trouble at all in doing it!

All I have to do is have the courage to come before my God and confess, “Lord, I’m not sure I even want to do this, what you are asking me to do.  Would you work within me to give me the want to as well as the do it?  Thank you, Lord.  Amen.  Guess what?  He does just that!  And it has made all the difference in living out my Christian life before Him.  No longer is it a struggle, but I seem to relax a lot more and rest in Him, letting Him do it in me and through me.

I hope this helps you in your Christian life as much as it has helped mine.

How To Be Holy

March 11, 2013

How To Be Holy

Well, this title sounds a bit audacious!  But holiness should be a concern for every Christian.  After all, it is written in Hebrews 12:14 (NIV),

    Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness
    no one will see the Lord.

So being holy is pretty important.

First of all, what is holiness?  In the Greek, holy means to make holy, purify or consecrate.  As Christians, we are to be consecrated unto Jesus Christ, purified from sin, and heading in the direction of becoming like our Lord (see March 8 blog).

But in my own experience, I struggled.  I have an addictive/compulsive nature, and I have scratched and kicked against all sorts of sins that have repeatedly manifested in my life.  I read in my Bible the scripture quoted above from Hebrews 12:14, so I knew holiness was essential.  And it was not the only scripture that beat against my conscience.  Others include,

  • Leviticus 19:2 – Ye shall be holy:  for I the LORD your God am holy.

 

  • Leviticus 20: 7 – Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.

 

  • Numbers 15:40 – …do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.

 

  • Psalm 24:3, 4 – Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD?  Or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

 

  • Matthew 5:48 – Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

 

  • Romans 12:1 – I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

 

  • I Peter 1:15, 16 – But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all      manner of life; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

There are certainly more than these seven, but it was enough to convict me of my unholy living. I was especially concerned about the compulsive areas which the old-timers sometimes referred to as “besetting sins” – those tough places in a life like addiction to pornography that just seem to overcome the desire for holiness again and again.

I remember one night I was on my face – literally – before the Lord crying out to Him to show me what I was lacking to acquire holiness in my life.  God spoke to me, not by direct word, but by revealing in my mind a scripture that turned out to be a real key in this matter, John 17:17:

     Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

Jesus was praying His high priestly prayer in John 17, facing the torment of His final hours.  He interceded for those who would be left in the world when He ascended into heaven.  And our Lord included, not just those who had been with Him in His earthly ministry, but “…them also which shall believe on me through their word….”  (John 17:24).  That included me!

So John 17:17 includes me!

     Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

If you put the two thoughts in this verse together, this is what Jesus was saying, “Sanctify them through thy word,” or “Make them holy, by means of your Word.”

This sure simplified things for me!  My job was to take in the Word, read and study the Bible regularly.  God’s job was to use the living and powerful Word to make me holy.  When I disciplined myself to take in scripture every day, I found that more and more I was not struggling with persistent sins.

I don’t know just how He does it.  But then I don’t know all the scientific explanations of how food digests in my body.  Or how the blood carries the nutrients to various organs.  Or how it all results in energy in my members to live out my life.  But not knowing how it all works has not stopped me from taking in good food regularly!  I just know that if I do my part, the energy to live out my life is produced.

It may sound all too simple, this matter of holiness.  But I believe God wants us to understand truths that pertain to living the Christian life.  He has not made it so difficult that only the few fully initiated can grasp these truths.  So buckle down and regularly take in Scripture.  God will do His part – produce true holiness in your life.  And only God can do that!

What’s God’s Purpose for Me?

March 8, 2013

What’s God’s Purpose for Me?

Most Christians who have been in the faith any length of time have heard quoted Romans 8:28 concerning any number of happenings in their lives:

    And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to
    them who are the called according to His purpose.

I one time almost got a book thrown at me by a woman whose mother was going through a horrific battle with cancer.  The daughter was a strong Christian, but her trust in the daily faithfulness of God was being severely tested as she saw her mom increasingly suffer.  By the way, the truth of Romans 8:28 still stood, even in that case, and the daughter later admitted to me that I was right in reminding her of this verse, but that she just was in no frame of mind at that time to receive it.

Have you been quoted this verse when you are going through some trial or testing?  Have you wondered how something that is so uncomfortable to you can work together for good?  The problem is that we often fail to go on to the next verse, Romans 8:29:

    For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the 
    image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Verse 28 tells us that all things work together for good to those who are called according to God’s purpose.  Verse 29 then spells out God’s overriding purpose for all of His children, — that He predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son.  All things that touch our lives as Christians – God is using them to make us more and more like Jesus.

That this is the overriding purpose of the Father is shown by other scripture truths.  II Corinthians 3:18 says,

    But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [in a mirror] the glory of the
    Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit
    of the Lord.

How do we behold the glory of the Lord?  II Corinthians 4:6 has the answer:

    For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our
    hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus
    Christ.  

God’s glory, or His fulness is embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  The Lord Himself said in John 14:9 that if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father.  We behold Jesus by looking at Him with our faith through the scriptures.  It is a hazy reflection sometimes because it is faith, not clear sight.  But the more we see Him, the more we get to know Him through the Word, the more we “…are changed into that same image….”  Saint Paul says it is “…from glory to glory…” (and he could have added a few more glories!) in that it is a process – little by little by little we are changed into the image of Jesus Christ.

The culmination of the process is seen in I John 3:2:

    Beloved, now are we the sons [children] of God, and it does not yet appear what
    we shall be:  but we know that, when He [Jesus] shall appear, we shall be like
    Him; for we shall see Him as He is.

Then, it will not be by hazy faith.  Then it will be by sight!  We will see Him clearly when He comes back for His own, and we will be immediately transformed into completely sinless and eternal beings like as He is.

In the meantime, God is making us over to be like Jesus.  Now, I suspect you are a lot like me.  I have a long way to go to be like Jesus.  I have stuff in my life that does not resemble my Lord, and God has to get rid of it.  So He orders all things in my life to work together for good, the good of His purpose to make me more and more like His Son.  And that can hurt!

It is a lot like what I experienced while working in an electrical contact manufacturing plant many years ago.  We made large commercial contact components out of metal.  The process involved included stamping them out by a drop-board forge and then finishing them to specs by further processes such as grinding off the rough edges.  I would stand before the grinding wheel for hours smoothing off the roughness of these contacts.  If those pieces of metal had voice, I would imagine them screaming out as I ground away, “Ow!  That hurts!  Stop!  Don’t!  That’s painful!”  But if the rough edges were not ground away, the contacts would not fit the order specs, and they would be virtually useless for their intended purpose.  I guess the contacts did have some worth in their rough state:  they could always be sold for scrap metal!!!

It may hurt to have our un-Christ-like edges ground down so we can be made to conform to the specs God has for us – to look like Jesus.  But if God does not orchestrate the process, and/or if I fight tooth and nail against the pain of His working in my life, I will not become like Jesus, and I will not be of full use to God.  I would rather bear the pain for His manufacturing process and come out looking like Jesus – useful unto Him – than be sold for scrap!