Sunday, August 31, 2014

The crucial truth of justification by faith alone


Sinful man's three problems
When you study the first three chapters of the Book of Romans, you discover that humanity has three problems: a relational problem, a moral problem and a debt problem. These three problems explain the relational crisis that exists between fallen man and Holy God. Relationally I'm termed an enemy of God (Romans 1:18-31); Morally I'm guilty before God (Romans 2:1-16) and I am in debt to the Law of God (Romans 2:17-3:20).  In short when you and I are born into this world, we are in the spiritual, moral and relational equivalent of a credit crisis.  Unless our spiritual bank account is radically credited with righteousness, no amount of right living will balance out what is owed to God. 

The Bible's solution to man's problems: justification by faith in Jesus Christ
What is the solution? The Bible uses a term that explains God's solution: the term justification by faith. The nature of justification by faith involves God crediting and declaring the sinner to be right with Him - i.e righteousness.  Mind you this is not just any righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."  

This Divine declaration of the sinner's rightness before God occurs at saving faith, and includes the righteousness of Jesus Christ being counted in the sinner's favor. Such a righteousness is what Bible teachers call "imputed righteousness", meaning that the accomplished work of righteousness credited to us was done by another. An old gospel song I heard years ago explains this point: "He paid a debt He did not owe and I owed a debt I could not pay, thats why God sent Him, to wash my sins away." 

Not only is the truth of justification by faith taught in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament.  Abraham is used to illustrate the kind of righteousness that was credited to Him at the moment of saving faith, which the Bible describes as Abraham being justified by faith.

How God uses Abraham to illustrate justification by faith alone
For every New Testament teaching or doctrine we can find at least one concrete, flesh and blood example of that truth.  When it comes to the central Gospel truth of Justification by Faith Alone,  we find such an example in the life of Abraham.  Abraham was a man called by God out of the region of ancient Babylonia (modern day Iraq, near Persian Gulf) called "Ur of the Chaldees" in Genesis 12. 

After 13 years God would speak to him in a dream in Genesis 15, reaffirming His promises to Him.  By receiving those promises by faith alone, Abraham was demonstrating the concept of God "crediting" or "counting" Abraham as being right with Him.  We pick up this illustration of Abraham in Romans 4.  Some key questions from Romans 4 will guide us in seeing how Abraham illustrates Justification by Faith.

1. Is Justification based upon human goodness?
According to Romans 4:1-8 the answer is "no".  Abraham had been called by God while He was worshipping other gods in Ur in Genesis 11:27-32.  Later on we would find out that his wife Sarah was barren, unable to conceive a child, a crucial key to God's promise to Abraham of numerous offspring.  Even after trying to bring the promise himself with his handmaiden Hagar, Abraham demonstrated that he was unable to bring about anything contributing to his own salvation.  It was God's loving choice and calling of Abraham (i.e grace) that convinced Abraham to believe.(Joshua 24:1-3; Isaiah 51:1-2; Acts 7:1-4)  As Abraham demonstrates, his salvation was by grace through faith alone.

2. Is Justification based upon the religious rite of circumcision?
When Paul wrote Romans, many Jews in his day thought salvation was a result of circumcision plus faith.  Yet when God spoke these words to Abraham in Genesis 15, it was before He had revealed the rite of circumcision in Genesis 17.  Thus it is not based upon how religious one is that makes one right with God.  This is the argument of Romans 4:9-12.

3. Surely Abraham was justified by keeping the ten commandments?
According to Genesis 15, it would be another 400 or so years before God would reveal the Law to Israel and Moses on Mount Sinai.  Abraham was not declared righteous due to keeping the law.  Rather it was by grace alone through faith alone - identical to how justification occurs today. (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9) Salvation by grace alone through faith alone occurs apart from adherence to the law of God, however we must hasten to add that justifying faith does not advocate that which would be lawless. What flows from justification, sanctification, is not in conflict with the law of God (compare Galatians 5:22-23). 

Justification by faith alone does not grant one a license to sin, but grants the believer the license and power to do what is pleasing to God. Though a distinct grace, sanctification consequently follows one's justification, much like a stalk and flower proceeds from a root. Sanctification begins at the moment one is justified by faith and is characterized by desiring to do the will of God for the glory of Jesus Christ. This is the argument of Romans 4, 5 & 6.

4. Abraham was justified by faith alone
In Romans 4:21-22 we read: "and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able to perform. (22) Therefore it was also credited to Him as righteousness."  The essence of saving faith entails the idea of "firm persuasion".  The Hebrew word the word "amen".  When you here the word "amen", it means you affirm, agree, are fully persuaded of what is being said to you.  Abraham "amened" what God promised to Him.  He could not do anything to earn it, nor could he accomplish it.  God alone could bring about the miraculous result of a son born to He and Sarah in their old age. (Genesis 21)   By faith alone he received the promise.  Abraham was justified by faith.

Closing thoughts:
Today we saw why justification by faith alone is so crucial. It first of all solves man's three problems with God. Second, it is what ties together the entire Old and New Testament teaching of salvation. Then finally, it explains why Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection can be counted as righteousness at saving faith, and why apart from saving faith, no man can make himself morally, relationally and spiritually right with God. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Purpose of Divine Appointments - Acts 28:1-10

Acts 28:1-2  "When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all."

Paul had survived a storm and a shipwreck along with 275 other fellow prisoners and their Roman captors in Acts 27. The original intent of the journey in Acts 27 was to sail from Caesarea Philippi to Rome, where Paul would appear before Caesar. What was supposed to be a straight journey ended up being an over two-week long ordeal in hurricane force winds with no sun to shine by day nor stars to shine at night. Paul ended up at a little tiny Island called "Malta", just South of Sicily. Concerning Paul's landing on Malta, Bible teacher Woodrow Kroll writes: "Malta is just a 95-square-mile speck in the Mediterranean Sea, but God had miraculously directed Paul's ship to the safety of its shores. This reminds us that not even the depths of the sea can "separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39). When you are in God's hands, you are in good hands". 

When I look at the overall context of Acts 27-28, the overall destination was Rome.  However before Paul was to go to Rome, there had to be a Malta, which literally translated means "refuge". What appeared to be a non-necessary stop along the way was a Divine appointment. Divine appointments are not scheduled by us, but by God. Our date books, planners and phones don't track the when and where God has us to be or land so-to-speak. Nevertheless what can appear to be an inconvenience ends up being an intersection. What can appear to be a profound waste of time or a dead end can be a great moment for the child of God and the very street upon which God would have us to be. Divine appointments are where God meets with us, chooses to use us and then launches us out to continue onto the next destination. Today's post is about considering Divine appointments and their purposes. 

1. Divine Appointments can be for refreshment
As we saw in the opening verses of Acts 28, Paul and these men landed on the Island, and -  "The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all." At times God will put an "off ramp" so to speak for you to be simply shown kindness and love. Paul needed this for what laid ahead.  I have had those wonderful seasons of blissful interruption in my life where it seemed things were suddenly interrupted or that I was on a detour, only to be shown love, encouragement and even healing. But notice whatelse happended at Malta, the "place of refuge".

2. Divine Appointments can demonstrate God's power. 
Acts 28:3-6 tells what happened next to Paul - 3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came outbecause of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they begansaying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and beganto say that he was a god." What intially began as a place of refuge quickly turned sideways - or so it seemed. Paul was bitten by a snake and the incident would end up being used by God to demonstrate His power and the power of the Gospel Paul would preach to these people. Mark 16:17-18 notes this from Jesus to His Apostles - "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” To position Paul for how he would use him, God willed to permit this serpent to be in the cord of wood gathered by Paul. The outcome of not dying from the snake bite opened these people up to the possibility that their new visitor was more than met the eye and that he had a message to tell. Divine appointments are designed by God for the purpose of Him showing up when we least expect it.  When He shows up, we know then that what appeared to be a dissapointment ends up being a Divine appointment.  But now notice the third purpose of Divine appointments, not only refeshment and demonstration of God's Divine power but also....

3. Divine appointments are designed for God to use you to minister to other people.
Acts 28:7-9 notes - 7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days. 8 And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted withrecurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.9 After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured." Sometimes when we are on our way to our intended destination, God will have a little detour planned that will give us the opportunity to be used by Him. Malta certainly ended up being a place far more than what Paul bargained for. At first he was welcomed and cared for, only to get snake bit and then to see God show up and demonstrate His power. Now Paul was going to be put to work and in this instance God had so gifted Him to perform healings for the residents of that tiny island.  This is the only time Malta is mentioned in scripture and yet it was at this point and time God had chosen to bring healing, deliverance and comfort. Divine appointments are amazing in that the person who is led to be at one ends up being used by God to bless other people.  Now notice the final purpose for Divine appointments...

4. Divine appointments prepare you for the journey ahead.
Acts 28:10 "They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed."  Paul's ultimate destination was Rome.  Rome would be where Paul would remain for two years under house arrest. Before it was all said and done, he would end up writing four more letters, preaching the Gospel and bearing witness in the most powerful city on earth at that time.  Much was being required of Paul, and much would be needed. This little stop at Malta proved to be beneficial to the apostle.  No doubt he was invest in as he made investment. People filled up his emotion gas tank and he was spoken into by those new believers. Divine appointments are prescribed by God, being that he alone knows completely what lies ahead.  Will we heed His voice and take advantage of all that a Divine  appointment can offer - a chance to meet and be met by the living God through His word. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Your Job is your calling - Colossians 3:22-4:1

Colossians 3:22-4:1  Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth,not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
4:1  Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven."

The past couple of posts have looked at several ideas related to how the Christian functions in the work place. 

Viewing one's job as a vocation or calling
We have learned the idea that the jobs in which we work as Christians are to be viewed as a "vocation" or "calling from God" to serve and love one's neighbor as oneself. The context in which we hear God's calling to go and be a blessing is what we call a "station". 

The ability to do one's job comes from the Spirit's enablement or "anointing"
The ability to perform what is necessary to "get the job done so-to-speak" is the anointing power of the Holy Spirit. This "inner anointing" is provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit for every Christian to carry out their jobs with discernment and direction. Today's post aims to take all we have looked at as background information and simply unpack the text of Colossians 3:22-4:1. 

Unpacking Colossians 3:22-4:1 - How your job is your calling
What Paul writes in Colossians 3:22-4:1 is practically spiritual and spiritually practical. As a Christian works hard for the boss for the glory of God, and as the Christian employer provides a safe and equitable work environment where their employees can work and thrive, the authority of God's kingdom is made manifest. Even for unbelievers who either supervise Christian employees or the other way around, there ought to be a noticable difference in the atmosphere and demeanor of the Christ-follower. How can a Christian arrive at better understanding their job as their calling? Two insights drive the text in Colossians 3:22-4:1.

Motivation to do one's job comes from the fear of God.      Colossians 3:23
So why should employees obey their employers? Paul answers this question by noting that: "with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord." The fear of God entails three motivations to drive Christians to be better employees: fear of God as leading to worship, dependance and faithfulness in one's work ethic.

a. Working hard from a heart of worship
When we fear God, it means to possess awe and respect leading to love and obedience. When Paul speaks of employees heeding their bosses, what begins as an obligatory obedience turns quickly into a willing submission. Fearing God has a way of purifying the heart, being that Proverbs 8:13 speaks of fearing God as being the hatred of evil. Whatever we fear the most will shape and mold how we think and act. When an employee is consciously aware that everything they do is in the sight of God, they operate in due diligence, whether the boss is looking or not. 

b. Working hard from dependance on God
The one who fears the Lord also recognizes that without God, there would be no job nor ability to earn a wage. Joshua 24:13 states - "And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat." 1 Corinthians 4:7 notes: "For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" The heart that fears God cannot conceive of life without Him and will do all it can to maintain that conscious awareness that the Lord provides everything. Such an attitude guards a person from lapsing into pride and self-sufficiency. Only when the cross is at the center of one's fear of God can dying to self be a reality. 

There is a difference between obedience for the sake of getting a job so as to clock out or just get a paycheck versus putting one's heart into their work and knowing that in working for their employer, they are really working for their Lord. 

c. Working hard in faithfulness to God
Fear of God is vital in recognizing that one's job is a vocation or calling from God to serve Him and to love one's neighbor. In Colossians 3:24 we see reference to the believer's rewards that they will receive at the judgment seat of Christ. When Jesus comes to catch away His bride, the church, there she willl be with him in heaven while the tribulation period is occuring here on earth. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). During that time each Christian will stand before the Lord to give an account of the deeds done during their time here on earth. Included in that will be how the Christian took care of their time at work. 

To lose rewards over a matter like not working as hard as one could or slacking off when the boss was not looking ought to change how Christians work. Why? Because the Christian's heavenly rewards demonstrate faithfulness and they have something to lay at the feet of Jesus who worked for in them the desire to be faithful. (Revelation 4:10) 

So when an employee basis their work ethic on the fear of the Lord, they will come to view what they do as an expression of worship, dependance upon Him and faithfulness to Him. There then is a second motivation for arriving at viewing one's job as their vocation or calling, namely...

The Attitude at one's job is regulated by faith in Christ.   Colossians 3:24-4:1

Look at some of these amazing statements about Jesus in this text: Colossians 3:25 has Jesus being "the Lord whom you serve" and 4:1 calls Him "the Master in Heaven". We must remember that no one can say from their heart Jesus is Lord unless they have the indwelling Holy Spirit in them from salvation. (1 Corinthians 12:3) Employees and employers that have true saving faith will do what they do because of the conscious and willful recognition that Jesus Christ who saved them is also Jesus Christ who owns them. Employers have no right to treat employees unfairly. Why? In the words of one preacher I heard once say: "in Jesus they have been placed out of ownership and put into management." The company and employees under their authority is a stewardship and blessing given by Christ to them to tend for His sake. Likewise employees have no right to be dishonest or lazy. Why? Because even though they do work for their employer, Jesus is the One for Whom they are laboring. 

Truly then it can be said that for the Christian, their job is their calling as they do their work in the fear of the Lord and faith in Him. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Christian operating by the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the everyday world

Colossians 3:23-24 "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

In yesterday's post we got into the three callings God gives to the believer in Jesus Christ: the calling of salvation, sanctification (i.e holiness) and vocation (i.e work). We ended yesterday talking about the last calling, and the desire today is to dive a little bit further into the subject of vocation. Certainly what Paul has to write here in Colossians 3:22-4:1 deals with the matter of the work place. As I wrote a couple of days ago, the appropriate way to apply the statements made about "slaves and masters" is to view them in the modern day categories of "employee" and "employer". One of the reasons Paul is writing these words is to help readers to apply the central truth of Christ's all-sufficiency and Lordship to matters pertaining to family, to child-rearing and then of course the work place. How one functions as a Christian in the everyday workplace is covered under the discussion of "vocation". One area that is important to include in such a discussion is the matter of "the anointing of the Holy Spirit".

The anointing of the Holy Spirit 
Operating as an employee who is a Christian is as spiritual of a consideration as thinking upon heeding the call to pastoring or missionary work. The types of work may be different and the callings God gives for each might be distinct, yet the value each has in contributing to the overall accomplishment of God's purposes can be used equally by God. God certainly has used preachers and pastors in times past to initiate might movements of God, but so has He used business men to do the same work. The gifting and calling of God is certainly greater than any man, however God is greater than them all and will use each as he sees fit to accomplish His purpose. 

Such ability to not only model but be the presence of God in the work place derives from the spiritual authority delegated by God to the Christian.  The Bible uses the language of "anointing" to communicate this idea of spiritual authority. The anointing of the Holy Spirit is that ministry He does while indwelling the Christian that results in them having empowerment and insight to function and serve the Lord. At least two types of anointing are spelled out in scripture. 

The first is what I call an "outward" anointing. This has to do primarily with offices of every sort, whether family, govermental or within the church. God grants grace and ability to achieve that particular office. Clearly unbelievers or believers occupy positions or stations in families (parents) and in the culture (politics, doctors, police officers, teachers, etc). Thus for example in the Old Testament, we see godly King David and a Pagan King named Cyrus both referred to as "God's anointed" (Psalm 2 and Isaiah 45). Only Christian men are specifically assigned by God to occupy the Pastoral/Elder and Deacon offices of Christ's church. (1 Timothy 3:1-14 and Titus 1) and believers in general are called by God with graces that accompany other areas such as teaching, administrating. All authority comes from God. Period. 

The second type of anointing, what we will deem "inner anointing", refers to that spiritual authority that only comes through saving faith in Jesus Christ. 1 John 2:20 and 2:27 describes the indwelling Holy Spirit as being the Christian's "anointing", meaning the source of delegated authority from God to discern and live out the Christian life. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 also describes this second type of anointing: "
Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge."  Every Christian has the indwelling Spirit, and thus possess this inner anointing. Though all Christians have the inner anointing, each Christian will operate in different measure based upon how much they have taken in the scripture and have obediently yielded themselves to the Spirit's filling or influence. (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:1,16). The anointing of the Holy Spirit is simply the empowerment and insight the Christian has from the indwelling Holy Spirit at work in and through their lives.

How so-called Christians are anointed by God to do extraordinary things
How can a Christian, working in an otherwise non-Christian environment, affect change? Certainly whatever station one is at in life, whether a parent, a doctor, a teacher, a laborer, a pastor or whatever the case may be, God has created the boundaries and abilities that come with each one. God has so-called and placed every believer where He wants them so they can be used by Him to impact others. 

In understanding the nature of one's vocation to do a certain task (again we will tie this to the term "outward anointing"), the Christian uniquely has that second anointing, that "inner anointing" or indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells the child of God to compell them work hard and love their neighbor as themselves. So how do these two anointings work together?

Over time, a Christian who has regularly given themselves to the scriptures and prayer will to the unsuspecting co-worker gain respect. As the Christian learns their place and accepts what they are doing as a call from God, their ability to be used of God can only increase. 

Closing Thoughts Just knowing that where you are is ordained by God (outward anointing) and that all that you need to do your job is supplied by the Holy Spirit of God indwelling you (i.e inward anointing) supplies the basis for Christian spiritual authority. Such authority must  not be viewed as imposing one's will on someone else but rather serving the Lord by loving one's neighbor for Jesus sake and doing one's job for God's glory. As Paul writes in Romans 14:7-8 "For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Called to salvation, holiness and work - Taking a look at the concept of one's vocation

Ephesians 6:7 "With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men."

Have you ever thought of your job as a calling? Both the Bible and the history of Christian thought abound with teachings that declare that not just the preacher, but everyone who carries a responsibility, holds an office, performs duties at a work under a supervisor or boss or who are parents have a calling. Every single person in society occupies what is called a "station" or "standing in life". Theologian Gustaf Wingren notes: Stand is one's station in life. These stations are external and are so arranged to serve others. "It is only before God, i.e., in heaven, that the individual stands
alone. In the earthly realm man always stands in relation, always bound to another. From this it is clear that every Christian occupies a multitude of offices at the same time, not just one: the same man is, for instance, father of his children, husband of his wife, master of his servants, and office holder in the town hall".

Authors such as Wingren explain this truth being part of what is called the doctrine of "vocation". Perhaps you have heard of a "vocational technical school" or you have undoubtedly heard of jobs being referred to as one's "vocation". The term "vocation" is related to a Latin root the carries with it the idea of "calling". In Bible doctrine, the idea of vocation has to do with a Christian living out the will of God and loving their neighbor by means of their current situation or place in life (i.e station). Whether some people realize it or not, various "stations" such as parents, police officers, pastors, laborers and employers are ordained by God to sustain a level of order in this world. 

When a person is called by the Spirit of God to faith in Jesus Christ, only then within the confines of such stations can one see that what they do (whether baker, laborer or candlestick maker) is serving God by serving others through the particular giftings and calling (i.e vocation) He has given them.  Seeing how this truth is spelled out in scripture in relationship to two other "callings" will aid us in seeing why it is so important to understand.

The three callings in the Bible: Salvation, Sanctification and Vocation
Often when Christians speak of "being called", the normal image that comes to mind is either a pastor or missionary being "called" to serve God. Understand though that the theme of "God's calling" is dominate in describing the entirety of the Christian life. The first and most fundamental call is that to salvation. Jesus notes in Matthew 9:13  "But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” It is only when Jesus calls individual sinners by means of the spoken scriptures that there can be a legitimate response unto salvation. (Romans 10:17; 1 Cor 1:9) 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."

The second calling described in the Bible is that of sanctification, which every disciple of Jesus Christ is called to live out and yield to Christ to let Him live out the life through them. We could also call this calling "the calling to holiness", as exampled in 1 Corinthians 1:2 "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours." The phrase translated "saints" literally means "holy ones" or "set apart ones" and thus the Christian by definition is called by God to live a Holy and devout life. For example, consider 1 Peter 1:15-16 "but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 

Thus the calling of salvation and the calling to sanctification provide the foundation and backdrop for the Christian's third calling, the one which we began with in today's post, namely "the calling of work" or vocation. As we noted earlier, vocation explains how any job or profession is duly ordained by God to all kinds of people and professions, not just pastors and missionaries, to affect His Divine order in this world. Only the Christian, having been Divinely affected by saving grace to respond in faith and repentance can see any job as an opportunity to be a channel through which God can use them. 

The ability and opportunity to work was first spelled out in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:8 we see the primary purpose as to why God created man and placed him in the garden: "The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed." Notice here, we see God providing the place and the role for the man - i.e his station. Then in Genesis 2:15, with the perfect man in fellowship with God, we see the purpose for which God placed him: "Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it." We understand that the calling to go to work was the first Divinely ordained institution, with the family being the second at the end of Genesis 2. 

The God-centered view of work (i.e vocation) was lost in the fall, and only can be regained in the New Birth experience of saving faith in Jesus Christ. As Romans 14:7-8 states - "For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."

Closing thoughts
As we understand God's calling to serve Him by serving our neighbor in whatever field, office or job we hold, we will then more appreciate the larger calling to be holy and the most important calling of them all - salvation. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Focusing on what is important to take care of what is important - Colossians 3:1-4:1

Colossians 3:1-2 "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." 

Today's post is all about focusing on what is important to take care of what is important.  This title will function also as our main point of application. Below we will flesh this truth out by considering how we evalute our lives in general and particular areas ranging from our internal spiritual lives, marriages, parenting and jobs in light of focusing upon our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Focus on the things above, where Christ is, to order what you have going on in the things here below
Paul's point is to underscore the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ in all things from two vantage points: things above and things below. Whenever you look through a pair of binoculors, two eye pieces are used to bring into focus and proper perception whatever object your are viewing. In looking at "the things above", where Christ is, I am able to prioritize and manage the "things here below" in their proper perspective. Paul's usage of the "above and below" theme runs throughout Colossians 3. Colossians 3:1-14 serves to unfold what it means to give it all to Jesus, that is to say, taking everything here below and submitting it under His Lordship. 

Colossians 3:15-17 goes from the big picture to the little picture of what it looks like when I am finding Christian fulfillment in the Lordship of Christ, the Holy Spirit's filling ministry, the scriptures and thankfulness. The "things above" and "things below" theme understands that Jesus Christ is as much Lord in the heavens above as He is in and over our lives here below. 

Focusing on Christ above enables you to be on target with your family
As Paul writes on into Colossians 3:18-21, we see him continuing to take this theme of Christ's supremacy and Lordship and funneling it down into very specific and practical everyday affairs. How is it that you and I can have on-target Christian marriages? By keeping our focus on the things above, where Christ is. 

What about on-target Christian parenting? How is it that in living in the 21st century world we can be assured that we are on-target in how we deal with our children? Again the answer is clear from the overall context of Colossians 3: focus on the things above, where Christ is. 

Focusing on Christ above enables you to have the right perspective on your job
We then come to Colossians 3:23-24 "Whatever you do, do your work heartily,as for the Lord rather than for men,24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." As you broaden the context of this final set of specific instructions from Paul to include Colossians 3:22-4:1, as well as the wider context of Colossians 3:1-4:1,  you discover that the urgency to focus "on the things above, where Christ is" once more reaffirmed. 

Why is it that slaves ought to serve their masters with a heart aimed at pleasing God, rather than man? Why should masters exercise just and fair treatment of their slaves? These thoughts in Colossians 3:22-4:1 would had run counter to the slave/master mentality that was dominant in the first century. Some of criticized Paul and the authors of the New Testament for not issuing explicit statements denouncing the slave industry of Rome. However as Charles Quarles and Brett Selby in their resource: "Colossians, Christ is All you need" note: "At this time in in the history the Christian church was still small and did not have the political clout to abolish slavery any more than it could outlaw prostitution or infanticide. Although Paul did not call for the abolition of slavery, he believed that the Gospel radically reformed the institution. The Gospel so dramatically changed the relationships between slaves and masters that slavery by the normal ancient defintion practically ceased to exist in the Christian church." Certainly institutions such as slavery have no place whatsoever in society in general and definitely can never be shown to allign with the Gospel and Christianity in particular. 

To apply the statements we read here in Colossians, it is best to understand the relationship an employer as with their employees in today's world, and thus the route that seems appropriate in applying these passages.  Notice how often Paul instructs his readers (slaves and masters in his day, for us today, employees and employers) to do what they do in light of working for their Master - the Lord Jesus Christ:

Colossians 3:22 - "....but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord."

Colossians 3:23 - "Whatever you do, do your work heartily,as for the Lord rather than for men."

Colossians 3:24b - "It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

Colossians 4:1b - "....knowing that you too have a Master in heaven."

When you and I recognize that we all ultimately do out labor for the Lord Jesus Christ, everything changes - from motives, to quality of work to the willingness to work. 

Closing Thoughts:
Today's post was all about focusing on what is important to take care of what is important.  In fleshing out this main thoughts we considered how we evalute our lives in general and particular areas ranging from our internal spiritual lives, marriages, parenting and jobs in light of focusing upon our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. To God be the glory!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Four necessary ingredients for Godly living

Romans 16:25-27 "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen."

Introducing four ingredients for Godly living
As you study Psalms 109-111 and Romans 16 together, you discover four necessary ingredients for Godly living: 

1. God's Sovereign Goodness
2. God's Inerrant Word
3. Blood Redemption 
4. The Spirit-led (Spirit-filled) heart.  

Foundation #1 God's Sovereign Goodness
On the first read through of Psalm 109 and 110, it may appear that both are opposite, since the Psalmist is being oppressed by his enemies in 109 and seeing prophetic fulfillment in 110.  However upon closer inspection you discover God's Sovereign Goodness as preserving the writer in 109 and being the source of Psalm 110.  In fact it is in Psalm 111 that you see such goodness praised, as well as see His Sovereign Goodness closing out Romans 16. Romans 8:28 reminds us: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.'

Foundation #2: God's Inerrant Word
By beginning with God's Sovereign Goodness as the first foundation for Godly living, we move onto the second: God's inerrant Word.  When we speak of inerrancy, we are simply saying that every word that is in the Bible is true, accurate and without any mixture of error. The character of scripture as being without error finds its source in the fact that God Himself cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2). Essentially, God cannot lie when He speaks words; the Bible is the written Word of God, therefore the Bible is without error. 

Psalm 109-111 all make direct or indirect references to God's covenant to David in 2 Samuel 7:8-16.  The Loving kindness of God shown in that passage sustains the Psalmist in 109, enables the Psalmist to the see Christ reigning in 110 and causes him to praise God in Psalm 111.  God's inerrant Word is the source of the Gospel of salvation spoken of in Romans 16:25.  

If the Bible were not the inerrant Word of God, we could not trust it to relay accurately the Sovereign goodness of God, His dealings with men like David nor trust that the Gospel woven throughout its pages was of saving value. Christian growth requires an inerrant Bible revealed from the Sovereignly Good God. 

Foundation #3 Blood Redemption
The third foundation, blood redemption, is looked forward to Psalms 109-111 and spoken of in Romans 16.  Psalm 111:8 for example reminds us of God sending His redemption and Romans 16:25-26 states that the Gospel would not be possible without God having sent His Son.  Hebrews 12:2-3 underscores the priority of Christ's accomplished work for the Godly life: "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."  So in seeing those three foundations for Godly living: God's Sovereign goodness, inerrant word and Blood redemption, lets look at the final foundation: Spirit-led heart.  

Foundation #4 Spirit-led heart
The Spirit-led or Spirit-filled life is what gives the basis for Christian experience following salvation.  The Holy Spirit is the One who led the Psalmist to write what He wrote under the unique grace of Divine inspiration.  The Holy Spirit enables the saints of God to have glowing testimonies like the ones mentioned in Romans 16.  The Holy Spirit ministers to every Christian by way of three primary ministries: His indwelling of the child of God, His illumination and filling. 

From the moment a person is born again unto and by saving faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells or takes up residence inside the heart or human spirit of a person, bearing witness that they are children of God. (Romans 8:14-16; 1 Corinthians 3:16). 

The second ministry, illumination, defines how the Holy Spirit leads us into the scriptures and His ministry of sanctification that cleanses us to make us more like Jesus.  It is that third ministry, the filling of the Holy Spirit, where the Christian every day heeds the Spirit by the scriptures in active obedience and passive yielding. By the Spirit's leading we are becoming in experience whom God has declared us to be in position: children of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:16-17)  The Spirit-filled life is such a vital foundation because it is all about the Holy Spirit getting more and more of you.

Closing thoughts:

Today we looked at four important foundations for the Christian life: 
1. God's Sovereign Goodness
2. God's Inerrant Word
3. Blood Redemption 
4. The Spirit-led (or Spirit-filled) heart. 

Let these four foundations be ones upon which you live for Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Neutralizing doubt, worry and fear in your life

2 Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline."

Introduction: Distinguishing doubt, worry and fear
What is the difference between doubt, worry and fear?  These three emotional and spiritual states are weaponry used by the enemy to plague the people of God.  When taken up by the believer, each one sabtoges the ability to see God clearly.  Doubt has to do with how I respond to God and His Word spoken to me in the past.  Fear functions similarly, only it deals with how I respond to God in the present.  If doubt has to do with what God said in the past and fear has to do with how I’m relating to Him in the present, then what about worry? Worry deals with my perceptions of what He will do in the future - all three of course are species of unbelief.  

All of those reading this blog can relate to all three of these deadly weapons.  Thankfully God has given us the scriptures to combat these and other devices used by the enemy of our souls.  Romans 15:4 tells us: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”  Sections of the Old Testament like the Psalms can readily equip us to defeat doubt, worry or fear.

So where are you finding yourself doubting, worrying or fearing?  I would encourage you to begin reading the scriptures out loud.  What Paul writes in Romans 10:17 concerning the beginnings of saving faith also applies to how one is kept in saving faith: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  As we noted earlier, the Psalms are among the most effective sections of scripture in defeating doubt, worry and fear. 

Consider the following thoughts from Psalm 37:

1. Warnings that can guard you from going down the road of doubt, worry and fear

Psalm 37:8 states: “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.”  Notice that underlined word “fret”?  At least three times we find it mentioned in this Psalm.  In the Hebrew language this word “fret” is translated for the term “chara”.  Chara refers to literally getting oneself all hot and bothered or stirring up oneself into a heated frenzy.  Does that describe how you are feeling and dealing with life?  Do you feel pressure building in your gut, like you are going to explode?  That’s exactly what the Psalmist is warning you and I about here.  Thankfully He gives us this warning.  So what is the solution offered by the Psalmist?  Consider the next thought.

2. Walk in the rest of God
Psalm 37:1-8 acts as a series of bullets that you can use when that disturbing, troubling notion grips your heart.  Note how God gives a series of commands.  Commands are particularly important, since for every command in scripture there is always a provision of grace to carry them out.  God’s commands are not given because I’m simply able to do them.  Many people get discouraged when trying to carry out God’s commands.  They will say: “They are just too hard”.  Dear friend, the commands of God are not hard, they are impossible – that is, if you are not taking advantage of God’s provision of grace. 

Note how we are given instruction on resting is God in the following verses: “Fret not” in 37:1; “Trust” in verse 3; “Delight in the Lord” in verse 4; “Commit your way” in verse 5.  With these commands we see the provision of grace in verse 6: “And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.”  

So if you are in the midst of darkness, note that God’s word gives you provision to enjoy an open heaven, a noonday sun despite the midnight of your circumstance.  Psalm 37:7 tells us to “rest in the Lord” and in verse 8 to “cease from anger”.  We are not promised immunity from trouble, however we are given the “rest of God” whereby we can rise above doubt, worry and fear. 

3. Win the battle knowing that God is fighting for you
Psalm 37:40 states: “And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.”  What is remarkable about this Psalm is that it begins with the command not to fret, and it ends with the confidence of victorious faith.  This is not a “pie in the sky, sweet by and by” theology, this is real life doctrine.  Knowing that God will never leave me, not forsake me, is more than enough to overcome doubt, worry and fear.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

God's prescription for defeating worry

Philippians 4:6-7 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

How often do you worry?  Fret?  Lay awake at night?  The above passage is a perfect prescription for combating chronic worry.  The word translated "anxious" puts in mind someone who keeps remembering again and again what they thought they might had missed or didn't do.  It is a soul that is not at rest - but always in constant activity. 

To be concerned and worried are two different things.  Concern is having an attitude of responsibility for things that I should take care of before its too late.  Worry is trying to take responsibility for things whose outcome I really can't control nor know.  The following assertions are the cornerstones of worry: I want to know!  I want to be in control!    Worry tries to accomplish them without consideration of God's Sovereign control. Only He knows all things and only He can control outcomes. (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28)

God's prescription for defeating worry
Philippians 4:6-7 gives us the antidote to worry:

1. In everything by prayer.  
This is resigning yourself to God's control and breaking free of the tyranny of the urgent.  When you give everything to God in prayer, it means that you recognize that your strength and your effort requires His insight. Prayer is you opening the windows of your life to let the fresh air of His power to rush in and guide you through.

2. With supplication.  
I heard a preacher one time define supplication as praying the type of prayer that turns you inside out and outside in, resulting in God making you alright.  This is intense prayer.  This is where you do business with God - where He goes from an abstract concept to The Real Person you are relying on for everything. 

3. Thanksgiving.  
A thankless heart will never be in the position to recognize God's answer. Thankfulness enables you to be open to what God is doing and wants to do.  Why?  Because you are thanking Him for what He has done for you already. Thanksgiving in prayer is able to thank God for the provision before it even arrives, being that we are focusing more on His character than the solution for which we are praying.

4. Let your requests be made known to God.  
Get specific.  Get personal.  That is what God wants.  The need is designed by God to drive you to Him.  How often has your prayer life thrived when everything was comfortable?  It is rare.  More often than not, the Christian-walk seeks the God of Glory when times are dark.  Faith reaches higher when the valley grows deeper. 

Now note the promises that result from taking in this prescription:

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding. 
Just to know that God has it all taken care of and that He will never leave you nor forsake you is the greatest comfort. (see Hebrews 13:5,6,8)  Philippians 4:6-7 reinforces this thought with a second promise, namely that His peace will guard your heart nad mind in Christ.  When our mind is racing - we need the peace of God in Christ.  When our heart is heavy - we need the peace of Christ to lift it up.  Take this prescription by faith - and watch your worry be replaced by enduring faith that has peace without end.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ministering to people as Jesus did

Luke 19:10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

New Testament scholar Merrill Tenney wrote the following statement about The Gospel of Luke's presentation of Jesus Christ: "The material of Luke is organized around the central concept of Jesus as a member of humanity who lived a perfect and representative life of the Son of Man through the Holy Spirit." Jesus' ministry to people during His days on this earth is most clearly presented in the Gospel of Luke. This central idea of His ministry to people is extended by the Holy Spirit both spiritually and logically through His church. In John 17:22 Jesus prayed: "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one." We then see this statement in 1 Corinthians 12:27 "Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it." The Apostle John writes in 1 John 2:6 "the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." Perhaps the most remarkable statement is found in 1 John 4:17 "By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world."

Therefore what we are looking at in today's post has as much to do with the Christian's ministry to people as it does Jesus' ministry, because by extension through the Holy Spirit's agency, disciples of Jesus are ministering as Jesus' hands and feet to people. We want to explore what it means to minister to people as Jesus did.

Point of application: As we consider specifically the Gospel of Luke, we want to see how Jesus ministered to people, and what we in turn can learn and apply in our own contacts with people. Our point of application for today will be: Ministering like Jesus Christ is the only way to effectively minister to people. In scanning the Gospel of Luke, we find at least three details that highlight how Jesus ministered to people:

Personal Conversations.
Jesus is found talking to all kinds of people, in all kinds of ways through out the Gospel of Luke. Only Luke records a young Jesus holding a conversation with the teachers of the Law in the temple in Luke 2:46-47. Jesus called his disciples personally in Luke 5:1-11 and engaged a tax collector named Matthew in Luke 5:27-32, who would become his disciple and author of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus did not restrict himself to certain classes or groups. He dealt with: 
1. lepers (Lk 5:12-16)
2. paralytics (Lk 5:17-26)
3. a centurion (Lk 7:1-10)
4. widows (Lk 7:11-17)
5. sinful women (Lk 7:36-50)
6. mothers (Lk 8:19-21)
7. children (Lk 8:40-56)
8. large crowds (Lk 9:10-17)
9. individuals (Lk 9:18-21)
10. angry people (Lk 9:51-56)
11. Godly women (Lk 10:38-42)
12. rejected people like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9)
13. religious hypocrites (Lk 20:34-38)
14. traitors (Lk 22:47-49)
15. politicians (Lk 23:1-7)
16. a dying criminal (Lk 23:43) 
17. His followers (Lk 24:46-49)

Nearly twenty different kinds of conversations with all kinds of people are recorded in Luke. Jesus ministered by way of conversations.  As believers, our daily interactions with people gives occasion for us to communicate Jesus' love and presence. As we have noted already: Ministering like Jesus Christ is the only way to effectively minister to people. But notice also how Jesus ministered to people, not only by way of personal conversations, but also...

Parables about people.
In scanning through Luke's Gospel, one can count at least 28 parables. Of those 28 parables told by Jesus, at least 19 of them are about people. Jesus' parables about people dealt with such characters as:
1. good Samaritans (Lk 10:30-37)
2. rich fools (Lk 12:16-21)
3. faithful servants (Lk 12:35-40)
4. Kings (Lk 14:25-33)
5. Rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31)
note: I take this to be a true account told in a parabolic fashion
6. an unworthy slave (Lk 17:7-10)
7. prayerful widow (Lk 18:1-8)
8. Pharisee and tax collector (Lk 18:9-14)

More could be mentioned, however the sample just given illustrates how much Jesus not only talked to people, but thought about people. We to need to be about the business of thinking about and praying for people, just as Jesus did. So in ministering like Jesus, we can see He engaged in personal conversations and told parables about people, but notice lastly....

Purpose of His mission. Luke 19:10
Luke 19:10 states - "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke spells out in his main verse of his Gospel the purpose for why Jesus came: to save lost people. In the preceeding context of Luke 19:1-9, we can see the three-fold outline of Luke 19:10 applied to Jesus' engagement with Zacchaeus:

The Son of man came...Luke 19:1-5

To seek........Luke 19:6-8

and to save that which was lost Luke 19:9

Why we as Christians are here on this earth? We are to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth until Jesus comes. (Mt 24:14; 28:18-20) We are His royal ambassadors to a lost and dying world. (2 Corinthians 5:15-21) As author and pastor John Piper has often said: missions exists because worship doesn't. 

Closing thoughts:
Today's post featured a flyover of Luke's Gospel with the intent to understand how Jesus ministered to people. Our main point of application was: Ministering like Jesus Christ is the only way to effectively minister to people. We saw this specifically in three ways: Jesus' personal conversations, parables and purpose for His mission. We discovered that as we engage with people in daily conversations, share stories and remember our main purpose for being here, we too can by the power of the Holy Spirit minister to people like Jesus did.