Saturday, February 26, 2011

Union with Christ

Because of the fear of blasphemy, or making ourselves out to be something too great, I think that Christians often shy away from realizing, and declaring, the union we have with Christ, in Christ, because of Christ. Yet, the reality is, because of what Christ has done for us as His free gift to us, we have an amazing place with and in God.

Yes, we have to be careful that we never fall in to the trap of making our standing in Christ about anything we did, because we have done nothing to deserve or earn it. But, likewise, I believe that we need to be careful against belittling what He did, and who that now makes us as born again new creations, because we are trying to avoid anything sounding blasphemous. The reality is, because of what Christ did for us, we are forgiven, redeemed, born again, made new—and we are the body of Christ, the temple of Christ, the children of God, joint heirs with Christ, the bride of Christ, God’s own special people, His holy nation, His royal priesthood. We are forgiven, and we have the righteousness of Christ. This is all because of what He did, not because of anything we did, but it is true about us, as believers, just the same!

The danger is in going to far in trying to remember our fallen status, and actually degrading the work Christ did on our behalf by still identifying with it. We did not do the work, but the work has been done, none the less. He said, “It is finished.” The blood of Christ is enough. The work has been done, our sin paid for, and we have been transferred from the domain of Satan into God’s Kingdom. We are citizens of Heaven, serving our King here on Earth, and we are in union with Christ.

Reading in Acts this morning during Family Worship, Christ’s words to Saul on the road to Damascus jumped out. He didn’t say, “Saul, why are you persecuting my people?” He said, in Acts 9:4, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Elsewhere, in Luke 10:16, when He is sending them out, He says, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

We are His body. The body of believers is His body, and He is the head. It is, I believe, in a way not easy for us to understand, far more of a true picture than we realize. Through the eyes of the Father we are so united with Him that when one of us is persecuted or rejected, it is as if Christ Himself was persecuted and rejected.

I know that this is hard—and the minute that we start to let any personal work become involved in why we have our identity we have fallen in to error—but we can’t afford to, in the effort to be humble and to exalt God, lose sight of just who we are in Christ—because failing to declare all that He has done for us is actually failing to lift up the full message and failing to give Him the full glory. The danger in losing sight of who we are in Christ, and who He calls us to be with Him, here, is that we begin to miss the identity and authority and place we carry as God’s children, children of the King, citizens of another Kingdom, in the midst of this dark and fallen world which lies in Satan’s sway. The reality of our identity with Him goes both ways—when we are persecuted it is Christ who is persecuted . . . and when we go forth (surrendered, obedient, and Spirit-led) against darkness, it is Christ going forth in, through, with, and as us! I believe the demons tremble at this reality, and work to make sure Christians don’t realize it. No wonder the Bible doesn’t tell us to fear the devil, but rather that if we simply resist him he will flee! (I know that this opens a whole new set of questions about obedience, submission, quenching the Spirit, etc., and those are all worthy of talking about and seeing how they impact our walk, but I am focusing on the bigger point and picture here.)

I believe that the proper perspective and posture which develops from keeping this in balance is that:

1) with other people, we are tender and loving and humble because we recognize that Christ has done all the work for us and we, like them, were helpless to do any of it ourselves . . .

2) but against the forces of darkness that would seek to steal, kill, and destroy us and our loved ones, we stand in authority and boldness because we know who we are in Him—we are children of the King, and He goes with us, and nothing can separate us from it, and the devil better never forget it!

It is, I believe, good to remember who we were and what He did, because it awakens in us love, gratitude, and worship for God—and it keeps us humble and on guard. But, we have to be careful to not let remembering who we were cloud who we now are! It is not arrogant to embrace and rejoice in who we are, as long as we give glory to the One who made us this way (and as long, obviously, as it springs from God’s Word). It is, in fact, dangerous to not receive who we now are and our union with Christ, because we become in danger of saying that His work on the cross is not enough, that more is required—and that can lead to either works and arrogance; or to a dismal, hanging head attitude that is no threat to the devil whatsoever, and no glory to God (though we think we are glorifying Him to be that way).

Let us never forget, that as Saul set out to persecute believers, Jesus asked why he was persecuting Him . . . He loves us that much, and identifies with us that much, and it is an amazing truth to chew on and mull over.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"Hate" Speech?

Recently the Christian Post had an online article about a Maryland senator who changed his stance on gay marriage because of the “hate and venom” of gay marriage opponents (as he put it). One of the comments to the article asked, “Is it hate speech for a doctor to tell a patient he has cancer? Is it hate speech to be told to evacuate because a hurricane is coming? Is it hate speech for a parent too tell a child not to touch a hot stove?” A reply to that comment said, “Sure, if it was written in ancient times or involves an imaginary source as it's basis. Try using the medicinal remedies from Biblical times and you'll see what I mean.”

It raises an interesting question that we, as Christians, will have to deal more and more with in the days and years ahead if we choose to stand and declare from God's Word what He says is right and what He says is wrong. The question is, just what is “hate” speech? (Recently some nations have tried to hold pastors accountable if they had talked about homosexuality being a sin, and someone in their congregation has later committed a “hate crime” against a homosexual.) So, just what is “hate” speech?

Clearly, in the comments above, the distinction between the two commenters lies in their outlook on God’s Word. For one, it seems, telling a truth and warning people about a sin before God is as clear, and as necessary, and loving to the person, as warning them about a danger or sickness. To the other, because they don’t believe in God’s Word as truth, it is hateful. It seems that this is really what it comes down to. If someone doesn’t believe in God’s Word, then voicing an opinion (and even trying to bring about legislation) that speaks unfavorably about another lifestyle is intolerant, unloving, and hateful. But, to a person who believe’s in God’s Word, it would, in fact, be unloving to not warn someone of their choices that are sinful before God, or to embrace laws that encourage continuing in that lifestyle. Of course, we must be consistent in our speech . . . if we speak against gay marriage, but say nothing to a friend or coworker who is having an affair, or looking at pornography, or gossiping, etc., then we are in danger of being hypocritical because they, too, are practicing choices that are sin before God.

I think that the manner in which we speak says volumes. Recently a young man in Iowa, Joel Northrup, stepped down from a state championship wrestling match because he felt it went against his beliefs to wrestle against a girl and have that kind of contact with her. His statement was gracious and kind to the two girls in the match, and he is the one who paid the price and stepped out of any chance at the championship—in true, Christ-like fashion, he took the hit, he didn’t rant at the girls or try and get them thrown out.

Isn’t that Christ’s way—to speak truth, but to die for the very ones attacking Him? Yes, He fashioned a whip and drove money changers out of the temple . . . and yes, He called Pharisees hypocrites and other unkind things. But, we need to be very careful before we take that level of combative speech, and remember that He did so as One without sin . . .  we address sin as ones saved from sin, but deserving of death for sin. There is a big difference.

Some of the most hateful web sites I have ever visited are self-appointed Christian watchdog web sites that slam other Christians and their belief differences (not all are like that, and discernment is important). What does that say about us when our hate and our attacks are no different from the worlds? Yes, we must speak truth. But we must also remember that Christ is truth, and He is love, and He modeled laying down a life for the very ones who hate you. I was not there to hear the testimonies that the senator in Maryland heard—but if they were not said in love then, no matter what was said and how true it was in word, it was not true in Spirit and God was not authoring it.

I believe that we can’t compromise our speech or stand on that which God declares as right or wrong, but:

1) We need to make sure we are even more aggressive in noticing, and correcting, our own places where our choices, lifestyle, and thoughts are sin as we are pointing out other’s sin, and . . .

2) We need to make sure that our life bears as much witness as our words. We can point out the sin of another’s choice, and share what God has to say about it, and encourage our nation not to adopt laws flaunting or enabling it, but if we don’t have love we have nothing. If we aren’t laying down our lives, loving those we share with, and doing it from a place of love, we ought to shut our mouth, get in our prayer closet, cry out to God, and get back into the proper place, or our words will never glorify God, nor model His love to another.

We, as Christians, have the greatest privilege in the world. We are the very dwelling place of the Creator of the universe, and we have recognized the very source of truth in the form of Christ, and His Word. We have tasted of the greatest love ever known, and we are privileged to serve God and bear His love, and words, and truth, and power in a world that is lost, dying, blinded, and in slavery to Satan. What a calling, and what a privilege! But, we can never, ever, forget that the greatest truth of God is love, and if we do, or say, anything that does not come from love and faith, then it is not from God, no matter how “true” it is at face value. And, if we aren't willing to lay down our life for the very ones who hate us, then we are not modeling Him as well.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kingdom Teaching

I hope that this finds each of you having a wonderful end to a wonderful week filled with reminders of God's amazing love and power. Tomorrow morning at church, God willing, I will be giving the sixth teaching in a series on the Kingdom of God that began, in my heart, many, many months ago—if not a year ago or more. I can not describe to you how much this teaching is impacting me as I study this subject, this "gospel" of the Kingdom that Jesus and the early church declared. There is no way I can even begin to put a fraction of the insight and background and evidence in this blog, I can only offer the audios of it. I put them on the website of the church I pastor by the middle of the week following each teaching. They are in mp3 format, between 40–45 minutes each, usually about 20 MB each, and totally free! There is a link to our fellowship's audio resources page below, and you'll find them listed, in reverse order, under the "Current Series: Kingdom of Heaven" section. (Kingdom of Heaven Audio Teachings)

I know that we are all busy, and that God may be leading each of you to other topics or places of study, but I say with all humility that, if you are able, I believe you will be blessed by starting at the beginning and following this series through. I am finding that the "Kingdom" lens, or "glasses," has changed the way I read the epistles and understand the parables. It was the message John the Baptist declared, the message Jesus declared, the message He sent the disciples to declare, the message He taught them between His resurrection and ascension, and the message taught throughout Acts, including in the last verses of Acts with Paul in prison. The epistles were written to people who had been taught about the Kingdom of Heaven/God . . . and Jesus, the disciples, and Paul were very familiar with its immediate power implications in the here and now, as well as its simultaneous realities of being both a future event and also a place called Heaven now. The study I am giving is focusing mainly in the third aspect of the Kingdom—the part Jesus said was in our midst now, the part Paul walked in knowledge of and had confidence in . . . and Jesus said that it was the gospel of the Kingdom that would be preached to all the world before the end would come.

I believe that the presentation of the Kingdom good news changes the entire focus of the Christian life from simply an emphasis on getting saved and to "Heaven" in the future, to living a life submitted to a King now. It changes the way we see ourselves, and how we carry ourselves as Christian. As we understand the war our Kingdom is in against a kingdom of darkness, as we understand the power both kingdoms bear (and which is superior!), and as we understand the reality that receiving Jesus as Lord means submitting the entirety of our lives to His Lordship, I believe that we will find our Christian life rocked. I believe that lukewarm Christianity finds its antidote in the Kingdom understanding, and that it is the true understanding we must have. When Colossian 1:13 tells us that, through Jesus, God has, ". . . delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" it is telling us about much more than a future reality of Heaven, but also about a present reality of being born again as citizens, soldiers, and ambassadors of one Kingdom, now here in the midst of another kingdom with which we are at war.

I could go on for pages upon pages about why I feel this is important, and why I feel it is true, but I will just trust God to move you from here in the direction He has planned for you. I am excited about the study, and I covet your prayers and feedback on it. I have no interest in pursuing it for "gee whiz" knowledge, or simply for the sake of theology, but rather that I may grow in my walk with the Lord, and I would welcome any prayerful thoughts and insight you may have, as well as any questions. May we all grow together closer and closer in to His image, that He may more fully display Himself through us. May He bless you and keep you and pour His Spirit upon you.

Kingdom of Heaven Audio Teachings

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Partners, or Threat?

Recently I was in a meeting with a little over 20 other pastors and ministry leaders. It was wonderful to see the transparency, love, and support within the group. I reflected on how many times, it seems, however, that churches compete, and leaders feel threatened by other leaders and churches, and how critical leaders can be of other leaders.

I thought back to when I was a platoon leader in the army. I don’t ever remember, on a mission, being resentful or threatened or jealous of another platoon that was on the mission with mine. To the contrary, the more we were, and the better they did, made me and my men safer and more likely to succeed on the mission and at staying alive. It wasn’t my mission, it was the country’s mission and the commander's mission—we were all just partners in bringing it to pass and success.

It struck me that a lot of the way we react to others who work in a similar capacity to ourself depends on whether we see ourself as “king,” or as serving a king. If we see ourself at the top, as number one in our heart and priority, then everyone else working for a same goal as us is a threat. We must guard against them infringing on our territory, or getting bigger or more powerful than us. We are on guard, jealous, self-promoting, bitter. But, if we see ourself as willing servants of a king whom we love and honor, than everyone else working for the same goal as ourself is an asset, a benefit—someone to be grateful for, and to bless, and to rejoice in their success.It is so freeing to serve Someone bigger than yourself!

If the glory of our, and other's, success passes through us and goes to the King we both serve, and if that is our desire and hope, then whether it is us, or them, that brings glory to our King doesn’t matter. It is when glory, or recognition, or achievement is something we want for ourself that we are threatened by another getting it.

I wonder what this nation would be like if every pastor and church leader and denominational leader truly desired the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom above all else. I wonder what it would be like if every Christian desired that first and foremost as well, and sought for it in the workplace, the family, the neighborhood, the schools. If our life was not about us, our glory, our success, but about Him, and His glory, and His name—if it didn’t matter if one person every knew our name or what we did, but it only mattered that all that was said, thought, and done brought Him glory.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Because It Pleases Him . . . Is That Enough?

Once I was in a position where I spent many hours in a car just listening to the talk of those around me. They were people who I had been ministering to for some time (years in some cases), and who I was taking to a Christian event (I am being intentionally vague). As I listened to them I could reflect on the priorities of their hearts, as was reflected by what consumed their conversation and what seemed to excite them, and I found myself wondering, “Is there any hope? It seems like God is so little a part of their lives and conversation—and their interests—and the things that consume their time and energy and passion seem so removed from Him . . .” As I listened I got really down and began to wonder, “What is it all about? Am I doing any good?” It seemed that the world and its lures was so overwhelmingly dominate in their lives, and that God was just a spoke on their wheel instead of its hub . . . One who was rarely even mentioned.

Later at the event, in a worship setting, I was behind many of them, watching them and reflecting and my heart was sad. Then, it was as if God started taking me down the line, one by one. He started reminding me of a role I had played in each of their lives—a time in each of their lives I had stood with them through some tremendous pain they were going through personally, or because of choices in their families. They each seemed so confident now, and “all together,” but I knew that in each of their lives, at a private time, there had been pain, uncertainty, tears, and fear. There were some amazingly hard times I had been through in their lives with them . . . and the thing was, few of them knew anything about those times in the lives of the ones they were standing next to. I realized that, in a quiet way, Jesus had allowed me to be His hands and feet and words in most of their lives . . . and no one but Him, them, and Mary Ann would ever know. (Note: It wasn't just His voice I heard—the enemy was quick to remind me, as well, of all the times I fell short in people's lives, all the times I was selfish and didn't minister when I could have, and all the times I just blew it.)

As I reflected, I realized that, for most of those in front of me, I probably wouldn’t be there to see the moment when God broke through for them and became not just a belief and a theology, but the center of their lives. I had been privileged to play a small part in it—to stand with them, hold them, comfort them, and show them Him for a moment. But, for so many, when the pain had become a distant thing, the world had pulled them back toward it. Yet, I knew that I wasn’t responsible for their choices, but had been faithful when asked. It was then like He asked me (or, I asked myself?), “Is that enough?”

I don’t share any of this to lift me up—each and every one of you have been there for people and touched people’s lives in quiet, but powerful ways—I share this more as a point of reflection for us, because I think that we all face the same question(s) as we seek to serve God. As the Spirit prompted that question, “Is that enough?”, I had to answer it in my heart. I had to face the question and wonder, “Am I OK with no one knowing the half of what I do or have done, and with maybe not even having it appreciated over the long haul by those I ministered to?” Then came the second half, “Am I OK just being obedient and being a part of their journey—being a surrendered vessel which Jesus was able to fill and use in their life to show them a little bit of Him—even if it means I don’t get to share in the joy of their final turning to God in total surrender some day, or even if I never get the encouragement of knowing that they have given their lives to Him?”

It was then that the question became fully apparent to me, “Is it enough?” Is it enough that only God knows what I have done, and that He is pleased—or do I need to see results, do I need others to know, do I need to promote myself and defend myself? Is it enough to have Jesus smile and quietly whisper, “I know. Thank you.”. . . which, in the end, really means the question is, “Is He enough?” Is it enough for me to love and serve my Master, without the world ever thanking me, or without even ever knowing if it made a difference, and without ever being considered a great pastor, without my blog ever having a huge following, or without my ever having a name that is known outside its little boundaries?

Some time back at Hume Lake Christian Camp where I was with some youth, Moi was the band and a song of theirs, It Pleases You, caught fire over the weekend and became the essence of the weekend. The core of the song talks about yielding our life to Him and it has the chorus, “It may not make a difference, it may not change a single life, it may not move a single stone, but it pleases You, it pleases You, it pleases You, it pleases You, oh cause it pleases You, cause it pleases You, I come, I come, I come.”

Is it enough—because it pleases Him? Is He enough? Or do I need more. It is a question I have to reflect on not just once, but I have to return to repeatedly as the world seeks to draw me away as well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Viewpoint is Everything . . .

How many GALAXIES can you count?
If any of you have known me, or followed my blog, any length of time, you know that I often turn to space and the stars as the place in which I put things back in proper perspective and remind myself how big and utterly amazing God is. Sometimes just stepping outside and staring up and reflecting for a few moments can bring a peace and restoration to my thoughts and anxieties that have gotten out of order and balance. But, that isn't the case for everyone, and I had a real lesson in how much viewpoint matters the other day . . .

Recently, with all the hype about the star Betelgeuse and whether it was dying next year or not, I spent a little time looking at more facts about it on the internet, and locating it in the night sky. What I learned was amazing (it is in the constellation Orion, by the way, and easy to see from our area at night). While one of the bigger stars, it is far from the biggest star, and yet, according to one video, if you were to take that tiny star and put its center where our sun is, its edges would go 90% of the way to Saturn's orbit! Picture that—this star, if it was put in the place of our sun, would have, inside of it, all the planets between the sun and Saturn—which means that Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and the largest of our planets, Jupiter, would all be inside it . . . along with all the space inbetween them! And it's not the largest star!

According to one video, if a plane flew around the largest known star at 900 km/h (which I believe is 560 mph) it would take it 1,100 years to get around it once! And these are just a couple of stars in our single Milky Way galaxy. To put that in perspective, according to Wikipedia, the Milky Way galaxy alone has 100–400 billion STARS in it, and is 100,000 light years across! That means that, if you traveled at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second—or 700 million miles per hour—a speed that would take you around the earth over seven times in a second) it would take you 100,000 years to cross our galaxy alone . . . and there are billions of galaxies in our universe!

Now, here's where viewpoint matters. The impact that these figures had on the people making the videos I watched, and many of the people commenting on them on YouTube, was to make them feel completely insignificant. One video ended with flashing the words, "You are not the center of the universe!" Another had a quote by Carl Sagan in which he said, "Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people."

Some of the comments posted on these videos included (using their syntax/grammar):

Look? how small & insignificant we are. LOOK how small! We probably (possibly) the most insignificant thing in the galaxy. We are SMALL!!

i agree 100% that most people(including my wife) dont realize how lucky we are to be here.most people could care less about the universe and the planet we live on.what are the odds of there being a planet with the ingredients for life which orbits a sun in the? exact spot to form life with intelligence to figure out how lucky we really are??

"Luck . . . insignificant . . . forgotten corner . . . lost in a galaxy . . ." this is the perspective and viewpoint one gets by looking at these stars, galaxies, and facts without a knowledge of the love of God who made them, and the story of the cross. I, on the other hand, find myself drawn to completely opposite conclusions when I stare at the sky and ponder these same facts that these other people have. For example, the other night at our fire department drill, I stared up and saw Betelgeuse up there and I pictured the graphic I had seen of that single star swallowing our solar system out to almost Saturn, and I felt such a huge sense of how huge my God is, and I thought, "Why do I ever worry about anything when my God who loves me is so big!" Such peace and security flooded me after that.

I look up at these stars, and ponder the size of the universe, and then I realize that the God who made all of that crowned it with the creation of man, in His image. I read in the Word that before He ever formed the earth He had His plan in place to adopt me through His Son's death. I realize that, of this vast universe, He chose to come to our planet to die, to redeem us for His own, to live with us in eternity, and that, with this vast universe, He knows the number of hairs on my head and my every thought and He loves me and calls me His own. For me, the size of the stars and the universe doesn't make me feel insignificant—rather, I find that the more I realize that the God who made all of that knows me intimately and loves me so much that He died for me makes me realize that I am of great worth to the One whose estimate matters most.

I think the difference is that for those who don't know Him and His love they start from here and look farther and farther out and just feel smaller and more lost and more insignificant. I look at the same stars, but I start at the farthest point and I realize that the Father's eyes move from them closer and closer to us, here, who He has loved and made in His image and died for on a cross to have a relationship with of fellowship, love, adoption as His children, and eternal life with Him. When I see it that way I realize that we are, in fact, the center of the universe—because we are the center of His love and eye, and He is all that matters. Yes, the universe displays the glory of God . . . but we, as Christians, carry it . . . He dwells in us and calls us His own. Yes, viewpoint is everything . . .


Related Posts with Thumbnails