Leap of Unfaith

There is an underlying current in some parts of the science world that Bible-believing Christians are not using our brains.  That we have turned off our curiosity.  That we ignore science and follow ancient myths.  We are accused of taking a “leap of faith” into the unknown by believing the Bible is true rather than following where science leads.

I see it as exactly the other way around.  The secular scientists are taking the leaps of faith – or should I say leaps of unfaith, since these leaps ignore the Creator and His infusion of order, design, and purpose into the universe.  Let me give you an example.

We have talked at some length about the super-squished time line of the Big Bang theory.  In the first billionth of a trillionth of a second the universe went from a singularity to a unifying superforce to the separation of the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetic, the strong and weak nuclear forces) and the formation of elementary subatomic particles.  In the middle of this evolving stew, a very interesting battle was taking place.

In the blink of an eye, as matter began to materialize from the super dense state of pure energy, its mortal enemy antimatter arrived on the scene as well.  Based on the physics as we understand it, matter and antimatter were created in equal numbers.  Their mission was to quickly seek out and destroy each other.  Every matter particle that hits an antimatter particle was annihilated.  In short, all matter should have been destroyed.

Here is our atheist friend Dr. Lawrence Krauss, “All the matter would have eventually found the antimatter and they would have destroyed each other producing pure radiation and we would now have a universe – I was going to say we would now be living in a universe of pure radiation.  But we wouldn’t be living in such a universe because we wouldn’t be here.  There would be nothing but radiation.”

But we are living here.  We do exist.  Matter exists.  Matter unexpectedly won the battle over antimatter.  And the physics involved give us no reason why.  For some unknown and unexplained reason, “something happened” just after the Big Bang that tipped the balance in favor of matter in its war with antimatter.  Something that theoretical physicists do not have an answer for.  Because matter exists, the secular scientist has to take a leap of unfaith and just say “something happened”.

I don’t know about you, but I am a curious person and I do not like explanations like “something happened”.  It sounds too much like a child standing next to a broken vase.  Is “something happened” really the best we can do.  I think I know what happened.  God in charge is what happened.  God creating the heavens and the earth is what happened.  When matter won out, God had you and I in mind.  Believing that God is the reason matter won out is not a leap of faith.

Yes, it involves faith.  But I would not call it a leap.  I find it to be a perfectly reasonable and scientifically acceptable response to the evidence all around us.  The naturalists are the ones taking the leap; seeking a natural explanation for what only God could have done.

Be encouraged.  Your faith is reasonable.  True science is not its enemy.  True science puts us on the path of discovering how God did what He did.  And true faith is not a leap in the dark, it is a leap into understanding the world that God has created.

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Tell Me Why

We now have a robust theory (the Big Bang) for the origin of the universe.  And we also have a scientific model for how it has progressed since.  But no matter how deep we drill down into our science world, we are missing the answer to one giant question:  Why?  Why is the universe here?  Why are you and I here?  Why did things develop this way?

It is interesting to me that while science may not know the why, scientists do know that something very special is happening here.  Let’s start by looking at one of the forces that was created and active in that first billionth of a second of the universe’s existence; the force of gravity.

Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and popular figure in science news.  You may recognize Dr. Kaku and his flowing white hair from appearances on CBS This Morning, the website Curiosity Stream, or those Turbo Tax commercials.  In a documentary titled, How the Universe Works: Expanded Edition, Dr. Kaku says this about the origin of the universe, “We think that the original universe was a state of perfection; a single unifying force that existed at the instant of the big bang.”

Soon after the “instant of the big bang”, the force of gravity broke off from the unifying force with just the right properties to carry our universe through the ages to life as we know it today.  Again, here is Dr. Kaku, “If gravity were a little bit stronger perhaps we would have had a big bang which would stop and then it would re-collapse immediately into a big crunch.  Life would be impossible.  If gravity were a little weaker, then we would have a big bang that just keeps on going and the universe would freeze to death.”

Do you get the picture?  Gravity sprung forth from the unifying superforce at exactly the right strength to create galaxies, stars, and life itself.  I believe this “fine-tuned for life” points to a Creator.  I believe it points to God.  The universe is not a random accident.  And this uniqueness is recognized and understood by much of the science community.

Dr. Kaku, not a professing Christian to my knowledge, sees the same thing.  He concludes in the show, “So our universe in some sense is fine-tuned.  We are just right to have a universe that expands slowly making it possible to create DNA and life as we know it.”  Yes, just right to create life as we know it.

I believe that “life as we know it” is the “why”.  It is the why the universe is here.  It is the why you and I are here.  It is the why it developed this way.  God is the Creator behind the why.  God is the “perfection” that existed at the instant of the big bang.  And He created the universe, He created the earth, He created you and me to experience life as we know it.

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The Search for Earth 2.0

With the Big Bang Theory in their pocket and a new array of instruments at their disposal, astronomers are hot on the trail of looking for Earth 2.0; an Earth-mass planet orbiting a Sun-like star at a distance similar to Earth’s orbit.  Or, to put it another way, the search is on for a rocky planet in a potentially habitable zone?  Will they find another Earth?

I don’t know.  I happen to think that we inhabit a unique place in the universe created by God as a dwelling place for mankind.  But my faith would not be shaken if Earth 2.0 exists.  What is more interesting to me is how many unique and life-giving features of our present Earth keep popping up during our search for life on other planets.  What we are discovering is that just finding another “rocky planet in a potentially habitable zone” may not be enough.

A recent issue of EOS magazine, the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, (I am sure most of you have one lying on your coffee table even as we speak) detailed some of the latest developments in the search.  One of the foremost efforts is to find a planet with surface water, a life-essential as we understand it.

Now in our own solar system, both Venus and Mars are considered to be in the “habitable zone” based on their distance from the sun.  There is one small problem, however, to either of them being “habitable”.  Neither planet has liquid water on its surface.  Where did the water go, if it was ever there in the first place?

Regarding Mars, the latest theory suggests that the solar wind that interacts with the planets of our solar system would “strip away the atmosphere and water” if they were to exist on Mars.  Why?  Because Mars does not have a significant magnetic field to protect it from the solar wind.  Do you want to guess a planet in our solar system that does have a significant magnetic field protecting its atmosphere and water from the onslaught of the solar wind?  My guess is planet Earth.

Let me quote from the EOS article, “The study of the magnetic field and its interaction with the solar wind is an important element for understanding how Earth’s magnetic field might have protected our home planet over the millennia.”  Did they say “might have protected?”  I would argue it has positively protected life on this planet.  Who knew something as benign as the earth’s magnetic field could be so important to sustaining life?

Why does Earth have the required magnetic field for life and Mars does not?  Is that the random outcome of planetary evolution?  I think it is one small piece among hundreds of small pieces of evidence that God has created a planet where life as we know it can thrive.  Welcome to your unique and wonderful home, Earth 1.0!

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A Universe From Nothing

I first heard Dr. Lawrence Krauss describe the Big Bang Theory regarding the origin of the universe on an afternoon radio program.  The topic was strictly scientific and there was no reference to God or religion.  Later, in my search for more information on the subject, I came across one of Dr. Krauss’ most popular books, A Universe From Nothing.

Did I read that right?  A Universe From Nothing?  With a title like that, I thought, “Wow, this guy must be a Christian.  Who else would pick that kind of a title?  Only a like-minded scientist who has discovered the incredible connection between what we now theorize about the first moments of the universe and what the Bible describes as God creating the world out of nothing.”  I could not have been further from the truth regarding Dr. Krauss’ religious affiliation – or more precisely – his lack thereof.

Dr. Lawrence Krauss is an atheist.  Dr. Krauss’ book is as much an anti-religious pamphlet as it is a science textbook.  His idea is that the universe came from nothing.  Exactly nothing.  No God.  No Creator.  No nothing.  And, in my opinion, he could not be more off base.

So how do two scientists look at the same Big Bang theory and draw such opposite conclusions.  It all starts with our presuppositions.  I believe in the supernatural.  I believe that a world exists outside of our five senses; a world we experience by our spirit and by God’s revelation.  In that world, the Big Bang theory of instantaneous creation fits what we would expect from a God who spoke the world into existence by the power of His word.  It is a world that theists – believers in God – are comfortable in.

Dr. Krauss, and many scientists like him, have created a world with no room for the supernatural.  It is a world of creation and order only dictated by natural processes.  And to be honest, it is a world that can be constructed from today’s theories and observations.  I just don’t find it to be the best fit for all that we experience and observe.  But it can be done.

As a Christian scientist, I am quite comfortable with both a supernatural beginning to our world and supernatural interventions that go against the natural flow.  I believe God has ordered the world such that it generally works along the lines of scientifically understood processes.  And that might lead one to conclude that it has always been this way.

But thinking along this path of every explanation being a natural one ignores the strong evidence that on many occasions God has supernaturally intervened in our world.  In pre-historic time with the creation of man and woman, in ancient time when He sent His Son Jesus to dwell with us, throughout history as God built His church around the world, and in future time when Jesus returns to earth.

The bottom line is this.  Don’t let the naturalists chip away at your faith.  They are the small thinkers, confining everything to a small box of natural processes.  They are living in a fantasy world of their own creation.  They reject the possibility that “something” coming from “nothing” might mean there is a “Someone”.  I have met the “Someone” as I think most of you have as well.

We are the big thinkers.  We are the ones embracing both tangible and intangible reality.  We are the ones willing to accept a supernatural intervention into our world.  So don’t let these smooth-talking naturalists have the last word.  Brilliant, but Godless, scientists may be able to unravel the scientific mysteries of the universe, but they are not the ones to look to for the complete theological picture.

Now another reason believing and non-believing scientists might go on divergent paths when faced with the same data has to do with our opinion about the earth.  To the skeptic, Earth is just one of billions of random planets.  But when they say this, they are ignorant of some pretty special features about our planet; features that make it uniquely tuned for life.  Something we would expect from our life-giving Creator.  We will talk about it next time as we search for Earth 2.0.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Big (Bad) Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is the standard model for the formation of the universe and is widely accepted among today’s physicists.  So my question for you is this, “What does this standard model and its acceptance mean for those of us who believe that God created the heavens and the earth?”  In my opinion, it means something quite spectacular.

Here is the standard model in a nutshell:  The universe sprang into existence as a “singularity” around 13.8 billions years ago.  This “singularity” was infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, and infinitely dense.  (How do you even wrap your head around infinite as a quantity?  Not sure, but let’s continue on.)  This “singularity” was not a tiny fireball in space.  Space did not exist.  Time did not exist.  Matter did not exist.  Energy did not exist.  They were all wrapped up inside the “singularity”.

Then the “singularity” suddenly inflated.  This sudden inflation was so rapid and so large that we have come to refer to it as the “Big Bang”, and its result is the universe that we now inhabit.  The fascinating piece of the puzzle to me is that this inflation was not a constant and linear path through 13.8 billion years.  No, when we say “suddenly inflated”, we mean “suddenly inflated.”

How sudden?  We measure time associated with the major events of the big bang in 10-43 seconds.  That is a decimal point followed by 42 zeroes and a 1.  That is a pretty tiny part of a second.  Important events at the beginning of the expansion such as the separation of the four forces (gravity, electromagnetic, the strong and weak nuclear forces), the creation of matter and antimatter, the formation of quarks, gluons, and other elementary particles, rapid cooling, and much more are all measured in very very very tiny fractions of a second.

So when we say “sudden”, we mean a sudden that is almost impossible to imagine.  And when we say “inflated”, the numbers are just as incredible.  The current theory has the universe increasing by a factor of 1026 in the first fraction of a second.  That means going from the subatomic (smaller than the particles of an atom) to the cosmic (think huge galaxies) during these incredibly small time frames of the first second of the universe’s existence.

Again, by “sudden” we are talking about time measured in 10-43 pieces of a second, and by “inflated” we are talking about the building blocks for every star and every planet in the cosmos created within that first second.  Pretty incredible.  Can you see where I am headed?  Even as a math and physics guy used to working with outrageous numbers, the reality of the situation is that “suddenly” might as well be “instantaneous”.  Because realistically, that is what it is.

As a believer and a scientist, this gives me goose bumps.  The prevailing theory for the formation of the universe suggests that all that we see, no matter how far we peer into deep space and time, was literally created instantaneously out of nothing.  Does that sound like a creation account you are familiar with?  It should, because it fits one of the main tenets of our faith.  God created the world ex nihilo; out of nothing.

The scientific steps that brought us to this point is a fascinating story in its own right, and I do not think we arrived at this understanding by accident.  Dr. Lawrence Krauss, one of the science popularizers of the Big Bang Theory, recently said, “We are fascinatingly lucky at this point in time to be able to see the evidence of the Big Bang.”  Are we “fascinatingly lucky” or is God revealing the wonder of Him instantly creating the world as we know it from nothing as the Bible teaches?

It all depends upon your point of view.  It all depends on your presuppositions regarding religion and the supernatural.  The connection between the “Big Bang” and God’s instantaneous creation of the world is stunningly obvious to me.  To Dr. Krauss, not so much.  It is a comparison we will take up next time.

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The Bible and Science – A Strong Marriage

I recently attended a presentation here in Franklin by Dr. Michael Guillen, former science editor for ABC News.  It is good to have another science geek in the neighborhood who is also serious about the Bible.  In fact, his talk was about science and the Bible.

I liked the word pictures that Dr. Guillen used in describing the current state of affairs.  He said that the world insists that science and the Bible are like divorced parents.  They are incompatible.  And as children of this divorce, we can no longer live with both parents.  We have to choose.  We have to choose one or the other.  But, as Dr. Guillen pointed out, that is not an accurate analogy.  And, as a truth-seeker in both the science world and the absolute truth of Scripture, this is a choice I am not going to buy into.  It is a box that I am not going to allow myself to be trapped in.  Because it is not necessary.

Dr. Guillen paints a more accurate picture of the relationship between science and the Bible by describing them as partners in a strong marriage.  That is a good analogy.  They are compatible.  They support each other.  We can find compatible and truthful answers in both.  Are there ever disagreements in a strong marriage?  Of course there are.  And we have places today, such as evolution or the age of the earth, for example, where science and the Bible appear to be at odds.

But just like any strong marriage, the issues get worked out.  This is the long view of science and the Bible.  Issues in the past where the disagreement seemed intractable have faded away as we gained more and more understanding in how our world truly works; of how science and Scripture work in tandem.  I think that compatibility is part of why so many scientists are also committed believers.  The high percentage of believing scientists is one of the clearest evidences that the issues get worked out.

In 1916, a survey of one thousand prominent American scientists revealed that 42% believed in a personal God.  While the public was appalled at the low percentage, the authors of the survey suggested that as scientific knowledge progressed through the twentieth century the number would soon approach zero.  Why?  Because these researchers were of the divorced-parents mindset about science and God.  And the rise in scientific understanding would put an end to belief in God.

But their conclusion proved incorrect when the study was replicated in 1997 with a new group of science luminaries.  The percentage of “believers” was 39%, not much different then eighty-one years earlier.  In addition, many respondents to the 1997 survey decried the narrow line of questioning which followed the original survey word for word equating belief with the 1916 Evangelical Christian view of God.  Many participants who answered “no” to the narrow line of questions indicated a belief in a supreme being in their written comments.

Remember the prediction in 1916 was that the number of believing scientists would go down to zero in a direct correlation with an increase in scientific knowledge and discovery.  But the percentage remained roughly the same, a finding that surprised the authors of the new study.  Why?  Because, again, the new authors were operating from the divorced-parents mindset.

No, science and the Bible are like a strong marriage.  And in the narrow world of science that I can understand as a geophysicist, the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge and theory continues to support and strengthen my biblical world view; not argue against it.  Next post, we will discover one of our most unlikely allies in the strong marriage of science and Scripture when the Big Bang Theory steps up to the witness stand.

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You Must Be Born Again

Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling class of Jesus’ day.  One evening, Nicodemus approached Jesus to inquire,  “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2).  Nicodemus was saying what I am sure many were thinking.  Jesus’ miracles pointed the way to His being sent from God.  But Jesus was so far from fitting the mold of what the Jews expected the Messiah to be, that even the Jewish leadership was confused by His identity and His message.  Who is this Man?

Jesus answered Nicodemus’ inquiry with a powerful word picture.  “Nicodemus, if you want to join My kingdom, you must be born again” (Jn 3:3).  What a curious answer to the question.  Looking back, with the rest of the story now in our hands, we can see what Jesus was saying.  But think about what a head-scratching statement this was to Jesus’ contemporaries.  Nicodemus was so confused that he tried to pin Jesus down on how a man could enter his mother’s womb a second time.  What does Jesus mean, “You must be born again?”

Did Jesus have several options for a metaphor here to visualize how we enter His kingdom?  Or is there something specific in why Jesus chose this comparison?  Why did Jesus equate entering His kingdom with physical birth?  I think the word picture He used could not have been more powerful.

I believe a reasonable reading between the lines of Jesus’ short response is this.  You do not enter My kingdom by experiencing a moral makeover or moral improvement of some kind.  You do not enter My kingdom by adding a higher standard to the law you already know.  You do not enter My kingdom by an improved path of sin management.  No, the message I proclaim is a complete and radical transformation into a new person.

Your old heart is so wicked, it cannot be cleaned up.  You need a new one.  Your old nature is so lost, it cannot be turned to righteousness.  You need a new nature.  Your disposition to sin is so deep, it cannot be fixed.  You need a new disposition.  Your power to live in obedience to Me is too weak to be improved upon.  You need a new power.  And the list goes on.  You need a new Spirit and a new self.  You need a new life.  You literally need to become a new creation.

The only way to receive a new “all of the above” is to undergo a radical new beginning.  A new beginning so transformative that it is as if you have entered your mother’s womb a second time.  But this time it is a spiritual birth, and when you emerge from the spiritual birth canal, you will possess a new everything.  Not because of what you have done.  But what God has done for you.  God has made you a new creation.

Think about physical birth.  When that little one emerges from the womb, they are fully human.  There is nothing to be added to make them more human.  They are tiny with a need to grow, but everything is already in place for them to do so.

It is the same with your spiritual birth.  By virtue of the New Covenant – God’s new arrangement with you – your are spiritually born righteous.  Just as a baby is born fully human with a need to grow, so you are born again fully righteous with a need to grow.  And just like our little infant, everything is in place for you to do this.  There is nothing more required to make you righteous.

Now we know, looking back, that Christ’s death and resurrection is what secured that new birth for us.  And we also know from the remainder of Christ’s message in the gospel of John that there is a work we need to do to receive the new birth.

The crowd asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” (Jn 6:28)  In the context of the passage they are asking Jesus how to join His kingdom.  “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ ” (Jn 6:29).  Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus says over and over and over again, “He who believes in me has eternal life” (Jn 6:40).  Our only work is to believe in Jesus.

How do we enter the kingdom of God?  By being born again.  How are we born again?  By faith in Christ; by believing that He took the punishment for our sin in our place by His death on the cross.  And are the implications for this new birth just a one time thing of having our sins forgiven?  No, no, no.  The implications of the new birth are so much more than a single event.  Yes the new birth is incredible in the immediate acceptance and entrance to the kingdom of God.  The transfer to His kingdom is instantaneous.  But there is so much more to the new birth.

If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you have been born again.  You are a new creation.  May you experience all of the incredible “new” that came along with your new birth.  May you live into all the ramifications of your new identity, your new nature, your new Spirit, your new heart, you new disposition, your new self, your new purity, your new power over sin; everything that came with your new birth.  Welcome to the new!

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The Love of God

At the heart of the most succinct summary of the gospel message is the love of God.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  “God loved” is the foundation upon which the gospel stands.  And God’s love reached down and rescued you and me.

In the Old Testament and other Jewish writings, God’s love was reserved for the children of Israel.  We have some hints here and there that the Gentiles would eventually be included in God’s redemptive plan, but His love appears to have some boundaries.  In the New Testament, God’s love is shown to be boundless.  “God so loved the world.”  His love was now showered upon the entire population of the earth.  God’s love for “the world” makes it possible that “whoever” believes has eternal life.  As part of the progressive revelation of God’s character, we now see God’s love without limits or partiality.

Did God change?  No, but as with many aspects of God’s character, the curtain is pulled back in the New Testament and we see and experience more and more facets of who God is.  And at the heart of who God is, at the heart of His character, at the heart of His very essence is love.  God is love.

In his hymn The Love of God, Frederick Lehman put to music an ancient poem that paints a beautiful picture of the vastness of the love of God.  Read slowly and let the enormosity (God’s love is so beyond description that I could not even come up with a proper English word) of God’s love fill your soul:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Refrain:
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

As a holy and beloved saint, wrapped up forever in God’s love, may this be your and the angels’ song.

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Seeing the Father in the Face of Christ

Last time we ended with the idea from II Corinthians 4 that we see the glory of God when we look into the face of Jesus.  Beyond all the wonderful descriptions of our heavenly Father that we have uncovered in the New Testament, the greatest revelation still remains in the person and work of Jesus Himself.  The best expression we find for what the Father is like is in the face of Christ.

When we look into the face of Jesus, what do we see?  We see love.  When Jesus wept for Lazarus, “The Jews were saying, ‘Behold how He loved him!’ ” (Jn 11:36).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see forgiveness.  “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son , your sins are forgiven’ ” (Mk 2:5).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see acceptance.  “And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Lk 15:2).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see compassion.  “And moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him saying, ‘Be cleansed.’  And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed” (Mk 1:41-42).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see healing.  “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (Mt 4:23).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see humility.  “Jesus rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel girded Himself about.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (Jn 13:4-5).

And ultimately, when we look into the face of Jesus we see a love that sent Christ to the cross on our behalf.  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).  “But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  But the power of His love did not end at His death.

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see the Son of God bursting forth from the tomb.  “And the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.  He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.  Come, see the place where He was lying.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead’ ” (Mt 28:5-7).

And in an incredible stroke of overwhelming blessing, we were raised with Him.  “Therefore we have been buried with Him [Jesus] through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:4-6).

Our power over sin in this present life is a direct result of our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  If you have embraced the message of the gospel, you have been united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  And you are now infused with the power of His resurrection life.  His righteous and resurrected life flows through you.  This is what you see and what God invites you to experience when you look into the face of Jesus.

The sheer volume of all the wonderful attributes of God seen in the face of Jesus is vast and we could recount them all the way to the end of the Internet.  But we will end with one more.

Finally, when we look into the face of Jesus, we see the return of a triumphant King.  “The stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13:25-26).  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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“You Have Seen the Father”

Over the past few weeks, we have learned many wonderful things about our heavenly Father.  We have delved into not only His beautiful character and identity, but into how that translates into His caring relationship with us, His children.  But a greater revelation of God the Father is yet to come.  And it is found in His Son, Jesus Christ.  When you see Jesus, you see the Father.

If you are a believer, you have met Jesus.  If you have met Jesus, you have seen the Father.  In the gospel of John, Jesus said,  ” ‘If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.’  Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’  Jesus said to Him, ‘How long have I been with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip?  He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so why do you say, “Show us the Father”? ‘ ” (Jn 14:7-9).

Probably on occasions prior to this passage, but definitely in these verses, Jesus explains that if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.  But the concept seems to go right over the disciples’ heads as Philip asks to see the Father.  So Jesus explains it one more time, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”  It is a theme found throughout the New Testament.

“[God’s final revelation] has been through His Son, who He appointed heir of all things, through who also He made the world.  And He [Jesus] is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:2-3).  Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature, God’s essence.

“And He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation…For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of deity to dwell in Him” (Col 1:15,19).  “For in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9).  All the fullness of God Himself dwells in Jesus.  There is nothing missing.

“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:5-6).  Do you want to see God the Father in all of His glory?  Look into the face of Jesus Christ.

As we wrap up our series on God, our Father, and our unique relationship with Him, we will explore next time what it is we see about God when we look into the face of Jesus.

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The Father Who Qualified Us

The apostle Paul ends his prayer in Colossians chapter 1 with these words of encouragement, “Giving thanks to the Father, who qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light, who rescued us from the domain of darkness, and who transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:12-13).

Who qualified you?  The Father.  Who rescued you?  The Father.  Who transferred you?  The Father.

Your heavenly Father qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints.  You have your papers!  You are approved!  God Himself has stamped a big red APPROVED on your papers.  You are qualified to be here in the company of saints, because God Himself has made you a saint; a saint who is walking in the light.

Your heavenly Father rescued you from the domain of darkness.  By the death and resurrection of His beloved Son, you have been delivered from the darkness of both the penalty of sin and the power of sin.  As a new covenant saint, you have been set free from sin’s power.  Sin shall no longer have dominion over you.  Sin shall no longer be your master (Rom 6:14).

And finally, your heavenly Father transferred you into His kingdom.  We are now – in the present age – citizens of the kingdom of God.  The words “rescued” and “transferred” are past tense.  This transfer, this move to the kingdom of God, is not in the distant far-off future.  It has already happened when we placed our faith in Christ.  And this transfer is a complete “drag and drop” into the new kingdom.  We didn’t just have something added on to our old home, some new wing added to our old residence.  You were lifted from your old home in “the domain of darkness” and dropped into your new home in the “kingdom of His beloved Son”, the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is your new home in the here and now.

Your new home is an invisible kingdom ruled by an invisible King, our heavenly Father.  But even if He is invisible, we know a lot of great things about Him by His revelation in His Word.  Invisible does not mean unknown.  We have learned over the past few weeks, that our invisible Father is extremely present in our lives as our provider, our gift-giver, our personal trainer in righteousness, our deliverer, the One who lives inside us, the River who flows from within, and the one who loves us very much.

And even with all these wonderful things we have learned about our heavenly Father, His greatest revelation about Himself is yet to come.  We will discover it next time.

 

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Fear and the Good Father

“And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:17-19).

If you can imagine the best possible father who adores you, who provides for you, who gives you good gifts, and yes, who disciplines you for your own good, you are beginning to see what your heavenly Father is like.  He is not only “like”, but so much more than the best father we can imagine.

But as we said last time, God is not an indulgent father.  He has a discipline program, a training regimen, designed to mold us into the righteous image of His Son.  And just like our earthly fathers instilled in us, there should be a healthy fear of our Father’s discipline.

When Peter talks in this passage about “the time of your stay upon earth”, he is highlighting the fact that we are actually aliens on this planet.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  Our eternal home is in heaven.  Our true King is in heaven.  Our Father is in heaven.  And we honor our Father by holy living.  We demonstrate our loyalty to our true King by our righteous behavior.

The fear referred to in these verses is a healthy fear, a reverent awe.  The ESV Study Bible notes that, “The fear in verse 17 is not a paralyzing terror but a fear of God’s discipline and fatherly displeasure; it is a reverence and awe that should characterize the lives of believers during their exile on this earth.”  We are to have a healthy fear of disappointing our good and loving Father.  We should have a healthy fear of treating lightly the sacrifice that was made for us, the precious blood of Christ.

This is not a fear of “God is waiting to pounce on us and crush us at our first offense”.  Fearing that kind of treatment from our Father requires us to explain away so much of the New Testament message about our good Father.  It requires us to ignore so much of the New Testament teaching about who we are as God’s child and how He treats His children.  We would have to cast aside His promise of His unconditional love, care, and protection.  And yes, we would have to neglect His own description of His discipline as being for our good; never capricious, never random, never mean.

There is a healthy fear of the Lord in the New Testament, but it is a reverence informed by all we have learned about our good good Father.

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The Good Father’s Training Program

If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you have a brand new connection to God Himself.  He is now your Father.  He identifies Himself as your Father.  He calls you His child.  As we have explored our new Father-child relationship over the past few weeks, we have come to learn that God is a good Father.  He is the giver of good gifts.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  He provides for your needs.  He truly is a good, good Father.

But God is not an indulgent father.  In fact, as one of His children, we will experience discipline, training, and even pain at the hands of our good Father.  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him.  For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:5-6).

The Greek word translated “discipline” in this passage refers to a training regimen.  God has you on a training program.  He is training you in righteousness; in righteous living.  And this training program may involve pain.  But the beauty of God’s training program, and the most important thing to take away from this passage is that the pain is never random, cruel, capricious, or evil.  God’s training program is always fueled by His love for us and for our good.

The author of the book of Hebrews goes on to explain, “God deals with you as with sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.  Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb 12:7-10).

If we are true children of God, we will all experience His training program.  Just as we respected our fathers who disciplined us for earthly goals, should we not more so worship and respect our heavenly Father who disciplines us for “our good and to share in His holiness”?  Our good and our holiness are the desired outcome of the training program of God.  And that training program may include the pain of discipline on our way to the joy and peace of righteousness that it produces.

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11).  The goal of God’s training program is not only our good and our holiness, but also joy and a peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Now the beauty of this journey and what may set this apart from what you have heard in the past about God’s discipline is that God’s training program does not take place in a mysterious and unknown vacuum.  It is not meant to be painful in a way that keeps us in the dark.  It happens in the framework of God being the good Father and loving us with an everlasting love.  God’s overarching attribute in His dealings with His children is love.  Even God’s discipline is motivated by His love, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb 12:6).

The upshot of this is that the discipline of God should always be understood through the lens of the good Father.  Because God Himself is using that analogy in the Hebrews 12 passage.  He is telling us what to expect of Him based on what we experience at the hands of a good earthly father.  Based on that comparison, we know that His discipline will never be capricious, never be random, never be mean, never be beyond understanding.  Even if the reason is delayed, our knowing that the Father is good informs our faith to trust His timing.  Again, think about this comparison with our earthly fathers.

Every good father disciplines with the goal clearly explained to the child.  In fact, before we discipline or correct our youngsters, we go out of our way to make sure they understand what behavior is expected.  We go out of our way to make sure they understand why they are being disciplined.  We make clear to the child what they did wrong.  They know what behavior needs to change.  A good parent never disciplines in a random, unexpected, surprising, or capricious manner.  And based on today’s Scripture, we would not expect our heavenly Father to do so either.  His discipline is always fueled by His love.

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“Do Not Be Afraid!”

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, one of the first things he said to her was, “Do not be afraid.”  When an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem, his first words were, “Do not be afraid.”  And God’s word to you this Christmas is, “Do not be afraid.”

We live in a fearful world.  On a national and international scale, we are reminded everyday of who and what to fear.  I don’t know if our ramped up fear is a result of the 24-hour news cycle, or if the world really is going crazy.  As believers, we know what is behind the craziness.  We know that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19).  Fear, intimidation, and pure evil are being unleashed on the world in the wake of Satan’s influence.  Into this chaos, God’s word to us is, “Do not be afraid.”

But let’s set the big picture aside, if we can, and bring it down to a personal level.  Even here, we find much to fear.  Family dysfunction, broken relationships, chronic sickness, mysterious pain, financial setbacks, job insecurity, and the worry that accompanies these problems surge right to the front of our brains.  Into this personal chaos, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

This assurance from Jesus is not a Pollyanna, naïve, let’s-not-acknowledge-the-pain word from our Lord.  No, Jesus knows all about tribulation.  He knows all about pain; even to the point of carrying the weight of our sin to a painful death on a cross.  And He knows your pain.  He knows your trial.  And He has a word for you.

“In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).  In this world, in this pain, in this fear, Jesus is asking us to “take courage, do not be afraid.”

How can we take courage when, on both a personal and global scale, our world seems to be falling apart?  The answer is the miracles of Christmas.  The first miracle is lying in a manger.  When we stare into the face of the baby Jesus, we are seeing Immanuel, God with us.  We are seeing the miracle of the Incarnation.  God Himself coming to dwell with us.

But there is a second miracle of Christmas that we often overlook.  If you are a Christ-follower, when you look inside yourself you are seeing Immanuel, God with us.  Do you believe that?  It is a miracle.  But, it’s true!  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the God of the universe has taken up residence in you.  And recognizing this incredible and supernatural indwelling is key to overcoming fear.

The apostle John highlights this in his first letter.  “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world” (I Jn 4:4).  Can you believe it?  Not only are you indwelt with God’s spirit, but it is a Spirit that is far stronger than Satan’s spirit of fear that grips the world.

Believe it because it is true!  The Spirit of God who indwells you is greater than the spirit of Satan that is wreaking such havoc in the world.  Notice the word “overcome” in both Jesus’ statement (Jn 16:33) and the verse above (I Jn 4:4).  We overcome the world, we overcome the spirit of the world, we overcome our fears though the Spirit that lives inside.

Embrace the Spirit of God living inside.  Run to the Spirit.  Walk in the Spirit.  Listen to the Spirit.  When you do this, the light of God’s Spirit will shine in you, through you, and out from you like the light shining in that first nativity stable.  Follow the light into the stable, and let your gaze land on the manger.  Look into the feeding trough.  Look into the face of the baby Jesus and see God Himself.

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see a miracle.  We see Immanuel, God with us.  And when we look in the mirror, we see another miracle.  We see Immanuel, God with us, living inside.  The miracles of Christmas.  The miracles that empower us to, “Take courage, do not be afraid.”

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Prayer and the Righteous Father

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart, saying, ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man.  And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wears me out.” ‘ ” (Lk 18:1-5).

Then Jesus draws this contrast, “You just heard what the unrighteous judge said.  But God, on the other hand, delights to bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry to Him day and night.  And will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8).

I used to read this parable thinking of God as the judge in the story.  As a result, it seemed to me that our approach to prayer was to badger God into an answer.  As I studied the New Testament, my emerging view of God as the good Father, the giver of good gifts did not fit the unrighteous judge in this story.

Then it hit me.  God is not the mean judge at all.  In fact, the point of the parable is that God is just the opposite.  God stands in contrast to the judge, not as a similarity.  Look at the opening lines of the parable.  Many of Christ’s parables start with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  But this story does not have that common opening line.

Because this judge is not like our God.  This judge is not like the good Father.  No, the point of the story is that God is the opposite of the unrighteous judge.  God is looking to provide relief and answer to His children “speedily”; the opposite of the judge in the story.

But there is a part for us to play.  The opening verse tells us that Jesus told the parable to illustrate the necessity of persistent prayer.  Our persistent prayer is an act of faith, not an attempt to loosen the purse strings of a reluctant father.  Our persistent prayer demonstrates our faith that God will answer.  The necessity of faith in our practice of prayer is driven home in the last statement in the passage (vs 8).  Will Christ find this kind of persistent faith on the earth?  Will Christ see this kind of faith in His people?

So take heart.  Let your prayers be bathed in faith.  Infuse your prayers in the faith that your good Father “knows all that you need” (Mt 6:32).  Do not grow weary of coming to the Father with your requests.  You are not trying to pry some breadcrumbs from an unwilling father.  No, you are entering the holy presence of the good Father, the giver of good gifts.

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The Father of Light

The contrast of light and darkness is a prominent theme in Scripture.  “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Is 9:2).  This well-known verse opens Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the coming Messiah.  The darkness that covered the land prior to Christ’s coming will be swept aside by the light of His glory.  The “great light” is the glory of the coming Messiah.

In the New Testament, the apostle John announced the coming of the Messiah in similar light and darkness language.  “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn 1:4-5).  Jesus would later say of Himself, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

The theme of light continues in the epistles.  “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (Js 1:17).  The context of this verse is James’ earlier explanation that God does not tempt us to evil because there is no evil within Him.  God is not the author or purveyor of evil.  Rather, according to this verse, God is the good Father; the giver of good gifts.  And the promise that God is good, all the time, will never vary or change or shift.

Have you ever noticed that a flame does not cast a shadow?  Try it with a match or your Scripto lighter.  I was a skeptic when I first saw a picture of this phenomenon.  So I took my lighter into Rhonda’s study and she shined a flashlight my way while I fired it up.  Sure enough, the lighter (and my prominent nose) cast a shadow, but the flame did not.  I thought it was a neat illustration of our heavenly Father, the Father of lights in whom there is no shadow.

God is illumined by His own light such that we can see and comprehend His perfect character, His essence of love, and His constant care over us.  He is totally open in His relationship with us.  There is no shadow.  God has no hidden agenda.  He is not lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce.  God is not hiding, playing hard to get.  The thought that His ways and character are beyond our understanding is an Old Covenant concept that faded away when we were infused with the mind of Christ (I Cor 2:13) and the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9).

Rather than lurking in the shadows, God’s light is shining like a laser beam right into your heart, right now.  “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:6).  We see and experience the glory of God in the face of Christ.  And that glory is lighting up your new heart; that clean soft shiny new heart you received at your salvation.

So run to the Light.  Embrace the Light.  Celebrate the Light.  And come expecting to be received by the good Father, the giver of good gifts.

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Abba! Father!

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the good Father; the Father who answers when we ask, can be found when we seek Him, and opens the door when we knock.  The picture that comes to my mind in this description of God, the good Father, is this:  God is not a father who is parked in his study, doing his God work while we remain locked out in the hall seeing only the glow of the study light coming out from under the closed door.  No.  No.  No.  As children of God, we have every right to fling the door open, run inside, and like an excited four-year-old, leap into God’s lap.  Is this picture wishful thinking?  Can it really be true?

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God (i.e. all believers), these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba!  Father!’ ” (Rom 8:14-15).  Did you hear that?  We cry out, “Daddy!  Papa!”  And it is these words of tender relationship that inform my four-year-old in the lap picture.

“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place (God’s personal study in my word picture) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:19-22).  We have the right to enter God’s study, God’s holy place, God’s personal space by the blood of Jesus.  We have the right to “draw near” by the blood of Jesus.  When we embrace the gospel message, we become adopted, and through Christ, we have direct access to the Father.  And by faith, I believe that when I leap into the air like a child, God’s loving arms will catch me and draw me onto His lap.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him and he with Me” (Rev 3:20).  When we see the light from God’s study and dash down the hall toward it, we do not run into a locked door.  No, we find an open welcome.  When we rush inside, we see God waiting for us and are invited in for tea and watercress sandwiches or a Thanksgiving buffet; whatever fits the need of the moment.  There is a tender relationship in dining together.

If this image of God sounds too tender, too grandfatherly to you, please heed this warning.  Do not let your Old Testament view of God put up a wall between you and your access to the good Father described in the New Testament.  Right there in our Hebrews passage, it emphasizes that Jesus “inaugurated a new and living way” to enter the Father’s presence.  I cannot say this loud enough.  Our access to the Father is a brand new way of relating to God, all made possible by the blood of Jesus.  The Old Testament way, the Old Testament arrangement, the Old Covenant method had been put on the shelf;  literally “made obsolete” (Heb 8:13) by the blood of Jesus.

Can I encourage you?  Do not approach the Father in a way that is obsolete and out dated.  Instead, enter His holy place.  Climb up beside your heavenly Father and find out what He is working on.  Find out what is going on in that God world of His.  And join Him in the work.  Working alongside the tender Father who loves you and welcomes you in.

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Thanksgiving and the New You

I am a stickler for truth in advertising.  When the Bible talks about God’s commands as not burdensome or His yoke as light, I want to know how this happens.  Because, quite frankly, I have felt the weight and burden of Christ’s commands and it was not always pleasant.  And I do not think I am alone in that feeling.

What lifted the burden for me was an understanding of all that changed at my new birth.  And one of the changes was an infusion of a new nature – an infusion of the righteousness of Christ – such that obeying Christ’s commands is now my new normal.  I am not saying my new normal is always easy, but following Christ’s commands has become my second nature and yours too.

When we recognize that Christ is literally living His life through us, that He is in the yoke with us (after all Jesus calls it “His yoke” and I fully expect Him to be in there with me), it lifts the burden.  On the other hand, when we fail to embrace or believe or expect that Christ is living His life through us, we become worn down, oppressed, and yes, burdened by all that He requires.  Our Christian life turns sour and gratefulness is the furthest thing from our minds.

But when we recognize that the gospel message is not only about our initial salvation, but also informs our new power to live the life now, a thankful heart is our natural response.  We can not add anything to what Christ has done for us.  We cannot live the life He wants to live through us by will power and shutting Him out.  We cannot lift ourselves up to righteousness by our bootstraps and true grit.  No, we live the life by accepting all that Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

In the book of Colossians, Paul explains that legalism – working our way to righteousness – is not only foolish, but has no value in defeating the flesh.  He goes on to explain that we live the life, defeat the flesh, and experience victory over sin by living into our new nature; by putting on the new self.  And this new self is infused with thanksgiving.

Gratefulness is so much a part of our new life that Paul comes back to it for three verses in a row as He concludes his treatise on the new self.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:15-17).

In your unity and peace, give thanks.  In Christ’s word dwelling within you, give thanks.  In your singing, give thanks.  And then it is as if Paul looks up and says, “You know the more I think about it, just go ahead and give thanks in everything you do” (vs 17).  Thanksgiving and a grateful heart are that important.

May I encourage you this thanksgiving to thank the Lord for His goodness.  To thank the Lord for the friends and family in your life.  To thank the Lord for His material blessings.  But don’t forget to thank Him for making you a new creation; a new you with a soft and grateful heart.

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A Tribute to My Friend

Last week our friend, Greg Miller, passed away due to cancer.  The rapid progression of the disease was a shock.  In five short months, Greg went from initial diagnosis of multiple myeloma to death’s door and through to the presence of the Lord.

Greg was a man of faith.  Greg believed and we believed and we all prayed for his instantaneous healing.  Last Wednesday, Greg was completely healed.  But to be honest, it was not in the fashion we had hoped and prayed.

Our friendship with Greg and Dee Dee started when our children shared some homeschooling classes together.  As we got to know them, their warmth and commitment to Christ drew us together.  Greg and I coached little league teams together.  We camped together as families (which always included a baseball game).  Our daughters recorded a beautiful Christmas CD together.  And don’t forget the carpooling.  In Houston, friends show their love by driving each other’s kids around.

Our youngest son, Joe, was a regular at the Miller’s dinner table as was Grant Miller at ours.  When Joe and Grant headed off to Texas A&M, we not only felt the emotional loss of the house turning quiet, but on a practical level, we lost our yard crew.  It was a big yard.

Our children were in each other’s weddings.  We truly have a family connection.  And we will miss Greg very much.

Our prayers now turn to Dee Dee and Kari and James and Xander and Eric and Grant and Scott and Rob.  We pray for God’s comfort, encouragement, and faith to face the future.  Greg is safely home.  But the pain and loss for us and more intensely for Greg’s family is great.  Dee Dee, we are praying for you.

Greg’s journey also brings into focus our own thoughts of someday being truly home; home in the place God has prepared for us to enjoy His presence forever.  But the path to find our way home is different for each of us.  Greg’s path touched many lives.  His influence in his family and friends and coworkers and missionaries will continue long after the journey’s end.  And it is a good and lasting influence.

“Enjoy the reward of heaven, my friend!”

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The Giver of Good Gifts

As we continue exploring our New Covenant relationship with God our Father, we come to Matthew chapter 7.  “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.  Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Mt 7:7-11).

Over and over again, I am drawn to the word “Father” when I read these New Testament passages.  I think we often just gloss over this title for God, maybe because have heard or read it so often.  But stop and think about it for a minute.  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God is your Father!  The Sovereign of the Universe; the Almighty; the Omniscient and Omnipotent; God Himself is your Father!  It truly is incredible.

And one of the hallmarks of this fatherly care is that God is the giver of good gifts.  My hope for you is that you had a father who gave you good gifts, though sadly, I recognize that we do not all share this experience.  The “how much more” in verse 11 teaches us that God’s gifts are far superior to even the good gifts of our earthly fathers.

To receive these gifts, our role is to ask, seek, and knock.  There is a role for us to play in this transaction.  God’s promise, God’s side of the equation is to give, to be found, and to open the door.  And the foundation on which that promise stands is His identity as our Father.  We can trust God to come through on our behalf based on one simple fact.  God is our Father and He is a good Father.

Do you need God’s intervention in your life?  Ask.  Do you desire a closer walk with Jesus?  Seek.  Do you need a door blown open?  Knock.  Do you lack resources of some kind?  Ask.  Do you need direction for a pending decision?  Seek.  Do you sense the next step God has for you and your family, but are unsure how to proceed?  Knock.

God is waiting.  This passage starts with ask, seek, and knock, and ends with the assurance that our good Father will bring it about.  The ask, seek, and knock and good things will happen is not just thrown out as a maybe or a wish for or a hope so.  The promise is based on the character of the heavenly Father who is behind the promise.  And the Father-child relationship you share is the guarantee that “in asking, you will receive; in seeking, you will find; and in knocking, the door will be opened.”

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Taking the Wind Out of Our Worry

One of the beauties of the commandments of Christ is that they are never tossed out in a vacuum.  That is, Jesus never expresses Himself as “just go do this because.”  Jesus, in His graciousness toward us, always gives the underlying reason for His commands.

For example, when Jesus speaks against divorce in Matthew chapter 19, he doesn’t just prohibit it and say that’s it.  Rather, He explains that divorce violates the first principles of marriage.  God designed marriage as a lifelong partnership.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mt 19:6).

Likewise, in our current topic of our Father’s care (Mt 6:25-33), Jesus instructs us not to worry; not to be anxious.  But Jesus doesn’t stop with just the instruction.  He tells us the why of “do not worry”.  Jesus demonstrates His compassion toward us by explaining the why.

Jesus says that you do not need to worry because your Father knows everything you need.  Your Father knows everything about you.  Your Father’s care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are just a small picture of His infinite and intimate care for you.  Jesus takes the wind out of our need to worry by not just prohibiting it, but by assuring us of our Father’s knowledge, care, and provision.

Following the example of Jesus in taking the wind out of our worry is something I needed to learn in leading our family.  Rhonda and I were married and started our family while still in college.  The combination of children (learning to parent when newly married) and college (having no money) led to plenty of anxiety.

My response to Rhonda’s anxiousness was a flippant, “Hey, don’t worry about it.”  It was a, “Stop worrying.  After all, the Bible says not to worry.”  This was my early approach to spiritual leadership in our marriage.  I did not recognize at the time that Rhonda’s gift for seeing the road ahead made her more aware of the dangers in front of us and the resulting worry that went along with that.  I was seeing life through my more naïve and phlegmatic nature which led to less worry on my part.  I needed to learn to ease her worries by my actions, not just words.  What did this look like in practice?

I discovered many areas of family life where I could ease Rhonda’s worries by taking action.  If Rhonda was worried about our finances and saw no clear path to pay for our next car need that was just around the corner, I learned to lead in planning together how we could save for that purchase instead of just saying, “Don’t worry about it.”  If Rhonda was worried that our homeschooling was going off the rails, I jumped into the planning with her rather than just telling her not to worry while I sat idly by.  If one of our children became disinterested in learning or their chores or connecting with our family goals, I stepped in with a plan to get us on the same page.  Do you see the pattern?

Jesus’ teaching assures us of the “why” to not worry.  In a similar way, those of us in a leadership position can often mitigate the worry around us by not only explaining and living into Jesus’ assurance, but by taking leadership action as well.  It is called leading by understanding and serving the needs of our family.

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The Father Who Provides

As we examine our new relationship with God as our Father, we come to a passage in Matthew chapter 6 about the Father’s provision.  “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air.  They do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?” (Mt 6:25-26).

Whose “father” are we talking about here who provides for the birds and much more provides for us?  Jesus calls God “your heavenly Father”.

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?  And why are you anxious about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.  But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?” (Mt 6:27-30).

It is a good question.  We know the right answer – that God will do much more for us – because we have read the rest of the story.  But think for a minute about Christ’s new followers there in first century Palestine.  Jesus almost takes God’s provision for granted, acting like God’s care for the birds, the flowers, and ultimately for us is obvious.  But to His listeners, this is new information.  They may have been thinking, “I don’t know.  Can God be trusted to provide?”

We might be thinking the same thing, “Can God be trusted to provide?”  Let’s continue, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’  For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; and your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be provided” (Mt 6:31-33).

Your heavenly Father “knows” what you need.  Our assurance in our Father’s provision is not just in His ability to provide, but in His knowledge of what we need as well.  Jesus refers to this caring knowledge again in Matthew chapter 10.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Mt 10:29-31).

The Father knows the very number of the hairs on your head.  For some of us the counting is getting much easier the older we get.  But you see the point.  God’s knowledge of even the most mundane pieces of who we are assures us that He knows exactly what we need.  And His message to you in these passages is, “Do not be anxious, do not worry; your heavenly Father knows and provides what you need.”  Let us practice the habit of laying our anxious thoughts before our fruitful Lord and walking in His provision.

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Your Righteous Smile

Several years ago, when we lived in Houston, I went to visit our daughter, Bethany, on the job.  She was working at the time as a nurse on a medical-surgical floor at Methodist Willowbrook Hospital.  She didn’t know I was coming.  It was a surprise.

I made my way to the seventh floor and wandered through the labyrinth-like hallway.  I am sure I looked lost.  I came up to a nurses’ station and said to the secretary, “Can you tell me where I can find Bethany?”  As the secretary stared at her paperwork, she asked, “What room are you in?”  I guess she assumed I was a patient looking for my nurse.

As I pondered her question and before I could answer, she looked up.  I smiled.  She let out a quiet shriek.  “Oh, you must be Bethany’s dad!”  Which of course was what I was about to say.  But before I could say anything, she exclaimed, “I would recognize that smile anywhere.  You have Bethany’s bright smile.”

I did not correct her with the fact that actually Bethany had my smile since I had it first, but I did appreciate her making the connection.  As with most families, there are many physical and personality qualities that I share with my kids that point to a family resemblance.

Likewise, you have a family resemblance to God.  You have a “smile” of righteous character that looks like your Father.  Now that is not to say that your similarity in character is always obvious.  Just as a child can hide their family resemblance though how they wear their hair, or color their hair, or their dress, or other factors, we can hide our family resemblance to God though sin.

Because sin is not part of God’s character (I Jn 3:9), when we sin we are putting a blemish on that family resemblance.  We are hiding the fact of our resemblance.  The look is still there under the sin.  The look does not go away.  The look was given to us at our salvation.  Our role is to let the look fully shine forth.  Our role is demonstrate what a child of God looks like by the “smile” of our righteous character.

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Living by Faith

It is a prominent theme throughout the New Testament that the Christian life is lived by faith.  One example of that is our current topic; our family resemblance to God.

The Bible teaches that believers are indwelt by the very seed of God.  His Spirit lives inside us.  As such, we have taken on a new nature; a nature prone to righteousness.  Now if righteousness is our new inclination, why do we struggle with sin?  If our family resemblance to God is in our moral character, why is that resemblance, at times, hard to recognize?  The answer to this question is multi-faceted and I have written on various aspects of this many times; Galatians 5 and the War with the Flesh, Temptation Vs Sin, and The Exchanged Life are a few examples for your perusal.  But for today’s post, our focus is on the role that faith plays in this conflict.

Walking by faith is essentially living as if what God says is true, even when our experience stands in contrast to God’s promise.  When my experience does not seem to line up with God’s promise, which am I going to believe?  I am going to believe and trust and rest in God’s promise.  And one of His promises that saturates the New Testament is a life set free from the power of sin.  How do we put this promise into action?

God says that I have a family resemblance to Him in my character.  I don’t always feel this in my sensory perception.  I sometimes feel sinful.  I feel evil.  I feel anger, malice, jealousy, and a host of other sinful passions.  But because the Christian life is lived by faith, God is asking me to confess those passions, push them aside, and cling to the promise of all that became new in me.

This is not just spiritual theory.  Once I take the very real first step of clinging to His promise, I take the next step of living into the promise.  We often put the cart before the horse here.  We try to live the Christian life by our willpower; by beating ourselves up about our performance and committing to trying harder.  Faith is something we see in our distant past when we first believed.

But living, active, daily faith must come first.  When we consistently believe that we actually have a new nature, a new disposition, and a new power, we can fully live into God’s commands.  Living by faith is not license to ignore God’s commands.  It is not thinking we somehow live above God’s commands.  Living by faith is believing that I have the power, by Christ in me, to live the life; to live into all that Christ commands.

I cannot emphasize the practical nature of this faith enough.  My practice when faced with temptation is to literally tell myself that failure is not who I am.  It is not my identity.  It is not my new character of righteousness.  It is not befitting a child of God.

Does this sound too simple?  Do I ever fail?  Yes, we all have our downfalls in our conflict with the flesh, the world, and the devil.  But failure does not have to be our common experience.  And yes, it is that simple.  It is living by faith in God’s promise of a life set free from the power of sin.

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Your Family Resemblance to God

“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; and the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (I Jn 2:23).  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God is now your father.  And if God is your father, you share a family resemblance with Him.  This is not a physical similarity, but a resemblance of character.  You have a moral resemblance to the Father and the Son.

The apostle John spells this out in his first letter found near the end of the New Testament. Let’s review the highlights of this key passage from I John 2:29 to 3:9.  “Since you know that He [God] is righteous, you know that every one also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (I Jn 2:29).  This “since…then” sounds a little backward to our English grammar.  What the apostle is saying is that because God is righteous, it is natural for His children, those “born of Him”, to also practice righteousness.  When we do this, we are showing our family resemblance to God.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God…and every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I Jn 3:2-3).  Because we are children of God, we are to emulate our Father by purifying ourselves; by living out the new life He has given us.  Just as God is pure in His moral character, we should practice purity in our moral character.

“And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.  Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He [God] is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.  The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.  No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in Him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (I Jn 3:5-9).

When “Jesus appeared in order to take away sins”, He not only took away the penalty of our sin, but defeated the power of sin in our lives as well.  One of the “works of the devil” that Christ destroyed was the power of sin.  And the New Testament makes clear, over and over, that the way God accomplished this was to nail our sin nature to the cross with Christ and to raise us with Christ to live a resurrected life; to live into a new nature, Christ’s nature, a divine nature infused with the righteousness of God.

The key word in this passage is practice.  The believer, because of his new identity as God’s child, does not practice sin on a regular basis.  Sin is not our regular habit.  Do Christians commit sins?  Yes, and when we do, we have an advocate in Jesus who forgives our sins.  What these verses emphasize is that sin is not our natural course as a child of God.

So yes, you do have a moral resemblance to God by virtue of your new identity in Christ.  But what about the times we fail?  What about when sin does seem to be our practice?  What about when, quite frankly, we see no family resemblance?  We will answer these questions next time.

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Children of Israel, Children of God

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (I Jn 3:1).  And such we are!  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ you are, in fact, a child of God.  Do you know that?  Do you sense that?  Do you feel that?  It is easy to see ourselves as God’s children on a theological or intellectual level, but are we experiencing its impact?  Are we connecting to our identity as God’s child on an emotional or spiritual level?

Following Christ’s ascension, the initial group of Christ-followers were almost exclusively Jewish.  And for these “children of Israel” to now be “children of God” was a radical change in identity.  Throughout the Old Testament, God’s chosen people were known as “the children of Israel.”  The children of who?  Not the children of God, but the children of Israel.  They were known by their earthly father, Jacob, who was renamed Israel in Genesis chapter 32.

In the gospels, the Jewish leaders saw themselves as God’s chosen people, identified by their connection to their forefathers.  In their interactions with Jesus, they identified themselves as children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But this all changed when Jewish believers went from children of Israel to children of God.

What about us, 2000 years down the line?  We too have become the children of God.  Do we celebrate and rest in this incredible truth?  These are facts, after all, not just opinions. If you are a believer, you are a child of God.  You are adopted with full rights and privileges into the family of God.  God is your Father.  The seed of God dwells inside you.  You now have a family resemblance to God your Father.  Whoa, is that taking things a little too far?  A family resemblance to the God of the Universe?  Can this be true?  We will explore that topic next time.

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Your Heavenly Father

Now that I am in the mindset of reading Scripture in light of all that became new when Jesus initiated the New Covenant, the discoveries have been eye-popping.  For example, have you ever thought about what changed in our connection with God as our Father when the arrival, death, and resurrection of Jesus put the New Covenant into action?

In the entire Old Testament, God is referred to as Father seven times.  In the New Testament, God is identified as our Father over 150 times!  And even one of those seven Old Testament references is looking ahead to our New Covenant relationship.  “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).

Moving to the New Testament, God’s expanded relationship to us as our Father is just one more of the incredible provisions of the New Covenant.  And God, our Father, does not leave us to wonder about what this father – child connection looks like.  Throughout the New Testament, God explains what and how His specific Father attributes play out in our lives.  This explanation is so critical because on an intellectual level it is easy to accept that once we receive Christ, God becomes our Father.  But do we really embrace all that “God is my Father” entails?  Do we, on an emotional and spiritual level, accept and explore and cling to all that being God’s child includes?

For example, do you believe that the seed of the God of the Universe actually lives inside you, His child? (I Jn 3:9).  Do you believe that God is a good Father who trains us for our own benefit? (Heb 12:5-11).  Do you believe that our heavenly Father showers us with good gifts? (Mt 7:9-11, James 1:17).  Do you believe that God, your Father, does not tempt you to sin? (James 1:13-15).

As we begin to grasp the idea that God is our Father, it is easy to evaluate that relationship through the lens of our experience with our earthly father.  We often ascribe attributes to God that we saw – for good or for bad – in our natural father.  But we must, through the power of the Spirit, cast those limitations of our heavenly Father aside.  We must see God for who He truly is – just as He has revealed Himself – through the lens of His Word.

If your childhood experience was with an emotionally distant or stern or angry father, you may have some distance to travel in recognizing all that is good and loving in God, your Father.  May I encourage you?  Ask Him to open your heart to the truth of the Father that we see described in Scripture.  Over the next several posts, we will explore what the Father looks like.  And we will see that God is a good Father who always draws near, never pulls away.  God is not the distant, cold, arms-crossed, frowning Father.  No, God is the holy, compassionate, tender, loving, kind, righteous, warrior Father who is on your side; revealing His glory through His children.

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Guilt, Shame, and Speaking Truth to One Another

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Wm Paul Young, author of The Shack.  One of the things he shared with our group really resonated with me because it articulated what I have been trying to say through this blog since day one.  Mr. Young said, “Guilt is I have done something wrong, shame is I am something wrong.”

The first line of his quote is the biblical view of sin.  We are guilty because we have done something wrong.  But to our detriment, the authority figures in our lives often see our sin and make clear to us that “we are something wrong.”  This second line, the shame, is not the biblical view of who we are in Christ.  And the distinction between guilt and shame has tremendous implications for living the Christian life.

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you were infused with the righteousness of Christ (II Cor 5:21).  And this infusion is not only to justify us; put us in right standing with God, but also to sanctify us; empower us to live the Christian life.  You now have the power of Christ living in you by the person of the Holy Spirit and your birthright is to experience victory over sin.

But in this life, that victory is not 100%.  Believers still sin.  And when we do, we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who intercedes with forgiveness (I Jn 2:1).  And although we believe this with our intellect – the facts about Jesus, our advocate, and forgiveness – we often set them aside in practice and treat people as if their sin is in fact who they really are.  Remember, guilt is I have done something wrong, shame is I am something wrong.

In our speech with one another, have we fallen into the trap of shame-based accusation?  In our Bible teaching, do we lecture folks as if they are something wrong rather than having done something wrong?  If you think about it, there is a lot of Bible teaching today that is shame-based.  And it starts with the use of the word “sinners” applied to believers.  The use of that word skips over the biblical idea that we are guilty because we have done something wrong and goes straight to the unbiblical position that you are guilty because you are something wrong.  You sin because sinner is who you are.  This is not the message of the New Testament.  This is not the truth of Scripture.

Did you know that nowhere in the New Testament are believers referred to as “sinners”?  Think about the verses you know that use that term.  One of the most famous is, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners (a reference to life before Christ), Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  And so it goes throughout the New Testament.

The only place that even comes close to calling us sinners is I Timothy chapter one.  Here the apostle Paul writes “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (again a reference to the lost), among whom I am foremost of all” (I Tim 1:15).  The present tense “I am” is often interpreted to suggest that Paul currently sees himself as “foremost of sinners”.

But when we read and understand the context, this is clearly not the case.  Paul is saying that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; of which I, Paul, am exhibit A.  I was the worst.  Just a few verses above, Paul introduced this passage with a summary of why he considered himself exhibit A.  “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (I Tim 1:13).  Notice the use of the word “formerly”.  Paul’s chief of sinners reference is a reference to his past, not his present condition.  Paul is essentially saying that because this is what Christ does – rescue sinners – he did it for even me, the worst on the list.  And not only did he rescue me, but He went so far as to now place me, a former #1 sinner, into service (I Tim 1:12).  (See this Chief of Sinners post for a more thorough verse-by-verse interpretation.)

Please, please, please hear me on this.  This is gospel truth.  You are not a sinner in the biblical use of the word.  You are a saint.  Do believers sin?  Yes, we do.  We still struggle with our enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  And when we sin, we are truly guilty.  But the New Testament makes a clear and very important distinction between guilt and identity.  Sin is no longer our default mode.  Sin does not define who we are.  Sinner is not our identity.  We are the children of God with the seed of God living inside (I Jn 3:9).  And God’s seed – this is who you are – are not identified in this way.

An example of how important this guilt vs shame distinction is can be seen in our parenting experience.  When we discipline our children, we want to make clear that they have done something wrong.  We want to clearly explain what they are guilty of.  But we also go to great pains to help our children understand that this mistake is not their identity.  We never want to imply, “You are something wrong”.  If we do, it places our child in a “condemned” status that is unhealthy and can be difficult to repair.  And the same thing happens to believers that are constantly told they are something wrong.

Not only is it wrong and demeaning to say to a child “You are something wrong”, but we also know that children live into the expectations we put on them.  And the Christian life is the same.  As we grow in the path of sanctification, we can choose to live into the righteous expectations that the New Testament describes as our true identity.  And we can learn to reject and not live into the sinner description that is often held over our heads.

I think that this is one of the reasons why so many folks are disillusioned with the Christian church’s message.  I am not sure they would put it in these exact words.  But I have heard enough of their stories to conclude that they are tired of shame-based teaching.  They are tired of being told they are bad people.  They are tired of being told that the mistakes they make are the inevitable result of who they really are as sinners.  And the sad thing is that this tired message of shame is not the biblical view of who we are in Christ.  God’s intention is for us to walk in truth.

This shame emphasis is not only detrimental to believers, but casts a pall on our message to the outside world.  Who wants to sign up for a message of shame?  But shame is not what Christ offers.  Jesus Christ is calling out to a lost world with a beautiful offer of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.  Christ offers a life set free from guilt and shame and the overwhelming power of sin.  Does this mean we are watering down the message in any way?  No, we preach faith in Christ as the only way.  But it is a beautiful way, a hopeful path forward that calls the lost to repentance and freedom in Christ.

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Paul’s Prayer

Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae is one that I have prayed many times for our spiritual and physical children.  “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it [your embrace of the gospel], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9).

There are few things in life more comforting to a Christ-follower than to know God’s will; to know His heart, His mind, His plan, His purpose, His specific direction for you and your family.  There is a peace in hearing God’s voice.  There is a confidence when we see the path ahead and step out in faith to follow it.  And because God is a loving father, we can know his voice.  His plan is not to keep us in the dark.

The reason God wants us to understand His will is, “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…” (and what does that walk look like?) “…to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (vs 10).  This is a picture of a worthy walk.  This verse led us to very specific questions at our house about how does this activity lead us to pleasing God, bearing fruit, or increasing in knowledge.

We also recognize that the power to “please God, bear fruit, and increase in knowledge” does not come from us; does not rely on our own willpower.  “Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (vs 11).  It is God who supplies the power.  By virtue of Him living His life through us, we have the power to be steadfast and patient, and a hundred more wonderful attributes of Christ that are to be seen in us.  We can do this because it is Christ living His righteous life through us.

“Joyously giving thanks to the Father” (vs 12).  As we grow in pleasing God, bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, practicing patience, we should always thank the Lord for the progress we make.  Humility is not thinking we are making no progress in the spiritual life.  Humility is thanking God and giving Him the credit for our progress.

“Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (vs 12).  Our inheritance is not only something we receive in the future.  Today, in the very place you are standing, you have already inherited the righteousness of Christ.  If you are a believer, you already possess the ability to please God, bear fruit, and increase in knowledge.  There is nothing you are waiting on.

How can I say that with such confidence?  Look again at verse 12.  It is God Himself who “qualifies us”.  He is the One who granted us our degree.  We have our papers.  We have our certificate of completion.  We are complete in Christ.  My prayer for you is to experience all that God has not only promised, but has already provided to live the supernatural Christian life.

My prayer for you is, “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (Col 1:9-12).

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Colossians Overview – The Journey So Far

Over the past several weeks, we have been working our way through the book of Colossians.  We started in chapter 2 with Paul’s exhortation to not be carried away by deceptive teaching.  One of the deceptions that Paul identifies is the threat of legalism; thinking the fuel that drives the Christian life comes from an adherence to rules.  Paul calls this “self-made religion” (Col 2:23) and goes so far as to say that these rules “are of no value against fleshly indulgence” – the very thing we want to stamp out.

So how do we attack “fleshly indulgence”?  How do we fuel the supernatural Christian life?  In Colossians chapter 3, the apostle explains that the power to live the life is found in living into all that we have become in Christ; all that became new when we embraced the gospel message.  It is living into the attributes of Christ that we now possess by the presence of His indwelling Spirit.  We are to “mortify the flesh”, as the old King James says in Colossians 3:5, because we can.  We have the righteousness of Christ inside, moving us forward.

Paul describes living out this righteousness of Christ as us “putting on” the attributes of Christ; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and above all others, love.  The rest of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 shows us what “putting on Christ” looks like in our relationships; husband/wife, parent/child, worker/employee, and in our connection with those outside the faith.

With that short review, let’s now circle around to Colossians chapter 1 and look at the foundation for all we have studied so far.  Paul introduces us to the church in Colossae as a maturing church when measured by the true measuring stick of the strength of their faith, hope, and love.

“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…The gospel has come to you, and it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing in you – just as in all the world also – since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col 1:3-6).

This church is “constantly bearing fruit and increasing” on the strength of their faith, hope, and love.  Faith is such an important foundation on which to build the Christian life.  Not only is faith a requirement to start the Christian life – “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26) – but it is the foundation for all that follows.

For example, the level of your hope is commensurate with your faith in God’s promise.  There is a direct link between, “Do you truly believe the promises of God?” and the steadfastness of your hope.  Where faith in what God has said is the rock on which we stand, hope flourishes.

To love as Christ loves works the same way.  My ability to love, because it is not just based on feelings, is directly related to my faith.  God has promised you and me a new identity with a new power to love as Christ loves.  If we believe that, we can practice that kind of love because God has promised that we have the ability planted in us to do so and He in fact expects us to do it (see I John chapter 4).  Our ability to love rests on the strength of our faith.

Of course, Satan always comes along and seeks to gum up the works.  “Did God really say that as a child of God you carry love as your essence; that is, you have the desire, the propensity, the power to love as God loves?”  The answer is a resounding YES, God really did say that.  But Satan keeps at us, “When you look in the mirror, is that child of God really who you see, or are there some serious shortcomings in your ability to love?”  Do not listen to Satan’s accusations.  Yes, we have the old man to put aside as we grow in faith, hope, and love.  But the raw materials are in there.  You can do it!

God has given us all we need to be strong in faith, steadfast in hope, and diligent in loving the saints.  May this be the picture of not only a maturing church, but of us as growing believers as well.

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