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.  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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Seasoned with Grace

“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:5-6).

One of the balancing acts we perform as believers is speaking the truth with love, speaking the truth with grace, speaking the truth with a winsome voice.  When our demeanor is angry, pushy, or condescending, our opportunity for influence is greatly diminished.

In our hyper-speed social media world, it is easy to fire off rants that demonize the other side on any issue of the day.  But is that where our influence is most effective?  For example, if 70% of non-church goers typically vote Democratic (2012 exit polls), does it really make sense to call out Democrats and the folks who voted for them as stupid?  Does that draw the unchurched into your circle of influence?  Is that speaking with a winsome voice?

I found during our parenting years that we have the greatest influence in the lives of our kids when we develop a relationship with them.  Influence that lasts does not come from a tight focus on rules, exercise of authority, or stoic distance.  It comes from connection.

It works the same in the world at large.  We will have zero influence with people that we have made our enemies.  In fact, it is important to remember that those we disagree with – specifically those outside of Christ – are not the real enemies.  They are only prisoners of the true Enemy, as we once were.  And we are more likely to draw them to Christ when we befriend, rather than alienate them.

I understand the angst we feel as we see a culture of hedonism wreck havoc on our public morals.  I am convinced, as many of you are, that our family dysfunction, failing schools, and so many other social ills that are getting worse in this country are a direct connection to our abandoning religion in the public square.  It is natural to want to find a forum to lash out at this insanity.

But just when we think our culture is the worst ever, we need to reflect on life for the first century believers, our brothers and sisters in the faith.  They found themselves in a woefully evil society.  But rather than calling out sinners for living into who they were, they offered something better to the lost around them.  They offered something different.  They appealed to their circle of influence to consider something new and life-changing.  That something different is a someone – Jesus Christ.

Our ministry is not one of confrontation.  Ours is a ministry of reconciliation, a ministry of rescue of those held captive by Satan.  And our chance for rescue goes up when our conduct toward the lost is, in the example and teaching of the apostle Paul, gracious and winsome.

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Devoted to Prayer – My Personal Experience

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at all times for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Col 4:2-4).

Last year, I had an opportunity to visit the Caribbean land of coffee and cigars.  We were invited to the island to support the work of the pastors there.  In preparation for the trip, our team adopted these verses from Colossians chapter 4 as our theme for the week.  We asked our partners to pray in this way.

And I would like to report that those prayers made a difference – a huge difference.  On day one of our visit, I was very nervous and uncomfortable.  I felt like I had been dropped into both a time warp and a foreign culture.  My presentations were uneven and choppy.  Even with a superb translator, the language barrier was foreboding.  I felt like I rarely connected with the folks I was visiting.  In short, I wasn’t sure that I was communicating exactly what I was trying to say.  The message only seemed to fall on hard soil and I was very discouraged.

By the next morning, something had profoundly changed.  I woke up to a new energy.  A spiritual wind blew.  Your prayers were answered.  It seemed as if it was no longer I sharing the message.  I felt more like a channel for God’s word to flow through.  I developed a better feel for how the translation process fit the presentation.  My translator and I were working in unison practically finishing each other’s sentences.  And people responded to the spoken word.  The soil became rich and abundant.

I believe that I was speaking “in the way I ought to speak, speaking forth the mystery of Christ” directly as a result of your prayers.  Today, the Holy Spirit is indeed “opening up to us a door for the word” as His message reaches hearts that are ready.  Stay devoted in prayer.  This experience has taught me to follow through when I say I am going to be praying for someone.  These verses have encouraged me to pray at random times of the day when a need or person comes to mind.

God has promised that our prayers make a difference.  Let us be devoted to prayer and believe it does the work it is prescribed to do.

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Justice and Fairness in Action

A recent article in The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, highlighted the housing challenge for low income workers.  A study found that the average wage needed to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Nashville is $13.75 per hour ($16.35 for a two-bedroom).  This $13.75 per hour is not only about double the minimum wage, but is $1.94 per hour greater than the state average income.  This housing difficulty for low wage workers is just one of the symptoms of our out-of-whack income inequality in this country.

But one man is doing something about it.  Dan Price, founder of Gravity Payments, a credit card processing firm based in Seattle, recently announced a startling new wage structure for his company.  Last month, Mr. Price set out on a plan to raise the salary of every employee to a minimum of $70,000 per year.  This, at a company where the current average salary is $48,000 per year.  You can read about his plan here.

How does he intend to pay for it?  For starters, Mr. Price is cutting his salary from nearly $1 million per year to $70,000.  In the New York Times article, he is quoted, “The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd.  As much as I’m a capitalist, there is nothing in the market that is making me do this.”  And that is the beauty of what Dan Price is doing.  Mr. Price is breaking free from the injurious notion that drives American business – what is the lowest possible wage I can pay my workers in this market?

Did you notice the word “market” in the quotes of Mr. Price?  The market rate for CEOs is ridiculous – his words, not mine.  And the market is not requiring him to raise salaries.  He is actually going against what the market requires.  Why?

What is not reported in the NY Times piece is that Mr. Price is a believer who is interested in “granting justice and fairness” to his workers and maybe a little generosity thrown in.  He recognizes that in the Seattle area, a salary below $70,000 per year makes it difficult to buy a house or save for your children’s education.  He wanted to do something about the financial pressures workers face when hit with a rent increase or unexpected car repair or nagging credit card debt.

I salute Mr. Price.  I hope his example will be followed by others.  He has his critics to be sure.  But in my opinion those critics are narrow-minded and missing the biblical admonition to “grant your workers justice and fairness.”

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Justice and Fairness in the Workplace

Now let’s turn to the big picture of “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you have a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1).  We have a big problem in this country with income inequality.  We have all seen the statistics that compare executive pay to the lowly wages of the worker bees.  And I will not belabor the point except to summarize that the low end of the economic food chain in this country is grossly underpaid compared to what they contribute.  Free-market capitalism in our wage structure – that is, paying the lowest wage possible that the market will support to hire my workers – is one of the principle drivers of this inequality.

But the biblical position is not free-market capitalism in the wage structure, it is treating workers with justice and fairness.  As believers, we should be supporting wage scales that people can live on.  Wages that can support a family.  Wages that reflect workers sharing in the harvest.

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, “It is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”

Today’s workers are not sharing in the harvest.  Instead they are captive to a market-driven pay scale.  What do I mean by market-driven pay?  Let me give you a story from my own work experience.

Several years ago, in the days of top secret salaries, a new coworker of mine who had just joined the company leaked the fact that he was making about $10,000 per year more than I was.  His work experience was actually a little less than mine, so it caused some angst on my part.  I approached my boss about the income disparity.  My supervisor was very straight-forward, “Jay, we can pay you less because you are already here.  We have to pay the other guy more to get him to leave his former employer.”

This is market-driven wages.  There was no thought for fairness.  There was no concern for loyalty.  There was no consideration for the fact that I had discovered millions of dollars of oil and gas for the company without sharing in the harvest.  Now, I am not sharing this story for your sympathy.  I am well-paid and we have been blessed to raise a family of five children on my salary.  I am sharing this to illustrate the concept.  And its implementation is more painful the farther we go down the wage scale.

I have also observed this corollary to market-driven wages in the workplace.  A market downturn causes a company to lay off workers.  The remaining employees start working 50 and 60 hour weeks to keep the company afloat.  The message from management to the overworked staff is “just be grateful you still have a job.”  Then, when things turn around and the market improves, the company realizes that they can maximize their profits in the rising market by not hiring the new workers they need but just keep riding their current employees to keep working harder.  It is not a picture of justice and fairness.

Or how about the current minimum wage discussion.  When I was in college, I worked a minimum wage job as a groundskeeper.  By my last year in school, the minimum wage was $2.65/hr.  It sounds pretty small now.  But by comparison, my college costs (tuition and room and board) were around $2500/year.  Now the comparable college cost in 2015 at a four-year public school like I attended is about $19,000/year, a 660% increase.  So maybe we should increase the current minimum wage to a 660% of the $2.65 that I was making then so that college students could actually afford to pay for their education.  Oh by the way, that would be a minimum wage of $20.14/hr, a far cry above the current and dismal wage of $7.25/hr.

Because of our marriage of American-style capitalism with American-style Christianity, I think we sometimes fear association with the liberal camp if we support increased wages for workers.  But this is not a liberal vs. conservative issue.  This is a justice and fairness issue.  And the Bible makes it quite clear where we are to land.

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With Justice and Fairness

“Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you have a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1).  Our last post covered the responsibility of workers to do their work heartily.  Today, we look at the flip side; the responsibility of employers to treat their employees with justice and fairness.

In our rush to join American-style capitalism with American-style Christianity, we are quick to defend a business’s right to maximize their profit.  We are quick to point out the requirement that “he who doesn’t work, shouldn’t eat”, highlighting the need for a diligent workforce.  But the responsibility to treat the workforce with justice and fairness may be one of the most overlooked teachings in the New Testament.  There is a big picture aspect to this question that we will tackle later.  But for now, let’s focus on the individual application.

We all are employers on some level.  You may own a business with a large staff.  You may be a homemaker who hires house-cleaning help or a lawn service.  Or it may be as simple as paying someone to cut your hair or babysit your kids.  The point is that we all have opportunity to treat those who serve us with justice and fairness.

Somewhere along that line, we have gotten the idea that the Christian goal is to pay as little as possible for these services.  But does that really fit the justice and fairness admonition?  I am not saying we should overpay for poor service or inferior products.  But there is also no reason to think that we always have to “win” the bargaining game.  It is somewhat of a zero-sum situation.  If I always have to “win”, then someone else is most likely “losing”.

Businesses are not in business to give their stuff away below cost.  Service providers are not in business to take home as little pay as possible.  As believers, we have a responsibility to pay what is fair.  Do you agree?  Or do you think that there is no moral imperative to how much we pay for our services?

Now this is not about being wasteful with your cash.  This is not an endorsement for spending above your income.  Each of us has a personal financial limitation and as we view our supply as being God’s gift and choice, we also hold it as God’s tool to be used to honor Him.

Ask yourself if God’s Word is giving you something new to consider.  Because in the area of paying those who serve us, there is a danger to let market forces – what is the absolute least I can pay in this market for this service – override our biblical responsibility to treat those who serve us with justice and fairness.

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Do Your Work Heartily

Let’s look back for a minute on our tour through the book of Colossians.  We started in chapter 2 where the apostle Paul warns us “not to be taken captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8).  We learned that one of these deceptions is the “empty religion” of legalism where “self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body have the appearance of wisdom, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).

Continuing into chapter 3, the apostle explains that living the Christian life, defeating the flesh, is all about living into our new identity in Christ.  It is seeing our old man crucified at the cross and putting on the new man who carries within him the attributes of “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness…and above all love, the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14).

Then Paul goes into specific examples of what living into a life of love looks like in our relationships; wives, husbands, children, and fathers.  Today, we come to what love looks like in the workplace.  “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Col 3:22).

This verse is not a biblical support of slavery.  Rather, Paul was working within the parameters of his time.  Today, we take its principles to apply to our employment.  We are to work under our earthly authorities in a sincerity that pleases the Lord.  We are to work in a manner that would be acceptable to the Lord were He our immediate supervisor.  Paul expands on this idea in the next verse.

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24).  What does our work life look like when we are working “heartily, as for the Lord”?

I can think of at least four principles that color our work with godliness.  First, we work to provide for our families.  “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim 5:8).  Second, we work to redirect wealth from the world’s system to God’s purposes.  Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”  Third, we work to display excellence, as evidenced in today’s verses in Colossians chapter 3.  Fourth, we work to represent Jesus Christ to the world.  Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:13-16).

I have written on these four principles before and you can explore them in much more detail in this set of previous posts.  As in all things related to the Christian life, our attitudes and actions in the workplace are to be a reflection of who we are in Christ.  May you approach your work today as an expression of the heart of Christ that indwells you.

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Fathers and Exasperation

The final verse in our short passage from last time reads, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart” (Col 3:21).  The parallel passage in Ephesians 6 exhorts fathers, “Do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

It is a sad observation that the role of fathers exasperating our children is an easy one to fall into.  I have been there myself.  It is also a sad fact of fatherhood that many of us dads park on the discipline and control part of parenting while we seem to overlook the “don’t exasperate your kids or provoke them to anger.”  How do we exasperate our children?

We exasperate our kids when…we punish for childish irresponsibility.  James Dobson, in his original The Strong-Willed Child, drew an important distinction between childish irresponsibility and willful defiance.  In short, we do not punish a child for leaving their baseball glove out in the rain or placing their glass of milk too close to the edge of the table.  These acts are simply part of being a child, part of the “not thinking ahead” of being a child.  We teach responsible action to children through various means, but punishment is not one of them.

Willful defiance is another story.  This is crossing the line when a child clearly knows it is wrong.  This is refusing to pick up their toys.  This is choosing to outright disobey when they know the rules or what is expected.  Willful defiance must be answered with discipline.  It breaks the will of a child without destroying the spirit.  It teaches children about self-control; about doing the right thing whether they feel like it or not.

We exasperate our kids when…we demand perfection.  When we require perfection, we send the message, whether intentional or not, that you must perform at some level of accomplishment to earn my love, my pat on the back, my acceptance.  Communicating an expectation of perfection is a relationship killer with your kids.  Do we want them to do their best?  Of course.  But just be aware of the wide gap that may exist between their best and our perfection expectations.

We exasperate our kids when…our first answer is always “No”.  This was a challenge for me in the early days of our child training.  And what I realized is that I usually said “No” because it was the easy answer.  No thinking or evaluating was required on my part.  It was the response of a lazy father.  I have also found that it is easy to say “No” when we don’t have a plan.  When you approach your parenting with a godly well thought out plan, it becomes easier to respond with thoughtfulness and grace rather than a natural knee-jerk reaction of “No”.

At our house, Rhonda and I put a new plan into action.  We tried to make our first answer “Yes” if at all possible.  If there was a glimmer of hope as to this working out, if there was a possibility of this moving forward, if there was some idea of this building up our relationship, we said “Yes”.  You will have to ask our kids how this turned out.

We exasperate our kids when…we fail to lead with love.  In pursuing the goal of being a loving father, I must convey two messages to my children.  First, “I love you.  I love you more than you can know.  You can never lose my love.  You can’t do anything to cause me to withhold my love.  I would choose you over all the other eight-year-olds in the world.  I love you.”  Second, “I am in charge.  I am in control.  I demonstrate my love by taking charge.  God has put me in charge.  I am in charge because I am the mature one.  I love you and I am in charge.”

In summary, we exasperate our kids when…we have no plan.  We fly off the handle with anger or unwarranted punishment because someone upsets us and we have no thought out plan that distinguishes between childish irresponsibility and willful defiance.  We have no plan for the evening or weekend, but we answer their suggestions with “No” out of convenience or laziness.  We have no plan to develop a relationship with our children, so we keep our words of encouragement to ourselves.  After all, we would not want our kids to get a big head.  Oh really?

I’m sorry, but I want my kids to have a giant head filled with compliments, encouragement, instruction, and great memories of the relationship we have built.  The world will do a fine job of tearing them down.  They need to know that we are in their corner.  They need us there spurring them on to love and good deeds; spurring them on in the “training and instruction of the Lord.”  And in the end we will find a close relationship built on love rather than an emotional separation built by our exasperating approach to being a father.

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At Home with a Life of Love

Continuing our Colossians chapter 3 theme of a life of love, we come now to what love looks like in family relationships.  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperated your children, that they may not lose heart” (Col 3:18-21).

These instructions are not a random list of one-off ideas assigned to four groups of people.  They are designed to work together, to work in unison to provide balance in a healthy family.  For example, a focus on “wives be subject to…” without the balance of “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25) leads to a distorted view of headship.  It leads to using the Bible to support an ugly, domineering, version of male authority.  Male headship without unconditional love has no support in Scripture.

Wives practice a life of love when they show, in tangible ways, respect toward their husbands.  When they encourage their husband.  When they speak highly of their husband.  When they honor their husband.

Likewise, husbands practice a life of love when they love, lead, and protect just as Christ does with His bride, the church.  It is a love that is unlimited and unconditional.  Husbands, there is no competition between loving your wife and loving God.  We show in a very practical way that we love God by how we love our wives.  Loving God and loving our wives are not two separate circles that we are always having to figure out how to prioritize.  Loving our wives lies in the big circle of loving God.

Moving to children and parents, our goal in child-training is to motivate our children to obey us out of a love relationship and see our kids transfer that into obeying God out of a love relationship as they mature.  When our kids are young, we teach them to obey the rules because that is what is required.  We enforce the rules with threats of punishment for bad behavior and the promise of rewards for good conduct.

But as our children grow up, our interaction over the rules becomes more influenced by our love relationship with them.  When we see that developing a relationship with our child is just as important as rules of control,  we set the stage for a healthy transition to obedience out of love.  After all, this is the eventual goal for the adult believer.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15).

Our proper obedience to our Lord is based on a love relationship, not rules of control.  God did not say, “If you know all the rules, you will obey.  If the rules are clear, you will obey.  If you work harder, you will obey.  If the threat of punishment is strong enough, you will obey.”  No, He said, “If you love me, you will obey.”  And this obedience on our part, just like the child obedience described in our Colossians 3 passage, “is well-pleasing to the Lord.”

Well, we have run out of time with one verse to go.  Since fathers and exasperation is a connection that needs some explanation and understanding, we will try to give it the time and space it is due next post.

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New eBook from Jay … “Is Jesus the Only Way?”

OK, another interruption on our travels though the book of Colossians.  But I wanted to let you know about a short book that I just published, Is Jesus the Only Way?, available here in the Kindle store at amazon.com.  (It is also available here as a pdf file.)  My goal is to not only answer that exact question, but to draw us back to the heart of the gospel message.  In my opinion, we have added a lot of baggage to the gospel over the years in connecting Christianity with legalism, political activism, creationism, capitalism, materialism, and a host of isms.

Now with a new generation coming into church leadership, many are quick to throw these connections over the side of the ship.  And I agree wholeheartedly that this baggage needs to be tossed and that we need to listen to a greater variety of voices in the church on issues such as social justice, creation care, faith and science, worship styles, politics, styles of evangelism, and asking honest questions.  But could we be lightening the load too much?  That is, in our efforts to throw off the trappings of the past, are we abandoning the core message of the gospel?

As the church goes through this transformative time, I believe there is one place we need to draw a line in the sand.  And it is at the divine identity of Jesus Christ.  My goal in this book is to let Jesus speak for himself in answering the question in the title.  To do that I have essentially taken a verse-by-verse approach in explaining what Jesus said about himself in the gospel of John chapters 5, 6, and 7.

I believe in this age of universalism and salad bar religion, we need to keep the central message of the identity of Jesus Christ in front of our family and friends as the core issue of what makes Christianity CHRISTianity.  While we can have honest questions about the biblical position on these ancillary issues, the heart of the gospel remains the answer to this question, “Is Jesus the Only Way?”

Please share this message with your high school or college student.  Please help your kids understand as they head into or back to college that there is plenty of room in the Scripture and the church for asking honest questions.  Help them navigate as well as teach them to explore for themselves how their faith intersects with the new world they are stepping into.  Help them understand, accept, and celebrate the diversity in the church.  But teach them that there in a core message to the gospel that makes us who we are as believers.  And it all has to do with the identity of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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The Sacred and the Profane

So is this 24/7 connection to God automatic?  If there is no sacred/secular distinction for the believer is it all smooth sailing on the sin front?  Are our actions always godly by virtue of our identity in Christ?  The short answer is No, No, and No.  There is one distinction that still haunts us, even in our new identity as God’s children. and it is the distinction between the sacred and the profane.

Profane was a more common word in the days of King James.  Its Greek form bebēlos (βεβηλóς) means, “primarily, permitted to be trodden; hence, unhallowed, profane, opposite of sacred.”  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “it is that which lacks all relationship or affinity to God.”  It is more commonly translated “worldliness” in today’s versions of the New Testament.

As Paul, Peter, James, and John all make clear in the epistles, it is possible for believers – who have a “relationship or affinity to God” in their identity – to not always show it in their actions.  If fact, we can show in our actions a lack of relationship or affinity to God.  We can look like an unbeliever.  The Bible calls it “walking in the flesh”.  It is walking in a worldly manner.

Christians have a choice.  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you” (Rom 6:12-14).  We can choose to serve sin or serve the Lord.  We can choose the sacred or the profane.  And, in an incredible infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, we have the power to choose the sacred.  “Sin shall not be master over you.”

But the choice still must be made.  May I encourage you walk in the Spirit, to walk in the identity of the Spirit that indwells you, to walk in the Spirit’s power.  It is our one defense against the profane deeds of the flesh.

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A Life of Love

Paul continues in Colossians chapter 3 to explain what a life of love looks like.  Remember, Paul has already identified the key to overcoming the flesh.  It is living into all that became new at our salvation.  It is laying aside the old self with its evil practices and putting on the new self with its holy attributes.  And the greatest of these is love.

“And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col 3:14-15).  Two times in these two verses, Paul writes about the unity of the body.  One of the signs of a life of love is the peace that comes in our relationships with other believers.

The peace of Christ is the opposite of strife.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of dissension.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of jealousy.  The peace of Christ is the opposite of all these things that tear down the body of Christ.  Peace is synonymous with unity.  And it is God’s design that we live in peace.  And this peace leads to thanksgiving.

“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 thanksgiving in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  In this context, the “word of Christ” is not just referring to Scripture.  It applies to all the ways we hear the voice of Jesus.  We hear His voice in the Bible to be sure.  But we also hear His voice in our Spirit, the Spirit of Christ that indwells us.  In fact, we should expect to hear the voice of Jesus through His Spirit that is alive and active inside us.

In this particular verse, Paul highlights hearing the voice of Jesus in the community of believers that surrounds us.  We are literally the voice of Jesus when we teach and admonish one another; when we sing with and sing to our brothers and sisters in the Lord; when we express our admiration and thanksgiving to God.  Let the word of Christ, in all its different expressions, richly dwell in you.  A life of love is a life of listening to the voice of Jesus.

“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 3:17).  When we set up a rule-keeping system for pleasing God, we tend to separate our lives into the spiritual – following the rules, doing things to earn God’s favor, keeping spiritual disciplines – and the secular – our normal everyday responsibilities.  But when we walk in the Spirit, our connection to God is 24/7.  There is no separation between the sacred and the secular for the believer.

By virtue of who you are in Christ, all you do in word and deed is sacred.  Your homemaking, your 40-hour-a-week job, your visiting a neighbor are all sacred because you are indwelt by the sacred Spirit of Jesus.  Christ in us, living His life through us, sanctifies all of who we are and all of what we do.  This is “doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (vs 17).

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The Law of Love

Let’s dive back into our recent topic:  empty religion.  We were working our way through the book of Colossians, when we stopped at Paul’s warning regarding the “empty deception of empty religion.”  The apostle reminds us that setting up a self-abasing, overbearing, tedious, rule-keeping system for living the Christian life is not only inappropriate, but is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).  The very thing we are trying to defeat is not the least bit hindered by a law-keeping system.  Why?  Because in its empty deception, it lacks true power.

The power to live the Christian life lies instead in our connection to our new nature.  Paul goes on in Colossians chapter 3 to explain that we defeat the flesh when we live into all that became new at our conversion.  Our recent posts,  Empty Religion, Indulging the Flesh, and Defeating the Flesh cover this in some detail.  To summarize, we are to put on the “clothes” of our new nature; a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness (Col 3:12-13).

These attributes, these qualities of the new nature, look a lot like Christ.  The new self we are to put on is essentially putting on Christ.  And putting on the new self, the life of Christ in us, is the answer to the flesh.

The final attribute of the new man that Paul commends here is love.  “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:14).  Love is the overarching quality – “beyond all these things” – that energizes all the others.  Love is the motivation for living into all that we are in Christ.  And this love dwells inside you right now.

It is not waiting for some new level of spirituality.  It is not waiting for some new attainment or enlightenment.  It is in you by virtue of the Holy Spirit who has taken up residence inside you.  In Romans 5:5 we learn that the Holy Spirit is literally “pouring God’s love into our hearts.”

If there is a “law” to follow for the New Testament believer, it is the law of love.  It is to empower and inform your relationships, activities, and thoughts.  It is a unifying bond for your church and family.  Throw off the chains, throw off the sin that inhibits its fullest expression.  You are a saint, holy and beloved by our Lord (Col 3:12).  Because of this, you can do it!

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Breaking Radio Silence

Greetings friends.  When we moved to Tennessee several months ago, my intention was to keep marching forward at Fanning the Flames with my usual one or two posts per week.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the keyboard.  I ran out of things to say.  Well, not exactly.

That is to say, I did not run out of ideas.  My mind still races with thoughts about encouraging each other to live into all that became new at our salvation.  I still have a passion to explain what the supernatural Christian life looks like under the provision and promise of the New Covenant.  But the process of writing it down has not been the free flowing experience of the past.

As Rhonda and I were discussing my “writer’s block”,  I think she zeroed in on what is missing; it’s YOU!  I miss you!  When we lived in Houston, you and I were sharpening each other discussing these ideas.  We would meet for breakfast or lunch.  I would see you at church or in our small group.  This blog was not just about online writing and comments.  It was about living these principles with you in community.  I miss you.

Now when I try to restart the blog engine, I wonder if I am just sending thoughts out into cyberspace.  Will these posts encounter signs of life?  Is this turning into a one-way conversation?  As you know from the tennis ball illustration, a one-sided conversation is no fun.  I don’t know what this means going forward.  I just wanted to let you in on what I was thinking.

To end on a positive note, Rhonda and I have connected with Fellowship Bible Church Franklin as our new church home.  This church of maybe two to three hundred attenders is very focused on community-building.  We have joined a small group and are excited to be moving ahead in what God has for us here.  The Bible teaching is expository in style, very solid, and application oriented.  And the music is…(it’s Nashville, what did you expect me to say?)  The church is a smaller campus offshoot of Fellowship Bible Church Brentwood and is already feeling like home.  But that does not lessen the impact or point of this post:  We miss you!

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Defeating the Flesh

Paul makes clear in Colossians chapter 2 that legalism in the church has the appearance of wisdom but in reality is “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (vs 23).  So how do we approach our struggle with the flesh and how do we win?

Our victory over sin is expressed throughout the New Testament as a laying aside the old self and putting on the new.  “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self…and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22,24).

That is why it is so crucial that we understand the new man; understand the new creation we are in Christ.  The New Testament writers constantly refer to who we are in Christ as the motivator for walking in righteousness.  Paul captures this connection with, “Therefore I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).  And, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col 2:6).

Seeing our new identity in Christ as our motivator, we return to Colossians 3 and Paul’s answer to the flesh.  After again reminding us of who we are in Christ (Col 3:1-4), the apostle writes, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.  For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.  (Notice the past tense here.)  But now you also put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Col 3:5-9).

The answer to the flesh?  Consider it dead and lay it aside.  The attributes of the flesh are here described, and we are to consider ourselves dead to them (vs 5), having cast them aside (vs 9), because they represent our old self (vs 7).  (One sentence does not nearly do justice to this powerful passage, but we must move on to our main point.  A more detailed explanation of this passage can be found here.)

In verse 10, we move to the new self.  “And having put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.  So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:10-14).

The instruction moves from the negative focus of laying aside the old man and his attributes and on to the positive focus of putting on the new self.  And when you see these attributes that accompany the new self – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love – you realize they look a lot like Christ.  The new self we are to put on is essentially putting on Christ.  Putting on the new self is the answer to the flesh.  And while we acknowledge that it is easier said than done, the key point is that it is not impossible.  We have the power to rein it in.  We will talk more specifics next time.

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Indulging the Flesh

Last time, we stopped in the middle of Colossians chapter 2, verse 19.  “[Those promoting a religion of self-abasement and rule keeping] are not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:19).  Proper spiritual maturity, growth in the Christian life, comes from lining up our ways under the headship of Christ.  The entire church, the community of believers grows up when we walk according to the gospel of Christ.

Paul contrasts spiritual growth under the headship of Christ with the deceptive approach of a rule keeping system.  “If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’…in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?” (Col 2:20-22).  These rule keeping systems are man-made.  And when we follow them, we are reverting back to an empty religion, a philosophy with which the world is very familiar.

“These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).  These rule keeping systems have an “appearance of wisdom”, but are in fact “self-made religion”.  And the eye-popping conclusion to the chapter is, “they are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

Did you hear that?  The very thing that we think will keep the flesh in check – rules, self-loathing, severe treatment – is not only biblically incorrect when we understand who we are in Christ, but is also of no value whatsoever against fleshly indulgence.  Nada.  Nothing.  Useless in combatting the flesh.  It is a system that actually thwarts the work of Christ rather than help us to carry it out.

Think through your own experience with me.  I don’t believe I am setting up a straw man of rule keeping to attack with Paul’s freedom message of Colossians.  The “appearance of wisdom” through the keeping of rules is very much alive and well in the church.  And the sad part is that in addition to just being wrong, it does not contribute to the very thing we seek – crucifixion of the flesh.

So if the rule keeping method does not work against fleshly indulgence, should we abandon the goal and just accept fleshly indulgence as the normal Christian life?  No.  No.  No.  May it never be.  Fleshly indulgence is sin.  And there is a victorious approach to crucifying the flesh.  Paul explains it in the next chapter of Colossians.  We will go there next time.

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Empty Religion

In Colossians 2:8, the apostle Paul warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8).  I used to think this verse was a warning against the irreligious philosophy of the world; the thoughts, explanations, and ideas of the lost.  But when we step back to capture the context of this letter, we find this “empty deception” is actually quite religious.  It is a man-made version of Christianity that is all too common in the church.  The deception is robbing saints of understanding who they are in Christ and replacing the gospel of Christ with a religion of man-made rules.  Let me explain as we go deeper into Colossians chapter 2.

Continuing on, “For in Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the work of God, who raised Him from the dead.  And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us…and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:9-14).

Before he expounds on the “empty deception” later in chapter 2, Paul first wants us to fully understand our identity with Christ.  According to this passage, you have been made complete in Christ, the One in whom the fullness of Deity dwells.  You have been “circumcised”, not in the physical sense, but in the supernatural sense – “without hands” – of Jesus cutting away our body of flesh.  This body of flesh is not a physical body, but the seat of our sin nature.  And this heart of our sin nature, this body of flesh, is being “cut away”.  This happened when we died with Christ on the cross and were raised to new life (see Romans chapter 6).  This happened when He forgave all our transgressions and cancelled out our debt, having nailed it to the cross.  This happened when we embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ and were made complete in Christ.

Paul then goes on to describe the empty deception.  “Therefore (because of who you are in Christ), let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things that are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement…inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, Jesus Christ” (Col 2:16-19).

The bottom line?  When we set up a self-abasing, overbearing, tedious, rule-keeping system in the church, we are not lifting up Jesus, not holding fast to the Head, Jesus Christ.  We may think this rule-keeping is a sign of godliness, but according to verse 18, it is really the expression of an “inflated fleshly mind”, not a godly one.

How do rules, often times meant to promote godliness, actually end up as a self-made religion?  We will discuss this as we continue in Colossians chapter 2 next time.

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Merry Christmas from Franklin Tennessee

Rhonda and I are wishing you the best of Christmas greetings from our new home in Franklin, Tennessee.  After nearly thirty years of living in Houston, we have relocated to the Volunteer State.  There is definitely a small town feel to Franklin with its thriving downtown square, shotgun style homes on narrow lots, and so much within walking distance.  But we also feel the proximity to Nashville, 25 miles to the north, and all that the Music City has to offer.

Our Christmas prayer for you is to experience the “no condemnation” life that God promises to His children.  It is easy – as husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and workers, leaders and ministry partners – to let those around us know that they are not living up to expectations.  It is easy to put a layer of guilt and blame on those close to us.  When we look deeper, however, maybe putting others down is just a veiled attempt to elevate ourselves.

Has this been your experience?  I see it all the time in the workplace, but it also infiltrates our families and churches.  We seem to think that our value and significance improves and we are made to look better if others are being put down.  We even justify this, at times, by saying that they need to be “put in their place.”  But this is not how a believer should live.

Remember the point of the parable Jesus told about the two debtors?  The one who owed an infinite amount was forgiven by the king and then proceeded to beat his fellow servant over a small debt.  He failed to grasp the concept that he who had been forgiven a great debt by the Master should forgive his brother.  Likewise, how can we who have been so miraculously set free by Christ and the promise of “no condemnation”, lay a condemning attitude or comment on our brother?  God’s stance toward us is fundamentally optimistic, calling us saints.  This should be our view as well toward those who serve us and whom we serve.

Part of the challenge in seeing this is the erroneous teaching regarding Romans chapter 7 that the apostle Paul’s condemning passage about himself reflects the life of a believer.  Paul’s diatribe of condemnation clearly describes his life prior to salvation; a point made clear when he ends with “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).  We somehow see the condemning tone of Romans 7, and thinking it applies today, use it to condemn both ourselves and others.

But it is not supposed to be that way.  You have been set free from the power of sin.  It is no longer your master.  That condemning voice you hear is Satan, not God.  Satan wants you living under a rock of self-condemnation.  And he wants you to bring as many people as you can under the rock with you by criticizing their work or behavior.  Christ, on the other hand, wants you living out in the open; experiencing and celebrating a life set free.  Remember, “There is now [present tense, after I have left the pre-Christian life of condemnation behind] no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1-2).

Do you recall this quote from a Christmas classic?  “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.”  In your best Linus voice you might be thinking, “Jay, you are the only person I know who can take a perfectly good Christmas message and turn it into a discussion of Romans chapter 7.”  Yes, I can.  Because the heartbeat of this blog and the Fanning the Flames ministry is for you and us to experience all that came with our new identity in Christ when we embraced His gospel message.  At the heart of that message is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  We have been set free.

So celebrate the season with an attitude of encouraging and building up those you love.  Christ the newborn King was born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died in your place, and rose again to give us a new life, free from guilt and condemnation.  Embracing that truth and living into it will make this a very merry Christmas indeed!

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Can Faith Control the Outcome?

An important distinction to understanding how much our faith affects an outcome is recognizing the difference between “change” and “control”.  I believe God has given us the opportunity to change an outcome through our faith.  But He has not given us the power to control outcomes.  Let me explain the difference.

Exercising the faith required to change a situation is putting our complete trust in what God can do.  It is having faith in God’s ability to miraculously move, and remedy, and redeem what needs changed.  It is not a blind positive thinking approach that says if I believe something hard enough God is required to act.

This is where the idea of control comes in.  We cannot control the Sovereign of the Universe.  And thinking our faith can somehow boss God around is ludicrous.  We are not calling the shots.  We are not in control.  We cannot demand a certain action on God’s part.  So what can we do?

We do two things.  (1) We believe by faith that God has the power to act and (2) we pray in faith asking Him to act.  Our attitude in prayer is the measure of whether we are seeking to “change” or “control” by our faith.  Proper prayer says, “God, You are in control and we humbly beg you to act.”  And this prayer is infused with a biblical faith; believing that He hears our prayers, believing that He can act, and believing that He will act in some form or fashion.

In Luke 18, the parable of the persistent widow teaches us that God will act and act quickly.  If you recall the story that Jesus told … A widow approaches an unrighteous judge demanding legal protection from an adversary.  The judge ignores her request until she badgers him to the point of wearing him out.  For her persistence alone, he hears her case and rules in her favor (Lk 18:1-8).

Now we often view the unrighteous judge as a picture of God.  That is, we think this parable teaches that if we badger God enough, He will reluctantly hear and answer us.  But it actually teaches just the opposite about God’s attitude toward us and our prayers.

Unlike most of Jesus’ parables, this one did not start with “The kingdom of God is like…”  No, God is not like the judge.  God is not compared to the judge.  God stands in contrast to the judge.  God is the opposite of the judge.  We do not badger God with our persistent prayer.  We honor God with our persistent prayer.

The parable closes with, “Will not God bring about justice for His elect 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 quickly” (Lk 18:7-8a).  God is contrasted with the judge.  Rather than being an overbearing ogre, God is a loving Father whose heartbeat is to hear and answer our prayers.

Can we “control” outcomes?  No, but I believe we can affect more than we commonly believe.  The story of the persistent widow ends with, “However, when the Son of Man comes will He find this kind of faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8b).  Our role is to respond to situations with the faith that God is asking us to use.  And the practical upshot of all this, in my opinion, is that our faith can be world-changing and life-changing; for us and for others around us.

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Can Faith Change the Outcome?

As I continue to study the New Testament, I am becoming increasingly aware of the potential for faith to change the outcome of a particular situation.  I fully embrace the sovereignty and omnipotence of God and His rule over all His creation, but I believe His plan includes our faith making a difference.  It appears in Scripture that God does not have an unchangeable blueprint design for all outcomes, but that through our prayers and faith we can affect what happens.  Why do I say this?

After the incident in the gospels where Jesus’ disciples failed to cast out a demon (Mt 17:14-20), they asked Jesus a pointed question, “Why could we not cast it out?”  Jesus replied that their faith was too small (Mt 17:20).  Jesus ascribes their failure to a lack of faith.  Is it too much of a stretch of logic to suggest – based on Jesus’ own words – that with greater faith the demon could have been expelled?  What do you think?

Evidence that our faith makes a difference continues in several accounts of healing in the New Testament.  When Jesus restored sight to the blind man, Bartimaeus, He proclaimed to the newly seeing man, “Your faith has made you well” (Mk 10:52).  When the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage problem touched Jesus garment, she was healed.  After she identified herself in the crowd, Jesus assured her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (Lk 8:48).  To the cleansed leper who returned to fall at Jesus’ feet to give thanks, Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Lk 17:19).

Do you notice a pattern?  Clearly, Jesus is doing the healing – even feeling the power going out of Him when the woman touched the fringe of His cloak.  But somehow, accepting Jesus’ words as fact, the faith of the sick, blind, and lame had something to do with their being made whole.  I think it is safe to say that their faith made a difference.  And I believe our faith matters just as much today.  Our faith has the potential to affect outcomes.

How much of an effect?  Something we will talk about next time.

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Faith and the Spiritual Life

Faith is also essential for living the spiritual life.  In the final verses of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus instructed us to teach new believers “to obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20).  Have you ever thought about the implications of the “all” in this verse?  Obeying all is a pretty tall order.  How do we obey all that Jesus commanded?  We obey by faith.

We often think of faith as a mysterious concept, but living by faith is a very practical matter.  When our choices, decisions, and actions are controlled by biblical principles and biblical commands, we are living by faith.  When we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word, we are basically saying two things; we believe, by faith, that there is great reward in obeying God’s standard, and we believe, by faith, that we are indwelt with the power to obey.

Visiting the first thought, we believe there is great value in following God’s commands.  In the world’s eyes, obeying God is foolish.  And even in our own eyes, we do not always see the positive outcome of our obedience.  In fact, obeying God can be costly.  So if our obedience were just based on what we see, the narrow path could be grueling.  But when we see with the eyes of faith, we see both present-day and eternal rewards for our fidelity to the Lord.  We see love, peace, joy, unity, and so much more as His blessings for our allegiance to God.  We choose to obey by faith.

Secondly, we believe that we have been given the power to obey.  This is such a crucial part of living by faith.  If my obedience is based on my mood, my willpower, my effort, my perseverance, I am doomed to fail.  But my power to obey is based on my identity in Christ.  In Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I have everything I need “pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet 1:3).  Believing I am filled with this power is the only way that I John 5:3, “and His commandments are not burdensome”, makes sense; and empowers me to walk victoriously.

The commands of Christ are not burdensome because, as believers, this is what we were created for.  At first glance, they may appear to be burdensome.  But Christ’s commands are really a reflection of who we now are, not a list to follow.  We were “created for good works to walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

This is who you are!  You were created in your new identity to obey all that Jesus commands.  Do we always accomplish the all?  No.  Do we fall short?  Yes.  Do we miss the mark?  Yes.  Do we fall into sin?  Yes.  And when we do, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (I Jn 2:1) to quickly and humbly run to for His generous forgiveness.

But we do not need to fail as often as many sermons imply.  A popular teaching today is essentially that God is a distant Father, standing back with His arms crossed on His chest thinking, “I don’t think he or she is capable of this.  I don’t think they can do this.”  Nothing could be further from the truth of the New Testament.  God is a generous Father with His arms outstretched toward us.  And He longs to see us take our faith steps, one at a time, straight into His delighted joy; just like a father coaxing along his child’s victorious first steps.

So may I encourage you?  By faith, believe what God says about your new power within and recognize that your acts of obedience are really steps of faith.

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Faith and Salvation

Last weekend, at the Ft Worth Children’s Museum, I saw a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”  As with most things I read these days, I immediately put a theology twist to it.  So I am thinking,  “Logic will get you from A to B, theologically speaking, but faith will take you everywhere.”  So many of our theology systems, while built on Scripture, are carried to the nth degree by human logic and when they are, misunderstanding ensues.

I am afraid that in our rush to fit everything biblical into a neat theological system, we have made knowledge and logic the ultimate goal in the Christian life.  But knowledge by itself produces arrogance (II Cor 8:1), and knowledge without love is useless (I Cor 13:2), and knowledge without faith has no saving value (James 2:19).

There is a popular system of theology that takes principles of Scripture like grace, election, atonement, and depravity, and adds adjectives to them based on human logic.  It produces something that, in my opinion, is not found in Scripture.  And one of its dangerous by-products is to minimize the value of faith.

A theology with a hyper-focus on God’s blueprint design, including our salvation, falls short of the full teaching of Scripture.  From Genesis to Revelation, it is clear that our faith matters.  It is clear that your faith makes a difference.  All the way from your salvation to changing the outcome of a situation, your faith matters.  Let me explain.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works” (Eph 2:8,9).  Your salvation was pure gift.  Your salvation was by grace.  Your salvation was not based on works of the law.  But it was also through faith.  Your faith mattered.  There was a requirement for you to exercise faith in order to embrace the gospel message.

But many teachers today imply that if you believe your faith somehow contributed to your new birth, you are treating it as a “work” and, as such, are relying on “works” to save you.  At best, this view is confusing.  At worst, it implies that you are believing a different gospel and may in fact not be saved.  As hair-splitting as it seems, I have heard it preached this way, and it puts an unnecessary and disturbingly oppressive pressure and guilt on our believing brothers and sisters.  God is not the author of confusion.  So what does God require?

There is a “work” required for you to be saved.  But it is not a work of the law, it is the work of faith.  In John chapter 6, the crowd asked Jesus, ” ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent’ ” (Jn 6:28,29).  Believing in Jesus, embracing His message, is the only work required for you to be saved.

In Romans chapter 4 and Galatians chapter 3, Paul reveals that Abraham was made righteous based on his faith.  His belief was not a work of the law – by which no one is saved – but was a work of faith.  “Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:6,7).  Our exercise of faith makes us spiritual descendants of Abraham and children of God.  “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26).  Your sonship came about through faith.

The balance between God’s choice and our faith in the matter of salvation may seem like just a theoretical discussion, but I think it has powerful life-giving applications.  When we combine our faith making a difference with God’s promise to never desert us, we have a powerful assurance of salvation.  Because I have exercised my faith and have said “I believe”, I have no doubt that I am in God’s family based on the promise of Jesus about those who believe.  Without knowing that my faith was rewarded with the gift of eternal life, I might spend my life doubtful, discouraged, and wondering if I am in; if I am included in God’s choice.

Likewise, because I believe in God’s choice, my salvation is secure.  I never have to wonder if my faith was or is strong enough.  When my faith wavers, I never have to worry about being outside His secure hand.  I know I am secure in God’s hand.  He promised that (Jn 10:28-29).  What I am saying is that my faith had something to do with getting into His hand.  And knowing I got there by faith is part of my assurance of salvation.

Now, not only is our salvation influenced by faith, but our daily walk as well.  We will talk about that subject next time.

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Is Optimism a Sign of Faith?

Most people would consider me an optimist.  We are all familiar with the idea that an optimist sees a glass half filled with water as half-full while a pessimist refers to the glass as half-empty.  Since I see a half-full glass of water as completely full, sufficient to do the job, does that make me a super optimist?

I have been asked more than once if I think my optimism is related to faith.  Let me describe what I see as the connection and you can decide.  Optimism based on unrealistic naiveté that completely ignores the dangers and downers of this world is not based on faith.  Optimism based on positive thinking just for positive thinking’s sake is not based on faith.  So is there an optimism based on faith?

Our world consists of both material and immaterial parts.  When our focus is strictly on the material world, pessimism is often a natural outcome.  Death, disease, disaster, disappointment are such a part of this world that it is easy to become discouraged.  It is easy to see things we would like to change for the better, but we don’t know how or if they can even be changed.  Our lives in the material world are defined by a negative action leads to negative consequence mentality; a world without grace and forgiveness.  In short, a world without hope.

But when we allow ourselves to dwell on all that is true in the immaterial world, our cause for optimism goes up.  This is the world we experience by faith.  By faith, I know that I have a new heart.  Now I did not receive a physical heart transplant when I believed the gospel message of Christ, but in the immaterial world a new heart is exactly what I received.  By faith, I know that in Christ I have a new nature.  Again, this was not a physical change, something I can observe in the material world with my five senses, but it is true nonetheless.  In the immaterial world, I can view the people in my life through a fundamentally optimistic lens, because I know that they are created in God’s image and, if believers, now members of God’s family; children of God Himself, possessors of His divine nature.  And negative actions on their part cannot change their new and essential identity.

Faith in action takes these beliefs and experiences of the immaterial world and brings them to bear on the material world we live in.  I take action based on what I believe.  I make choices for good based on my faith.  When we only live in the material world, it is easy to weigh the evidence around us and come to negative conclusions about the world we inhabit.  But when we live by faith, we bring the immaterial world – which is by far the more “real” world of eternity – into the picture and we influence our material world for good.

Do Christians still sin?  Yes.  Do believers disappoint each other?  Yes.  Do bad things happen to good people?  Yes.  Faith is believing that despite the sometimes evidence to the contrary in the material world, we do possess a power over sin, God’s family is filled with holy and beloved saints, and God is not the author of evil.

Yes, I believe there is a brand of optimism that is a sign of faith.  We will always have personality issues that affect our optimism/pessimism traits.  There will always be nature and nurture influences that affect how we see the world.  The goal is not to compare ourselves with others and find which camp we fall into.  The comparison is to ourselves.  When we examine ourselves, are we becoming more trusting of God’s goodness as we grow up in the faith?  Seeing ourselves as one or the other may depend on where we started, but as we move forward in experiencing more and more of God’s new covenant promises, I think what the world may see as optimism will be the picture of us walking by faith.

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Righteous Live by Faith

Throughout history, under both the old and new covenants, the righteous live by faith.  The faith of the Old Testament saints is a quality that we, as New Testament believers, are to emulate.  The New Testament reminds us of their example and of the critical need to live by faith no matter what era we inhabit.

Despite their often public shortcomings, the faith of our Old Testament forebears is to be celebrated and followed.  Their faith was demonstrated by simply believing and acting upon the promises of God.  Hebrews chapter 11 highlights the various situations where the faith of the Old Testament saints was put to the test and they passed with flying colors.  And they believed even when the promises were yet to be fulfilled.

Hebrews 11 ends with, “And all these [heroes of the faith], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Heb 11:39).  Why?  Because it was still coming in the future; in the salvation of Jesus Christ.  The faith of God’s people in the Old Testament was forward-facing.  They were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God and the coming of His king, the Messiah.

Today, as citizens of that kingdom and servants of the King, we exercise a faith that is past, present, and future.  Facing backward, we see Jesus arrive on the scene 2000 years ago.  By faith, we believe that He indeed is the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  By faith, we have embraced His message and His sacrifice.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8).  We have been saved through faith in Jesus.

In the present day, we walk by faith.  Just like the Old Testament believers, our present day faith is in the promises of God.  We believe that He has given us a new identity, even if we do not feel it.  We believe that we are indwelt by His Spirit, and we walk accordingly.  “Now those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:24-25).

And our current “walking by faith” connects us to the faith of the Old Testament saints.  Listen to Paul make the connection in Galatians chapter 3.  “Does God then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:5-7).

Finally, our faith is also facing forward into the future; believing in the promise of Christ’s return.  “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13-14).  The righteous indeed live by faith.

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Wisdom Literature

In addition to the fulfilled prophesies, the priesthood and the sacrifices, and the warnings, another high value lesson of the Old Testament are the timeless truths of the wisdom books.  Their influence on our parenting is especially powerful.  In fact, like many parents before us, we found the book of Proverbs to be a valuable guide as Rhonda and I navigated the child-training years.

The wisdom books of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon are filled with life lessons, sometimes in just a sentence or two.  Lessons about:

Diligence – “Do you see a man diligent in his work?  He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Pr 22:29).

Speech – “A healing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit” (Pr 15:4).

Tattletales – “For the lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no talebearer, strife quiets down” (Pr 26:20).

Friendships – “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself” (Pr 22:24-25).

Wealth – “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it” (Pr 13:11).

And there are literally hundreds more.  These lessons almost always revolve around an action and a consequence; either for good or for bad.  While these consequences are important warnings and blessings that we need to teach to our children, it is important to remember that they are not promises.

The Book of Proverbs is just that: proverbs.  Wise sayings with “most likely outcomes”.  That is, “If you act this way, this is most likely the result.”  When I say “most likely” am I in any way diminishing the teaching?  No. the teaching is powerful and we do well to follow the wisdom contained in these books.  But they are proverbs, not iron-clad promises.  Why is this an important distinction?

It goes back to the formula method of parenting where we falsely believe that if I do A, B, and C, my kids are guaranteed to turn out like D.  It is not that simple.  Real life includes lazy people who get rich through fraud, diligent people who work in obscurity, good friends who turn fickle, and children who do not follow the path they were trained in.  The world does not always go the book of Proverbs way.

Is that because God is unfaithful to His promises?  No, it is because “the most likely outcome” of these wise sayings are sometimes circumvented for a variety of reasons.  The evil actions of Satan can bring suffering and loss instead of prosperity even among the most faithful.  The actions of others can interrupt the flow of God’s blessing.  The discipline of God can change an expected outcome.  And the free will of adult children to make up their own minds may lead to disappointing surprises.

So I guess what I am saying is…please teach these lessons to your children.  The wisdom contained in these Old Testament books is timeless.  And by teaching and living out these truths, you will have a huge influence on your children.  The outcomes are not random.  They generally follow the Proverbs way.  But recognize the limitation of a proverb.  Don’t let your faith be rattled when things don’t turn out as the book of Proverbs predicted.  And help your children navigate their own faith journey when what might be assumed as a promise did not come true.

So teach the Proverbs.  But keep them in the context of the Christian life is lived by faith.  And trust God, that even in the midst of surprising outcomes, He is good and He is in control.

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Warnings

The apostle Paul, in I Corinthians chapter 10, outlines one of the purposes of Israel’s travails in the Old Testament; they are examples of sin and unfaithfulness for New Testament saints to avoid.  After summarizing their wilderness journey, Paul writes concerning the children of Israel, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Cor 10:6-11).

Paul begins and ends this passage with the reminder that Israel’s sins instruct us in what not to do.  In between, Paul lists Israel’s craving evil things, idolatry, immorality, trying the Lord, and complaining as examples to learn from and avoid.

Now you may recall that we started these Old Testament posts as an offshoot of our parenting discussion and I would like to return to the topic here.  In our family, we found these Old Testament stories of warning to be very powerful in teaching our children about the attitudes and actions that displease the Lord.

For example, here is a story we read and discussed on more than one occasion with our children.  It is a story about complaining, and the lesson begins in Numbers chapter 11 with, “And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’ ” (Num 11:4).  The people then reminisce about the days of free fish in Egypt.  But here in the wilderness, their appetite is literally “dried up” since “there is nothing at all to look at except this manna” (Num 11:6).

To fast forward the story, Moses appeals to the Lord on behalf of the people’s desire for meat.  The Lord responds that He will give them meat every day for a month.  In fact, God promises to send so much meat that “it will come out of your nostrils and become loathsome to you because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have complained before Him saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ” (Num 11:20).  As Moses contemplates where this much meat will come from, God sends a wind from the sea.  Upon the wind are enough quail to cover the camp three feet deep in birds.  And the children of Israel rush to gather up hundreds of bushel of quail (Num 11:31-32).

But in a plot twist more stark than any Hollywood ending, something strange happens when the people begin to eat.  Let Moses finish the story himself, “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague.  So the name of that place was called Kibrothhatta-avah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy” (Num 11:33-34).

This story is a powerful lesson about complaining that we and our children took to heart.  And it is one of many stories of warning for our benefit in the Old Testament.  But as we share these lessons with our kids we need to remember an important balance.  As New Testament believers, we are not destined to follow Israel’s example.  We are not doomed to repeat their mistakes.  Having been set free from the power of sin by the provisions of the new covenant, Israel’s folly is not our destiny.  Albeit, we can choose to act like we are doomed to failure, but that would be ignoring what our Savior has done in us!

Paul says it this way as he ends his passage on Israel’s example with, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Cor 10:13).  The promise of the new covenant is victory over sin.  So while we sound, use, and explain these Old Testament warnings about sin, we also teach our believing children about who they are in Christ and the promise of victory that is theirs.

This is how we use Old Testament warnings without falling into a “parenting with fear” mentality that we have written about here.  By the promise of who we are in Christ, the promise of power over sin, we can overcome Israel’s example.  Teaching our children these two great truths together – the example of the sins of Israel to avoid and the power for good inside you by God’s Spirit – brings a balance into your parenting that will serve you and your children well.  It is deeply hopeful, positive, empowering, and Christ honoring!

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The Role of the Old Testament – The Priesthood and the Sacrifice

Another lesson from the Old Testament for believers today is the pattern of the priesthood and the sacrifices as a foreshadowing of the coming Christ.  The book of Hebrews compares and contrasts the priesthood and sacrifice pattern of the Old Testament with the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Seeing the connection between Christ’s work and the Old Testament pattern strengthens our faith to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross really was the final and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

In Jesus we have a better hope because we have a better priest.  “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:19-20).  Our better hope is based on Jesus being a better priest after the order of Melchizedek – the eternal priest – rather than after the order of Levi – priests of the old covenant.

“But He with an oath through the One who said to Him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever.” ‘  So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:21-22).  As a priest forever, Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant than the one associated with the former priesthood.

“For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb 7:26-27).  Jesus, the better priest, became Jesus, the better sacrifice when “He once for all offered up Himself.”

Christ’s death was a better sacrifice.  “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:13-15).

Christ’s better sacrifice – and the new covenant it initiated – has an eternal and a present component.  On the eternal front, our transgressions are paid in full by Christ’s blood and we have obtained an “eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15).  On the present-day front, Christ’s blood “cleanses our conscience to serve the living God” (Heb 9:14); to live godly lives.  When Christ died, our old sin nature died with Him and we have been raised with Christ to walk in a new life, to walk in a new resurrection power (Rom 6:4).

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Heb 9:24-25,28).  Christ’s first coming secured our initial salvation and our eternal destiny.  He saved us when He bore our sins on the cross.  Christ’s second coming will secure our final salvation; our ultimate rescue from this world to live forever with Him.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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The Role of the Old Testament – Fulfilled Prophesies

The Christian life is a beautiful balance of faith and intellect; faith and fact.  God has given us plenty of facts that confirm the events of Scripture, most notably surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But there also remains a large faith element.  I personally think that is why Jesus appeared to so few people – and most of them in secret – after His resurrection.  He left a little mystery so that we would need to exercise our faith to believe who Jesus is and that He is risen and seated at God’s right hand.  I also think this faith requirement helps quench our pride, knowing that we can’t figure everything out just on our smarts alone.

One of the things that bolsters our faith with facts are the fulfilled prophesies of the Old Testament.  Regarding the coming Messiah, there are many, many specific predictions in the Old Testament that came true in Jesus.  Prophesies addressing His lineage (Gen 49:10), His birth (Mic 5:2, Hos 11:1), His titles (Is 7:14, Is 9:6-7), His ministry (Is 61:1-2), His death (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53), and His resurrection (Ps 16:10, Ps 49:15) all point to Jesus of Nazareth as the Anointed One; the Messiah.

One of the specific threads of Old Testament prophesy is God’s promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36); a new arrangement between God and man.  This new covenant was brought by Jesus and purchased with His blood.  At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Lk 22:20).  Seeing Jesus fulfill the historical prophesies gives us great confidence that He is indeed the bearer of the new covenant.  And all the promises of a new life, a new heart, a new nature, and a new power are coming true just like the historical predictions have done.

Finally, seeing the prophesies fulfilled in Jesus strengthens our faith to believe the promises yet to come.  The future events of Christ’s return, His rule over a new heaven and a new earth, His final and complete defeat of Satan, and our abiding in His physical presence forever all stand on the foundation of seeing God keep His promises in the past.  Seeing God’s prophesies being woven throughout the entire Old Testament and then seeing them come true in Jesus is a great faith-builder for new covenant saints today.

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