Friday, January 29, 2010
"Be renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Ephesians 4:23).
The Holy Spirit must illuminate and energize a new way of thinking in the minds of all believers, enabling us to put away the carnal mindedness that is death, and to put on the spiritual mindedness that is life and peace (Romans 8:6). Our Lord is incessantly working to accomplish this, and our primary responsibility is to believe that He is doing so. However, we have another role in the renewal because God has no interest in merely programming robots. He rather seeks to engage us in the living relationship made possible by the wonder that "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6). Such union and communion with our Heavenly Father requires active response on our part, as enabled by the Holy Spirit, and as received by application of God's gift of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek" (Psalm 27:8).
Certainly the search for the face of God begins in His Word, and continues forevermore. "In Thy light shall we see light" (Psalm 36:9). Consistent reading and pondering of Scripture fans the flame of illumination in our hearts and minds, directing our thinking into the light of Truth. However, the renewing of our minds results primarily from applied knowledge, as it were, or the consistent determination to use the countless opportunities in our everyday lives to "think on these things" (Philippians 4:8). Indeed, it is not enough to simply read the Bible, or study it, or even memorize it. We must believe it, and submit ourselves unto its revealed Lord in living experience if our thinking is to be progressively changed from carnal to spiritual mindedness.
The Spirit of God enables this pursuit, even as we consciously and willingly run the race. The Psalmist knew this glory of relationship, as opposed to programming. "I will love Thee, o Lord my strength" (Psalm 18:1). "I will" declared David to the Lord also affirmed as the "my strength" of the commitment. This day and this moment offers to us such possibility of living and active relationship whereby we literally walk with God. It is the opportunity of a lifetime, and this particular epoch given to us by grace will not come our way again. Let us therefore not miss the many ways in which we will be given to think in accordance with the Word of God, and thus to believe and obey in the power of the Holy Spirit.
"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer."
Thursday, January 28, 2010
"I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed" (Psalm 77:3).
Words of murmuring and discontent are actually harmful to us in the innermost depths of our being. "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Complaint is a dangerous foe against which we must always be on guard if we do not want our spirits to be ransacked and overrun with fear, sorrow, and anger. It is also an evidence that the enemy is already at the gate, as it were, and has begun the intrusion that can lead to spiritual weakness and paralysis.
"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because He trusteth in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).
Complaint is always a clear indication that we are not thinking rightly about our God, and responding to circumstances, situations, and conditions rather than the spirit and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The remedy for complaining, therefore, is not the determination to avoid complaining because of its lack of benefit, or even because it does harm. The remedy is repentance, or the change of mind whereby we determine to consider our lives in the light of Christ's life. Who is He? What has He done? What is He doing? And what does He promise to do in this moment and forevermore for those who have believed? Growth in this grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus will go far in replacing the grumbling of discontent with the glad affirmation of joy and peace.
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The closing and opening of wombs is a common theme throughout the book of Genesis. The wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all barren, by God's design, because these three men were the spiritual progenitors through which the Lord's blessing would come upon Israel, and ultimately the entire world. This would require that their sons be born not of earthly devices, but by Divine and miraculous intervention in order to be the type and forerunner of the Son who would ultimately fulfill all of the promises of God.
Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel all eventually conceived by the mercy and power of God, and a great spiritual truth was revealed. Our Lord is able to bring something out of apparently nothing for those who trust Him and submit to Him. The barren womb becomes the scene of the miraculous, and even more, the virgin womb ultimately becomes the first earthly dwellingplace of God, "manifest in the flesh" (I Timothy 3:16).
The Christian life involves the same dynamic reality of great blessing being known where it seems no good thing is possible. Hope is known in despair. Joy dwells in the very heart of sorrow. Strength is made perfect in weakness. Peace sleeps on a pillow when the storms of the sea are raging. Life transforms a tomb of death into the first abode of the risen Christ. And love is known in hearts where hatred against both God and man once ruled. "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were" (Romans 4:16-17).
The "barren" places in our lives are the primary scenes where God most wants to reveal His reality and glory. Will we believe and trust Him to do so? We must, because His honor and the fulfillment of His will is at stake in our lives. "Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable" (Hebrews 11:11-12). The "past age" and "good as dead" venues are where the sons of promise are born as we "judge Him faithful." The forms of such Divine involvement in our lives are many, and the ways of God are diverse. But all of His working in our lives flows from that fount of faith that chooses to view the barren womb not in despair, but in expectation. What emptiness has our Heavenly Father determined or allowed in order to fill our lives with the Lord Jesus, the great Son of promise? Let us go forth in faith to behold these glories of grace where it seems they could never be.
"Moses endured, as seeing Him who is invisible."
"I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD."
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
"The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1).
The very name of our Lord is full of illumination. "Jesus Christ" means "anointed deliverer," revealing His relationship to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit with who dwelt within Him, and His relationship with man in His mission to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
The mystery of "God... manifest in the flesh" is also revealed in our Lord being the son of David, and the son of Abraham (I Timothy 3:16). His relationship to David refers to His divinity and royalty as the God who is King of kings (Revelation 19:16). His relationship to "faithful Abraham" spotlights the humanity of our Savior, revealing the life of trusting obedience which He Himself lived as a man - "I live by the Father" (Galatians 3:9; John 6:57). The Lord Jesus must be known in both aspects of His nature and existence, being rightly worshipped as God, and confidently approached as man. Failure to know Him in either aspect will lead us to doctrinal deception of the most serious nature. The New Testament therefore opens with the bright lights of Divinity and humanity that shine in the person of Christ.
What does it means that the Lord Jesus is God? What does it mean that He is man? And what does it mean that He is fully God and fully man? A long eternity will not suffice in completely answering these vital questions. However, we can begin the journey in our present life, that is, the Holy Spirit will reveal the firstfruits of Christ's glory to those who diligently seek Him in the Word of God. There is no more important Biblical consideration, even as the very threshold of the New Testament leads us to ponder "the mystery of godliness" which is "God... manifest in the flesh." May we respond by making such emphasis our own, and then let us rejoice as the Lord Jesus is revealed more and more as the son of David, the son of Abraham.
"But unto the Son, He saith, Thy throne, o God, is forever and ever."
"There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."
(I Timothy 2:5)
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Of only one can it be said, He "was in all points tempted like as we are, and yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). No other human being has faced temptation in all its varied forms and measures. And no other human has ever overcome every temptation ever faced. The Lord Jesus Christ stands alone on nail-scarred feet, and the merit of His perfect life and being is so highly valued in God the Father's sight that it can be applied to all who by faith are united with Christ. "Christ is made unto us... righteousness" (I Corinthians 1:30).
For His sake, the multitude of our sins are forgiven. For His sake, believers will live forevermore in a "peace which passeth all understanding" and "joy unspeakable and full of glory." For His sake, our formerly rebel hearts are now the very home of God. For His sake, "all things are yours... and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." And for His sake, "the love of God, which passeth knowledge" will be our eternal portion that "in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 4:32; Philippians 4:7; I Peter 1:8; Galatians 4:6; I Corinthians 3:21; 23; Ephesians 3:19; 2:7). How wonderful must the Lord Jesus be that He is not only the heir of all things, but the executor of an eternal estate so vast that we are "joint-heirs" with Him? (Hebrews 1:2; Romans 8:17).
I am fully convinced that the more believers realize and embrace the infinite wonder of our Savior's person and His work on our behalf, the more we will genuinely love God as the natural, or supernatural, fruit of realizing the beauty of holiness that is the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, learning by experience that we are blessed for His sake will lead us to more and more appropriate "the unsearchable riches of Christ," and thus, to shine forth in glory to God. We have sought in this series of messages to encourage an increased understanding that our faithfulness is the fruit of Christ's faithfulness, and that every good thing we will ever receive from God is "freely given" because it was purchased for us by a price too costly to fathom. May our Heavenly Father lead and enable us all to greater and more consistent experience of joyful acclamation to the Lord Jesus, "I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for Thy sake."
"But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."(Titus 3:4-7)
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Recognizing that we are blessed "for Christ's sake" calls us consider the scope and magnitude of His "sake." How does God the Father view the person, merit, and work of the Lord Jesus? And how does He view us in relationship to our Lord and His redeeming accomplishments on our behalf?
"God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
"Highly exalted" is our blessed Lord by His Father, and rightfully so. He did always those things that pleased God during His earthly life, and was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). We do well to consider this first in terms of our Savior's greatness and goodness, and to join His Father and our Father in joyous exaltation of the beloved Son. We must personally ensure in our hearts that we give the Lord Jesus the name that is above every name, and add our voices to the host of heaven as they joyously exult, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing" (Revelation 5:12).
Upon this basis of worship, we then proceed to recognize our personal stake in the glory of Christ. Born again believers are "joint-heirs with Christ," and so united to our Savior that His riches are ours (Romans 8:17). In our present life, this primarily concerns God's bestowal to us of "all spiritual blessings" whereby we glorify Him, fulfill His will, and communicate Him to others in both life and word (Ephesians 1:3). The Father receives us as enrobed in His Son's pristine righteousness. He seals us forevermore as His purchased possession. He promises to finish the good work He has begun in us. And in this moment and forevermore, He commands and promises that we should have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus (I Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 4:30; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 10:19). Most importantly, and most wondrously, He answers the prayer of the Lord Jesus recorded in John 17, wherein our Savior asked the Father to love us with the same love the Son had eternally known: "I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26).
Let us embrace this truth with all our hearts. God's love for us never flickers for even the briefest moment because by life, by prayer, by forsakenness, by suffering and death, by resurrection, and by ascension to a heavenly and eternally ongoing intercession, the infinite sake of the Lord Jesus is accounted as our own. Our life and works, while vitally consequential in countless ways, nevertheless have nothing to do with our belovedness. We are "accepted in the Beloved," and it is not a grudging acceptance in the heart of our Father (Ephesians 1:6). No, it is the joyful receiving of "brethren beloved of the Lord" because our elder Brother, at the highest cost to Himself, has so enrobed us with Himself that we are loved as He is loved (II Thessalonians 2:13). No truth of Scripture will more effectually break our hearts, and then remake our hearts into the image of Christ. And no truth will more fuel the flame of the love of God "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). "We love Him because first He loved us," and growing understanding of such glory will elicit from us growing acclamation to our blessed Lord, "I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for Thy sake (I John 4:19).
"Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work."
(II Thessalonians 2:16-17)
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The understanding that God blesses us because of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ rather than our own is a powerful means by which the Holy Spirit increasingly replaces self-centeredness with devotion to God and others.
Believing that we must earn God's favor is a seemingly noble pursuit, and may in fact proceed from a sincere heart of desiring to glorify Him. The perspective leaves us focused on ourselves, however, leading to either frustration or pride based on how we believe ourselves to be performing. The result is a fixed gaze upon ourselves rather than the Lord Jesus, and thus a limiting of our being changed into His spiritual and moral image (II Corinthians 3:18). We do God and ourselves no favor by this maintaining of the self-focus that is actually the deception of sin rather than the devotion of true godliness.
Realizing that our Heavenly Father's favor is upon His beloved Son who completely deserves it, and upon us as a free gift of grace because we are united to the Lord Jesus, is a heart changing revolution. It is also a behavior changing revolution because "out of the heart are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). This is a vital understanding because while God completely accepts our person in Christ, our subsequent lifestyle and works are a different matter altogether. "We labor... to be accepted of Him" (II Corinthians 5:9). The context of this statement by the Apostle Paul concerns "the things done in his body," that is, the life lived by the believer in thought, attitude, word, and deed (II Corinthians 5:10). Our Lord accepts only those expressions in life that are the products of His Spirit's revelation of the character and nature of Christ. Such expression is the product of "beholding the glory of the Lord," and the recognition that the Lord Jesus is the sole basis for God's blessing is the solid footing upon which we are enabled to walk in a manner pleasing to Him.
The more we grow in the spirit and truth of being "accepted in the Beloved," the more our labors will be "accepted of Him." They will be the fruit of grace no less than our freely given justification and relationship with God because they will flow from growing wonder, fascination, devotion, and love for our blessed Lord. The unholy trinity of "I, me, and my" will be transcended by the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were born for this, and believers were born again for the worship of God that can only result from realizing that the work of God in the Lord Jesus is our "hope of righteousness" in this moment and forevermore (Galatians 5:5).
"They looked unto Him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed."
Monday, January 18, 2010
The truth that we are blessed in accordance with the person and merit of Christ is not without complications. Some will misunderstand and misapply this gift of grace because all of God's truth is subject to those who "wrest... the Scriptures to their own destruction" (II Peter 3:16).
Some will see an opportunity for irresponsibility in the truth that God so graciously works in our lives. False professors of true faith will believe and proclaim that our own doings are insignificant in the light of such truth. "Let us do evil, that good may come" was the cry of the Apostle Paul's day by those who forgot or never knew that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:8; John 1:17; emphasis added). God's freely given favor in Christ is never administered apart from the light of His nature, character, and way. It can be misunderstood and misappropriated, however, if we are not wary of Satan's ongoing efforts to deceive. Even genuinely born again believers can be led astray by the error, especially in a generation wherein the Christian Gospel is too often corrupted by compromise in order to make it palatable for the masses.
As with Paul, even a faithful presentation of God's grace and truth will be wrested by some to their destruction. Therefore, we must not fear the bold acclamation of the scope and magnitude of the freest gift ever given. We state the truth in the clearest Biblical terms possible, trusting the Holy Spirit to rightly interpret it to needy hearts We stand strong in the joyous presentation that the person and work of Christ are the primary issues whereby He redeems us unto God. "Look and live" declared Moses to the poisoned children of Israel, directing their attention to the brass image of the serpent on the pole whereby they were healed (Numbers 21:8-9). Born again believers in the Lord Jesus commend the same attention to our Savior, who was "made to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). We "look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith," and are "changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (Hebrews 12:2; II Corinthians 3:18).
Grace is not a license to sin. It is rather liberty to trust and obey God in the power of His indwelling Spirit. The more we understand the holy means by which such Divine favor is bestowed upon us, the more we will live accordingly. The Lord Jesus is the means. His person and His past, present, and future work for us ensure our salvation from the condemnation of sin. Growing understanding and application of such a gift will also ensure an increasing deliverance from the power of sin as our attention is diverted from ourselves to our Savior. We will consider this redirecting work of grace and truth in tomorrow's message.
"Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear."
Saturday, January 16, 2010
"I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for thy sake" (Genesis 30:27).
A thorough reading of the New Testament presents to us a salvation of infinite proportion and magnitude. Through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and ongoing heavenly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ provides for trusting believers an experience of God that is to be "exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). We are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ." Our Heavenly Father has "given to us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (Ephesians 1:3; II Peter 1:3). Our Savior is "the heir of all things," and we are "joint-heirs with Christ" (Hebrews 1:2; Romans 8:17). The good news declared by the New Testament seems almost too good to be true, and the truth is that our capacity for understanding the vast scope of grace is presently so limited that we are seeing mere twinkles of the light of His goodness provided in the Lord Jesus.
Our experience of such grace may also seem limited. The "abundant life" promised by the Lord Jesus to believers often does not seem so abundant (John 10:10). We live in a fallen world inhabited by a fallen devil and fallen flesh. The course of this realm flows not in the direction of faith, but of ignorance and unbelief of God's "exceeding great and precious promises" (II Peter 1:4). We too often flow with it, and every honest believer will confess that he has sometimes lived as a spiritual pauper despite the "the unsearchable riches of Christ" possessed by all of God's children (Ephesians 3:8). It is tragic and inexcusable when such failure happens, and thank God that He is patient, merciful, and forgiving toward our neglect of "so great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3).
God is incessantly working in us to destroy such neglect. His method is simple and powerful.
"Consider Him (the Lord Jesus )... lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Hebrews 12:3).
Our Savior is the center and circumference of God's eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:11). He must be the center and circumference of our lives as well. To the degree we know Him as He is, and thus love, trust, obey and exalt Him, will be the degree to which we experience the abundance we possess in Him. The glory begins with the understanding that the Lord Jesus is directly responsible for every good thing we will ever receive from God. "I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for thy sake." If our Heavenly Father dealt with us for even a moment in accordance with our own sake, eternal cursing would be our lot. His standard is pristine spiritual and moral perfection. "As for God, His way is perfect" (II Samuel 22:31). He must therefore reject even the slightest deviation from His character, nature, and person. Furthermore, He must destroy and banish such deviation because the sanctity of His creation is at stake. This is the reason for the lake of fire that awaits the devil and his followers, and this is the reason we can never attempt to relate to God by any way other than the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:29; Revelation 20:10-15).
The Lord Jesus is our safe haven. We are "hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). He is also the basis of all blessing in our lives, and the key to experiencing a life of abundance is the growing apprehension of who our Lord is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He promises to do forevermore. Such beholding of His glory will change us more and more into His likeness, and will fulfill His promise: "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (II Corinthians 3:18; John 7:38). "As the Scripture hath said." What does the Bible actually say about our Lord? Again, who is He? What has He done? What is He doing? And what does He promise to do forevermore? Setting our hearts to answering these questions in the light of the Bible, the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and a life of learning by experience that God has blessed us for Christ's sake will fill the cups of our heart to abundant overflow.
"He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall he not with Him also freely give us all things?"
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Every prayer answered by God for His trusting children is for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, and because of His atoning and redeeming work on our behalf. "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23).
Most believers will readily agree with this as a doctrinal truth of Scripture. Do we know, however, the wonder of "I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for Thy sake?" One way to find out is to measure our confidence concerning prayer. This is a key spiritual issue because our spiritual enemies continually seek to direct our attention toward our unworthiness and lack of faithfulness in prayer. They tempt us to base our access to God on our own works and consistency in walking with Him in faith and obedience. As mentioned in yesterday's devotional, there is a measure of truth in this. But only a measure, because the far greater truth is that relating to God results primarily from who Christ is and what He is done, as opposed to our own person and work. Indeed, never are we so faithful to our Heavenly Father that we can come in any way other than the Lord Jesus. And never are we so unfaithful that we cannot come as long as we make our approach in faith, repentance, and confidence in our Savior's mediatorial role for us.
Many Christians do not pray because of prayerlessness. This may seem redundant, but we simply mean that our spiritual enemies will tempt us to believe that if we have not prayed consistently of late, there is little reason to pray in the present. We may feel so insincere and unfaithful that we hold little hope for successful approach to our Heavenly Father. Careful analysis of this notion reveals that we are basing our access to God on our own performance rather than on the person, merit, and work of the Lord Jesus. We are forgetting that He is always the way unto the the throne of grace. "I am the way" He declared (John 14:6). We ourselves are not the way, and our previous performance in prayer is not the basis upon which we may pray in this moment. We are to have "boldness to enter into the holiest, through the blood of Jesus" (Hebrews 10:19). Of course, our Lord may convict us of the sin of prayerlessness as we commune with Him, and if so, we deal with the matter through faith, repentance, and confession. However, we do not fail to pray in the present because of prayerlessness in the past.
On the cross of Calvary, the Lord Jesus was smitten and abandoned by His Father for our sakes. He cried out in loneliness and agony, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). There is no record of any answer from the Father to this prayer despite the Lord's affirmation at a previous time to the Father, "Thou hearest Me always" (John 11:42). The reason for this is that on the cross, our Savior was made to be sin for us, and was thus utterly forsaken by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 5:21). No answer to His prayer was possible because He had become a curse rather than the blessing He had eternally been. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, for it is written, cursed is he that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). This is the most solemn of all Biblical truths, and our privilege and responsibility of prayer must be viewed in its holy light.
The heart of the matter is that to the degree the Lord Jesus was forsaken on the cross of Calvary, born again believers are "accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6). Our prayers are answered because of His suffering, forsakenness and death for us. Our Lord's faithfulness to God's purposes and to our benefit is placed on our account as a free gift of grace beyond all comprehension and description. Thus, we may approach God always so long as we come by the bloody way He has made for us. We are blessed with the privilege of prayer for Christ's sake. His death is accounted as sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins, and His life and ongoing intercession for us are accounted as more than adequate to maintain our relationship with God.
This truth, rightly understood and embraced, will lift the shroud of discouragement and sense of alienation that paralyzes many believers in their relationship with God. Too many feel unworthy to pray, and because they do not adequately understand that the worthiness of the Lord Jesus is their access, they simply give up in believing that a life of consistent communion with God is possible. Instead of obeying the command to "consider Him" in order to be strengthened in their walk with the Lord, they consider themselves. Thus they are "wearied and faint" because their spiritual focus is misdirected (Hebrews 12:3). Conversely, when we realize that vibrant prayer is the fruit of the faith that affirms the faithfulness of Christ as our access to the Father, we will find ourselves praying far more. We will also pray far better because we will have aligned ourselves with the truth of God's Word, and the working of God's Spirit to exalt the Lord Jesus.
Upon this basis, we learn "by experience" that God blesses us for Christ's sake. Our love for Him grows as we commune with Him in confidence, and the manifested fruit of the Holy Spirit is far more revealed in our lives. We will consider this growth in grace in tomorrow's consideration, and the glory to Him that results from realizing that we are blessed for His sake.
"For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth."
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Many born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ pray according to how faithful they perceive themselves to be.
There is validity to the necessity of our being submitted to the glory and will of God concerning our prayer lives.
"And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight... if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (I John 3:22; Psalm 66:18).
No believer who callously disregards faithfulness to God in thought, attitude, word, or deed can expect vibrant and effectual communication with Him. "What communion hath light with darkness?" asked the Apostle Paul rhetorically, and the question is answered directly in our personal experience (II Corinthians 6:14). We cannot legitimately pray or expect answers to prayer if we are not devoted to the glory, will, and eternal purpose of God in Christ.
The Bible nevertheless teaches that our faithfulness is not the primary basis upon which God answers our prayers. It is rather the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus that is the foundation upon which all Divine favor rests in our lives. We are blessed always for His sake, that is, "blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:3). Furthermore, it is His faithfulness that is the basis and dynamic energizing of our own consistent trust and obedience to God.
"I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers... that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus" (Philemon 1:4;6).
The Apostle Paul tells Philemon that faithful participation in God's purposes is based upon knowing the goodness that resided in him through the Lord Jesus. Thus, the questions of Philemon's life, and of our own, are Christocentric. Who is the Lord Jesus? What has He done? What is He doing? And what does He promise to forever do for and within God's trusting children? The more these holy inquiries become the focus of our heart and mind, the more our faith will become "effectual" in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith." We are "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform in unto the day of Christ Jesus." "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:13). The Biblical declaration of God-centeredness concerning our life of faithfulness could go on and on, and we must be sure that our understanding and response correlates with God's blessed truth.
In similar manner, God's answering of our prayers is in direct proportion to our awareness that the Lord Jesus is the reason He does so. Obedience and answered prayer are branches of the same True Vine that is the source of all genuine spiritual fruit (John 15:1). Christ is the issue. Christ is our access. Christ is our open door. Christ is ever and always the crux of every matter in our lives. We approach God in the realization that His blessing is upon His Son. We "consider Him" and pray in confidence upon this holy basis of grace (Hebrews 12:3).
This truth can usher us into a life of prayer of which many believers only fondly and wistfully dream. More importantly, the Lord Jesus is far more glorified in our lives as we know and affirm that He is the source and supply of all faithfulness and Divine blessing in our lives. We will continue our consideration of this blessed matter tomorrow, addressing the question of the profound energizing of prayer that occurs when we joyfully declare to our Savior, "I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for Thy sake."
"His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue."
(II Peter 1:3)
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Recognizing that the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ is the primary basis of God's dealings with us, as opposed to our own faithfulness, will bear many blessed fruits of the Spirit in us.
Most importantly, we will increase in our love for God. "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Genuine devotion to our Heavenly Father is always the fruit of growing understanding and experience of His devotion to us. "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). Few illuminations will unveil to us the heart of God more than the light which reveals the Lord Jesus as the basis of all blessing in our lives. Our Father desires a love in and from us that is real, vibrant, and sincere. Only His working in us can birth and increasingly enhance such devotion, and growing awareness of "so great salvation" fans the flame of a true love that blesses the heart of God (Hebrews 2:3).
Seeing more clearly the faithfulness of Christ will also produce the same in us. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18). Our faithfulness is a vital focus and consideration of Scripture to which we do well to give much consideration. How we achieve such consecration in practical terms, however, is often misunderstood. Indeed, if we attend ourselves primarily to diligent effort to faithfulness rather than "looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith," we are unintentionally thinking in the carnal-mindedness that leads not to faithfulness, but to spiritual discouragement and paralysis (Romans 8:6). "Consider Him... lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Hebrews 12:3).
Our union with the "heir of all things" makes possible in both fact and living experience the gift of grace whereby we are "joint heirs with Christ" (Hebrews 1:2; Romans 8:17). Growth in this grace and knowledge provides increasingly firm footing for our journey along the path of righteousness whereupon the love of God for us and our love for Him graces our steps. "I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for Thy sake." Such will be the joyous affirmation to the Lord Jesus by those blessed ones who recognize that Divine favor begins, continues, and evermore flows in the current of the beloved Son.
"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
"He hath made us accepted in the Beloved."
Monday, January 11, 2010
Throughout the Old Testament, the principle of blessing being bestowed on some because of the person and merits of another is often repeated. None is more vivid than Laban's affirmation to Jacob, and his words are precisely what born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ can joyfully declare to our Savior. "God hath blessed me for Thy sake."
There are few more important Biblical doctrines to be understood in principle, and applied in life. Our own faithfulness is not the basis and reason for God's blessings in our life. It is rather the person, merit, and work of the Lord Jesus whereby our Heavenly Father's fount of favor flows unto us, as the hymnwriter so beautifully depicted, "Out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again."
"God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
“For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19).
"Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14).
Understanding that we are already blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ because of His person, merit, and work will go far in motivating a faithfulness in us is that is not the basis of God's blessing, but rather the fruit of it. Experiencing this wonder of grace will even more fan the flame of devotion in our hearts. The Apostle John wrote that "we love Him because He first loved us," and the increase of such love is effected by increasing understanding and experience thereof (I John 4:19). Few truths, known in the mind and embraced by the heart, will further our journey along the path of righteousness more than this gift of grace whereby we continually affirm to our wondrous Lord Jesus, "I have learned by experience that God hath blessed me for Thy sake."
"Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (II Corinthians 8:9).
"And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them."
Friday, January 8, 2010
The progression of our Lord's devotion to us is amazing, wondrous, staggering, and completely beyond our ability to fathom or describe. In preaching, and in writing both prose and music, I often feel greatly frustrated because I know that there is no way to say it, to write it, or to sing it. The love of God is an ocean without shore, and a mountain whose summit reaches beyond the clouds, beyond the atmosphere, and beyond space, time and infinity.
There is a word in Scripture, however, that more than any other seems to help me grasp the most significant measure of God's affection.
"Men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" (Ephesians 5:28-29).
The Lord Jesus Christ cherishes His church (and calls husbands to cherish their wives as the expression and example thereof, certainly a good topic for another consideration, at another time). The word is "thalpo" in the original Greek, literally meaning to keep warm. In the broader sense, however, thalpo was a word that indicated tender love and devotion. Our Lord cherishes us. Think of this in your mind. Then say the words. Our Lord cherishes us. Perhaps even make it personal. My Lord cherishes me. Or, my Lord cherishes my brothers and sisters in Christ. He cherishes us.
The word may not have the same impact in your heart and mind as it does in mine, and that is fine. For me, however, it seems to define what the love of God means in a way that even the word love does not seem to reveal. Our Heavenly Father is emotional in His devotion to us. Such feeling is always in perfect accord with His character, of course, and never does He allow sentiment to deter Him from doing that which most aligns with His glory and eternal purpose in Christ. Nevertheless, the Bible does not allow us to view God as a dispassionate, detached, or disinterested father. On the contrary, we are an eternal delight to Him because born again believers in the Lord Jesus are literally inhabited by our Savior to the degree that when our Father sees us, He sees His beloved Son. Indeed, we are in a sense doubly loved, that is, we are loved for Christ's sake and for our own sake. Or, we are cherished for His sake and our own.
I feel the familiar frustration even as I write the words. "Cherish" does not describe what the Spirit and the Word reveal to us of the love of God. Nor will eternity be long enough to exhaust the outpouring of His affectionate good will to us. The reality cannot be fully known, or told. We can only know that the love of Christ passes knowledge and description, and that whatever Biblical words most illuminate us, they are, by definition, open-ended. The Apostle Paul bore witness to this "joy unspeakable and full of glory, and we close with his exulation...
"God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus."
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
There is a bit of truth in the old adage, "Character is what we do when no one is looking." Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ know, however, that there is never a moment in our lives when someone is not looking.
"All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him without whom we have to do... The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Hebrews 4:13; Proverbs 15:3)
Christian character is better defined as what we do because we know that Someone is looking, and we lovingly desire to please Him in every thought, word, and deed. "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer" (Psalm 69:14). We live a witnessed life, a thought that would be deeply disturbing if we did not know the character and nature of the great Witness. Our Lord sees all, from the deepest thoughts of our innermost being, to the words and actions that ensue. His love never waxes or wanes because of what He sees, although the nature of how we are loved will change according to the need of every hour. Whether in gentleness, firmness, or the sense of little Divine involvement, God's working in our lives is utterly perfect because His vision of us is perfect. "Thou God seest me" (Genesis 16:13).
The saints of old seem to have spoken and written more of the witnessed life than do we in our generation. I suspect that contemporary believers would benefit from a resurrection of this often proclaimed Biblical truth and perspective. I am certain that I would, and if you join me in this, let us pray for each other often in the coming year that we will remember that Christian character involves the awareness that Somebody is always looking. It is no doubt a most challenging truth. But even more, it is a most blessed truth because we are so beloved that our Heavenly Father will never turn His gaze from the objects of His deepest affection...
"The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous.(Psalm 34:15)
Try as we might in modern times to reduce or even eliminate pain, suffering, loss, heartache, and heartbreak, the truth is that we cannot avoid the realities of a cursed and fallen world. God promised sorrow to Adam and Eve because of their sin, and thus assured humanity of its need for a comfort that only our Lord can provide (Genesis 3:16-17).
This is a hard, but blessed truth. The pleasures of God's blessing are wonderful gifts, and we see much of His person and truth in them. In our present existence, however, it seems that the sorrows of life allow and motivate us to most know the very heart of God if we will trust and submit unto Him when we hurt. We may not even realize that such illumination is happening as we seemingly hang on by a thin thread of faith during our trials. Down the road a bit, however, we often look back and know the Lord Jesus Christ had drawn very near to us as "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). His light was shining, His hand was keeping, and His heart was comforting. Most importantly, He was revealing to us who He is. Thus, the trusting child of God comes forth from the valley having known a comfort that is far more than the mere assuaging of pain. It is rather the comfort of having grown in the living, true, and personal knowledge for which we exist. "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
As the old saying goes, "Trouble's always a'comin." Regardless of how securely we may seem to have battened down the hatches, as it were, sorrow finds it way to us. God Himself has determined this in the greatness of His love, which "passeth knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19). There are wonders of such love that we would never know in this present life if pain did not press us to seek and partake of His peace. The God of all comfort meets us in the very midst of our sorrows, revealing not only His comfort, but even more, Himself.
"The God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you." (I Peter 1:5)
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
"It was a miracle." (Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director of the Gemini and Apollo programs that successfully sent men into space, and ultimately, the moon).
I recently watched a documentary of the first decade of American manned space flight. Amazingly, in that short span of time, NASA fulfilled President John F. Kennedy's stated goal in 1961 that the United States should send men to the surface of the moon and return them safely before 1970.
Gene Kranz's affirmation of the miraculous, as stated above, is surely true. While untold time, sweat, determination, intellect, and even blood were the human elements that accomplished NASA's mission, it is impossible to believe that God was not involved in the inspiration, illumination, and energizing of humanity that led to human feet walking on the surface of the moon.
"The true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world... every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (John 1:9; James 1:17).
God "giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). All good and virtuous human accomplishment is first and foremost Divine accomplishment. This does not mean that every person has redeeming and living relationship with Him, of course, but it does means that the doings of man would be impossible without "the true light, which lighteth every man," and the "life and breath and all things" that are the direct gift of the Creator to the creation made in His image. Accordingly, as vital as are the human elements in producing amazing feats and things, the greater truth is that men walking on the moon was first and foremost cause for men to kneel on both earth and moon to render amazed adoration and acknowledgement of God.
This perspective is life-changing, and will grant a view of life and the universe that provides altars for praise and thanksgiving at all times. The laptop computer on which I am typing these words, and the capacity to send them around the world, results from countless people having thought, worked, and successfully produced the miracles of the computer age. The latter point is nevertheless the most cogent - "miracles of the computer age." Computers are gifts of God to humanity, and while they may often be used for other than godly purposes, the fact is that man would have less than a zero possibility of having produced such marvels apart from the wisdom and enabling of our Creator. "Every good gift" must be viewed in the same wondrous light of the Divine, and even now, I bow my heart and head to praise the One most responsible for this gift that makes possible our communication and fellowship with each other.
From the shoes on our feet that enable us to walk the rocky paths of the earth comfortably, to the stunning engineering and technology that enabled Neal Armstrong and others to set foot on the moon, all are first and foremost the products of the mind and heart of God. It was a miracle that NASA accomplished its goal in so brief a time. The truth of the matter is that the world is filled with miracles - "the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6:3). Therefore, while we may give a proper nod to the people through whom such glory comes, we give our worship to the One who is the very heart of "every good gift and every perfect gift."
"In Him we live and move and have our being."
Monday, January 4, 2010
Thanksgiving and praise will often seem like sacrifices because our offerings will counter every human inclination, emotion, and thought.
The response of our flesh to challenge, difficulty, pain, loss, heartache and heartbreak will not be praise and thanksgiving. Doubt, fear, complaint, despair, and anger are far more the norm of our humanity. We must therefore must expect that our initial reactions to sufferings, in whatever form or measure, will often flow against the faith that praises and thanks God. Life in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ does not presently involve the eradication of such responses in us, but rather the overcoming of them by remembrance of God's truth, and the determination to believe His promises rather than the fleshly perceptions that offer worry rather than worship.
"I will go into Thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay Thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble" (Psalm 66:13-14).
To praise and thank God when trouble confronts us is the "burnt offering" of determining to replace fleshly thoughts and emotions with the truth of His Word. Our Heavenly Father counts this as genuine sacrifice, and such offering of the heart is in fact far more spiritually substantive than Israel's offerings of dove, pigeon, goat, and lamb. The altar is ever before us, and countless opportunities call us to this worship that chooses to trust and obey God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Praising and thanking our Lord when considering His blessings is a wonderful thing. Praising and thanking Him when considering our troubles is also a wonderful thing, and will often be a far more accurate barometer of our spiritual strength and relationship with God. We must know Him well and be confident of His faithfulness if we are to see His light shining in the darkness to such degree that we praise and thank Him when everything in us seems to prompt us otherwise. Let us pray for each other and for ourselves that such knowledge, both personal and doctrinal, will lead us to offer the sacrifices that must bless our Father's heart because they reveal we are so trusting His heart.
"I will freely sacrifice unto Thee: I will praise Thy name, O LORD; for it is good."