Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Seriously Part 3

"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).
"When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2).

The Apostle Paul taught that growing into greater likeness to the Lord Jesus Christ results from the beholding of His glory. The Apostle John confirmed this truth by promising that believers will be perfected when we see the Lord at His coming.

Our seriousness regarding God flows from greater apprehension and experience of Christ's devotion to His Father. His perfect consecration, better known and understood, results in our own growing devotion. "Consider Him... lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Hebrews 12:3). We become more serious in our relationship to God by looking to "Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). The Spirit of the Lord Jesus dwelling in us makes genuine dedication to God possible. Growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus makes such devotion more realized and actual in our day to day experience.

If we find ourselves "wearied and faint," our hope - our only hope - is to "consider Him." We open the written Word in order to behold the living Word. Remembrance of our Lord's person and work on our behalf, along with new insights thereof, awakens us to abundant joy and solemn seriousness. Ever and always, Christ is the door, the way, the power, and the life whereby the love of God and love for God become the growing influence of our lives. His person and work taken seriously changes us "into the same image," and thus into devoted sons and daughters who increasingly walk in genuine devotion to our relationship with the most important Person in our lives.

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength... the love of God is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us."
(Mark 12:30; Romans 5:5)

Saturday, November 27, 2010


    "My son, if thou wilt receive My words, and hide My commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:1-5).
    God's truth is freely given in the Lord Jesus Christ.  However, it must be sought for and received with the utmost seriousness.
    Our Heavenly Father calls us to living and vibrant relationship with Him.  "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).  Considering His surpassing greatness to ourselves, and the moral gulf that inherently separates Divinity and humanity, this is the most amazing truth we can contemplate.  We seem little more than a tiny, temporary speck of damaged consciousness and frame existing in a universe too vast for our minds to fathom.  That the Creator of such wonder knows of our existence to the degree that He lovingly numbers the very hairs of our heads should often shock and bewilder us.  As we grow in the knowledge of God, we become more expectant of such grace because we discover that this is who He is.  Nevertheless, we must never lose the sense of awe that He whom "the heaven of heavens cannot contain" somehow views human hearts as suitable dwellingplaces (I Kings 8:27).
    Nor must we ignore the complete seriousness of relationship with the Lord Jesus.  He sacrificed Himself to the sorrow, pain, forsakenness, and death of Calvary to make possible living union with God.  The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, literally dwells within our hearts if we have believed.  Our eternal destiny involves the worship of God and service to Him.  And in our present lives, we are commissioned with the high calling of communicating Christ to our world by both example and word.  Every other emphasis and interest pale in comparison to the fact of God present both with and within us, and His working all things in our lives for the glory of the Lord Jesus and our benefit.  Failure to take our relationship with God seriously therefore reveals blindness to reality.  "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
    These are terribly convicting words to write.  They are penned in the realization of how little I have personally acknowledged and understood the gravity of my own relationship with God in Christ.  There is no excuse for such neglect, and the truth of the matter is that our Heavenly Father does not excuse it.  He does forgive, however, and perhaps you feel as do I that this is an appropriate moment to seek the mercy of God made possible through the Lord Jesus.   We will find Him "ready to forgive and plenteous in mercy," and we shall also find Him more than willing to intensify our devotion as we trust and submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus (Psalm 86:5).  There is no more serious matter for any of us, and every other issue pales in comparison to this, the very Life of our lives...
"He is thy life."
(Deuteronomy 30:20)
"Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart."
(Jeremiah 29:13)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving, Now and Forever

    "I will give thanks unto Thee forever" (Psalm 30:12)
    Our life of thanksgiving begins in time.  It will go with us into eternity where the attitude and practice will be infinitely enhanced in the direct presence of the One to whom we express our gratitude. 
    In our present lives, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).  Thus, we give thanks without having physically seen the Hand that provides, protects, and gives to us "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  This is a blessed thing, both to God and to ourselves.  Surely we touch our Father's heart when we choose to see that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above," especially when appearance may indicate that human hands are the source of supply.  Our own hearts are also blessed as gratitude felt and expressed illuminates to us the great truth that God is God and we are not.
     In eternity, we will walk by sight.  "Then shall I know, even as also I am known" (I Corinthians 13:12).  Our Heavenly Father's perpetual generosity will be obvious as "in the ages to come He shows the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7).  Every eternal moment will be graced by Divine giving and human awareness of Divine giving.  No temptation to neglect, ignore, or question God's provision will cloud our vision for even the briefest interruption of amazed reception of "the exceeding riches of His grace."  Our Father's supply of the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of every need will illuminate all, and we will furthermore be equipped to respond in perfect appreciation and gratitude.
     Little wonder that David declared, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psalm 23:6).  God's provision pursuing us in this life, as it were, and then eternity directly with Him.  There is much for which to give thanks both now and forever, and this moment offers opportunity to join the Psalmist in doing so...
"So we Thy people and sheep of Thy pasture will give Thee thanks for ever: we will show forth Thy praise to all generations."
(Psalm 79:13)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Thanks For Thanksgiving"

    It is good to give thanks for thanksgiving.  By this, I don't so much mean the annual observance, but rather the capacity for gratitude formed in humanity by God.
    "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord" (Psalm 92:1).
    Imagine a world without thanksgiving felt or expressed.  No one would understand or be aware of the sacrifice of others to act or give.  No sense of appreciation would form in the heart and mind of those benefited by others.  No utterance of "thank you" would be heard.  Things would be done mechanistically and without warmth, affection, and heart.  The image is stark and cold.  So much would be missing, including both the Divinity and humanity of our lives.
    The creation of the human race by God in His image included the capacity for gratitude.  He knew that our personhood would not be complete if we possessed no inclination or ability to give thanks to Him and to other people.  Indeed, gratitude is a Divine disposition and expression.  The Bible records that during His earthly lifetime, the Lord Jesus Christ frequently expressed thanksgiving to His Father.  Doubtless this manifested in space and time a reality that existed in the eternal state of the triune Godhead.  The capacity for gratitude and appreciation therefore blesses us with a gift from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the gift of a particularly beautiful aspect of their eternally ancient relationship of perfect love.
    We do well to give thanks for thanksgiving.  An existence without it would lack much of that which makes life truly life.  And for born again believers in the Lord Jesus, the gift is particularly beautiful because our thankful Savior dwells in us to bear the fruit of His grateful heart...
"Because ye are sons, God hath sent for the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father."
(Galatians 4:6)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"The Fruit of Thanksgiving"

     A truly authentic life of thanksgiving expressed to God requires spiritual cultivation because gratitude is fruit rather than root.
    We do not give thanks in order to walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.  We give thanks because we are walking with Him.  The sequence must not be reversed in our understanding.  As mentioned in yesterday's message, thanksgiving to God should not be viewed in the mercenary sense that supposes the expression to be a tool that enables us to better relate to Him.  It does in fact accomplish this, of course.   A.W. Tozer, for example, wrote of thanksgiving as "the sweetener of the soul" whereby gratitude expressed maintains the interior environment of our hearts as we navigate an often treacherous and painful exterior world.  However, just as we would question the genuineness of thanksgiving in human relationships if our offerings were expressed for reasons of personal benefit, so must we avoid any notion of giving thanks to God for purposes other than loving and sincere expressions of gratitude.
    Again, thanksgiving is fruit, the fruit of God's dynamic involvement in our lives, and of our eyes being open to the blessed reality because we are led by His Spirit.  Indeed, our spiritual temperature, as it were, can be measured by the conscious existence of gratitude within, and of thanksgiving expressed without.
    "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).
    "By Him," that is, by the Spirit of Christ we consistently praise and thank God.  Gratitude originates in us as the Holy Spirit informs and reminds that this blessing, or that provision, or the next breath are gifts of our Heavenly Father to us.  "He giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  We do not naturally think in such terms, making necessary the opening of our eyes to reality.  Our Lord illuminates us to such glory as we walk with Him, and thanksgiving naturally, or supernaturally, blossoms into "the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name."
"Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto Thy name: the upright shall dwell in Thy presence."
(Psalm 140:13)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"In Order To Give"

    As the fruit of the Holy Spirit's working in us, and as the expression of faith and obedience to God, thanksgiving greatly benefits us.  Furthermore, our Heavenly Father calls to a life of gratitude not for selfish reasons on His part, but rather because thanksgiving accomplishes much in filling and fulfilling our hearts.  We are in tune with reality when we express appreciation to the Benefactor who "giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).
    We do not, however, give thanks in order to receive blessings or benefits.  Our motivation must be love.  We give thanks because we want to bless the heart of the God who so loves us, and who so cherishes our affection and devotion.  Just as "out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth and giveth and giveth again," so do we want to found giving and giving and giving again expressions of heartfelt gratitude.
     I'm not sure there is anything else we actually have to give to God.  We belong to Him, as does everybody and everything in the world.  "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1).  Devoting ourselves and our possessions to Him, therefore, is actually more of a recognition of reality on our part.  We come to our senses when we believe in the Lord Jesus, and our consecration involves not so much the giving to God of that which already belongs to Him, but of acknowledging the truth of our redeemed being. 
    Thanksgiving, however, involves something that we freely form within our hearts as an offering to God.  As referenced in yesterday's message, the Holy Spirit must certainly lead and enable us in our expressions of adoration.  There is nevertheless something real and "original," as it were, in our personal offerings to God.  We are not robots.  We are persons, persons energized and motivated by the Holy Spirit, and persons whose human faculties become liberated and enabled in Christ to genuinely love our Lord with "freewill offerings" (Psalm 119:108).  Thanksgiving and praise therefore provide opportunity for giving a gift to God of that which we draw from somewhere deep within our humanity for the purpose of blessing His heart.  This must serve as our motivation in giving thanks, rather than the merely mercenary notion of expressing gratitude for our own benefit.  We give not to get, although we do get.  We rather give in order to give, to give perhaps that one gift our Christ-inhabited and enabled being can form for the purpose of blessing the Heart that has so blessed our hearts.
"When ye will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the LORD, offer it at your own will."(Leviticus 22:29)
"I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O LORD; for it is good."
(Psalm 54:6)

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Thankful Savior

    "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (Matthew 11:25).
    Eleven times in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded as giving thanks to His Father.  "I live by the Father" declared our Lord, whose grateful heart now inhabits the spirits of those who believe.
    "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6).*
     Thanksgiving as known and practiced by believers begins with God, that is, with the second person of the triune Godhead, the Lord Jesus, and with the third person, the Holy Spirit.  The latter inhabits us for the sublime purpose of revealing the character, nature, and disposition of the former.  Gratitude is a primary feature so revealed, first during the earthly sojourn of our Savior's personal human life, and now during His sojourn of grace as Christ dwells and walks within us (II Corinthians 6:16).
     Thanksgiving takes on a different and greater meaning when we realize it to be the expression of Christ in us.  It becomes a matter of faith as we trust the Holy Spirit to lead and enable us to "walk, even as Christ walked" (I John 4:19).  In terms of our present consideration, He leads us to give thanks, even as Christ gave thanks.  Genuine, heartfelt gratitude therefore grants to us tangible spiritual experience of our Lord, whether or not we are consciously aware of it as it happens.  The grateful heart of the Lord Jesus is revealed in us, and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are glorified as an eternally ancient relationship of giving, receiving, and giving thanks becomes localized in our trusting hearts and upon our thanking lips.
   I have often said that I would love to have been a fly on the wall, as it were, witnessing the life of the Lord Jesus, as did His disciples.  This is particularly true regarding His prayers, and what an experience it would have been to have heard Him giving thanks.  However, our present opportunity of His grateful heart manifested in us allows for an even greater experience of the Lord Jesus.  Rather than a fly on the wall, we are sons and daughters in Christ, and with Christ dwelling in us.  In as sense, our Father grants to us the privilege of hearing His Son give thanks.  Only now it is manifested in us and by us as we respond to the moving of our Lord's Spirit dwelling within us.  This is a far greater thing, and the answer to our Savior's prayer for us recorded in John 17:
"O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. And 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 17:25-26)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Ministers of Righteousness?"

    Recently I spoke with a gentleman whose honest profession is often the brunt of jokes about ethics, honesty, and the reputation among some practitioners of shady and questionable dealings.
     "Yes," I responded (somewhat in jest), "I suppose that my calling is about the only one that people should be more concerned about regarding the shady and the questionable."
     "Oh really" said the gentleman.  "What do you do?"
     He smiled as I replied, "I'm a preacher."
     With all due respect to the many fine and honorable ministers of God's Word who faithfully fulfill their calling, I nevertheless believe that no profession should be more viewed with sober and careful discretion.  The Bible calls us to "try (test) the spirits whether they be of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1).  Born again believers in the Lord Jesus are called to "turn away" from communicators who do not faithfully live and preach the Gospel (II Timothy 3:5).  We will be held accountable for those to whom we listen and read, and we must be extremely careful regarding sources of spiritual illumination.
    A simple question verifies the premise.  Where might we most expect a subtle devil to plant his deceptive voices and influences?  The pulpit, the Christian bookstore, and Christian media are the obvious answers.  Indeed, just because a preacher, teacher, or writer uses the name "Jesus" or opens a Bible when they communicate does not mean that he is a messenger of light.  He may well be an angel of darkness, or the representative thereof.  Failure to understand this truth immediately sets us up for being deceived, and wise is the believer who obeys the Word of God in putting preachers, teachers, and writers to the test.
    Frankly, I often see in my personal life the dangerous tendency to not "try the spirits."  When people find out what I do, I can often sense the granting of immediate credibility to me because I profess to be a preacher.  This is a grave error, and while I do not seek to directly correct the person who commits it, I do determine by God's grace to live up to the far too quickly granted confidence.  However, I would much rather that people, upon hearing about what I do, view me with the determination to use much discretion.  In so doing, they are not disrespecting me, but rather accepting the plainly declared Biblical truth that Satan likely plants his tares among preachers more than in any other field of human endeavor.
     Again, there are many honorable communicators of God's truth.  They are His gift of us, and we should appreciate and give thanks for them (Ephesians 4:8-14).  However, if we fail to understand that the pulpit can serve Satan's purposes as well as God's, we can be sure of this: we will be deceived, and likely already are.  "Try the spirits."  This is a definitive command for believers, and not optional.  Our spiritual well being is at stake, and we are each personally called to put to the test those who claim to be God's voices in the world.
"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."
(II Corinthians 11:13-15)

Friday, November 19, 2010

"His Rest" Conclusion

     In natural terms, rest stills motion.  We normally sit or lie down when we rest in order to refresh ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.
    The believer's spiritual rest, conversely, leads to activity.  The more we become aware that we live from the presence and dynamic working of God on our behalf, the more we find ourselves motivated to relate to Him in the conscious commitment of love, faith, submission, obedience, and the desire to communicate the Lord Jesus Christ to others.  We become inwardly active as the marvel of God's loving involvement stimulates us to respond in kind.  Indeed, love begets love, beginning with our heart from which the issues of life flow, and culminating in thoughts, attitudes, words and behaviors whereby we "walk, even as He walked" (I John 4:19).
    The spirit of the born again believer teems with the life of the risen Christ, as revealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (II Corinthians 6:16).  Whether we experience the wonder and power of such truth depends to a great degree on whether we "enter into His rest" (Hebrews 3:18).  Believers "live by faith" (Romans 1:17).  We must therefore make paramount the matter of trusting our Lord, as defined by Scripture.  We rest to the degree we trust, and we "work the works of God" to the degree we believe the Word of God.  "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent" (John 6:29). 
    From the moment of our new birth, our spiritual enemies begin the attempt to divert us from the grace and truth that initially gives us life in Christ, and then perpetually fosters experience and expression of the amazing reality that God literally dwells in us by His Spirit.  Satan and his minions know better than do we the power of such "hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).  Savage and subtle attacks thus characterize our days as foes tempt us to neglect the rest that begins with the affirmation of Christ's dynamic presence, and leads to increasing experience thereof.  May we recognize the challenge, and then overcome it by trusting that the Lord Jesus is the center and circumference of our existence.  This is rest, the rest of being in Christ, and of Christ being in us.
"Return unto thy rest, o my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee."
(Psalm 116:7)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"His Rest" Part 4

    The writer of Hebrews proclaims that entering into God's rest is a matter of belief and the ceasing from our own works.
    "He that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Hebrews 4:10-11).
    The Christian life begins with the understanding that human efforts to attain to godliness, righteousness, and morality are futile.  The standard is simply too high because the Lord Jesus Christ alone is humanity as God designed us to be.  "Walk, even as He walked" (I John 2:6).  We must therefore be just like Him, or His perfect righteousness must be appropriated to us as a free gift, to be received by grace through faith.  The former is impossible.  The latter is the Gospel.
    "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).
   In similar manner, the living of the Christian life requires the same dynamic of grace through faith.  "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6).  That is, whatever happened in the first moment of our redeeming relationship with God must continue to happen thereafter.  We must acknowledge His working to provide the Lord Jesus as the vibrant Life of our lives.  And we must acknowledge that, according to God's definition, we have no life apart from our Savior.  "I am the life... to live is Christ" (John 14:6; Philippians 1:21).  We therefore cease from our own labors by acknowledging our utter dependence on God's labors on our behalf.  "He worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  Upon this basis, we then "work the works of God," or as the Lord Jesus declared of His own earthly experience, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 6:28; 5:17).
    We must believe.  We must believe the Word of God.  We must believe that our Father "worketh hitherto" - in us - and upon this basis of confidence in a living, active Lord, we walk the path He lays out before us.  We work from rest, the rest of faith in Christ, and the rest of renouncing trust in ourselves.  This is truth, this is peace, and this is the basis upon which we live lives of sincere desire and authentic expression of love for God and man.
"We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
(Philippians 3:3)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"His Rest" Part 3

    When we work from a sense of adequacy for the task at hand, confidence, assurance, and competence characterize our labors.
    The Lord Jesus Christ knew such a life, albeit for different reasons than we might expect.  He lived from a super abundant adequacy - but not His own.
    "I live by the Father... the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do" (John 6:57; 5:19).
    Our Savior laid aside His innate Divine capacities during His earthly lifetime, remaining as God the Son in His Person and inner substance, but living as the son of man in complete dependence on His Father.  Our Lord felt the limitations of His humanity - He thirsted, hungered, tired, hurt, and was tempted - but even more, He believed in the abundance of His Father's enabling and providing presence.  Thus, He lived from strength, the strength of God dwelling with and within Him.
    We are called to the same dynamic experience of the Divine presence as known by faith. 
     "As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me" (John 6:57). 
     Just as the Lord Jesus lived by His Father during His earthly sojourn, so are we to live by our Savior.  We partake of Him by believing that Christ dwells in us by His Spirit, and that His is dynamically active in us to effect the glory and will of God in our endeavors.  We do not live our lives alone if we have believed.  Nor we do not live from our own resources.  We rather live in Christ, through Christ, by Christ, and for the glory of Christ.  He is the center of our existence - "Christ in you, the hope of glory" -  and He is the circumference of our existence - "of Him are ye in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:27; I Corinthians 1:30).
    This is rest.  We work, and work hard in our Lord's vineyards.  But we do so from His superenabling presence and dynamic acting on our behalf.  As the Apostle Paul declared, our Lord "is able to do exceeding abundant above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20; emphasis added).  Do we believe this plainly declared Biblical truth?  To the degree we do, we will experience the glorious reality of the Spirit of Christ living in us, and our living by Him.  This is Christianity in its purest essence, that the Lord Jesus dwells among and within His people.  He is the life, the wisdom, the power, and most of all, the motivating effecter of the love of God in us.  We are the trusting, submissive branches who live with expectancy of "much fruit," not because of ourselves, but because of the glorious True Vine who infuses us with His dynamic life and energy (John 15:1-5).  Our hearts rest in such blessed assurance, and we work for God by working from Him.
"I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily."
(Colossians 1:29)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"His Rest" Part 2

   "It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed" (Exodus 31:17). was refreshed.
    For years, I believed and communicated to others that God rested on the seventh day simply because His creative work was finished and no further activity on His part was necessary.  I reasoned that an omnipotent being could not become weary or exhausted regardless of how vast a universe He might create.
    "Hast thou not known?  Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?" (Isaiah 40:28).
    It is correct to surmise that the act of creation could not tire the Creator in any sense of physical exertion.  He merely spoke, and all things came into existence.  However, the Bible declares that "He rested, and was refreshed."  This raises the obvious question, "How could an all-powerful being who "fainteth not, neither is weary" experience refreshing?
    The answer that seems most satisfying to me involves the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).  In full knowledge that the creation of the world and humanity would lead to the suffering, sorrow, and forsakenness of His beloved Son on the cross of Calvary, God nevertheless created.  It is not difficult or Biblically inappropriate to consider that such an act of His part, while in perfect accordance with His character and purpose, would involve great emotion in our Lord's heart.  Creation would lead to the necessity of redemption at the highest and most terrible cost to His Son.  Perhaps the seventh day of rest involved an emotional "refreshing" after so great an act of loving self sacrifice, the act of creation.
    If so, "His rest" takes on new meaning and significance (Hebrews 4:10).  We see in greater measure the love of God that not only sacrificed in the specific act of redemption.  Our very creation cost Him something.  Indeed, let us recall that Calvary involved not only the physical and emotional pain of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also His smiting and forsaking by the Father who eternally loves Him.  "He was made to be sin for us" on the cross, and suffered the terrible wrath of God rather than the favor He had always known (II Corinthians 5:21).  There is no possibility we will ever know the agony that occurred in the triune God when, for our sakes, a breach took place in the perfect bond of Divine love.  "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).
    Our response must be grateful praise, adoration, and the desire to increase in love for the Lord who so loves us.  We also must seek to grow in the experience of His rest.  The suffering of the Lamb of God made salvation and subsequent relationship to God a free gift to be received by faith rather than an attainment to be earned by works (Romans 4:1-5).  We live from this rest, that is, we determine that the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was so perfectly atoning that we do nothing - and can do nothing - to originate or maintain the relationship.  Our works are rather the product of love, the love of God "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).  Affection, devotion, commitment, and the willingness for self sacrifice flow from increasing awareness of our Lord's willingness to suffer in the acts of both creation and redemption, leading to the dynamic means by which our relating to God is ever the fruit of His relating to us...
"We love Him because He first loved us."
(I John 4:19)

Monday, November 15, 2010

His Rest Part 1

"God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made" (Genesis 2:3).

God blessed and sanctified the sabbath because He rested from all His works on that day. The Lord Jesus Christ, however, declared that "the sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). Thus, the blessing of the sabbath was God-centered in its substance and significance as Israel was called to remember the Lord's rest after having done the work of creation (Exodus 31:17). Man, however, was the beneficiary of the remembrance through both physical rest, and more importantly, spiritual worship and consideration.

This typifies the born again believer's view of God having rested upon completion of the work of salvation through His Son. "It is finished!" triumphantly proclaimed the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary (John 19:30). Our Heavenly Father requires nothing further to form the potential and substance of salvation because the Lord Jesus has died, risen, and ascended into the heavenlies. He is therefore able to "be just and the justifier of him that believeth" (Romans 3:26). All that remained after Christ's return to Heaven was to send forth the Holy Spirit and the church to bear witness of the free gift whereby the Lord Jesus "is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him" (Hebrews 7:25).

Upon this basis, human hearts are called to end the wicked and mad quest for self deification that began when our forefathers in Eden believed the devil's lie that "ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5). God calls us into His own rest regarding the redemption of our souls. "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His" (Hebrews 4:9-10). "There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" furthermore declared the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 10:26). The work is done. God rests in perfect satisfaction that the atoning sacrifice, the glorious resurrection, and the victorious ascension of the Lord Jesus were more than enough to provide free salvation to all who join our Heavenly Father in ceasing from His own work of redemption by our ceasing from any notion that we can save ourselves.

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us" (Titus 3:5).

Many works will ensue from the saving grace of the Lord Jesus. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10). However, such expressions of Christ's character and nature expressed by us are fruit rather than root. We do not work for salvation, but from salvation as the Holy Spirit "worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Reversing the order results in spiritual deception and disaster, leading to the law of sin in our flesh being stimulated because we have veered from the truth of God's grace received by faith rather than merited by works (Romans 7:5-11; Ephesians 2:8). Indeed, the believer who does not consistently "work the works of God" is also the believer who does not rest with his Heavenly Father in affirmation and application of the finished work of Christ (John 6:28).

Our Heavenly Father is presently and eternally resting in the sabbath of His Son's completely satisfactory work of providing free salvation to all who sing with the hymnwriter: "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling!" We must join Him, both in the sense of the new birth, and in ongoing confidence that "the fruits of righteousness... are by Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:11).

"The just shall live by faith." (Romans 1:17)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Not Against Flesh and Blood" Addendum

A few final thoughts about the matter of the believer's plainly declared spiritual responsibility to "fight the good fight of faith."

First, I purposefully did not use the term,"spiritual warfare," during the series. While certainly faithful to Biblical teaching, the terminology has become a broad catch-all in Christendom for many conflicting and unbiblical notions, as well as the truth. "Spiritual warfare" conjures thoughts and concepts in the minds of many believers that make me very uncomfortable. I mean no disrespect to anyone who uses the term, and certainly it is possible to do so in close faithfulness to Scriptural teaching. However, my experience is that many inaccurate and misleading teachings characterize a significant portion of "spiritual warfare" consideration among believers.

I also strongly suggested during the series that there is nothing for believers to fear about the fight to which we are called, so long as we are fighting in according with the Bible's truth. How often have we heard that "if we start engaging in spiritual battle, expect that the devil will begin to attack back in our lives!" Let me respond bluntly: who do you think started such a notion? Who might want us to avoid fighting the good fight of faith, and thus attempt to intimidate us from doing so?

The Bible plainly declares, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). I suspect that the truth of the matter is that if we seem to experience devilish attacks when we begin to fight, we may be erroneously and unbiblically waging the battle to which we are called. If so, God Himself may orchestrate our difficulties in order to correct us. There are many misnomers about the fight, some that can set us up for grievous deception. If we stumble into such error, any challenges that result may be far more related to God's chastening than Satan's responsive attacks. James plainly states that resistance causes the devil to flee. But the resistance must be in accordance with the Word of God. We therefore should not fear the fight to which we are called so long as we are wielding the authentic "weapons of our warfare."

As strongly emphasized in yesterday's message, we do not fight Satan directly. The command that immediately precedes James' calling to resist the devil commands that we "submit ourselves therefore to God" (James 4:7).

"Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee" (Jude 1:9).

Michael is a powerful heavenly being, perhaps the most powerful of the faithful angelic host (Daniel 12:1; Revelation 12:7). However, he does not directly address Satan, deferring to the authority and power of the Lord Jesus. Any notion, therefore, that we should directly address or rebuke the devil places those who do so in great jeopardy. We confront Satan by drawing near to the Captain of salvation, consciously and decisively asking Him to deal with our spiritual enemies in accordance with His will and power.

Finally, we must fight the good fight of faith. As mentioned yesterday, the temptation of Bathsheba, in countless forms particular to us, awaits us if we "tarry still at Jerusalem" rather than warring from the finished work of the risen Christ. Through the years, I have often considered the question of why some believers progress in their faith, maturing to a vibrant experience of the Lord Jesus, while others settle into a nominal spiritual existence that is foreign to any expectation revealed in the New Testament. There are likely many answers to this question, but I have come to believe that the failure to fight is at or near the top of the list. Many believers do not know that salvation enlists us to become "good soldiers of Jesus Christ" (II Timothy 2:3). Ignorance of our calling does not cause our enemies to leave us alone. They rather swamp us with temptation and attacks of discouragement that unnecessarily wound us to the degree we feel unable to consistently access the living experience of the Lord Jesus provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Great dishonor to the name of our Savior results rather than the glory of which He is so worthy.

Thankfully, and this may be the most important point of the series of messages, we do not have to remain on the sidelines of conflict if we realize we have failed to fight (and if spiritual damage has resulted). The grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus can restore us to fighting form. Also, to whatever degree we have in fact fought in the past, we can - and must - war more consistently and effectually in the future. Our Lord was tortured to death and forsaken by God and man to win the battle of the ages, and to engage us in applying the effects of His triumph throughout our sphere of influence. It would be a tragedy to fail to fight when we are so powerfully equipped with the Lord's weapons of salvation, righteousness, peace, truth, the shield of faith, the Word of God, and the amazing gift of prayer whereby we joyfully witness on our particular battlefields that...

"The Lord is a Man of war; the Lord is His name."
(Exodus 15:3)

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Not Against Flesh and Blood" Conclusion

   "We wrestle not against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12).  This series of messages began with the Biblical teaching that the Christian's true enemies are not human.  The devil and those angels who rebelled with him comprise the forces who originate and empower the challenges we face in seeking to live lives that glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.  Satan attacks through human agencies, of course, and people are responsible for being the pawns of his power.  Nevertheless, as we conclude our consideration, I want to emphasize the point that all temptation involves devilish entities acting through the world and the flesh (our own and that of others) to mislead us.
    To "fight the good fight of faith," we must be "spiritually minded" (I Timothy 6:12; Romans 8:6).  We must increasingly know God and His truth rightly, and in this foundational context, we must also rightly know and understand the challenges we face.  "We are not ignorant of Satan's devices" (II Corinthians 2:11).  Failure to understand that we fight "principalities... powers... the rulers of the darkness of this world... spiritual wickedness in high places" relegates us to a limited or distorted role in serving our Lord's redeeming purposes in the world (Ephesians 6:12).  We will wrestle against flesh rather than spirit, leading to condemnation of both ourselves and of others rather than the spiritual foes who rightly deserve our vehement determination to overcome by the power of the Lord Jesus and His victory.  "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world... this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (John 16:33; I John 5:4).
    Our awareness of the spiritual nature of conflict does not call us to direct confrontation with our enemies.  "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).  We rather fight our enemies by trusting and prayerful consecration to the Lord Jesus.  No direct confrontation is necessary because "the battle is the Lord's" (I Samuel 17:47).  Our calling is to serve as His ambassadors who are led by the Holy Spirit to see where the devil and his angels are fomenting their wickedness.  We then take the matters to God, requesting His retaking of ground lost, His working to confront and overcome present challenges, and His protection regarding those to come.  We also offer ourselves to serve as His "good soldiers" in any way He may determine to wield His sword by us (II Timothy 2:3).  "Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight" (Psalm 144:1).
    "The good fight" is not optional, nor is it reserved for a select class of believers.  We will either mindfully engage, or we will find ourselves as did King David, tempted by Bathsheba because he "tarried still at Jerusalem" when he should have been on the field of battle with his men (II Samuel 11:1-3).  The results were disastrous for David, and for those whom he hurt by his warless hands and fightless fingers.  In the same manner, the believer who does not fight the good fight will be savagely tempted and attacked by the devil who sees weakness and pounces upon it.  Conversely, the Bible plainly states that Satan flees the Christian who watches, stands, withstands, and affirms the victory of the risen Captain of our salvation.  We fight from His triumph, in His triumph, and by His triumph.  May we open our eyes to to see a doomed enemy encamped on the hills around us.  May our ears hear the noise of the conflict in which the mere sound of our Lord's voice confuses and puts to flight our enemies.  And may our nostrils smell the smoke of the battlefield whereupon we awaken in every day of our lives, and wherein our Lord's triumph ever wafts upon the winds of war.  And may we fight!
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."
(Ephesians 6:10)

"Not Against Flesh and Blood" Part 9

    We are not to be afraid of the devil and his minions.  "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7).  We are, however, to be mindful and aware that the "roaring lion" can "devour" our experience of God and His working in our lives if we disregard or wrongly respond to the fact that we live among malevolent spiritual enemies who are inherently more powerful than we are (I Peter 5:8).
     "Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee" (Jude 1:9).
       "Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded" (Acts 19:13-16).
    The most powerful angel described in Scripture, Michael, would not directly address Satan, deferring rather to God's rebuke.  The seven sons of Sceva were not possessed of Divine or apostolic authority, and were thus put to flight and shame because they sought to directly confront a demonic entity.  We must take heed of these warnings to avoid at all costs direct confrontation with spiritual enemies who will rout us if we seek to confront them in any direct manner.  Indeed, James's command that we "resist the devil" is immediately preceded by the command to "submit yourselves therefore unto God" (James 4:7).  We "fight the good fight of faith," meaning that we do not war in and of ourselves, but rather through the Christ who is "the Captain of our salvation" (I Timothy 6:12; Philippians 4:13; Hebrews 2:10).
    The believer's calling is to be aware and wary of the devil's devices, and then submit ourselves unto God for whatever He purposes to accomplish through us in overcoming the works of the enemy.  Prayer will often be the first line of battle to which our Captain assigns us.  Upon this basis, He may call us to further duties of self sacrificial attitudes, words, actions, and relating to others whereby the devil's darkness is overwhelmed by the light of Christ.  Our focus is on the Lord Jesus and ministry to people, even as we acknowledge enemies and God's working through us to pull down devilish strongholds of deception and falsehood.
    We fight from victory, the victory of the risen Christ.  His ultimate triumph and rule over all things is assured.  However, there are countless battles of consequence that must still be fought in our present lives as the effects of His victory are yet to be fully realized.  "He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet" (I Corinthians 15:25).  Our Lord purposes to engage us in the conflict, but always from the high ground, as it were, of fighting by Him, through Him, and in Him.  Anything less involves tragic disengagement from our calling and responsibility.  Anything more endangers our spiritual well being, setting us up for the rout of deception and disqualification from the true fight to which we are called.  May our Lord lead us in His wisdom, and in the strong confidence that "the good fight" to which we are called, rightly waged, will reveal the glory of the Lord Jesus in ever greater display of His redeeming work in the lives of others and ourselves.
"Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place."
(II Corinthians 2:14)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Not Against Flesh and Blood" Part 8

    When the thought or concept of Satan comes to mind, we do well to consider the strong possibility that our thoughts about him are more the product of fancy than Truth.  Our enemy is effective in hiding the fact of his existence in the minds of many.  For those who believe the Bible and acknowledge the truth that the devil and his angels exist, however, the challenge we face often involves a distorted understanding of their role in seeking to hinder our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

     As we seek to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," it is good to be mindful that our maturing must include increasing understanding of those who oppose Him.  Our focus is on our Lord, of course, but we also maintain vigilance against our spiritual enemies. 

      "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you (acquit yourselves) like men, be strong" (I Corinthians 16:13). 

     This watching must be Biblically defined.  Against what do we maintain vigilance concerning Satan and his minions?  As we have frequently proposed in this series of messages, deception is the devil's primary attack upon us.  He seeks to cause to think and believe things that are not true about God, ourselves, other people, and our lives.  "He is a liar and the father of it" declared the Lord Jesus of Satan, who seeks to make our minds the womb in which he bears his unholy offspring of delusion, distraction, and deception (John 8:44).
This raises a question that all believers must consider.   Are there patterns of thought, attitude, and belief in us that are the product of devilish deception rather than God's truth?

     The answer for all of us is undoubtedly yes.  Our enemy is incessant in seeking to mislead us.  Since our birth, and especially since our new birth in Christ, the devil and his minions have sought to inculcate falsehood in us.  Indeed, one of the first things a new believer should be told is that he has entered into a pitched spiritual battle in which spiritual foes cannot steal his salvation.  They can, however, strongly challenge the living and vibrant experience of our Lord's dynamic presence in our lives.  If we are are unaware of our enemies' nefarious efforts to mislead, we will unwittingly embrace subtle deceptions that affect our walk with God and our relationships with people.  Because we are not perfect in maintaining vigilance, we can be sure that  thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes exist in us that are not completely aligned with Truth.  Our "watch" therefore begins by a serious beseeching of our Lord to reveal such internal deviations to us, or as the Psalmist prayed, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12).

    Our Heavenly Father is more than able and willing to lovingly correct us.  The Bible is given "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16).  Wise is the Christian who recognizes the role of Scripture in exposing areas of devilish deception in our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes.  Such humility also establishes a strong line of defense against future attacks by Satan to mislead us.  The bright light of Truth illuminates all believers who acknowledge the effectiveness of both our enemy and our proclivity to being misled.  More importantly, such humble awareness envelops our hearts and minds with the God who can overcome already existing deception, while also protecting us from present and future attacks.   

    As our Lord cleanses our minds of faulty thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, our hands and feet subsequently bear the fruit of a surer walk of faith and obedience.  "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).  Love for God and man results, and the peace of Christ in our own hearts becomes a far more realized and enjoyed blessing of His grace.  May we therefore remember that enemies seek to mislead, and in the light of Christ and His Word, may we seek God's correction regarding already existing diversions, while keeping watch for Satan's future attempts to deceive us.

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."
(I Peter 5:8)