second sunday of advent

Tags

, , , , , , ,

 

Last week we looked at the first chapter of John:

In the beginning was the word …… through him all things were made …….. In him was life and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Let’s take a closer look.  Everything I need to know about Jesus is contained in the 6 words “through him all things were made”.  He didn’t make anything himself.  God created everything, but he did it all through Christ.

When I come to God, I do it through Christ.  When I speak with him in prayer, it is through Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the gate” (John 10:9).  When I become his child, it is through this gate that I enter God’s kingdom.  In Matthew 7 he says, “knock and the door will be opened to you”.  When I seek Jesus, he takes me in, never neglecting me.  God sees me in him and thus my entire relationship with the Father is through Christ.  Through him, all that I am is being made.

Earlier, we asked the question of how the Holy Spirit, who can not be in the presence of sin, can enter our hearts, while they are still filled with sin, to show us our need of a savior.  Here we have a partial answer.  When we express faith in Christ, knock on the door that is Christ himself, seeking salvation, he opens and the Spirit is there to greet us.  Jesus has already taken on our sin and cancelled it through his death.  In Him, we are pure and receive full communion with the Spirit and with the Father.  This is obviously just one piece of the answer to our question, but it is an amazing piece of God’s plan of grace.

It is by grace that we are saved.  When Adam fell, the evil one thought that darkness had blotted out the light and created an insurmountable barrier between God and his creation, but God had the plan of Grace already prepared to overcome this barrier.  He had created everything (and every one of us) through Christ, rather than just acting himself.  When Christ was crucified, the evil one thought that God’s plan to save his creation had been thwarted, but God’s overwhelming plan of grace was being fulfilled.  I stand in awe of the master planner of grace.

Advent

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the start of Christmas for Christians.  What should I write about for such a happy day?  I could go to Isaiah 40, probably my favorite chapter in the Bible.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people says the Lord your God

Or maybe Isaiah 53

Who has believed out message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot

And like a root out of dry ground.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him

Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

 

Or Malachi 4

The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings

And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.

Or Luke 2

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,

Keeping watch over their flocks by night.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them,

And the glory of the Lord shone around them

All of these are wonderful passages about the unexpected appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, God among us.  Today, though, I’m drawn to the first chapter of John.

In the beginning was the word …… through him all things were made …….. In him was life and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Today we celebrate the coming of light into the world.  Who can doubt that without Christ there is only darkness?  Look around you today.  Has government brought light into your life?  No, their aim is to mislead.  Have the church institutions?  Their laws and rules bring bondage and failure.  We look to our families for love and fulfillment, yet often find unhappiness and disappointment.  There is only one who is always faithful, always reliable, always satisfying.  He is our savior, Jesus Christ.

He is also the one who tells us that we can do all things, that we can achieve more than we know, that we can be better than we thought.  Without him, the world is complex, difficult and obscure.  In him, we are filled with light.

Black Friday

Sometimes I just have to laugh. The Lord has such a subtle sense of humor at times. Tomorrow, the day after Thanksgiving, Americans will participate in a mass ritual of crass commercialism. They’ve chosen to call it Black Friday. What an apt description for the day’s activities.

It comes 2 days before Advent, the coming of light into the world, and a day after Thanksgiving, when we celebrate God’s abundant generosity to us. In between the day of thanks and the day of light, we have the day of obsessive materialism, called the day of blackness.

Sometimes I just have to laugh.

Thanksgiving

Tags

, , , ,

Psalm 24: 9 to 25:1   then Is. 60: 1-5 and 11

9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.

Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

2  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

and his glory will be seen upon you.

3  And nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising.

4  Lift up your eyes all around, and see;

they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from afar,

and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.

Your daughters will be carried on your hips

5  Then you shall see and be radiant;

your heart shall thrill and exult,

11 Your gates shall be open continually;

day and night they shall not be shut,

that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,

with their kings led in procession.

Who are the Lord’s gates?  Who are his everlasting doors?  Jesus said that he is the gate and he is the door, and we are to be like him.

Saved to do Good IV

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last time we ended by noting that the theme of “Saved to do Good” does not end at the end of chapter 1.  We saw in part 1 that God richly blesses Christians with spiritual blessings that go way beyond what many experience, and that the purpose of these blessings is for us to do good works that bless other people in Christ’s name.

The last of these blessing was incomparable power, which was elaborated on in parts 2 and 3 as we saw that God’s power is received and exercised primarily through his church, in conjunction with other believers, and not as lone warriors.   As we explored the nature of this power, we saw that, among other things, it was power over death.

Now read Chapter 2: 1-8

you were dead in your transgressions and sin.

This goes beyond the power over the fear of physical death.  Every person alive was once dead without hope of anything beyond this life.

because of his great love for love for us, God who is rich in Mercy, made us alive in Christ …. it is by grace you have been saved.

While we were dead in sin, God showed his power, glory and grace by raising us with Christ Jesus.  The victory over spiritual death did not come easily.  Raising us from our spiritual death took the same power of God that raised Christ himself from death.  It is so easy to take our salvation lightly, but for God there was a battle involved.

We were followers of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit that is now at work in those who are disobedient

There is a spiritual battle being raged for our souls and God fought to have us.  His weapons were love, mercy and forgiveness.  That sounds so kind, but it was with these weapons that Christ fought for us and won the victory through his own death and suffering.  Because his purity and perfection persisted through all that the evil one could dish out, God’s power prevailed, raising him up and conquering the death that is inherent in our sinful natures (verses 3 and 4).

We almost never consider the possibility that Jesus could have failed, yet without the reality of that possibility, there could not have been victory.

seated us with him in the heavenly realms, in Christ Jesus.

What an amazing and glorious victory it is!  What Satan himself coveted is freely given to us in Christ.

in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace

There is indeed a spiritual battle going on that we only see small glimpses of.  Praise God that he fights for us, and that his grace is incomparably rich.

Grace is an enormous topic that goes way beyond our normal understanding of the word.  Ask yourself a simple question.  How can God, who can’t tolerate sin, love people who are covered inside and out with sin?  We see here that it is by grace that he does this.  Grace is exercised through love, mercy and forgiveness, but how can the Holy Spirit enter into a creature filled with sin and convict them of their need of Christ, when he can not be in the presence of sin.  In Genesis, the Spirit could not enter the darkness until after the light shone into it.  So how does he enter a heart where there is only the darkness of sin?  It is by grace.  It is by an astonishing and elaborate plan that God set in motion before he created the world.  This plan is far beyond our ability to comprehend more than small pieces of it.  It is way more than a kindly disposition.  It is what God stakes his rule on.

 

Finally, we get to verse 10: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus  to do good  works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God prepares good works for us to do.  Notice that he doesn’t prepare us to do good works, he prepares works that fit who he already made us to be in Christ.  We have seen that, in Christ, we are part of his plan and purpose, his grace, his incomparably rich grace.  In order to fulfill that purpose we need to do the good works that he has prepared for us.  We are His workmanship; and he is working on us, and fighting for us, through the good works he gave us to do.

Our good works were prepared for us in advance. Much of the doctrine of predestination comes from Ephesians. When were our works prepared for us? When we came to the Lord? When we were born? Before then? The text says we were “created” in Christ Jesus. Taken literally, our position in Christ began during creation, at the beginning of time. We were created in Christ before the man Adam was created. Therefore, we existed in Christ before Adam was made the representative of the human race. As a result, while we were in the world, we were Adam’s children; but now, in Christ, we are children of God and not subject to Adam’s guilt. No earthly system such as the Law of Moses could ever free us from the guilt and condemnation we inherited from Adam when we were born. When we enter into Christ, however, we no longer bear that guilt because Christ is now our representative, not Adam. The question of how we can be cleansed from original sin is resolved; and in realizing this we gain better insight into why predestination was part of God’s plan of grace.

 We are now God’s creation: saved by him, being “in Christ”, showing his grace, showing his glory, adopted as sons, abundantly blessed by him, waiting on him for even greater   blessings – all of this –

“To do good works”, which he has already prepared for us to do.  Could there be a more magnificent calling than this?

 Some may be thinking that all our works are ‘filthy rags’.  Those are our works, done in our strength, done as children of Adam.  The works of God, done in Christ, are blessed in advanced and we can take pride in doing them.

 

Saved to do Good III

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Last time we ended with the question of how we receive the power of God in Christ.  In verses 22 and 23, Paul answers that question.  God has given all power to Christ and Christ’s body on earth is the church.  We are “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

This is a theme that is repeated throughout the New Testament.  We are reminded that every member of the body is different and all members are important.  We are not all eyes.  We are not all hands.  We are not all feet.  Feet and hands are without power, virtually useless, without eyes to direct them.  One eye loses perspective.  It takes 2 eyes to judge distance so that the hands and feet can operate correctly.

Yet often we expect to receive power sitting alone in our place of devotions.  That’s not what we should expect.  In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit comes upon the followers when they are gathered together.  Similarly, we learn in Acts 19, that the church at Ephesus received the Holy Spirit when they were gathered together.  We should be expecting to receive power as a church, not as individuals.  In fact we receive our fullness in Christ as part of the church.

Interior of St. Thomas

where 2 or 3 are gathered –

So what does this imply about how we should view church membership?  So many people today have a consumer mentality regarding church.  They look for a church that satisfies their needs and if something causes them to feel that their needs are not being met, they simply look for a different church.  It’s an attitude founded in our consumer society.  Sadly, it is also an attitude of our society that the church has accommodated with a message that it’s all about them.  I love contemporary Christian music, but so many of these songs carry that message, as does much of the preaching we hear.

The book of Job has so much to teach us on this.  It’s message is clear.  We serve God.  God loves us, but WE SERVE HIM.  The church serves him.  We serve him through the church.  God put us in a church for a reason.  Whether you are a hand or a foot or an eye, you should have a purpose where you are.  When things get bad, focus on that purpose, and you’ll go a long way towards overcoming whatever the enemy is using to separate you from Christ, from your position in Him.

Even though our Bibles end this issue here, we’ll see as we progress that it continues well into chapter 2

 Recommended: memorize Ephesians 2: 8-10

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourself, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

Saved to do Good – Part II

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

In part A of this lesson, we saw that Paul identifies 4 concrete blessings that our spiritual life should be growing into.  Here Paul explores the fourth of these blessings, “his incomparably great power for us who believe”, in greater detail.

“What power?” might be the response of an unbeliever.  How many Christians live a powerful life?  What is the Spirit saying through Paul?  What is this power that is ours in Christ?

power

We’re told that it is like the power that God used in Christ when God raised him from the dead and seated him in heaven.  How is our power like God’s power?

First we see that this is power over death.  I have a friend who’s husband was pronounced dead and then revived through the prayers of the church, but that is a rare exception.  This is a power available to all Christians, and most often it is on display at funerals and when facing death.  Many times I’ve had unbelievers comment on the mixture of sorrow and joy at Christian funerals rather than the sense of irretrievable loss present at most funerals.  We don’t have the fear of death that most humans have, and it’s not a pretense.  It’s real.

In saying “seated at the right hand of God”, the Spirit is also saying that we have power over Hell.  The devil can’t touch us.  Many today think that Hell is a fantasy.  It’s convenient to think so, if you’re denying God control of your life.  For most of history, the fear of God was the most significant factor in binding people to him.  Today we preach that God is love, and he most certainly is.  I’ve also heard preachers say that  “fear of God” really means “healthy respect”.  Sadly this is a lie that jeopardizes the souls of their listeners.  It was shear terror, not healthy respect, that caused Peter, James and John to fall on their faces trembling.  Hell is real, but the church has shrunk from their task of telling people.  We can’t claim to love them if we keep this truth from them.  Part of the miracle of salvation is that we now relate to God in love, but people who are not living by faith in him should be in terror of him.

power-over-death

Finally, in verse 21, we see that we are given power over all earthly powers.  At worst, they can control our bodies, but can’t touch our hearts, souls and minds, where our true life is lived.  I’m writing this the day before election day.  Tomorrow, many people will vote with hearts and minds that have been shaped by the media and the reports that the media has chosen to feature.  As Christians, we are given power over this.  Do we live in that power?  Do we guard our hearts minds and souls from the deceitful one?  Do we nurture them on the word of God.  He gives us his wisdom if we seek it.  He transforms our minds (Romans 12) as we live in him.  He gives us his power.  Why would we seek the world’s wisdom, knowing in advance that it will make us act like fools?

So we see that our power is like God’s power in three ways.  We also see that, like so many other things in Ephesians, it is put into practice in Christ.  Next time we’ll take a closer look at how we receive and use power.

Election 2016

Tags

, , , , , ,

I have heard more criticism of this election than ever before.  Many are unhappy with both candidates.  For me, the worst thing about this election is that Christianity and the church have been absent.  More than ever, this election demonstrates that for many Americans, Christ has become irrelevant.

This conclusion has been over 100 years in the making.  For all that time, the church has been adapting its message to our society.  From evolution to gay marriage, Christianity has found a way to justify every choice made for human reasons.  That would be justification in human terms, of course; since only Christ can truly justify.

At the same time, we’ve diligently worked to assure people that God loves them regardless of where they are or what they’ve done.  That is absolutely half true. God loves them and desires a rich life full of truth for them, not the half life full of half truth that they live.

Taken together, these 2 teachings have an internal logic and people have followed that logic perfectly.  If God loves us exactly as we are and can accommodate whatever we choose, then he has no more value for us.  If he can’t help us live better, then of what use is he?  We have gotten all that God can do for us, and our life still sucks.  Given what the church teaches, what other conclusion is there?

Praise God, I know differently, yet the message of the Bible for the 21st century hasn’t been made clear because we, the church, haven’t mined it and refined it.  In many ways, we are teaching a system of belief that was developed 500 years ago. Maybe there has been a “frontier faith” mixed in that was highly relevant 200 years ago.  Today the world is far more complex and far more educated, and the issues it faces are not well addressed by the message we bring.  Does that mean that the Bible has actually lost it’s relevance?  No, it means Christians have stopped looking to it for answers that are more complex than in the past.  My faith tells me that those answers are there in the Bible, but what I witness tells me that we’ve gone too long without looking for them.

Saved to Do Good – Part 1

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Lesson 2 – Ephesians 1:15 – 2:10

Part 1 – Ephesians 1:15 to 1:19

In Lesson 1 we recounted the great blessings that believers have received in Christ Jesus.  In this passage, we see that God’s abundant generosity to his children is still not complete.  Even greater gifts are waiting.  As you read this passage, look for additional gifts that the Ephesian Christians can anticipate.

Where do you fit in?  Many Christians, both new converts and life long believers, find themselves in the same position as the people Paul was addressing this letter to.  They are aware of God’s goodness to them, but have never grasped all that is theirs in the Lord.

Now Paul continues by telling the Ephesians that even though they’ve reached a level of maturity and experienced many spiritual blessings, they have only seen the tip of the iceberg.  Greater blessings still are theirs in the Lord.

 He also reminds them towards the end of the full passage that these blessings do not belong to them for their own enjoyment.  They have them for a purpose; and the purpose is to do good deeds.  Again, how many of us fall into the trap of believing that God’s gifts are intended for our personal enjoyment rather than seeing them first and foremost as intended for the health of the body (the church), the growth of the kingdom and the glory of God?

Read verse 17

What additional blessing is Paul praying for the Ephesians to receive?

– Spirit of wisdom and revelation – In the section from Acts we saw that the Ephesians had received the Holy Spirit; yet Paul keeps praying that they receive it, or possibly keep receiving it.  Also, he’s praying for them to receive a specific aspect of the Spirit.

wisdom and revelation to know God better

Paul prays that they will know God better – the Spirit enhances our knowledge of God.  How?  By opening his word to us.  Through interactive prayer.  Have you experienced other ways?  Our growth in Christ begins with Bible reading and prayer, but isn’t limited to that, as we’re about to see.

 Read 18 & 19

List all the further blessings yet to come.

  1. Eyes of our hearts enlightened – We should see God’ in our daily lives.
  1. Know the hope to which we are called. Our hope is Heaven; so to live the life of heaven, to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul develops this idea later but here presents that we are living in the kingdom  of heaven even though we are still on earth. As members of Christ’s body and as sons of God, we are part of his kingdom even though the fullness of that will not be revealed until later.                                                
  1. The riches of his glorious inheritance – We will see that in Christ we are adopted by God as his sons.  All that the Father has entrusted to the Son is ours in Christ.
  1. Incomparably great power – power like that shown in Christ, the power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that saved us.  Few people today  really experience the power of the spirit, but God intends for us to grow into this.

As we think about these four ways in which we are to come to know God better, we are struck by how compromised our expectations often become.  If we have regular Bible reading, we expect no more than an occasional nugget of wisdom to use in our earthly lives, yet the Word of God is intended to lead us into enlightenment, hope, glorious riches and great power.

Similarly, our prayers can become no more than a laundry list of our worldly concerns.  When we settle for this, we fall so far short of the opportunity we have to commune with the Lord, walking with him as Adam and Eve did in the garden before the fall.  As we’ll see, we were made “in Christ” before creation for that purpose and in Him we can enjoy that now.

 

 

 

Halloween

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Well, it’s been a long time.  Let’s try to get this going again with a simple thought:

Halloween

The Halloween costume of the Christian is described for us in the sixth chapter of Ephesians:

Stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

At this time of year, when the world celebrates the power of the forces of darkness, it is so important for us to stand in the light. Soon we will get to celebrate the coming of light into the world.  As John says in the introduction of his gospel:

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Put on the full armor of God