Tuesday, November 14, 2017

God Made Visible and Knowable

In Psalm 77, Asaph the Psalmist says, "The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; lightning lit up the world. The earth quakes and shook.  Your way went through the sea, and Your path through the great waters, yet Your footprints were unseen."

The power of the invisible God is displayed all around us, and cannot escape our notice; but God has not remained unseen as He has become flesh and has lived and walked among us in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why when Philip said to Christ, "Show us the Father."  Jesus replied "If you have seen Me You have seen the Father." 

In Christ we have the fullness of God in bodily form.  To see Christ was to see God, and to know Christ is to know God.

This is what is behind Christ's statement in John 17:3, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." We come to the invisible God through the visible Son, and we come to know God, through that same Son.

May we all come to know Jesus Christ and know Him well, so that we can experience the fullness and abundance of eternal life.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

We are a Letter of Christ

 You are our letter, written in our hearts,
known and read by all men; being manifested
that your are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, 
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the
living God, not on tablets of stone but on
tablets of human hearts.
II Corinthians 3:2-3

When we sin it is not just about our sin and how it affects our relationship with God, but is also about our being His letter that men know and read.  Are we living in a way that, when read, the letter of our life is bringing Him glory among men, the glory due His marvelous and matchless name?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Holy Love

"So the God who is love is first and foremost light, and sentimental ideas of his love as an indulgent, benevolent softness, divorced from moral standards and concerns, must therefore be ruled out from the start.  God's love is holy love.  The God whom Jesus made known is not a God who is indifferent to moral distinctions, but a God who loves righteousness and hates iniquity, a God whose ideal for his children is that they should 'be perfect...as your heavenly father is perfect' (Mt 5:48). He will not take into his company any person, however orthodox in mind, who will not follow after holiness of life.

...God's love is stern, for it expresses holiness in the lover and seeks holiness for the beloved.  Scripture does not allow us to suppose that because God is love we may look to him to confer happiness on people who will not seek holiness, or to shield his loved ones from trouble when he knows that they need trouble to further their sanctification."

J I Packer
Knowing God
Page 122

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Pastoral Desire

The following is an excerpt I ran across from the book Pastoral Ministry, written by members of the Master's Seminary.

"Paul introduced the qualification of the pastor by extolling the ambitions to pursue the office and the function of an elder.  In fact, he spoke of pursuing that office with intense desire (I Tim. 3:1 epithumeo).  It is true that ambition, when selfishly motivated, is dangerous.  At this time restraint and caution should prevail.  However, ambition not motivated by eagerness for the prestige of power but rather by a passion to serve the Master is right.  Desire for positional prestige corrupts because it originates from impure motives (see Jer. 45:5). Yet desire for service purifies, because it seeks only the service of the one who has been called to service (Rom. 12:1; Mark 10:42-44). The true spiritual leader is concerned infinitely more with the service he can render God and his fellowmen..."

Friday, September 01, 2017

A Daily Prayer

Lord, guide me with the wisdom from Your Word.
Protect me from the weakness and blindness of my pride.
Strengthen me to stand for You and speak Your truth.
Prepare my mouth and other's hearts for gospel opportunities.
May I be mindful of bringing glory to You.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Faith, Hope, and Love at Work in the Church: Hope

The Place of Our Hope
"because of the hope laid up 
for you in heaven...."
Colossians 1:5a

First lets talk about what hope is.  The Greek word for hope means something different from our English word.  When we use the word hope we mean a strong desire or a fervent wish for something, and we are not sure if we will get what we want; maybe we will, maybe we won’t.  However, the word, the concept of hope in the Greek conveys something different from our view of hope.  The word for hope in the Greek is elpis and it means a sure and confident expectation, not something dreaded, but a joyful knowing anticipation of something yet future.  It is like the picture of the watchman in Psalm 130.  Here we see the watchman as he waits for the dawn with a confident knowing expectation that the dawn will come, no matter how dark or long the night.  This is a firm ground of expectation.  This is hope.

Now lets see why we have hope, this confident expectation, for there must be a reason for hope, there must be a basis for hope, there must be a ground for our hope to rest upon.  For us as Christians that ground is Jesus Christ; He is our firm ground of expectation.  As the God-man He lived a sinless life in our stead.  As the Psalmist says we are born in sin, and therefore we are incapable of not sinning, so Jesus lived a sinless life for us.  He suffered a vicarious and substitutionary death on the cross by taking on the punishment for sin and the death that was rightfully ours, and it was at the cross that the great exchange took place.  Paul explains this in II Corinthian 5:21 in that Christ became sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  He was then buried and was the grave for three days until God raised Him up victorious over Satan and the grave with the keys of death and Hell in His hand.  Then Christ ascended into heaven to the right hand of the Father where He ever lives to make intercession to God on our behalf.  All of this has been done by Christ for us, and it is this, this finished and complete work of Christ that has made our salvation not just possible, but for those who looked to Christ and Christ alone as the Savior, it has made salvation certain and heaven our sure and eternal destination.   This is the ground of our hope, and this present reality of our future place and position has as its unshakeable foundation that which Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf.  This is why we sing “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.  On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”  Only in Christ is there a hope, a sure and confident expectation for the future, and our future is eternity.  Through Christ God has given us a future to hope for, a future to desire, and a future to look forward to with joyful anticipation.

In verse 5, the words laid up are one word in the Greek and mean to be stored up, to await, to reserve.  So we see that this hope is not for here and now, but for heaven.  So we are to have a joyful knowing anticipation of heaven.  This is what Paul was talking about in I Corinthians 15:19 when he said “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.  Friends, we should be looking forward to heaven just as the watchman looks forward to the dawn.  Heaven should be a present daily reality for us, just as the coming dawn was an anticipated reality for the watchman in Psalm 130.

Another reason for our hope is that this is the plan of God for us, and we know from Job 42:2 that no purpose of God can be thwarted.  In thinking about our hope, our confidence in what God has done for us, I am reminded of a couple of verses in the Old Testament.  First Isaiah 25:1O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.” and Jeremiah 29:11For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”  All that Christ has done for us has been in the mind of God from eternity past.  From all eternity it has been His plan to do this for us in Christ, not because we deserved it or could somehow earn it, but because of His great love for us; and because of the abundance of His lovingkindness He has done this so that we could spend the rest of eternity as His people and He as our God.  We know from Philippians 1:6 that what God has started in us He will complete.  So we can rest assured that God will completely perform His purpose and fully carry out His plan.  In Psalm 138:8 God tells us that He will accomplish what concerns us.  What concerns us most is our salvation and our redemption, not just of our soul, but of our entire person, both the inner and the outer man.  Let’s look at I Thessalonians 5:23-24.  Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.  This is what John was referring to in his epistle chapter 3 verses 2-3.  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, that we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself just as He is pure.  What makes this possible, rather, what makes this certain?  It is the finished and complete work of Christ.  This is our joyand our delight, to look forward with confidence to the completion of our salvation as we stand before the Lord holy, blameless, and complete in the completeness of Christ.

Finally, our hope is laid up for us in heaven because Jesus is there.  Let’s look at John 14:1-6.   Here we have one of the great promises in Scripture.  Christ is preparing a place for us and where is this place?  It is in heaven, in His Father’s house.  Not only is He preparing a place for us, but He is promising to come again and take us to Himself so that we can be with Him in heaven.  Next He says something heart catching; it is that we know the way, the way to heaven, and that He is that way, the only way.  Do you want to go to heaven?  Well then, are you following Christ?  He alone is the way; He alone is that narrow way with the narrow gate that leads to heaven.  No other way will take you there.  There are several verses in Hebrews which also speak to this.  Hebrews 4:12 tells us that we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.  Hebrews 8:12 tells us that we have such a high priest who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. The fact that Jesus has taken His seat signifies that His work is completed, and the fact that He is seated at God’s right hand shows us that His work has found favor with God and has pleased God.   So we see that His work of accomplishing our salvation was finished, and the purpose and pleasure of God was completed when He passed through the heavens into the very presence of God Himself.  There is nothing left for Him to do to ascertain our salvation.   Hebrews 9:24 tells us that Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.  It is for us, those who believe in His name, that He has done all of this.  Christ has not done this for those who spurn Him, for those who have Him in low regard, for those who have not trusted in Him as their Savior, but He has done this for those of us who love Him and cherish Him, for those who are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 

Hebrew 6:19-20 tells us that this hope we have is an anchor of the soul, and it is sure and steadfast.  What does an anchor do?  It holds the ship and does not let it drift.  It was used in times of a storm to keep the ship from being blown off course or to keep it from crashing on the rocks.  That is the picture of what our hope, this sure and confident expectation, does for us in the times of storm in our life.  It anchors us, keeps our life and faith from being blown off course.  When our life is the darkest, when we have the times that we are tired and disgusted of dealing with the sin that so easily entangles us, we can joyfully and confidently anticipate our arrival in heaven, we can look forward to the freedom from the travails of this world and the struggles with our own flesh.  We know that this is coming just as sure as the dawn. We also see that our hope is one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.  What does this tell us?  First that Jesus has passed through the heavens and behind the veil as our forerunner.  A forerunner is one who goes before, to make the path, to blaze the trail so that others can follow.  In the OT tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, (which was where the presence of God hovered over the mercyseat), was partitioned by a veil and only the High Priest could enter once a year on the day of atonement.  When Christ was crucified the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom signifying that the way to the presence of God was now open, and in Hebrews we see that it is Jesus, the God-man who has entered the true heavenly tabernacle before us so that we might be able to come into heaven itself to be in the presence of God.       

Hebrews 12:22-23 tells us that we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn  who are enrolled in heaven.  .  . Now we also see from this last verse that we are enrolled in heaven.  This word enroll means to record, to register, as on a roll or census.  So we see our name is registered as one who belongs in heaven, and no one whose name is not registered can enter into heaven.  It is like going to an invitation only event and having your name checked at the door to see if it is on the guest register.  Only those who have trusted Christ as the only way to heaven can have that sure and confident expectation that their name is on that roll.

Yes, our hope is in heaven because Jesus is there.  Is this your hope my friends, is this your joyful anticipation that is as sure as the dawn coming.  Are you looking forward with a confident expectation to being with Jesus?  Do you have hope today of seeing Jesus face to face because you know your name is on heaven’s roll?  You see heaven is ours, but it is not for those who have not trusted in Christ.  For them this world is all that they have.  That is why they are so attached to the things of this world; that is why they act the way they do.  This is the reason behind their greed, selfishness, jealousy, the storing up of treasures for themselves upon earth.  This is why Christ tells us not to be like them, but to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.  This is why we are not to set our mind on the things of earth, but on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  These are the ones who are separated from Christ, without God, who have no hope.  Heaven is ours, it is where our hope is to be, and it is what God has given us through Christ.  Oh friends, take your eyes off of the world and look to heaven, where Jesus awaits.  Let the reality of heaven, the eternal blessing of being in the presence of God, be your confident and joyful anticipation.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Faith, Hope, and Love in the Church: Love

Faith, Hope, and Love in the Church

The Direction of Our Love
Colossians 1:4

 1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4. since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5. because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…

As we saw in our first look into this section of Scripture, these verses talk about the object of the Colossian’s faith—Christ Jesus, the direction of their love—toward all the saints, and the place of their hope—which is in heaven.  The purpose for Paul writing this epistle, which we see in 4:12 and 2:1-3, and it is so that the Colossians would stand fully assured in their faith.  When working with someone to build up their confidence, you start with commending them on what they are already doing well or right.  We see Paul doing just that in these verses as he commends the Colossians on the exercise of their faith, love, and hope.  We have looked at the object of their faith, Christ Jesus, so now I want to talk about the direction of their love, which is toward all the saints; and as it was for the church at Colossae, it should be for the church today. 

So as we consider the direction of their love and therefore the direction of our love in the church today we want to look at 4 things.

  1. What is this love they have?
  2. Where does this love originate?
  3. Why is this love directed towards the saints?
  4. How is this love manifested?

What is this love they have?  Well, the Greek word for love used here is agape.  It is one of the four words the Greeks used for love.  These four words for love are storge, eros, phileo, and agape.  Storge means natural affection, like you would have for a pet, or the natural affection a parent has for their child.  It is not used in the NT except twice in its negative sense in Romans 1:31 and II Timothy 3:3 to describe how far man falls without God.  Eros, is a passionate, sensual, physical love.  It is a love based on infatuation and sensual attraction.  It is often used to describe romantic love.  This is the kind of love we see portrayed in movies, television programs, romance novels, and sung about in our music.  Interestingly, it is never used in the Scriptures.  Then there is phileo, brotherly love.  It is a warm and tender affection.  It can be deep and intense. It is used to describe the love for those near and dear to one’s heart.  It is a love that cherishes. It is a love that is reciprocal in nature and a love that is shared.  It is used throughout the NT.  Finally, there is agape, the predominant word used for love in the NT.  It is a love of the will and the mind.  It is a love of choice and commitment.  It is not devoid of emotion, but overrules and overrides emotion.  It acts in spite of how one feels.  It is a selfless love, an unselfish love, a sacrificial love.  It is not motivated by the self, but by others.  It loves even if the person who is the object of the love is undeserving, unworthy, and unloving in return.  It puts what is best for the other person first and foremost.  It is a love which compels one to action.  In the NT it is used to describe the love of God, the love of Christ, and how we are to love.  This type of love was thought unattainable by the Greeks and is only used in secular Greek writings two or three times.  The picture of love which this word paints for us in the Scriptures is not “being in love” but the act of loving. 

Where does this love originate?  As you can see the Greeks were right in thinking the agape type of love was unattainable, from a human perspective.  The heights this love operates in are unassailable for us mere mortals.  So where do we go to find this love, where are the headwaters of this love?  I John 4:7-8, 16 As we see in these verses, God is love.  Note that it does not say that God has love, or that God is a loving being, but that God is love.  By saying that God is love John is saying that love is intrinsic to who God is, it is part of His nature, and is inseparable from who He is, and, therefore, inseparable from His actions.  It is as much a part of Him as your eye color is of you.  This love that is part and parcel of who God is, is agape.  God is agape.  This love of the will, of choice and commitment, this love that compels to action, this love that is selfless, unselfish, and sacrificial, this love that loves despite the unloveliness of the object loved, that loves despite of its unworthiness, that loves in spite of its hatefulness in return, this love that comes from a predetermined state of mind that exists because it is part of core of His being, this is the love that God is. This is the love that is described in I Corinthians 13 as patient, kind, never jealous, never bragging, never arrogant, never acts unbecomingly, is never self seeking, is not provoked, never takes into account a wrong suffered, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and it never fails.

This is the love that the Colossians had for all the saints, and, as such, this is the love that we are to direct toward all the saints. So how do we get this love?  Let’s look again at I John 4:7.  We are to love (agape) one another, for love (agape) is from God and everyone who loves (agapes) is born of God and knows God.  So we see that agape is from God and only those that are born of God (born again) and know God have this kind of love.  So this love, this agape, is not something that an unregenerate person, an unsaved person, or someone whom the Bible calls the natural man possesses.  This love, agape, is unique to the believer.  Now let’s look at Romans 5:5.  Here we see that the love of God (not just any love, but God’s love, agape) has been poured out within our heart through His Holy Spirit who was given to us.  Poured out is in the perfect tense here, which means that it is a completed event with continuing results or effects.  So we see that God has given us His love, His agape, in our heart through His Holy Spirit who indwells us, and we received this love, all of this love, the minute the Holy Spirit came and took up residence in our heart, and this love never goes away.  Now look at Ephesians 3:17.  This verse tells us that we are rooted and grounded in this love, this agape.  What a beautiful picture these words paint of our secure position in and reservoir of, the love, the agape of God. We are fixed into and draw from the infinite love (agape) of God. This is where this love we are to have for all the saints originates and how we have come to possess it.

Why is this love directed toward the saints?  Most of us who have been Christians for any length of time are familiar with the two greatest commandments in all of Scripture.  The greatest is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind; and the second is like it, it is to love your neighbor as yourself.  We all know that when Jesus came He fulfilled all of the law, so He fulfilled these two commandments.  But what He also did was to raise the bar.  John 13:34-35.  Here Jesus gives a new command, and this command is to love (agapao) one another, which would be fellow believers (the saints), not as ourselves, but as He has loved us.  This is what John is referring back to in I John 4:7 when he says “Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God.”  So we are to have the same love toward all the saints that Christ Jesus has for us.  This is why Paul is commending the Colossian saints, for following the command of Christ to love one another as He has loved us.  According to John 13:35 this love for all the saints will prove to all men that we are His disciples, His followers.  If you think about what we have seen about agape, you can understand how this would be a witness to all men that we are disciples of Christ, His followers; because only Christ or someone who has Christ living within can love like this.  We also see that this is a particular love; it is Christ’s love, and His love for his own, His saints, being lived out through His saints for one another.  This is a powerful witness to all men, both saved and unsaved, of the reality of the power and love of Christ.  And when we follow His command to love one another we prove our love for Him as He said in John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” and we see the saints at Colossae doing just that.  Isn’t it wonderful that the love of Christ has already been poured out within our hearts so that His command to love one another as He has loved us is not burdensome, but a joy.  Christ Jesus wants us to love one another as He loved us. He wants us, His own, to continually share and experience His love for us with and through each other.  Oh, what a glorious thing this ought to be in the church, to never be without the love of Christ.  What a wonderful provision He has given us to never be without His love.  This is the reason behind the gifts and the gifted given to the church in Ephesians chapter 4,  to attain to the stature of the fullness of Christ, and in doing so the church will build itself up in love, agape, Christ’s love.

How is this love manifested?  When something is manifested it means that it is revealed.  As believers we reveal the love of Christ in how we live it out, and from the context here in Colossians it is lived out in relation to other believers.  Let’s look at some practical examples from the Scriptures. 

We are to be angry and yet, not sin.
We are to let no unwholesome word proceed from our mouth, but only that which edifies.
We are to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander be put away from us.
We are to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other.
We are to bear one another’s burdens.
We are to bear one another’s weaknesses.
We are to be on the alert and pray for one another with all prayer and petition.
We are not to be arrogant toward one another.
We are not to be partial.
We are to treat each other the way we would want to be treated.
We are to please others instead of ourselves.
We are to defer to others by considering one another as more important than ourselves.
We are to do no wrong to one another. 
We are to accept one another.
We are to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
We are not to be provoked.
We are not to act unbecomingly toward one another.
We are to speak the truth to one another in love
We are to be patient with one another.
We are not to gossip about one another.
We are to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
We are to provide for one another’s needs.
We are to reconcile with one another.
We are to gently restore those who sin. 
We are to be subject to one another.
Our love is to cover a multitude of sins against us and still keep on loving.
No matter how much and how well we love we are to excel still more.

This is the essence of love, God’s own love, Christ’s own love, that has been given to us so it can be given out to our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the love in which we are rooted and by which we are grounded. 

You know, we hear so often today that we are to love ourselves or that we must learn to love ourselves.  This is the mantra behind all the self-help books and seminars, many of the twelve step programs, and unfortunately is what is being taught in so many churches.  This is the eternal lie.  It is what Satan was really telling Eve to do in the garden.  It is what Satan was tempting Christ to do in the wilderness.  Isn’t it interesting that there is no place in Scripture that says God loves Himself.  What Scripture says is that God loves us, that God loves His Son, that God so loved us that He gave His Son, His only Son whom He loved, for us, that we might have eternal life with Him and enjoy His presence forever.  In addition, we are not commanded in Scripture to love ourselves, but to love God, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to love one another as He has loved us.  In fact, there is no place in the Scriptures where self love is commended or commanded.  The focus of our love is to be on God and therefore on His saints, our brother and sisters in Christ.  My friends don’t fall prey to the siren song of self love, but follow the command of Christ, the example of Christ, to love one another as He has loved us.  Greater love has no man than this than that He would lay down His life for His friends.    My friends, my fellow saints, let us love like this today.