Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fight the Right Fight

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 
 Ephesians 6: 10-12

I wonder if one reason for the relative ineffectiveness of the church in changing the culture is that it is fighting the wrong fight. I believe that for decades now the church has occupied itself with wrestling “flesh and blood” instead of wrestling “spiritual forces”. It seems that today’s church is more focused on political influence and victory rather than spiritual victory. The end result of wrestling flesh and blood results in votes and political offices. Wrestling spiritual forces results in saved souls and transformed lives. When the church wrestles flesh and blood, it does so in the power of flesh and blood. In this case he spiritual forces of darkness win because flesh and blood strength is no match for the strength of spiritual forces. When the church wrestles spiritual forces being “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might people’s lives are changed, whole cultures are impacted and the Kingdom of God grows on earth.

If we really desire to see our culture changed to be more God- honoring our only hope is to makes sure that we are fighting the right fight. Maybe this is what the apostle Paul is referring to as “the good fight” that he exhorts Timothy to fight (1Tim. 6:2) and that he claims to have fought himself. (2Tim. 4:7)

Let’s make sure we are fighting the right fight, the good fight. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday thoughts

Today is Good Friday for Christians. As I think of what God the Father went through in watching His only begotten son suffer and die because of our sin I wonder how He feels about certain approaches to salvation. To the person who says, "I'm pretty good, God will have to let me in." Its almost like they are telling God that he overreacted in sending Jesus to die for our sin.  I wonder if God might say something like the following to that person. "If you were able to be good enough to get into heaven, why did Jesus have to die? By the way, how good is good enough? You don't set the standard for what is 'good enough', I do and there is only one person that ever has been or ever will be 'good enough' and that is Jesus. You have a choice to make. You can try to enter heaven on your own merit, in which case you will be denied, or enter on the merits of what Jesus has done, in which case I will welcome you in."

Another approach might say this, "I'm covered by grace, and I can do whatever I want cuz God loves me and will always forgive me." I wonder if God might respond this way, "Do you understand the pain my son suffered because of this sin you so freely commit. Do you realize that I turned my back on my own son because of this sin which doesn't seem to bother you but bothered me enough to have to let my son be put on a cross to die as satisfactory punishment so that I don't have to punish you for this sin? If you really knew me and how much I love you, you wouldn't be able commit this sin so easily."

All too often I hear one or the other of these two rather cavalier approaches to sin and salvation. Both of these make light of what happened on the cross that day. Today is a day to reflect on what our lives say about either our desperate dependence on, or our flippant marginalization and disregard for, what Jesus did in our place that day.

The promise of access to the Father


With the promise of the father’s love we also have the promise of access to the Father. There is a famous photograph of President John F. Kennedy working at his desk in the Oval Office while his children played nearby. Not just any children could play in that office while the President of the United States worked at his desk. Only the children of that president were given that kind of access. If an earthly, imperfect father understood the importance of granting access to his children so that they may be present with him while he worked, how much more will our heavenly father, who is the very definition of a perfect father, grant his children access to into his presence. Ephesians 2:18 says,

For through him (Jesus) we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  (parentheses mine)

What makes being in the Father's presence such a big deal? First, there is a sense of security. When one is in the presence of their heavenly Father who is also creator of the universe there is nothing to fear. Second, there is greater boldness. When one acts in accordance with their Father's character and values they can act with great confidence, knowing that they are bringing honor to their Father in what they do because of His presence. Third, they have greater courage. The presence of God en - courages or gives courage to His children to accomplish things that apart from His presence they would never attempt. 

The presence of God is not something to be taken lightly. In the time of the temple and the Ark of the Covenant the mercy seat on the ark was considered the abode of God. Only those priests who had carefully prepared themselves could go into the Holy of Holies where the Ark was located. If a priest did not prepare themselves properly he would die upon entering. For this reason a rope was tied to the ankle of every priest who was to enter the Holy of Holies so that if they died they could be pulled out. Through Jesus the curtain separating sinful man from God’s perfect holiness was torn in two thus destroyed. Anyone who thinks they can gain access to God on their own merit will experience the same fate as the unprepared priest, eternally. It is only by the completed work of Jesus that we have confident access to the Father. In the White House, any child not belonging to the president who tried to gain access to the president would be whisked away and taken to their own parents. Only children of the president were allowed access.  As beloved children of our heavenly father we have access to him 24/7. Not because we have earned or deserve it, but Jesus Christ did everything required for our access. Hallelujah!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Father's Love

(Note: This blog is a follow up to my entry from Feb. 24 concerning the believer's identity as a child of the Father and promises He has made to His children. Upcoming blogs will address more  promises the Father has made to His children.)

The promise of our Father’s love.

What kind of love is this love that our heavenly Father has for us?

First, it is a steadfast love.

 According to Webster’s dictionary the first definition of ‘steadfast’ is:

a :  firmly fixed in place ; b :  not subject to change  

The Old Testament is full of references to God’s steadfast love for His people. Here are just a few examples.

Psalm 13:5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
Psalm 31:7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul…
Psalm 36:5   Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Isaiah 54:10   For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Jeremiah 9:24   … let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD."
Joel 2:13   …rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Micah 7:18   Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.

The New Testament does not use the word steadfast. Instead, the Greek (the original language of the New Testament) gives us three ways to understand the word ‘love’. They are eros, which is intimate, husband – wife love; philos which is the love of a friend; and agape which is faithful, unconditional love. It is the third understanding that is the equivalent to steadfast love. The apostle Paul talks about this love this way;

 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38,39

Isn’t wonderful that our Heavenly Father loves us even when we are difficult to love. In fact, in another place Paul says that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” and yet another place“… if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”

Beyond the steadfast love of the Father we experience His proven love. Paul says in Romans 5:8;

“…but God shows (proves) his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The apostle John puts it this way;

 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

There’s an old story about Ole and Lena. After several years of marriage Lena approached Ole and said with sadness in her voice, “Ole, you never tell me you love me.” Ole, sensing the concern in Lena’s voice Ole replied, “Lena, do you remember when I told you how much I loved you on our wedding day?” “Yes” Lena replied. “Well, when it changes I’ll let you know.” It’s important to tell those we love that we love them. It is even more to prove it. Taking out the garbage often proves love better than giving a dozen roses and saying, “I love you”.  When God said that He loved the world He proved it by sending His one and only beloved son to take upon himself the punishment of all the sin of the world for all time. But that’s not the only thing that proves God’s love. Not only does He prove His love by, through Jesus, removing the punishment we deserve. He also freed us from the chains of sin, gave us new and eternal life. With this He adopts us as His sons and daughters which makes heirs to His kingdom and therefore elevates us from slaves of sin to princes and princesses in His kingdom. That’s a proven love!

Finally we experience a love that motivates.

Paul says in his letter to the Church in and around Ephesus; “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
(Ephesians 5:1)

There was a time when I understood this verse as something I had to measure up to. I preached as though we had to work hard at trying to imitate God by either doing or avoiding the things laid out in verses two and following. One day as I was reading this text the phrase “…as beloved children” jumped off the page and had an entirely new understanding of this passage.  Every Father gets at least a little choked up when his young son says to him, “daddy, when I grow up I want to be just like you.” This is what I believe Paul is getting in this verse. He is saying that as we realize how much God really loves us, we will all the more desire to imitate Him.

The apostle John says it this way, “We love because he first loved us.” (1John 4:19)

The truly loving things we do are not done because generate the kind of love God has out of our own will and effort. We can only love the world around us with the kind of love God has, and in fact is, when we have experienced this love for ourselves. All the ought to’s we can shame ourselves with will not motivate us like resting in the realization of the Father’s great love for us.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fourth Place Ministry

Fourth place ministries

Every Christian is a minister. We all know about ministry within the church. Most of us understand that we minister in our families. Still fewer of us see our job as a place of ministry. These are the three “places” that ministry happens according to most.

Let me interject here, lest I be accused of plagiarism, that the ideas about “places” of ministry are not original to me. I first heard the basic idea several years ago at a conference and I do not remember who the speaker was that I heard it from.

 As believers we recognize these three places, home, church, and work as important places for ministry but if that is where ministry ends I’m not sure our ministry is complete. There is a fourth place that is often neglected. It is the ‘fourth place’. Fourth places are places where people gather in their leisure time. These places include bars, malls, coffee shops, ball games, concerts, sports practices, beaches, marinas, you get the idea. I believe that the fourth place is the best place minister to unbelievers. The workplace is limited because if you are truly honoring God in your work you will be sensitive about using work time for spiritual conversations. In fact, truly effective, God-honoring marketplace ministry uses the workplace to build relationships and fourth places to expand on that relationship with more directed, biblical ministry. I position myself in a mall outside a coffee shop 2-3 days a week for a few hours and most of the time I end up in a conversation that relates to spiritual matters. In fact that last sentence took three days to write because of interrupting conversations. I suppose I could do this writing at home where I wouldn’t be interrupted. I could probably get more writing done but then I wouldn’t have had spiritually related conversations with Paul or Ken or Brad or Aziz or Mohammed or Abdullah or Keri or Alyssa or Erika or Jai and those are just a few whose names I know.

Acts 1:8 tells us that believers will be witnesses in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth”. Maybe we can understand this verse in the following manner. Jerusalem represents the first place, home. Judea represents church. The workplace as Samaria, the place we would rather not be but have to be. The uttermost parts are the fourth places.

What ‘fourth places’ do you frequent? How can your being there result in ministry?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Our Identity as a Son or Daughter of Our Heavenly Father and King

Sons and Daughters of the King

 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Galatians 4:4,5

The relationship between God and man as workman and workmanship; poet and poem; Creator and created is only the beginning. When Adam fell, God made a promise to redeem him as well as his (Adam’s) offspring. In this redemption we receive “full rights of sons (and daughters).” What are the “full rights of sons”? When God the Father grants rights to His children, He is guaranteeing those right as promises to be fulfilled.  To understand this let’s look at a functional family. God created the family when He created Eve out of Adam to be with Adam. The fall however twisted and tainted what God intended for the family. In spite of this we can still get a sense of what a family and especially the father might have looked like before the fall. In a well-functioning family with a well-functioning father we will see the following promises (rights) to their children.

Promise of their father’s love                     Romans 5:8
Promise of access to their father               Ephesians 2:18
Promise of protection                                 Psalm 91:14
Promise of provision                                  Matthew 6:25-34
Promise of their father’s guidance             Psalm 31:3
Promise of their father’s discipline             Hebrews 12:6

As sons and daughters of the King of Kings we are promised the same, in a perfect sense, of our Heavenly Father as the verses above indicate.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Kingdom Identity 1; God's Workmanship

God’s Workmanship
 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

The greek word for workmanship is poiema, we get the word ‘poem’ from it. How special to understand that God crafted each one of us uniquely, as a poet crafts each one of their poems different from the others. This verse makes it clear the His workmanship is not be a decoration or adornment like a painting which does nothing but hang on the wall and look pretty. God created His masterpieces with function and purpose as well as beauty. In days gone by craftsmen added beauty to their work even when it did nothing for its function. Look at the great cathedrals of Europe, or a house built in a Victorian style.  They had purpose, function and beauty. He has crafted each one of us with a unique set of talents, physical attributes, life circumstances, experiences and passions. When we are saved the Holy Spirit adds a personalized set of spiritual gifts. All of these are combined to address a God given purpose and ongoing function which we are especially qualified to address. 

I played basketball at the bible college I attended. Our coach tried to instill in each one of us an attitude he called ‘praise performance’. The idea was that the only one that mattered as we played was the one gave everything for us, that is Jesus. He knew how hard we tried when the coach and teammates didn’t.  Similarly he knows what we are best suited for and what our true potential is. What others think about us and what we think about ourselves are often distractions, diverting our attention from God’s best purpose for our lives. The only person that matters is God and what He thinks of us. To Him each one of us is a carefully crafted masterpiece with a unique purpose.

We can abuse our identity as poiemas when we refuse to recognize what we were created for. Like using a screwdriver to pry or to chisel, when we try to operate outside of our God given design and purpose the result is often at the very least damage to us and ineffectiveness in what we were trying to accomplish, at worse, damage to what we were trying to accomplish.

Let’s never lose sight of the fact that we are God’s masterpieces then live live in accordance with who He created us to be.