Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The In Between

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:14

"To draw to one's self, to rescue, to deliver" ( on Col. 1:14). The word "rescued" in this verse tells us much more than that the Christian is delivered from the dominion and power of sin in her life. It tells us that she is delivered for nearness to the Lord. God's rescue plan for us in Jesus is all about drawing us to Himself. Verse 14 goes on to make this abundantly clear in that it next says that we have not only been rescued from the dominion of darkness but God also brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. The word "brought" has among its meanings "to remove from one place to another, to depart from life, to die." This is a very interesting word choice because the Christian's transfer from the life of sin to the kingdom of God is a final one. It involves us taking up our crosses and dying to ourselves daily (Luke 9:23). There is no in between when it comes to the Christian life. You are either still in the dominion of darkness or you are a member of the kingdom of the Son.

Yet, as I look around I see so many Christians who appear to be in between. Their lives reflect the glory of the Lord...a little. They obey God's commands...when they want to. They bear fruit and are growing in the Lord... well, they're better than most people anyway. This is not the full measure of the Christian life! Either these men and women have not entered the kingdom of God at all and they simply play at being a Christian, or (shame upon shame!) though delivered from the dominion of darkness they have not yet been delivered from their love for it and they play at being an unbeliever. Whichever explanation fits their situation, they should reconsider the gospel. 

In verse six of this chapter the Bible says, "In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace." The gospel bears fruit and grows us up in the Lord. Paul says the gospel has done this all over the world. It's what the gospel is doing in the Colossians' lives. It is what the gospel continues to do today. If you are merely playing at being a Christian the gospel of Jesus' death is what you need to hear! If you are a Christian who is playing at being an unbeliever then you also need to hear the gospel. You need to be reminded of the greatness of the gift you have been given to be allowed into the kingdom of the Son, so that you will not despise the gift any longer. So ask yourself today...have I left the dominion of darkness behind? Is the gospel bearing fruit in me? Am I growing nearer to the Lord? Do I need to be reminded of how amazing the gift I have been given in Jesus is so that I will walk in a manner worthy of it?

For further reading....
The Gospel in a nutshellIf you are unfamiliar with what the gospel is, here it is in a shortened form. We are all sinners. Every one of us has sinned against God. We have rejected His way and gone our own way. We have all rebelled against the one true King. Our sin deserves punishment. In fact, so great a sin against so great a God deserves Hell. But God, because of His great love for us, wanted to offer us forgiving grace. For God to be just, our sin had to be punished though. So God in His wisdom took the punishment for our sin on Himself in Jesus. Jesus died to pay the price for your sins and mine and then He rose from the dead beating the power of sin over us. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for those who believe in Him. So that now those who place their faith in Him can be forgiven and spend eternity in Heaven with their Savior. If you would like to do that today, here is what you need to do.

  • A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).
  • B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
  • C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Worship Pop Quiz from God

"Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."
Psalm 50:7-15
Have you ever had that dream where you're back in school and you find out that you have a pop quiz or a test that you didn't study for? That kind of sinking, unprepared feeling is the worst. What’s really bad though is when this happens to you in real life! When it's a dream, you get to wake up and be relieved. In real life you have to deal with the consequences. In Psalm 50 God gives us a kind of pop quiz. It isn’t a math test or a history test or even a religion test. It's a test of our lives. It is a pop quiz to help prepare us for the final judgment, or life’s Final Exam if you want to think about it that way.
You will need to read the entire psalm to get the full pop quiz, but in verses seven through fifteen God focuses in on the kind of worship (sacrifices) His people offer Him. He finds fault with them because their worship appears to be just an outward show. Faith is absent. They offer sacrifices upon sacrifices but do so only as a ceremony to garner favor with God. They have an “I scratch your back, you scratch my back” sort of attitude toward worshipping the Lord. They think of their sacrifices as a way to “buy God off” or to make Him owe them in some way. But that is not how worship works! Worship isn’t just going through the motions in a ritualistic way without any faith. This isn’t pleasing to God; it draws His reprimand. God has already done so much for us that we could never pay Him back. You owe God so much that He could never owe you! So thinking that somehow by your worship that you could make God owe you something and earn gifts from Him is crazy.
But we do this too! We give money to the church, serve as Sunday School teachers or Deacons and then think that God owes us something. We think we have done God a big favor. We sing in the choir or play an instrument, attend church every Sunday, even read our Bible daily but do so only out of ceremony and ritual. We think that somehow God is pleased with us simply because we do these things. We don't do them from a grateful heart. We just go through the motions, because we think that the ritual is all that matters to God.
But this isn't the kind of worship that God wants. In verses fourteen and fifteen God tells us what He wants. He says that He wants us to give thank offerings and to fulfill our vows. Now these are two types of offerings that people offered just because they wanted to. The Israelites were never required to offer these sacrifices. So, God says in essence, “I want you to worship me, and serve me, and give me your tithes not because you have to but because you are grateful for all I’ve already given you and because you want to."
If God were to judge you today, what would He say about your worship? Are you only obeying God so He will owe you? Are you simply going through the motions of an empty ritual with no faith behind them and thinking that that is all God wants from you? Worship and serve God out of gratitude for all He has done for you. This is the kind of worship that is pleasing to Him.  
For further reading...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Train them up!

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Many of you know this passage by the King James translation which begins with "train up a child in the way he should go..." I actually like the way the New International Version translates it better. It draws out what the Baker Commentary on the Bible has to say about this verse. It notes that the word for "train" can also be translated "dedicate." It also says that the phrase "the way he should go" is more literally translated "on the mouth of his way." I am not skilled enough in language studies to confirm this, but it seems to be in keeping with the meaning of the passage. Interestingly enough, the word for "way" can mean not only "path" or "road" but also "manner" or "habit." (edited by Walter A. Elwell. Proverbs commentary written by R. K. Harrison,  p.424).

All of this taken together gives us the general thrust of this proverb. I liken it to a sharpshooter aiming at a target that is a long distance off. Even if your aim is only a degree or two off, over such a long distance it is multiplied so that you miss your target altogether. But if you are careful to eliminate the smallest of errors in the beginning, then you have a much better chance of hitting your target. So too with our children. We must do more than merely lay a solid foundation in their early years and hope for the best. We must go far beyond this. After we have laid that foundation we must be diligent to watch for deviations from the path of righteousness and correct their course whenever needed. A minor step away from the Lord at the age of 8, 10, or even 15 can take your child far away from the faith by the time he is 25 or 30.

This reminds me of a saying from one of the early church fathers. Chrysostom said, “To each of you fathers and mothers, I speak: Just as we see artists fashioning their paintings and statues with great precision, so we must care for these wondrous statues of ours. Painters, once they have set the canvas on the easel, paint on it day by day to accomplish their purpose. Sculptors, too, working in marble, proceed in a similar manner; they remove what is unhelpful and add what is lacking. You should proceed in the same way. Like the creators of statues, give all your leisure time to fashioning these wondrous statues of God. As you remove what is unhelpful and add what is lacking, inspect them day by day, to see with which good qualities nature has supplied them so that you can increase these qualities, and to see which faults so that you can eradicate them” (quote taken from Perspectives on Family Ministry by Timothy Paul Jones, p.20).

It is important to remember that the proverbs are not promises. They express what wisdom has found to be generally true. Unfortunately there are those children who will decide to walk away from God in rebellion even after their parents have done all they can do. But on the whole, if we are diligent to dedicate our children to the path of righteousness at a young age and keep them on it, then they will never depart from it, even in their old age after we have gone to be with the Lord. So I charge you to be diligent in raising up your children for the glory of God.

For further reading...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I will not look with approval...

I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.
Psalm 101:3

Lord let this be true of your people!

Perhaps the single greatest thing that is lacking in the lives of Christians in America today is holiness. We are no longer different from the world. We are no longer set apart for use by God. Not only do we not keep ourselves unspotted from the sin of the world, but when we come across some Christian who does and who admonishes us to do the same, we accuse her of legalism. In so many ways we are like the Laodiccean church whom Christ threatens to reject (Revelation 3:14-22). 

If you sense this lack of holiness in yourself, then I encourage you to ask God's help to begin living out Psalm 101:3 today. Short of making a firm commitment to obey God's Word as a whole, choosing to guard your eyes and hearts from lovingly approving of sin just may be the best way to increase holiness in your life. So much of what we watch on TV and in the movies, what we listen to in our music, and view on the internet is downright vile. All of this wickedness is dressed up to look as entertaining and innocent as possible. But make no mistake, it trains us in wickedness just as the Word trains us in righteousness.

Cut these things off from your eyes! Stop looking on them with approval. Stop taking part in the sins of others by consuming their godless entertainment. It may mean that you have to stop watching a favorite TV show, or that you have to stop watching almost all TV shows. It will probably mean that you stop watching rated R movies and quite a few PG-13 movies. In fact, it very well may mean a drastic life change, but then... isn't that exactly what we are after? 

For further reading...