Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Energizing Your Faith

One of these days I am going to preach a sermon on the subject, but I was alerted to an awesome idea yesterday while listening to a podcast. It was something I kind of already knew, but never before had I actually thought about the implications.

And what was the idea? Paul tells us how faith works. Have you ever wondered? Or have you ever struggled to have enough faith? Well, Paul writes, quite clearly, in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”

The latter part of the sentence is what is most intriguing to me. A few other versions translate it this way: “What is important is faith expressing itself in love” (NLT). “But faith . . . worketh by love” (KJV). Are you getting the picture? The way that faith is expressed and experienced is by agape love. So faith is not some intangible experience. The way that faith is seen is by the agape love that we have for others and for God.

But there’s more to it than this. The Greek word for “work” in this instance is the word energeo—from whence we get the word “energy” and “energize.” So what Paul actually tells us is that our faith is “energized” by agape love—this love actually energizes our faith experience.

So this tells me that if my faith is kind of floundering, the way to have it flourish is by being energized by Christ’s agape love for me. It tells me that each day I need to “study” the cross—and by so doing I will get a jolt of energy to my faith and be motivated to live my life for Christ. This is why, elsewhere, Hebrews admonishes us: “When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story [the cross] again, item by item, that long litany of hostility He plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12:3).

Do you want that energy and adrenaline shot into your soul? I know I sure do!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Covenants of Promise

Have you ever made a promise to God that you did not keep? Perhaps you wake up one day and feel overwhelmed with a desire to serve God with your whole heart. So you tell God, “I am going to follow You every moment of my life from here on out.” And then what happens? A few hours later you lose your temper and you find yourself doing the very opposite of what you had promised.

Or perhaps you are in a bind one day—you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, or your car breaks down with no hope of soon repair. So you close your eyes and say to God, “Lord, I promise You that if You just work this one thing out, I will start going to church every week,” or, “I will start paying tithe.” And then what happens? Things work out and you forget all about your little promise.

When these things happen, instead of actually binding our hearts more closely to Christ, they actually alienate our hearts from Christ. You know how it is with human friends: when you let someone down it has the tendency to build barriers between the two of you because you feel guilty around him or her for not making good on what you agreed to or promised.

And the devil wants nothing more than for us to feel like we are alienated from God. So he tells us that God wants us to make promises and commitments to Him. But this is the exact opposite of what God wants us to do.

You see, we have mistakenly believed that when God comes to us wanting to make a covenant, it means that God will do fifty percent and then we’ll do the other fifty percent. Or that He will do seventy-five percent and we’ll do twenty-five percent. “God will do His part,” we say, “If we do ours.”

But the Bible tells us something very interesting about God’s version of a covenant: His covenant is actually a one-sided promise. He wants to do one hundred percent! There are a number of places in Paul’s writings that correlate God’s covenants with His promises, but notice what he writes to the believers in Ephesus: “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13). Paul actually calls these covenants “covenants of promise,” all effective through the blood of Christ.

What wonderful news this is. God is not coming to us, hoping to make a bargain with us. He wants us to simply believe His covenant of promise to us. Yes, indeed, as Paul writes, “For all the promises of God in [Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). And as Paul writes to young Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (1 Timothy 2:13).

So why not take God at His word today?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Everyone's Savior

Here’s a question: is Christ the Savior of only those who believe in Him and accept Him as their Savior, or is He everyone’s Savior—regardless of what they believe? I’m sure many of you see this question as a “no brainer,” while others do not see the relevance for it at all.

But let’s get it straight, first. According to Paul, Jesus is the “Savior of all men” and women (1 Timothy 4:10). As we learned a while back, Christ has already saved everyone from the wages of their sins. All of us should have died eternally when we committed our first sin. But because of Calvary, Christ saved us from immediate destruction. And we should all praise the Lord because of this.

So in this sense—and others—Christ is very much everyone’s Savior. He is not merely potentially, possibly, maybe everyone’s Savior. He actually is. Whether a person realizes it or not, Christ is his or her Savior and wants nothing more than for the person to understand it. This should cause all of us to fall down on our knees in incredible gratitude for what Christ has already done for us.

And yet Paul adds another thought to this idea. After saying that Christ is everyone’s Savior, he continues, “Especially of those who believe.” What’s up with that? Why is Christ “especially” the Savior of those who believe? Are they favored of God more?

Not at all. He is “especially” their Savior because they have received the special blessing of recognizing Christ’s saving message and power and their experience has gone deeper than merely living on the “life support” system that the whole world is living on. Not only do they have life, but they have it more abundantly (see John 10:10). And they know their Savior on a deeper and more intimate level.

So what about you? Have you entered into the joy of experiencing your Savior in a “special” way? Or have you been content with living a life that is merely going through the motions? Why not acknowledge His saving grace today and enter into a richer experience with Your Savior.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Set Apart

Sanctification. Now there’s a word that doesn’t come up in normal-non-religious-conversation every day! And yet, somehow, we have welcomed it into our religious dictionary and we throw it around like everyone should know what it means.

But what does it mean—and why should we be so concerned with it? The word “sanctification” or “sanctify” simply means to set apart for holy use. It means that that which is sanctified has been consecrated and purified. There is something special about the person who has been sanctified. God has set him or her apart because He views the person as valuable and He knows that the person can achieve wonderful things.

And Paul tells us point-blank what God’s will is in this area. He writes to the Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? What good news it is. God’s will (and, by the way, there are many times when we struggle to figure out what God’s will is for our lives) for us is that we would be sanctified—that we would be set apart and consecrated and freed from sin.

And this is Good News—no, it’s great news—not bad news. To realize that God wants to do something mighty in our lives—that He wants to eliminate the mundane and status quo—is a wonderful concept to wrap our minds around. He has so much more for us than we could ever think of imagine.

So why not allow Him to bring you to complete sanctification?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Endless Pursuit

So whose “job” is it to make sure that you have morning devotions and spend time with the Lord? Yours? Surprisingly, the Bible gives us a different answer.

All throughout scripture we find that Christ takes in the initiative in our relationship. This is the very essence of the Gospel. It’s why we celebrate Christmas. Man sinned and Christ, without us even asking Him, came down to earth to pay the penalty for that sin.

But He doesn’t simply leave us there. He doesn’t fold His arms across His chest and say, “All right. I’ve done My part. Now it’s your turn to do yours!”

The Bible tells us that God continues to take the initiative and He continues to pursue and seek after us. There are so many passages in scripture that attest to this, but let me just cite a few:

  1. Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue and chase after me all the days of my life.”
  2. Ezekiel 34:11, “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’ ”
  3. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

But what about our devotional time in the morning? Aren’t we supposed to set our alarm clocks extra early, force ourselves out of bed as we rub our groggy eyes, and go through the painstaking effort of spending time in Bible study and prayer? Well, as with the rest of scripture, God tells us that He is the one that pursues us in this area also. “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned,” Isaiah writes, “That I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. . . . And I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away” (Isaiah 50:4, 5).

Did you pick up on it? The Lord awakens us every morning! And only an act of rebellion on our part can derail that which Christ sets in motion every day. Each morning, He knocks on the doors of our hearts, seeking to have fellowship with us.

So why not respond to the Lord’s initiative and His pursuit? Why not allow Him “who has begun a good work in you” to “complete it” (Philippians 1:6)?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rich in a Foreign Currency

If God were in competition with the world’s richest people—Bill Gates, Warren Buffet—it would be no competition at all. That is not a surprise to us. What would come as a surprise to us, however, is how God measures wealth. While the likes of Gates and Buffet (who are, together, worth almost $80 billion—yes, that’s an eight with ten zeros behind it) would, no doubt, measure their wealth in money, stocks, and other assets, God would come to the competition with a different currency to measure His wealth.

And Paul speaks of it in the book of Ephesians. Twice, He declares that God is “rich in grace” (1:7; 2:7) and in another place He says that He is “rich in mercy” (2:4). The Greek actually says that He has an “abundance” of mercy and grace—which tells me that if God has an abundance of something, He is not going to run out.

What is even more of a mystery is why you and I don’t take advantage of God’s surplus. The truth is, His grace and mercy can be the currency on which we can run our lives every day. You think Wall Street or the Federal Bank or the President of the United States determines the health of our economy? Think again. It’s all God’s grace and mercy.

But I have to be honest with you: as heart-warming as the thought is that God’s grace and mercy is in abundant supply, I, sadly, so rarely make a withdrawal from His heavenly ATM. Why? Because I have a hard time feeling my need. Maybe I’m the only one, but I feel pretty rich on my own most of the time. I feel pretty self-made.

Fortunately, every once in a while, God allows me to see my true state. And it is at those moments when I fully appreciate the fact that His ATM is always open. His bank account has no limits. It’s exhaustless.

So why not make a withdrawal today? After all, we are always living on God’s currency of grace whether we realize it or not.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Little Bit of Zeal Never Hurt Anyone

Zealousness has gotten a bad “wrap” throughout the ages, it seems to me. We get very uncomfortable when we are around people who are zealous. We think they’re crazy, insane, unreasonable, absentminded, annoying—or whatever other superlative we can come up with that we think somehow justifies our lukewarmness.

But the apostle Paul has something interesting thoughts on zeal—and one of those thoughts is found in Galatians 4:18. He writes, “But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always.” Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? He declares that is actually “good to be zealous . . . always.” Of course, he sends out a word of caution to us as well: we are to be zealous in a “good thing.”

The Dictionary defines zeal as “fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor.” And what better thing could we participate in than to be completely enthusiastic for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

Of course, we can be ever thankful that Christ was—and is—completely zealous and enthusiastic for us and our salvation. There is no double-mindedness or lukewarmness there for us. He is completely “sold out” for our wellbeing. And when we start to get a glimpse of that reality, that same zeal can’t help but be reproduced in our hearts for Him—and everyone else that He died for also.

So why not allow the Lord to give you a glimpse, a taste, a peek, of His zeal and love and sold-outedness for you? Amazing things will happen in your life. The word “boring” will never again be a part of your vocabulary! And, indeed, you will find yourself “zealous in a good thing always.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lowly in Heart

Since this last Sabbath, I have been pondering—off and on—what Jesus really meant when He said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). What are the exact implications of this idea?

The first part of the phrase seems fairly straightforward. The Greek word for “meek” means just that: meek, humble, gentle. But what, exactly, does Jesus mean when He says that he is “lowly in heart”? Nowhere else does the Bible use this phrase. And it certainly isn’t a phrase that many of us use today.

So I am not sure that I have an answer. But what I do know is that, obviously, this very phrase reveals God’s heart. It reveals what He’s all about: He’s humble. He’s gracious. He’s approachable.

And that ought to overwhelm—and humble—all of our hearts.

Friday, December 4, 2009

No More Stains

Yesterday morning, while doing my morning devotions, I set the six-inch ruler that I was using down on the couch. Not a good idea. For some reason, that ruler likes to attract ink from the pen that I use to underline stuff in my Bible, and that fresh ink was then transported to the cushion. This has happened to me before in the past, but nothing to this magnitude.

You can imagine my frustration! The color of the couch is tan, and the place where the ink was located was right in the middle. So I immediately tried to rub it out with my saliva-covered finger. That, of course, only made it worse! I had to surrender to the fact that I would not be able to get the stain out and I would have to fearfully inform Camille of what had happened.

When she arrived home from work and I told her what had happened, she wasn’t too excited. And she tried using some different stain removers that didn’t seem to do the trick.

Well, when I came down this morning to sit on the couch for my devotions, the stain was nowhere to be found! I looked everywhere on the cushions, wondering if perhaps she re-arranged them to be able to hide the stain. But the stain has magically disappeared! (All right, it probably wasn’t magic, but since Camille didn’t tell me that she was able to remove it, I’ll assume that the “Stain Fairy” came in the middle of the night and got rid of it.)

All this reminds me of that wonderful passage in Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet,” the Lord says, “they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:8). Though we haven’t had a snowfall yet this year, we can still envision that scene. All the dirt and grime that covers the earth disappears under a blanket of fresh and beautiful snow.

And what’s more is, so often we try to use our own saliva-covered fingers to erase our own problems. We try our different humanistic efforts to get rid of the bad habits and sin in our lives. But God longs to come along and, with His own scarlet-and-blood-stained hands, remove the bad habits and sins and selfishness from our lives.

He sure does a better job than the Stain Fairy, I know that!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Something in Which to Boast

Perhaps there is nothing more troubling than having to converse with someone who simply wants to talk about him or herself ad nauseam. Do you know people like this—they’re always trying to build themselves up and praise their own efforts? I certainly have met my fair share of people like this, and, truth be told, I know that I can fall into this trap myself far too often.

Of course, people who engage in such activity do so because they have feelings of inferiority and little self-worth. Whether conscious of it or not, often times what they feel in their heart about themselves is the exact opposite of what they are audibly sharing.

But the book of Jeremiah gives all of us something to boast about—something to really help us feel good about who we are and the value we have. Through the pen of Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches.” To do so is utter folly! God is the source of all wisdom, might, and riches. If we think we are self-made for one minute, how rudely awakened we would be if God were to remove His grace from us. Then we’d really see. (And sometimes He is gracious enough to do just that, so we are allowed to see our true state.)

But then God goes on to offer this admonition: “But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me.” Now there’s something of which we can boast! We know the King of the Universe intimately. We have a personal audience with Him every day—and we can have it every moment if we so desire.

And then God goes on to help us recognize where our true value and worth find their fulfillment. We are to recognize that the “ ‘Lord exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

You talk about value and worth! God’s character is that of constant and everlasting love towards us. And we can rest in the assurance that He is going to make sure justice and judgment have their day (this is especially good news for those who have been maligned or slandered). And beyond this, we can delight in the fact that all of His actions towards us derive from His righteousness.

So why not “glory” in this today?