Archive for March, 2008

Knowing Your Place

Here’s something that you already know, but probably need to be reminded of: You are not God.

“Why,” you ask, “do I need to be reminded of that?” Because, though people know they’re not God, they regularly lead their lives as though they are.  And when people approach life as though they are God, they eventually lose their way and foul their lives up.

All humanity began to assume the place of God back in the garden of Eden (Gen.3).  When the serpent tempted Eve, he did so with the alluring prospect that if she listened to him, she would be like God.  Well, Eve took the bait, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ever since Eve decided to live apart from God’s instructions, human beings have been born into this world with the same nature – a nature that desires to approach life without accountability to the Creator.

Sadly, this way of life has brought untold misery to countless souls.  Because no matter how much we may want to live as our own god, we don’t have the knowledge, power, or virtue to pull it off without harm.  In short, we are flawed and finite; God is holy and infinite.

Fortunately, God has His ways of helping us see this.  When, for example, we fail at some pursuit that we were sure we could attain, we are shown that we don’t control all the variables of our lives.  Only God does.

Sometimes it takes a crisis for people to learn they aren’t God.  Someone may, for instance, be struck with an illness and at the mercy of others for months –  and at the end of that time remarkably say, “This is the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”

How could he say such a thing?  Because he discovered in his time of dependence that he is not God.  He sees that his pursuit of money, and success, and pleasure has been nothing but chasing after the wind.  And what he really needs is to look at the people God has put around him and love them and serve them.  Because this is what it is to live a life that is full and mature.

Thankfully, you don’t have to have a crisis to come to terms with this.  There are things you can do to habitually orient your life in such a way that you serve God rather than self  – as He intends.

One way is to make it a daily practice to read the Psalms.  The Psalms have long been used by God’s people as a way of answering back to Him in light of what He may bring our way.

When we are in a time of distress, we answer back with a plea for mercy.  When we are experiencing well-being, we give Him praise and thanksgiving.

In each case we are drawn to God as the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

Essential to living the life God intends for you is knowing your place.  That is, knowing that you are a creature, made to serve God and others with the days that He gives you.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest

Discipline and Joy

March 25, 2008 1 comment

I was sifting through some old notes and came across this quote from M. Scott Peck’s previously popular book The Road Less Traveled. The quote aptly sums up the relationship between discipline and joy.

“By this time some readers may feel saturated by the concept of discipline and conclude that I am advocating a style of life of Calvinistic dreariness. Constant self-discipline! Constant self-examination! Duty! Responsibility! Neopuritanism, they might call it. Call it what you will, genuine love, with all the discipline that it requires, is the only path in this life to substantial joy. Take another path and you may find rare moments of ecstatic joy, but they will be fleeting and progressively more elusive. When I genuinely love I am extending myself, and when I am extending myself I am growing. The more I love, the longer I love, the larger I become. Genuine love is self-replenishing. The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured. I am a totally selfish human being. I never do something for somebody else but that I do it for myself. And as I grow through love, so grows my joy, ever more present, ever more constant. Neopuritan perhaps I am. I am also a joy freak.”

Categories: Christian Life, Quotes

Benefits of the Resurrection

March 25, 2008 1 comment

Central to the Christian way of life is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If there were no resurrection of Christ from the dead, there would be no Christianity.  Period.  As the Apostle Paul put it, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor.15:17).

But Christ hast been raised from the dead, and the Christian faith has now endured for nearly two thousand years.

What is it about the resurrection that has shaped history and transformed so many lives the way it has?  What are the benefits of the resurrection?

First, by His resurrection Christ overcame death and made it possible for us to share in His righteousness.

People die every day.  But Christ’s death was different.  He died in order to endure the curse for our sins, and be the mediator back to God that we need.

How do we know His death was effective to accomplish this?  By the resurrection.  Christ was delivered because of our sins, and was raised for our justification (Rom.4:25).

Guilt immobilizes us and brings us into lives of bondage.  But the first benefit of the resurrection is that there is righteousness and freedom from condemnation for all who believe in Him.  “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.5:1).

The second benefit of the resurrection is that by His power we are raised up with Him to experience new life.

The only way to thoroughly change your life is to get a new one.  But how do you get a new life?  Again, the answer is in the resurrection.

The Bible tells us that those who have been united to Christ by faith have already been raised up with Him spiritually (Eph.2:5:6).  The old self is dead, and we possess new life.

This means by the power of the risen Christ we have a new ability to live differently.  Because of this, we are to consider ourselves dead to such things as immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed which amounts to idolatry (Col.3:1-5).  Instead, as Christ was raised from the dead, we are to walk in the newness of life (Rom.6:4).

The third benefit of the resurrection is that our own glorious resurrection is guaranteed.

The experience of new life the Lord offers us will always be incomplete in this life.  But there will be completion when the Lord comes to consummate His work at the end of the age.

Jesus is known as the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1 Cor.15:20).  He is called this because His own resurrection has secured a whole crop of resurrections on the last day.

When this occurs, all who believe in Him will be given new, imperishable bodies.  On that day there will be no more tears, no more death, no more pain (Rev.21:4).  And all who share this hope have strength for the hardship of this life.

Easter 2008 is now past.  But the benefits of the resurrection live on.  May they live in you.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest

Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

From the Pastor of Constantinople (c. 400 A.D.). . .

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Categories: Church

Why Celebrate Easter?

Why should we celebrate Easter?

Because it’s tradition?  Because it’s a good family time?  Or, simply, because of the resurrection of Christ?

Let’s consider the question from the context of our own day and age.  Is there really something more to the celebration of Easter than just habit?

To answer that, a quick survey of the cultural landscape is in order.

For the past several centuries the Western world has been in the grip of what has been known as modernity.  When we speak of modernity, we are not speaking of the latest technologies and trends – but a way of looking at the world.

With modernity, God was locked in the basement.  His existence was not entirely denied, but He was only hauled out for certain occasions – like Christmas and Easter.

According to modernity, God was not needed to bring about a better world.  Man could do it himself.  By his own industry and intelligence (so it was thought), man could bring about an era of peace and prosperity without divine help.

But by the end of the last century –  a century that brought us countless wars, economic shenanigans, and the sexual revolution – modernity’s arrogance was being called into question.  Modernity had failed to give us the nirvana it promised.

This has led to our present age, which has been called postmodernity.

With postmodernity, there’s a wariness of the propaganda and power grabs that were such a selfish part of modernity.  There’s also a realization that locking God in the basement may not have been a good idea, so there’s a renewed interest in spirituality.

But postmodernity offers more of a critique than anything constructive.

With postmodernity, life is little more than a smorgasbord, with each one creating his or her own reality. There’s no objective truth, and there’s no larger purpose that gives shape to one’s life. Because postmodernity’s prevailing mood is suspicious and cynical, it does little to deliver us from the alienation and selfishness created by modernity.

It’s into this environment that the message of Christ and His resurrection bring reason for celebration.

Postmodernity will never provide a satisfying answer to modernity because, like its predecessor, it lacks love.  But Christ answers modernity’s selfishness by His self-denying love on the cross.

Moreover, by His resurrection He shows that He can’t be kept in the basement.  He is Lord of all.  And He’s been raised from the dead to bring about a new creation and further God’s story of redemption in this world.

Why, then, should we celebrate Easter?  Not just because Jesus secured the forgiveness of sins (Rom.4:25).  Not just because the resurrection assures us of life after death (1 Cor.15).  But because through His new life from the grave, Jesus Christ brings the healing and promise of a new creation –  and we participate in that renewal as we live by faith in Him (2 Cor.5:17).

Easter is just what our gloomy, postmodern age needs. In it, God shows forth a love that overcomes our doubts and a power that restores our hope.

Pass the ham, and praise the Lord!

Categories: Seed for the Harvest

Knowing History

There has been a lot written lately about the failure to teach history and the distortions that are passed on when it is taught at all. An example can be found here.

When we are ignorant of history, it has dire consequences. As Lord Acton said, “History must be our deliverer not only from the undue influence of other times, but from the undue influence of our own, from the tyranny of environment and the pressures of the air we breathe.”

Plenty of people today see no problem living their lives in ignorance of history. But over at The Backwater Report there’s a good article that explains how dangerous it is for people to lose their historical consciousness.

Here’s a sample. . .

“First, having no historical consciousness we have no context by which we can understand ourselves. Citizenship is more to belonging to a people currently alive, but rather, also includes belonging to all those who have gone before. I can not understand myself in isolation from all that has gone before me. I am a child of my family, and a child of this country, and a child of the West as they all have been shaped, fashioned, and influenced by the Christian faith. Without a sense of history every generation is left to having to re-create the wheel of meaning.”

I encourage you to read the rest.

What’s needed most is to recover a Christian view of history. Where we view history not as just a collection of events randomly occurring in a materialistic and evolutionary world, but as a working out of God’s purpose through time toward an ultimate destiny.

To help you recover a Christian view of history yourself, you might start with Stephen Mansfield’s book, More Than Dates & Dead People.

Categories: Culture

Taking Responsibility for Spiritual Growth

People have had a hard time taking responsibility all the way back to Adam. And this remains true for believers and unbelievers alike. But if believers are going to grow and become stronger spiritually — and see the fruit of that growth in their culture — they must take responsibility for their spiritual progress.

Certainly, behind all spiritual growth lies the work of the Spirit. But this does not mean we just sit around waiting for the Spirit to move us. We are to respond in faith to what the Spirit has already done in revealing to us the Word of God.

When we look to the epistles of the New Testament, we find that taking responsibility for our growth as Christians is something that God expects of us. Actually, He commands it, as can be seen from a sampling of the epistles themselves.

In Romans the Lord tells us that we are responsible to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, and are to willfully yield ourselves not to sin but to God (6:11-13). Romans shows us further that we are responsible to set our minds on the things of the Spirit, and that we are to live not according to the flesh but by the leading of the Spirit (8:12,13). Romans is also well known for its admonition that we are not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (12:1-2).

In Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth, he teaches that we are to persevere to the end (1:8), discipline ourselves spiritually as an athlete (9:24-27), and faithfully apply the examples that God has given us in Scripture (10:1-12).

In Ephesians he tells us that we are responsible to put off the old and put on the new (4:17-32), be careful not to give the devil a foothold (4:27), and put on the full armor of God (Eph.6:10-18).

Philippians calls us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God is at work in us (2:12-13).

From Colossians we are to live in light of the fact that we have been crucified with Christ and raised up with Him as well (3:1-9).

From Hebrews we learn much more about our responsibility. There we find that we are to encourage one another against sin’s deceitfulness (3:12,13) and make every effort to enter God’s rest (4:10-11). Further, we are to seek maturity by training ourselves to discern between good and evil (5:12-14). We are to throw off all hindrances and the sin that so easily besets us (12:1). We are to keep our eyes on Jesus in our struggle against sin, and accept the discipline of the Lord, knowing that it produces a harvest of righteousness for all who are trained by it (Heb.12:7-11).

James relates that we are responsible to resist the devil and draw near to God (4:7,8), as well as confess our sins to one another (5:16).

Many more examples could be given. The point is to show that if we are going to grow spiritually, we need to take responsibility to do what God has clearly told us to do. In a culture of irresponsibility, this can be a big step for many Christians to take. But it’s a step we must take if we hope to mature in Christ and realize the blessings that come to those who act with responsibility before the Lord.

Categories: Christian Life

Getting Back on Track

Being a season of self-examination and soul searching, Lent provides an opportune time to get your life back on track.

But how?  Especially if you know you’ve been off track for a long time?

Start by going to the standard that God has given in His Word.  By going to the Bible you will find what is needed to bring your life back in line with God’s design.

One passage that serves this purpose well is the third chapter of Proverbs.  Here you’ll find a collection of straightforward directions  that we are all wise to follow.

First, remember God’s teaching.  This world has a way of squeezing you into its mold. The only way to resist it, is to keep going back to God’s commandments, and remembering them so that you keep them.  This is essential for bringing peace to your days (Pr.3:1-2).

Second, balance your life with kindness and truth.  By nature, we are driven to extremes.  Our kindness can easily degenerate into tolerance for what is evil.  And in our desire for truth we can become suspicious and judgmental.  Proverbs tells us to hang on tightly to both kindness and truth, and that this will bring us due favor with others (vs.3-4).

Third, trust God more than yourself.  Every person alive has both finite understanding and a great capacity for self-deception.  This makes us all prone to get derailed whenever we lean on our own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge the Lord, and He will make your paths straight.  Don’t be wise in your own eyes, but fear Him.  Follow this approach and you’ll find healing and refreshment (vs.4-8).

Fourth, honor the Lord with what you have.  Everything we possess is from God’s hand.  From these, we are to honor Him, and we can do so by not only using what we have in a way that pleases Him, but by dedicating to Him the first portion of our gain.  When we do so, God blesses us even further.  God honors those who honor Him (vs.9,10).

Fifth, do not despise the hard times.  The Lord disciplines those He loves.  Comfort and ease tempt us to deny God, while hardship reminds us that we are dependent on Him.  Being so, God will use hardship to draw us back to Him.  As a father will discipline a son to get him back on track, so will God discipline those that belong to Him (vs.11-12).

As we seek to get our lives back on track as the Proverbs teach us, we must remember that this is not just another self-improvement scheme.  And we must also remember that we are not left to our own resources.

Getting our lives in sync with God’s design is His plan for our lives.  And He secured the success of this plan by sending His Son to be the Redeemer of wayward humanity.  This plan is being worked out even now as His Spirit draws souls to believe His Word.  And it’s in this we find our hope for getting back on track.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest

Time for Repentance

March 4, 2008 1 comment

I heard a story on the news yesterday that a woman who had stolen $1,000 ended up returning $700 of what she had taken, along with a note of apology.

This story reminds me of a lot of people who engage in what you might call “partial repentance.” They feel badly about some wrong they have done, and even take some steps to remedy the situation they are in. But they will not go all the way and do what thorough repentance requires. As a result, they continue to live with an afflicted conscience – and worse.

If you have been trying to resolve an issue with partial repentance, now would be good time to come completely clean and begin to experience the personal transformation that genuine repentance leads to.

I say this first because partial repentance is really no repentance at all. D.A. Carson puts it best as he writes, “Genuine repentance does not turn from one sin while safeguarding others; partial repentance is as incongruous as partial pregnancy. Loyalty to God in selective areas is no longer loyalty, but treason. To repent of disloyalty in select areas, while preferring disloyalty in others, is no repentance at all.”

Another reason that this is a good time for thorough repentance is that this is what God calls you to. The Bible calls us to reorient our lives to God through repentance. This is especially pronounced in the ministry of Jesus, who called for repentance in His very first sermon (Mk.1:15) and proclaimed that He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Lk.5:31-32). Why the emphasis on repentance? Because repentance is the first step to personal renewal.

Now is also a good time for needed repentance because of the season we are in. The period of time prior to Easter (known as Lent) is a time for soul searching and cleansing. This is one reason why fasting is common during this time. And, as fasting will purge toxins from the body, so does repentance purge sin from our souls.

As you think about the place of repentance in your own life, keep in mind what repentance is. It’s literally “a change of mind.” It’s not merely having bad feelings about what you’ve done or the consequences you are experiencing. It’s agreeing that what you have done is offensive to God.

Genuine repentance also bears fruit. Repentance involves more than just a one time prayer to say you are sorry. It involves a change in the way you live that is in keeping with the repentant heart you claim to possess (Mt.3:8).

Finally, repentance is a gift. We do not muster up repentance ourselves, but receive it as a gift of God’s grace. As you get a growing desire to be clean and catch a glimpse of the hope that repentance brings, it is a good indication that God is giving you that gift.

God has ordained repentance as the way to enter into His life. Do not ignore His call to repent as you hear it in your heart.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest