Institutional Syndrome 5-21-18

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Those familiar with the prison system will tell you that one of the challenges those who have served time face once released, especially those who have served a long sentence, is learning how not to live in prison. The term used to describe this is institutional syndrome. The problem is that they have been set free, but don’t know how to live free.

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to believers who had the same problem. They had been set free by Christ, but did not know how to live free. In fact, they were going back to a form of bondage instead of living in freedom. They turned from the true gospel to a counterfeit gospel. The true gospel proclaims that salvation is found in Christ alone. This counterfeit gospel was teaching that salvation is found in Christ plus something else. They had entered into salvation in Christ by grace but mistakenly believed their continued acceptance by God was found in Christ by grace and works. The true gospel of grace is not only the way to enter the kingdom of God, but is also the way to live in His kingdom.

Paul uses very strong language to express his concern: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6). The word “deserting,” used here by Paul, was used of traitors. He is literally calling them traitors to the gospel. Paul warns them, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9b). The group preaching this counterfeit gospel is known as Judaizers. They were teaching that Jesus was crucial to getting you saved, of course, but faith in Him alone is not enough to allow you to be fully accepted by God. After you come to Christ, they taught, you would have to adopt the full range of ceremonial and cultural Jewish customs.

Paul begins in Galatians chapters one and will continue into chapter two to share his own story of coming to Christ and call by God to share the true gospel. Paul wants the reader to understand that he was indeed saved, received the true gospel and was called to share it with Jews and Gentiles alike. Gentiles are people who are not ethnically Jewish. He uses his testimony to illustrate that the true gospel is evidenced by transformed lives. He writes of his radical transformation: “‘they only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (Gal 1:23-24). Believers celebrated that this man (Paul) who once persecuted the church had been saved by Christ and was now proclaiming the true gospel.

Pastor and author Tim Keller describes the gospel as: “the message that we are more wicked than we ever dared to believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared to hope.” The true gospel brings freedom. The true gospel is about a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The true gospel empowers us to break the shackles of religious legalism. Legalism is a way of living that obeys certain rules in the belief that keeping their requirements will earn some form of blessing. Paul had once been shackled by religious legalism but had been enabled by Christ to walk the road of freedom and desired for the Galatian believers to experience the same.

It is a privilege to partner with each of you as we partner with Christ.  Together let’s embrace the true gospel and encourage one another to not fall prey to the many counterfeits that would lead us astray. I celebrate that we have found freedom in Christ. Let us continue to walk in that freedom.

On Loving Family 5-14-18

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When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). Who is our neighbor? When Jesus answered this question, he shared a story we call The Good Samaritan (see: Luke 10:25-37). The answer is that everyone is our neighbor. Now, all of us know that relationships can be messy. There are people who are simply difficult to love. There are people who think so differently, whose worldview is so dissimilar from ours that it is a challenge to love as a neighbor. However, I believe some of the hardest people to love like Christ are those in our family. The old adage rings true: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” What am I getting at? Well, if everyone is our neighbor and we are to love our neighbors, then we need to love our family with Christ-centered neighborly love.

No family is perfect, even Jesus’ family. As you know, Jesus’ birth was not without controversy. Mary, while a virgin (Lk 1:34) is miraculously pregnant. Joseph considers breaking off their marriage, but due to divine intervention decides to take her as his wife. We presume Joseph died prematurely (Joseph apparently did not accompany Mary to the wedding in Cana, and after the crucifixion, Mary went to live at the home of the un-named Beloved Disciple, which she probably wouldn’t have done if her husband had still been alive.) Jesus was the older brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas as well as of at least to sisters (Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). When Jesus left home to begin His ministry, other members of His family appear to have disapproved (Mk 3:21). We don’t know the reasoning, but on one occasion Jesus refused to talk to His mother and brothers when they tracked Him down and tried to see Him (Matt 12:46-50). For some time in Jesus’ ministry, His brothers did not believe Him (John 7:5). However, eventually, Jesus’ mother Mary and His brothers join the early church after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14). The oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers was named James. He became a very important leader in the early church and is the named as the author of the New Testament book of James. Another brother of Jesus, called Jude, is the named author of the New Testament book of Jude. Think about it. God sends His Son into the world and places Him in the midst of a family with issues. Why? For one thing…every family from one degree to another has issues. However, in spite of this truth believers are called to love their family neighbors.

Through the story, The Good Samaritan, we not only discover that everyone is our neighbor and we are to love them, but also that the Samaritan was able to love because he felt empathy, had compassion, and showed mercy, in part, because he saw a man hurting and was in need. The Samaritan was able to relate to being in need and fulfilled The Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12). The truth is that as we love God with everything and continue to walk with the Lord in faith, the Spirit of God makes us more like Christ enabling and empowering us to love all neighbors, even family neighbors. Perhaps, then, the real focus is not on loving everyone, including family members, to honor God. But, first, we are to fall deeper in our love for God.  In doing so, we position ourselves to receive His unlimited resources for us. Then we can actually love all others. It appears we need to give up on mere willpower and trust in God’s power at work in and through us.

As part of God’s family let us encourage one another to seek God and His kingdom first, then allow Him to love others through us (see: Matt 6:33). Love all others, especially family, might be challenging, but the one who gave all for all of us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is more than capable of leading and empowering us to show neighborly love to all people.

When Loving People Is Hard 5-7-18

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There is no doubt that God calls us to love all people. Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan makes it crystal clear that we are to love our neighbor and everyone is our neighbor (Lk 10:29-37). The dilemma is that some are easier to love than others. We are not just to like those like us, but those different from us. When I speak of those different from us, I am really speaking of everyone since no two of us are exactly alike.

The simple truth is that God has created each of us unique. He is the potter, and we are the clay. Some of us have blue eyes and others brown. Some of us are right-handed, and others left. Some are gifted at one thing and others another. People hold different political views and even religious views. However, we were all made by God and made on purpose. The Psalmist declared:  “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psa 139:13-14). God has also redeemed people on purpose and for a purpose. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus: “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph 2:10).  There is no doubt that the more significant the difference between ourselves and others the more difficult it can be for us to treat them like a neighbor as Christ has taught us to do.

The good news is that we discover three principles from the life of Christ that empowers us to love different neighbors. First, loving others takes empathy. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Jesus has empathy for people (Heb 4:14-16). As Jesus empathizes with us, we ought to empathize with one another. We can love different neighbors, because we can relate to them, and all others, at the place of our brokenness. We can follow Christ’s example and be empathetic and love them.

Second, loving different neighbors takes mercy. Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Jesus showed mercy to others (Jn 8:4-11). On one occasion Jesus is confronted with an adulterer, and He has the power to punish her, but He chose mercy. Jesus speaks the truth to her: “From now on sin no more,” but he spoke these words with love, “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus had the power to punish but chose to lovingly show mercy. As Jesus shows mercy, we ought to show mercy. We can love different neighbors without compromising the Bible. We can show mercy and stand for truth. But, we can’t claim to love like Christ loves and not show mercy.

Lastly, loving different neighbors takes compassion. Compassion is good-hearted commiseration and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. Matthew records in his gospel: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Jesus had been traveling throughout numerous cities and villages and proclaimed the gospel and healed the sick. He had seen the failure of leaders in their responsibilities to care for those in need. They were in essence, leaderless. Jesus had compassion and in the next verses challenges us to do the same. We can love different neighbors when we allow the Spirit to fill us with Christ-like compassion.

I really wish I could say I am always good at loving people different than me. I am not, but I have discovered that as I grow in Christ and partner with Him, He has filled me with empathy, mercy, and compassion for others. I am not as consistently filled, as I ought, by more than I ever have been and I am growing. I desire to know God and make Him known. I desire to be more like Jesus. I want to love like Jesus.  In all honesty, loving different people takes Jesus. Partnering with Him so He can fill us with His empathy, His mercy, His compassion – His love for others.

It is a true honor to do life with each of you. As we grow in our walk with God, we will grow in our love for others.

Responding in Love 4-30-18

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In approximately AD 65 Peter wrote his letter 1 Peter to the early church that was growing in spite of the rising persecution they were experiencing under the Roman Empire. Peter is encouraging believers that God is in control and that suffering for the sake of Jesus is noble and good. He teaches that life can be hard, but God is always good while reminding them that for the believer a much better day awaits them in paradise.

In the second chapter Peter writes:

“When Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:23-25).

It is hard not to long for retaliation in the face of unjust criticism or suffering. However, Jesus returned insult with meekness as a lamb (see: Isa 53:7). How was he able to do so? Christ’s humble response was the result of continued entrusting of Himself as well as those who mistreated Him entirely to God. He knew that God is good and just and would work everything out in the end.

Peter wants believers to understand that we can indeed follow Christ’s example. When we have faith in God and believe that He judges rightly, we can forgive others and entrust the outcome to Him. The simple truth is that every bad deed will either be covered by the blood of Christ or repaid justly by God.

Peter draws our attention to the unique, substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Jesus and our healing. Healing in the atonement (Christ’s death bringing redemption and reconciliation with God) does not in this context refer to physical healing, but to the forgiveness of sins. Peter wants believers to understand that Jesus’ death should lead to a profound change in their lives. In Christ, in all circumstances we can sever all ties to the sin that entangles us and live lives devoted to Christ in a holy manner, living in righteousness. As Isaiah proclaimed:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6).

This redemptive work of Christ has allowed us to return to the Lord and walk under His compassionate care, sound wisdom, and unlimited power.

In short, we can follow Christ’s example because in His example lies the sacrifice that brought us salvation and the power to be sanctified, where we cooperate with God having Him execute in us the ongoing transformation of greater Christlikeness. We can love others and respond lovingly, not by our mere willpower, but by the freedom, fullness, and faithfulness found in Christ.

Life can be hard, but God is always good. Let us continue to be encouraged by the example of Christ. As we journey together let us encourage one another in the truth that through the finished work of Christ on the cross we can follow His example of trust in the Lord and expression of humble love to even those who make it difficult for us to do so.

Who Is My Neighbor? 4-23-18

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When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). This command leads us to ask a couple of foundational questions: Who are my neighbors? And, How am I to love him? As we explore God’s Word together, we discover that God desires to fill us with His love, so that, we can be a conduit of His love to all others.

There is an encounter with Christ that occurred about six months before His death and resurrection with a lawyer that helps us answer these questions. The account is found in the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The lawyer wants to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers the question with a question. Basically, Jesus asks, “What do you think?” The lawyer answers correctly by answering, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27). However, a problem arises when the lawyer desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor” (Lk 10:29)?

Although the lawyer knew the Old Testament Law, he had yet to discover that no one can keep this commandment without God’s love in his heart. The lawyer had given a good answer, but he would not apply it personally. The lawyer ought to have answered, “How can I do this? I am unable and need help.” However, he did not admit his own lack of love for both God and others. The result, instead of being justified by submitting to God and seeking His mercy (see: Luke 18:9-14), he tried to justify himself. We find the lawyer embarrassed. He had asked a question he had already known the answer to, so he asks another one. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Jews in Jesus’ day split hairs over this question by excluding anyone who was not a Jew (i.e., Gentiles and Samaritans) from their neighbor list. The lawyer believed he had presented himself a loophole. This thought of his was a fatal move in the debate. Jesus is about to share a story that will answer the lawyer’s evasive question. Any debater knows the trick of asking, “Define your terms!” “Who exactly is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is direct and crystal clear.

The story Jesus shares has become known as The Story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-35). Jesus starts the parable out by introducing “a man” (Lk 10:30). Jesus doesn’t give away the identity of the man. We don’t know his tribe, race, social status, or language. We apparently don’t need to know any of that! Jesus left all that information out. Just “a man” that’s all we know. It could have been anybody who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. To be honest, if we begin asking about the man’s background and all of that, we start ruining the whole story. Jesus wants to leave the subject right there. All we know is that this man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Jesus fixed it so that all we have to deal with is the man’s suffering. We don’t know how well educated he was or how poor he was. We don’t know what family he came from or what side of town he lived on. Barely breathing, bloody, and near death, the “man” was left to die.

We discover that a Levite and a Rabbi, the religious elite, walk by and offer no help. They simply make excuses and continue on their journey. Then, we discover:  “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Lk 10:33). By using a Samaritan as the hero, Jesus disarmed the lawyer. It was Jewish religious professionals, experts of the Law, who had ignored this man. It was a Samaritan who demonstrated love by helping him.

We often look at “neighbors” as people who are much like we are; we have mutual acceptance and respect, affinity. Jesus turns this thought on its ear. He broadens the common understanding of neighbor. He describes love for God as measured by love for others, including those not considered like us or even likable. In short, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question: everyone is our neighbor.

God calls us to love Him and our neighbors (everyone else). As we believe in Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit, then love with our Lord’s love and seek to see people rescued as we have been rescued. Let us encourage one another to this end.

The Second Coming 4-16-18

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I read an account recently involving President Dwight Eisenhower. He was vacationing in Denver, Colorado and read in the local paper about a six-year-old boy, named Paul, living in the area that had a life-threatening illness. In the article, it was noted that he desired to meet the president of the United States. Spontaneously, in a gracious gesture, he decided to answer the boy’s request. Unannounced Eisenhower arrived at the boy’s house. The boy’s father, Dale Haley, answered the door. Can you imagine being the one to open the door and see standing there the president? For some time the whole neighborhood excitedly talked about this remarkable visit. However, one remembered the meeting with personal regret. Dale, the boy’s father, was still beating himself up on being dressed in old worn-out clothes and unshaven. Of course, the president had shown up unannounced, so Dale was unprepared.

Over three hundred times the New Testament addresses another unexpected arrival. Not of a U.S. President, but of the King of Kings and Lord of the universe. Of course, we are speaking of the return of Christ – His second coming. The good news is that although Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected, we can be prepared. The simple truth is that much of what has been written in the New Testament was written to prepare people for His return. John encourages Christ-followers to “abide in Christ, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (1 Jn 2:28).

In our preparation, we need to be cautious not to become obsessed with the second coming and fall into speculative theology. However, we must not avoid the reality of Christ return. We ought to stay focused on the essentials that all Christians, in all places, at all times, have believed about the return of Christ. It is essential to keep the main thing the main thing by knowing God and making Him known.

The nature of Christ’s return is clearly laid out in Scripture. Christ’s return will be personal (Mt 16:27; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 4:16). Christ’s return will be visible. Having disappeared from sight at His ascension, He will reappear at His return (1 Tim 6:14; 1 Jn 3:3). Christ’s return will be glorious and powerful (Mt 24:30-31). Christ came as a humble servant; He will return as triumphant King. Christ’s return is certain to happen, but uncertain when it will happen (Mt 24-25).

The purpose of Christ’s return is clearly laid out in Scripture. Christ will be acknowledged as Lord and King (Rev 1:7; Ps 2:12; Is 40:5; Tit 2:13). The church of Christ will be glorified and transformed (2 Thess 1:10; Col 3:1 Col 3:3). Christ will judge the living and the dead (Jn 5:22, 27; Mt 25:31-33). The second coming is the coming of the Righteous Judge. Christ will make all things new (Rom 8:18-25; 1 Cor 15:35-53; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1).

In light of all we understand biblically about the return of Christ a question rises to the surface: How do we prepare for Christ’s coming? Whenever Christ or the apostles taught on the second coming, they did so to answer the question of how we ought to live today. Our anticipation of Christ’s return encourages us to pursue holiness and godliness (1 Jn 3:3; Heb 10:24-25). Our anticipation of Christ’s return moves us to faithful service (Mt 24:45-25:30). Our anticipation of Christ’s return shapes our understanding and engagement in the mission of the church (Mt 28:18-20). Our anticipation of Christ’s return inspires us to endure hardship patiently. This inspiration is in view as James writes to fellow believers undergoing great persecution, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:7-8). Anticipating Christ’s return fills us with joyful confidence (Tit 2:13; 1 Jn 2:28). We discover in Scripture that eager anticipation of the return of Christ is a mark of vital Christianity (Phil 3:20; tit 2:13; Jude 21). Stephen Seamands suggest that the reason many believers today do not anticipate the return of Christ is that, “We just don’t miss Him enough, long to be with Him enough or desire enough that He be with us.” He declares in response, “we need to repent and pray, imploring Jesus to forgive us and to increase our love-passion for Him.”

Although the time of Christ’s coming is unknown to us, we know He is coming. We don’t need to be unprepared. As we know Him and make Him known we live prepared lives ready and waiting for His return.

It is an honor to serve Christ with each of you. I hope all of us can pray, “Come Lord Jesus.” Together let’s anticipate and prepare for Christ’s return. Let us encourage one another to “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

Christ Exalted 4-10-18

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A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, once wrote, “Christ ascended to the right hand of God that He might lift us up into an ascension life.” The New Testament Writers believed the ascension of Christ was extremely important and wrote and preached of it often. It is fascinating that the Old Testament verse quoted or alluded to in the New Testament more than any other is a verse directly related to it. “TheLord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Psa 110:1). This verse is referred to in the New Testament a total of twenty-three times.

We read the account of Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:6-11. We are told: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). However, the implications of Christ’s ascension are much broader than this account. First and Foremost, the New Testament writers wanted us to understand that Christ had not only been raised from the dead (quite remarkable in and of itself), but He has also been exalted to God’s right hand and enthroned as King. Here is the point as Stephen Seamands explains it: “For Jesus is not only risen but reigning, not only alive but sovereign, not only central but supreme.” Therefore, when we fail to exalt Christ as reigning King, something or someone else inevitably assumes the throne.

Not only has Christ been exalted, but also Christ followers have been raised to new life in Him. We read over and over again in the New Testament that those who have professed faith in Christ and confessed Jesus as Lord, are joined to Christ. The Apostle Paul repeatedly declared, now they are “in Christ.” Meaning that the major movements in Christ’s life are now movements we are now caught up in too. This truth leads us to the second reason why the New Testament writers kept coming back to Psalm 110:1. They understood that not only was Jesus raised as exalted King but since believers are now joined to Him, they too were destined and invited to sit with Him on the throne. In the revelation given to John we read: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).  The tragic reality is that many Christians do not realize this, never learning to live in Christ from the seated-on-the-throne position that has been granted them in Christ. Now there is no doubt that believers can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” But, the simple truth is, if we are going to be any earthly good we must be heavenly minded.

Again look at Luke’s words: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). We are to understand the cloud as reminiscent of the cloud that descended upon the tabernacle constructed by Moses and the people in the wilderness (Ex 40:34) and the temple built by Solomon (1 Kings 8:10-11). With the cloud came the glory or manifest presence of God. To enter it was to be in the immediate presence of the Lord. Christ ascending into heaven means that Christ was brought back to the place of the fullness of God’s presence. When He became incarnate, the eternal Son voluntarily laid that aside (Phil 2:5-11) and limited Himself to and awareness and experience of God’s presence through human faculties and consciousness. The ascension means that the period of self-limitation had come to an end.

The fact that Christ ascended into heaven also means that Jesus is no longer limited by time and space, as He was during His earthly life when He could only be in one place at one time. N.T. Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same spatial continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creation. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the One who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. One of the practical realities of this is that Jesus is fully accessible, without needing to travel to a particular spot on earth to find Him. Jesus is always with us in actual presence. As Stephen Seamonds explains: “because we are with Him in heaven and He is with us on earth, that means we can live every moment of our lives in the holy of holies presence of God. This reality led St. Patrick to pray: “Christ be with me, within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” Because Christ is in heaven and no longer on earth, He can bring redemption to all places at all times. Since Jesus is “the one who ascended,” He can “fill the entire universe with Himself.” This truth led Paul to proclaim: “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10)

Not only has Christ been exalted and His followers raised to new life in Him, but also believers have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. The ascended Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33). Through the Spirit, both in our personal lives and as communities of faith, we are given power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8), to carry out Christ’s mission (Jn 20:21-22), to live victoriously over sin (Rom 8:9; Gal 5:16-25), to overcome weakness (Rom 8:26), to forgive our enemies (Acts 7:55-60), to now we are God’s beloved (Rom 1:7; 8:15-16) to be bold ad courageous (Acts 4:8-13, 29-31), to use our spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4-11), to exercise spiritual authority in Christ (Acts 16:18), to persevere in prayer (Eph 6:18), to patiently endure trials and suffering.

All of this is why A. B. Simpson proclaimed: “Christ ascended to the right hand of God that He might lift us into an ascension life. Let’s encourage one another to rightly acknowledge and live in this precious reality. It is a joy to do life with each of you and be united together with Christ in such a significant way.

The Cross Of Christ 3-26-18

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Salvador Dali’s painting Christ of St. John of the Cross is a staggering depiction of the crucifixion of our Lord. The picture depicts Jesus holding back the darkness surrounding Him. In the foreground, the light streaming from the cross brightens the earth, sky, and sea. The whole world is viewed from the cross. Dali wanted the viewer to grasp the crucifixion from this perspective. The gospel truth is that life ought to be considered from the vantage point of the cross because the cross is at the very heart of the Gospel. It is the cross of Christ that offers us staggering hope.

During the time of Christ, the cross was far from being a religious symbol. There is no doubt that the cross was an intensely painful way to die, but it was the social shame associated with crucifixion that people dreaded most in Roman times. Crucifixion was deliberately designed to be revolting, vulgar, and obscene. David Seamonds notes: “Crux was a four letter word, not to be used in polite company. Cicero, one of Rome’s greatest philosophers, said that no respectable person should ever have to hear it spoken.” This perception of crucifixion is why Paul writes: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). In fact, the Christian use of the cross as a symbol did not begin until three centuries after Christ.

The surprising truth is that the cross, with all its scandal and horror, is at the heart of the Gospel. Paul reminded the Corinthians: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2). Even though it seemed peculiar and off-the-wall, they were convinced that is was Christ’s finished work on the cross that supremely demonstrated the power, wisdom, and love of God.

Most believers can connect the cross with the problem of sin. We understand that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. Paul proclaims: “Jesus was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Rom 4:25). But, how does Christ’s finished work on the cross undo the problem with sin? How or why does it provide the solution? The Christian scholar Jerome, who lived in the dawning of the fifth century, said that if you are going to understand the antidote, you must first understand the poison.

The Bible describes sin as the breaking, or transgression, of God’s law (1 John 3:4). It is also defined as disobedience or rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7), as well as independence from God. The original translation means to miss the mark of God’s holy standard of righteousness. Humanity sinfully lives in defiance of God, the Creature. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3). Here our deep-seated, hostility toward God is exposed. Our hatred is so intense we would kill God if we could. Seamonds notes, “In our determination to be autonomous and independent, to be our own gods, we would go so far as to get rid of God so we could take His place.” At the cross we do not see “sinners in the hands of an angry God” as Jonathan Edwards put it in his famous eighteenth-century sermon, but “God in the hands of angry sinners.” When we look at the cross, we discover how determined we are and how horrifying sin is. Sin is not solely falling short of an established standard, but our desire to get rid of the One who established the standard in the first place.

The cross of Christ reveals that sin is too heinous and God takes sin too serious to simply ignore it or casually forgive and speak it away. Therefore, Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Peter proclaims, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The simple truth is that sin’s poison is so devastating that the only remedy was the death of God’s Son (John 3:16).

The cross does not only graphically reveal the horrific nature of sin, but it also reveals the incredible cost of what God has done for us. The prophet Isaiah foretold of how God would deal with our sin problem: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). God, due to His great love for every one of us, has chosen to provide a way for our deserved punishment for our sin to not fall on us, but on God Himself (Rom 6:23). For the believer, the cross tells us that God understands our suffering, for He took upon Himself at the cross all of our sins and all of our failures and all of our sufferings. Jesus has brought us the victory not by sheer might but by the power of suffering love. The cross of Christ is the supreme revelation of love. I’ve heard it said that forgiveness is free, but it certainly is not cheap. The staggering hope we have in Christ is found at the cross where He was willing to display His love by being the real antidote to the poison that is sin. Now that is staggering hope!

It is an honor to partner with Christ with each of you. Given the staggering hope we have in Christ, how can we not share this good news with others? Together God is going to use us to share His love and message throughout our region and to the ends of the earth.

Humanity & Divinity United 3-19-18

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Hope is an interesting word. We often use it with a tinge of pessimism: “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” However, biblical faith speaks of settled confidence in God and His promises. In a very real sense the incarnation, the act of Jesus, the Son of God, taking on human flesh, brought us dawning hope.

In the very first chapter of John’s Gospel, we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 12-14).

We discover that God the Son became human without ceasing to be divine. He became what He was not while remaining what He always was. In the fourth century, Athanasius expressed it in a way that has never been improved upon: “The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well…At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the Universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.”

This loving act of the incarnation allowed Christ to identify with us to the fullest. John declares that He “dwelt among us” (v. 14). Literally translated, the Greek states that He “pitched a tent” or “tabernacled” in our midst. Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase reads that He “moved into our neighborhood.” Jesus made Himself vulnerable in His humanity and by entering directly into our own condition, littered with frustration and hurt, tasted our predicament and embraced our despair. As Stephen Seamonds suggests: “This means that God has not only “spoken” to us through His Son (Heb 1:2), He has also “listened” to us. He has shared in the fellowship of our sufferings and heard our cries.” Therefore, the answer to the common question, Does God really care?” has been answered through the incarnation with an emphatic “Yes.” This loving act has a practical implication. Since God has come to us in such a significant way to meet us where we are at, we in sharing Christ’s love and message can’t do it from afar. We must “move into the neighborhood” too! It is when we invest time and meet people where they are at that the gospel breaks through.

The loving act of the incarnation provides revelation at its clearest. How do we explain the existence of God? It is not enough to say that God exists in the same way we might say Canandaigua Lake exists or that a certain person exists because God is in and of Himself existence. All other realities exist through Him. The simple truth is that if the incarnation never occurred, we would be left simply explaining what God is not. As a result, if we are to know anything about God in any certainty He has to reveal it to us Himself. God must take the initiative to show Himself to us. God has done just that through His Son, Jesus Christ. John explained it this way: “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18). The apostle Paul explained it this way: “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” (Col 2:9). God does not merely desire to communicate with us, but to commune with us. He has made this possible through a face-to-face, person-to-person encounter with the living God. God so loved the world that He went beyond a simple text or post and came in person. This truth, in part, is why the church, Christ’s body, is called to partner with Him in reaching those far from Him, yet close to His heart. The truth of the gospel is most convincing when it is embodied in a person or a community of persons. When others see us live our lives in partnership with Christ, they are much more likely to believe.

The loving act of the incarnation provides redemption at its finest. God has been committed to making right what went horribly wrong in the Garden, where Adam betrayed God and chose to do life his own way apart from the Lord. Through the incarnation, God took the ultimate step in that commitment. He showed His love for humanity by becoming human. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “God has now shown us the high place human nature holds in creation, for He entered into it by genuinely becoming man.” Not only did God become man, but He did so, living in our fallen world, while remaining righteous (living rightly) and holy (totally pure). Because of Christ, we can be transformed. The word C. S. Lewis used for change is transposition, where a lower reality is actually drawn into a higher one and becomes a part of it. What Lewis is suggesting is that “Humanity, still remaining itself, is not merely counted as, but veritably drawn into, Deity.” William Placher, in his book Jesus the Savior, sums it up well: “When the word became flesh, what it means to be human changed for us – you, me the Opioid addict huddled on a street corner – because in one human being humanity was united with divinity. Now that is dawning hope!

I am thankful to do life with each of you sharing in the hope Christ’s incarnation has brought us as well as sharing His hope with the world around us. As God loved us enough to meet us where we are at, lets in His power, love others by doing the same as we share His love and message.

On Tithing 3-12-18

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When we boil it down, the key to life is to know Christ and put Him first in all things. The simple truth is that what we do with what we have reveals whether or not Christ is indeed first in our life. One of the best gauges to determine if we are doing this is our money or treasure.

Even before the nation of Israel God appointed a discipline called tithing to help us determine how we are doing at putting God first. If the tithe is an essential aspect of our life in Christ, then it is important to know what tithing is and why we ought to do so.

Some may use the term tithe to describe any giving to the Lord’s work. However, the term literally means 10%. Now since everything we have is the Lord’s we do not, in reality, give a tithe, but return it to the Lord.

Tithing is returning the first 10% of our income to God through His church. The Lord deserves our best. In Leviticus 27:30 we discover this explanation: “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” Imagine I gave you a $100 bill and asked for 10% back and allowed you to keep 90%. This actually is what God does for each of us. Therefore, tithing is not something the Lord wants from us, but for us.

Tithing is also giving God my first and best so He can bless the rest. We discover this wisdom from an ancient sage:

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barn will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Prov 3:9-10).

Tithing is part of God’s plan to bless us. When we give Him from among our firstfruits, He uses the remaining portion to bless us, so that, we can be a blessing to others.

Once we understand what tithing is it is important to know why we do it. Tithing provides for God’s work through the church. Look at these words from Malachi: “Bring the full tithe into thestorehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Mal 3:10). Theologians for the past 2,000 years have understood the Old Testament references to “house of the Lord” or “storehouse” to be the New Testament church. The Local church is the hope of the world, because it stewards the love and message of Christ to the world. Since the church is the body of Christ, giving to her is giving to Christ and the continuation of His mission to reach those far from Him, but so close to His heart.

Tithing also teaches us to put God first. This is plainly explained in The Living Bible’s translation of Deuteronomy 14:23: “The purpose of the tithe is to teach you to always put God first in your lives.” We are to seek God above everything else. God uses tithing to teach us to put Him first.

Tithing builds my faith in God. It is interesting that here God invites us to test Him. In Malachi 3:10 we discover this challenge: “…put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” When I give my first and best to the Lord, he blesses the rest. These blessings are not always financial, but they can be. These blessing may also include healthy relationships, or his peace, or a place to serve and use your gifts. The possibilities are many, but the fact is blessed are those who tithe and their faith God builds.

Some baulk of the concept of tithing and say it doesn’t apply to those of us under the New Covenant. In reality, Christ affirmed the tithe (Matt 23:23).  Also, biblically we understand that Christ paid the price for our sins, but that this does not mean we ought not to live morally. In fact, in the New Testament, the bar of morality is drastically raised (adultery to lusting after someone; murder to thinking badly about another; tithing to how generous can I be with what I have above the tithe to honor God and advance His work in and through me).

Some frantically proclaim, “To tithe will take some major change in my life.” It most certainly will. Sacrifice is a major part of the Christian life. However, our sacrifices never outweigh God’s rich blessings (Matt 6:3316:25).

We discover as we seek life in Christ and put Him first in all things, not only is God honored, but we are truly blessed to bless others. Let’s take God up on His challenge and give Him our first-fruits. I can’t wait to hear the stories of God’s beautiful provisions and work in and through each of us.