Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Passing from Death to Life


An expression used by folks to describe the full extent of life as we know it is, “from the womb to the tomb”…which is sort of quaint, I guess…something like “a homer for Gomer” (from Hosea, of course :-).  The point of the former saying is that we all have a physical beginning and ending. I guess this is a message that only a mortician could fully appreciate, but we can all learn a thing or two about death and life. In this second chapter of his Ephesian letter (2:1-10), Paul shares a different perspective – here, he says that the believer in Christ is raised from the dead and seated on the throne.  By the grace of God, a precious miracle takes place, and people are given an opportunity to have life…and live, not only physically (from the womb to the tomb), but also eternally (from the graveyard to a heavenly dwelling).  The only reason this is even the remotest possibility is because of what has taken place through Jesus, the Son of God. Peter Larson shares this, "Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin's womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked 'No Entrance' and left through a door marked 'No Exit.'" As our Lord, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and exalted to be with the Father in heaven, so every Christian will also share in the same experience.  This should be the goal of every human.

Paul begins this section indicating the characteristics that describe an “unsaved person.”  First, they are "dead"…spiritually.  They are unable to understand or appreciate spiritual things.  Why?  It is because of sin (Romans 3:23).  This describes every person before they come to life, spiritually, in Christ. What is striking is how certain people respond to such statements concerning the viability of their spiritual existence. They will say, either “I am not a bad person,” or “I am not that bad.  So, there is a self-deception that goes on with unbelievers or those who have fallen away. Paul does give us some good news…there is a solution – resurrection!  Those who are dead can be brought back to life.  This is certainly not of anyone’s own doing, but is the work of God. In order to get to this point, the “spiritually dead” must recognize some things – spiritual death is the result of sin…and sin is the result of disobedience to the will of God.  So, whether folks like it or not…they have been bad. There are three forces at work…the world system, the flesh (pride, lusts, etc.) and the devil. They are all working against us, seeking to keep us at odds with God. We simply can’t change our own nature or overcome the flesh, the world or the devil on our own…we must have help and this can only come from God, from His Spirit. And all of this is not to say that the unsaved person only does evil, or that he or she is incapable of doing good.  But, no one can do anything in order to be saved, or meet God’s holiness without His help.

Let’s consider some other things that Paul has to share -- God’s nature is love (v.4). This is a primary attribute, and when it is related to sinners, it becomes grace and mercy.  This makes it possible for anyone and everyone to be saved. In His love, grace and mercy, Father God allowed His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross in order to bring us salvation.  In this was displayed God’s hatred for sin and His love for sinners. Also, in this, He quickens us (v.5)…that is, He makes us alive when we were once dead in our sins.  He accomplishes spiritual resurrection by the power of His Spirit through His Word. He exalts us (v.6).  We are not “spiritually” raised from the dead to be left in the graveyard.  If we are united with him while we live, we will be united for eternity with him when we are raised eternally from the dead.  He keeps us (vv.7-9).  He keeps us for eternity…it is His eternal purpose.  We who are in Christ are all saved by God’s grace through faith.  Some have asked, “Is this the faith of Christ or our faith?”  Yes.  For a long time, many believers were conditioned to view many passages as an “either or”…that it had to be one or the other…rather than a “both and” which makes more “spiritual” and realistic sense.  Nonetheless, we must understand, salvation is not our work…it is God's -- this is what Paul says.  Yet, so many people have known in my life have said things like, “well, I hope I have been good enough, or have done enough…”  This is trying to "work for" or "to earn" our salvation.  It is never going to be enough, because God’s work in His Son, Jesus…and our acceptance of it, and response to it. Salvation is His gift to us. The elements of belief, repentance, confession, baptism, spiritual living are all a part of this process. Then, God wants to work in us to glorify Him.  He wants to make us what He wants us to be…more like His Son. For some, conversion is it – nothing else follows (so it is questionable as to whether there has been a conversion truly take place).  Yet, it is only to be just the beginning of doing good works. As I shared concerning Lazarus not long ago – Jesus said, “get him loose from those grave clothes and let him go”.  We can’t stay in grave clothes, but live as citizens of heaven!  Believers work because they are saved!  We do good because of our salvation.  Our goal in life is to glorify God.

Every human that has ever lived deserved to die on the cross of shame…including you and me.  Every person is deserving of death because of sin – no exceptions. It was our cross…and Jesus took our place.  We would die if not for Jesus’ sacrificial substitution. It really makes so much sense!  How could we choose the counterfeit “gifts” of the world system…the false hope of self-service…the deception of the flesh? We have all of the blessings in the universe right in front of us…all we have to do is reach out and grasp them!  Reach out and hold on to eternal life. Because of the loving grace and mercy of the Father, we have the opportunity to choose life!  As Paul shares in 4:1ff, we all have the challenge to “live worthy of the calling we have received.”  And so we can with the help of our Lord and His Spirit.
Blessings, Don

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Going Deep into the Universe


This is the deepest picture of the universe ever taken in visible light.  It was done with the Hubble Space Telescope's ACS camera and is of an eXtreme Deep Field (obviously) or XDF.  Some of the oldest galaxies ever seen are in this image.  I marvel at all of the colors in God's creation.  Enjoy!

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Open the Eyes of My Heart


The late newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, invested a fortune collecting art treasures from around the world.  One day Mr. Hearst found a description of some valuable items that he felt that he must own.  So, he sent out an agent to find the treasure.  After months of searching, the agent reported that he had finally found the treasures.  Where were they?  They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse!  Hearst had been frantically searching and spending money for treasures that he already owned.  Had he read his catalogue, he would have saved himself a lot of money and trouble.  How often is it that we humans do much the same thing (?)…but more so with regard to spiritual realities.  We look for ways to relieve stress, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, sorrow…and the answer is easily within reach…but, yet seems so far away.  Sometimes, I wish life wasn’t so complicated…that the answers were always easily within reach, but they are not.  We don’t always have the answers we want…in fact, we may have a lot of questions from time to time.  The Lord can help us with these questions, so we pray.  We have to trust in the Lord.  We have to rest in Him and in His Spirit.

In communicating with the Ephesian Christians (1:15-23), Paul prays for them.  He knows that they need prayer…just as we also need prayer.  Sometimes, this seems like it is the only solution for us…yet, it is a good one.  Paul desires that the Ephesian believers not take for granted the blessings they have in Christ.  He reminds them, and us, of the elevated position that we have in Christ.  The atheist claims there is no God for us to know, and the agnostic does not know if there is a God for us to know.  But, Paul had met God personally in Jesus Christ, and he says that man can only truly know God…through Christ.  Under the old law, willful ignorance of God led mankind to corruption and condemnation.  Ignorance led to idolatry, which led to indecency and immorality.  It has been this way since the fall in the Garden of Eden.  Conversely, we who believe in the Lord must grow in our knowledge of God…as our Creator, Sustainer, Governor, Savior and Judge…as well as Father, Friend and Guide.  The better that we know Him, the more fulfilling He will be for us. 

Paul reminds Timothy that the believer has a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9).  As believers, we are called out of the darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  Some philosophies offer no hope…but, Paul wants believers to understand the great hope that is our because of our calling in Christ Jesus.  Our hope in Christ assures us of a great future!  It is not as the world says -- “hope so,” which is wishful thinking…but it is truly blessed assurance.  Hope encourages us to be pure, faithful, obedient…looking ahead...so that one day, we shall be with Him.  Paul wants us to trust in the Lord so that he can open the eyes of our hearts…to give us enlightenment to see the spiritual realities around us.  And Paul is referring to God’s inheritance in us (not ours in Christ).  It is remarkable that God sees us as part of His great wealth!  This is something.  One day, God will get glory from His church at Christ’s return. 

According to this Good News, Paul challenges Christians’ faith to be vibrant, strong.  He enlists a number of words in order to get his point across – power (dynamic), work (energy), mighty and strong.  He is saying that this divine, dynamic, and eternal energy is available to us.  We Christians need such power for several reasons.  By nature, we are too weak to appreciate and appropriate God’s wealth; “The Spirit (indeed) is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The enemy seeks to rob us of spiritual wealth…and we allow him to do a pretty good job at times.  Yet, God’s personal power living in us…His Spirit…enables us to use His wealth.  As chapter 6 indicates, we are in a spiritual war against terror, evil.  We can never defeat the evil one with our power…but, only through the power of God’s Spirit and in His Word!  God’s full power was seen in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ…this was His great plan.  Jesus Christ is Savior, but He is also Sovereign – the ruler, authority over all…even His (and our) enemies.  We must trust in this.

Paul goes on to share that because we are believers, we are in the church, Christ’s body – He is the Head.  This is the significant and undeniable connection between Christ, Christians (Ephesians 4:4-5).  Christ is our spiritual Head…and the head controls the body.  And we are members of His body, united together in one Spirit.  And this is why…it is not ever a question (at least for me) as to whether or not I am going to be with or a part of the body, whenever it assembles.  If Christ is truly “the head,” then there should be no ambiguity.  I am (part of) the body…now, how am I going to do (be) my part?  That is truly the question.  We live in a culture where it is much about what “I want”, not what “what can I do to serve” and strengthen the body.  We need to get back to the purpose for our existence.

It is imperative that we live with our spiritual eyes wide open…enlightened, and our enlightenment is going to come from Jesus Christ, and His Spirit.  He will illuminate our natural minds so that we can see spiritual realities.  If we are willing to submit to His will, He will help us to understand the great wealth that we have in God and through His Word, through prayer and through fellowship with the saints.  The Lord also gives us wisdom to understand it.  When we are faced with a decision…that decision should be evident if we are in tune with God’s purposes and power.  It is not a decision as to whether we fellowship…we do it!  Or, to give…we do it.  Or to fulfill our responsibilities…we do it!  And this is not a burden, but a blessing.  We must live out our enlightenment…our salvation!  We have been called…not to be ordinary, but enlightened people.  We must live with the eyes of our hearts opened…as special people with a special purpose, and seek to make a difference in this world.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Walking with the Spirit (Considering Galatians), Pt. 7


Well...better late than never...and it was almost "never." (Not really...but, if one procrastinates or is distracted long enough, it might seem like it :-).  However, on to the concluding message from Paul's letter to the Galatians.   Paul has spoken about the connection of living spiritually versus living according to the flesh in chapter 5.  Paul continues with this theme in chapter 6...and instead of sounding combative, he has a much more conciliatory tone, as at the end of chapter 5.  Apparently some have asked the question, "How do we deal those Judaizers (or Gentile Christians, for that matter) who repent of the attitudes and activities of the flesh?"  Paul may be thinking about Jesus' message in the Sermon on the Mount, regarding approaching all matters of discerning judgment with humility and love.  He offers an interesting expression, "you who are spiritual should restore him gently."  But, for those of the Spirit, this must be done with humility...and I believe that he is speaking with regard to the contrast between pride and humility.  If those who are "spiritual" are not careful, they will be tempted to be unspiritual, that is prideful, concerning how they go about their business.  Once again, Paul appeals to love...as in "the law of Christ," and this, as it is in this letter, runs opposed to the Law of Moses.  We must not be prideful or arrogant as it relates to helping others who are in need, or else, we may do more harm than good. 

We must not overvalue ourselves, neither should we undervalue ourselves, in relationship to principle of living the Christian walk and serving others.  We cannot fool the Lord who is able to evaluate matters accurately with regard to our spiritual walk (vv.7-8).  Living according to the flesh will keep us distracted and hinder us from being the servants that God not only wants, but requires for us to be.  God has gifted each of His children in a unique way to serve Him...and all believers need to fulfill their service to Him...and especially to those who belong to the body of Christ.  I believe this is the principle behind Paul's unusual statement in v.6. regarding instructing and instruction -- if we have been blessed, we need to be a blessing.  If we can maintain our spiritual walk as we should...taking time to rest, recuperate as we need...we will not only be a blessing, but we will receive blessings.

In the final eight verses of this letter, Paul apparently takes control of the steering wheel, so to speak.  He writes with his own hand, rather than have his amanuensis (secretary) compose for him, as has been the case throughout the letter.  Paul claims no professional ability as it relates to his writing, and indeed, seems to be poking fun at himself (v.11).  Basically, this section is a recapitulation of everything he has shared up to this point.  He does not want the free believers in the Galatian churches...primarliy Gentiles...to be influenced by those who would claim that circumcision (as well as the rest of the principles of the Law) is essential in order to be acceptable to God.  The key, once again, is not concerning matters that bind us humans...the Law, the flesh...but it is concerning the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, where all of these other matters find their place and are laid to rest.  The Law was not sufficient, but being a "new creation" in Jesus is.  The Galatian believers must come back to investigating and appropriating the spiritual matters that they once believed...and not allow themselves to be held captive by doctrines and other matters that are going to take them away from spirituality, and ultimately, eternity.  And finally, if anyone would be of a mind to question Paul's credibility (as did some "believers" in Corinth) in writing these matters, he reminds them that he bears scars...physical and emotional...on Jesus' behalf.  These marks for Jesus are of a far greater benefit in proving Paul's conviction for truth, perhaps, than anything he could say.  Nonetheless, the two walk hand in hand.  Paul concludes by appealing to the grace of Jesus Christ for their spirits, a wonderful expression of peace and hope.

Once again, nothing is gained for us today in making the same mistakes as a significant portion of the early believers.  Although, I believe that we could concur with the wise sage, Solomon, who shared that "there is nothing new under the sun" in this regard.  We must learn and understand that Laws and regulations are not going to produce spirituality in us, but indeed, they take away from it.  They hinder our ability to walk as free persons in Christ in much the same way as the flesh also hinders the spiritual walk (and Paul has connected the two).  This does not mean that we must not be people of principle...we should be so.  But, we must appeal to the same law that Paul appeals to in this letter...the law of love...the law that Jesus Himself commended during His last few days on earth (John 13:34-35, 15:12, etc.).  Then, in turn, all other principles gain their proper perspective and place in relationship to the whole of the Christian walk.  And as Paul says, early on in the letter, it is this perspective that will make the difference...then and now...as to whether churches grow and prosper or decay and decline. 

I hope this series has been a blessing to you...have a great day.

Blessings, Don