Monday, August 27, 2018

Colossians 2:1-4 (ESV)
[1] For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, [2] that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, [3] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [4] I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

Paul’s desire for the Colossians is that their hearts would be “encouraged, being knit together in love” (Col 2:2). It is the following statement that gets interesting. “To reach all the riches of full assurance…” (Col 2:2) seems to be the result of being encouraged and knit together. In other words, community is a vital part of entering into the riches of Christ.

We tend to talk and think about our relationship with God as a personal thing. It is between God and me. While there is some truth in that, the reality is that God intends believers to live out their faith in community. We will never experiences all the riches of that which we have in Christ unless we are living in community. Christianity is not a solo event, it is a team sport.

Sitting in church for an hour or two on Sunday morning does not qualify as community. That is just a starting point. Community requires praying together, being honest with one another, learning to put up with one another, forgiveness, service, and love. It is in this kind of community that we begin know and experience the full riches which we possess in Christ.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Philippians 3:3 (ESV)
[3] For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

The Jewish leaders of Paul’s day prided themselves in their external submission to God’s Law. Circumcision was the symbol indicating that they were God’s people. In Philippians 3 the Apostle turns that around. The true circumcision, he says, are not those who have been circumcised properly, but those who do three things. 1. They worship by the Spirit of God rather than by the external rites of the Law. 2. They glory in Christ Jesus rather than in the Law. 3. They put no confidence in the flesh rather than exalting in their disciplined efforts to keep the most minute parts of the Law.

Paul’s argument is emphasized further by pointing out that from man’s perspective, he was blameless, yet he considers his heritage, his discipline, and his zeal to be worthless. Those things accomplished nothing. He calls them “rubbish” (Php 3:8). The word refers to table-scraps thrown to the dogs, dung, or muck. There is nothing redeeming about them. His glory is in Christ through faith. His desire is to know God, to experience his power, and to share in Jesus’s sufferings. That is where life is found.

There is so much more in this chapter, but that is enough to challenge me. Where is my glory? Is it in my own personal discipline? Is it in the externals of obedience and law? Is it in the things I don’t do? I don’t swear. I don’t look at pornography. I don’t … I fear that, as those who claim to be believers in Christ, we too often embrace the spirit of the Pharisee rather than the heart of God. When will we learn to “put no confidence in the flesh” (Php 3:3)? When will we truly embrace the passion of the Apostle Paul, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Php 3:9-10)? That is true worship.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

We write, post, and blog mostly about the good things in life. We post pictures where everyone is smiling. We write about our victories, our wins, and our successes. We only hint at our pain. This gives the illusion that life is better than it is, thereby leaving our friends wondering why their life is not as smile filled. Yet, when we read their posts we assume everything is good with them. Facebook and online posting are incomplete and non-transparent attempts at transparency.

I was reading about Jesus’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem today in Luke. Imagine Jesus posting on Facebook afterward. Someone would have snapped a picture of him riding the donkey with crowds shouting and waving palm branches. I wonder if he would mention the city dwellers who said, “Who is this?” Would he have mentioned the Pharisees who rebuked Jesus for letting the crowds treat him like a king? Would he have mentioned the anguish that led to his turning over the tables in the Temple?

Jesus’s life was not without opposition, attack, and animosity. Yet, he set his mind on his purpose.

[31] And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. [32] For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. [33] And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise” (Lk 18:31-33).

He knew why he was here. He did not turn from his appointed purpose. He was not depressed over the fact that his friends were going to get to turn the world upside down with the gospel, while he had to go to the cross. He didn’t read other people’s half truths about their lives and feel somehow cheated. He knew the Father. He was known by the Father. He knew his purpose, and he embraced it.

As believers we need to remember that everyone is broken. The “beautiful” people of our world live broken lives just as much as the next person. Why is there just as much suicide among those who have made it in the world as among the underprivileged, perhaps more. Everyone lives in a broken world and everyone faces their own demons. Our call is not to compare our condition to that of others, but to know that as believers we know the Father. We are known by the Father. He has a purpose for us and we need to embrace it and walk by faith. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to others and rest in God’s purpose for us. In him we are secure.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Philippians 2:1-3 (ESV)
[1] So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, [2] complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. [3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

The Apostle writes to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Php 2:3).  That is exactly what he models for them later in the chapter. He is sitting in prison, likely dependent on his friends for encouragement and perhaps even food, yet he says that he is going to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to Philippi. Timothy has been like a son to him, and Epaphroditus has been ministering to his needs, yet he is eager to send them “that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious” (Php 2:28). Paul’s anxiety had nothing to do with his own concerns, but with the welfare of the Philippian believers. Paul’s concern was not for himself, but for others.

Paul reminds the Philippian believers that they “shine as lights in the world” (Php 2:15). In the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation” (Php 2:15) it is the encouragement, comfort, and joy of the believer that shines brightly. When we are focused on the broken world around us it is hard to shine. When we focus on the “encouragement in Christ…comfort from love…participation in the Spirit…(and) affection and sympathy” (Php 2:1) that we find in Christ, then our lights shine brightly. When we are more concerned about others than about ourselves, then our lights shine brightly. When we demonstrate the unity of being “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Php 2:2) then our lights shine brightly. When we allow divisiveness, disappointment, bitterness, hurt, anger, and unforgiveness to permeate the church and our lives, then our light flickers and threatens to go out.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:14, 16). As long as we are more concerned about our comfort, our peace, our prosperity, our thoughts, ideas, and concerns, than about those of others, we fail to shine. Let us turn our eyes upon Jesus, love our brothers with the grace and mercy of Jesus, and shine our lights today. Let us heed the Word of God, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Php 2:3). It is when the world sees that in us that they see Jesus.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Philippians 1:18b-21, 27-30 (ESV)
Yes, and I will rejoice, [19] for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. [21] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

[27] Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, [28] and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. [29] For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, [30] engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

So much of our faith is tied to our experience. When things are going good, we trust God. When things are painful, difficult, or uncomfortable, we wonder where God is and why he has abandoned us. That was clearly not Paul’s mentality. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian believers to encourage them. He was sitting in a Roman prison. I am sure that he would rather have been out planting and building up churches, but God called him to sit in a Roman prison. Rather than complaining about his condition, he rejoiced. How can he possibly rejoice in his condition?

He rejoiced because he knew that believers were praying for him. He rejoiced because he knew that the Spirit who worked powerfully through him when he was out preaching was just as present in his life in prison. He rejoiced because he knew that his “now” was not forever. He was in prison, but he knew that it would not last. He would be released. He would be released by his death, or he would be released by the government. Either way, he would be released. We too often forget that our “now” is not forever. Finally, he rejoiced because he realized that God was working through him despite his circumstances. Everybody, all the guards, all the officials, all the population of Rome knew that his imprisonment was because of Christ. The gospel was being preached. The gospel was being talked about. People were coming to faith because of his imprisonment. So Paul rejoiced.

Our initial response to that might be, “Well, I’m not Paul, and I don’t see crowds of people coming to faith because of my pain, or depression, or difficulties. Maybe that is because you have not learned to rejoice. Maybe that is because you have not learned to let go of the results. Paul was okay with imprisonment, release, or death. To him it was all the same because it was all about Jesus, not about him. It is amazing what a difference it makes when we let go of the results. We have heard the phrase, “Let go and let God” many times. What does that mean? Essentially it means that we should stop tying our hopes to specific results and leave it in God’s hands. “Now” is never forever. “Now” might be a long time, but it is not forever. What God chooses to do with us, and how he chooses to cause things to turn out is his business. Our business is that in the midst of it we want people to see Jesus. Rejoicing starts when we let go of our expectations and begin to look around and see God at work in the lives of others. After all, it’s not about us. That is the secret to contentment that the Apostle Paul had learned. So, let go and look around. See God at work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Nahum 3:1-5 (ESV)
[1] Woe to the bloody city,
all full of lies and plunder—
no end to the prey!
[2] The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
[3] Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies!
graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
and peoples with her charms.
[5] Behold, I am against you,
declares the LORD of hosts,
and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
and kingdoms at your shame.

There are at least three principle truths in this chapter that we would do well to contemplate. First, sin is enticing. Verse 4 talks about the “the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms.” Sin is like that. It has a graceful and deadly charm. It promises what it cannot deliver. Moses chose “to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25). Sin is enticing. It is attractive. It has a graceful charm that offers life, but ultimately delivers death.

Second, our gods give us a false sense of security. A god is anyone or anything that we look to for the provision of that which only God can provide, whether security, joy, fulfillment, purpose, life, a sense of significance, etc. Where we put our trust is our god. Many talk as though their trust is in God, but they live as though their future depends on who is in the White House, what the stock market does, whether they have a secure job, or whether they are able to retain their guns and ammo. Whether our trust is in our health, skills, abilities, training, friends, guns, bank account, credit rating, or government, we have placed our trust in a pretty flimsy hope. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps 20:7). Chariots and horses where the elite weapons of their day, but their hope was in God. The real question is: Do we really trust God? Do we really “trust in the name of the LORD our God?” Our gods give us a sense of security, but it is a false hope. When the economy fails, bank accounts, credit ratings, and good jobs disappear. Every major World Power of the past fell at some point. Verses 7-17 remind us of that very fact. They make it abundantly clear that governments fail. Ultimately there is no secure hope but in God. Every other source of hope will eventually let us down. They give us a false sense of security, but they cannot guarantee delivery.

Third, God’s judgment is payment in kind. Nahum 3:19 warns Nineveh that when they fall, “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you.” Why? “For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” God is not judging Nineveh because he is a violent and vindictive God. He is simply returning back upon their heads their own treatment of others. God’s judgment is always just. We sometimes struggle with the judgment portions of the scriptures. They seem unnecessarily violent to us. But that is only because we do not understand the full extent of the sin that is being judged. We have no problem cheering the death of an especially bad character in a TV show or movie, yet we complain that God is too judgmental. If we really understood the offensiveness of our sin we would wonder not why God is so judgmental, but why God is not more judgmental. His judgment is simply payment in kind, with warning after warning preceding his judgment. He sent Jonah to Nineveh and they repented, but their repentance did not last. His warnings went unheeded. His judgment was well deserved.

Sin is enticing. In the midst of our sin, our gods give us a false sense of security. But judgment is coming unless we throw ourselves on the mercy of a God who will judge. We must never forget that the God who will judge yearns for our repentance and is quick to forgive. May we ignore the enticements of sin, turn our eyes upon Jesus, and rest in his unending grace.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Nahum 2:13 (ESV)
Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.

The second chapter of Nahum is a graphic description of the fall of Nineveh. War is one evil consequence of the Fall of mankind. Our sin infiltrates every aspect of life. Assyria was known as an aggressive and cruel people. God prophesied that when their capital city fell it would be a violent and cruel fall.

God is speaking of the destruction of Nineveh, but we have another enemy who is even more cruel. He is called the Liar, the Deceiver, the Enemy, the Devil, and Satan. He is cruel, but deceptive. He entices and then destroys, but he will one day be put in his place. His cruelty will come back on him and his fate is sealed.

Judgment sounds cruel. It sounds incompatible with the nature of a loving God. But God cannot be a loving God unless he is also a God of justice. Justice demand judgment. The gospel is about Jesus receiving God’s judgment on our behalf. His grace and mercy are applied to those who believe. But to those who refuse his grace there awaits his judgment. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t refuse grace and expect no judgment.

For the Enemy who has raped and destroyed mankind for millennia, his judgment is coming. For him there is no grace offered. He made his choice early on. He set himself up as the god of this world. He is a cruel taskmaster, and he will one day face the wrath of God.

For the believer this is good news. Our hope is in an eternal kingdom of rest and peace that sees no evil for evil has been judged. Nahum 2:2 says that, “the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.” One day the Lord will also restore the majesty of mankind in a New Heavens and New Earth. Restoration is coming.

For the unbeliever, or the one who is not sure, Jesus already took your brokenness to the cross. We are all born in sin. We are all broken, rebellious, and going our own way. “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” (Is 53:6). That was all placed on Jesus. Let me challenge you to trust him today. The Enemy wants to convince us that we are okay, but deep down we know that we are broken. The Enemy will one day be judged for his deception. Don’t listen to his lies. Trust Jesus today.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...