Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Faith, the Cubs and Opening Day

This is a post I wrote three years ago that I have enjoyed too much not to use every year.  Besides the fact that the Pirates are actually a good team the truth of the post is still intact.  And this post means more to me this year because of the emphasis on hope that I've had since November as we've prepared to do our Easter passion production "The Great Saga" which is coming up on the 13th and 16th of April. 

I hope you enjoy this recycled post.

Faith, the Cubs and Opening Day
I love Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.  Opening Day means hope.  Every team, except the Pirates, comes in today feeling that they will be the World Series champions come November. 

This year my Cubbies are winning it all.  I've put my hope in it.  This year is The Year.  I know I've said it before, but this is it.  Hey Chicago What Do You Say?  The Cubs Are Gonna Win Today!

I put my hopes in the Cubs every opening day and every year come November I find that my hope has been misplaced, but not this year.

I am very glad that my hope in the Northsiders isn't the same as my hope in Jesus.  The Cubs have never come through for me, in fact every time I go to Wrigley they lose.  Conversely, Jesus has never let me down.

My hope in Christ is completely different than my hope in the Cubs... THANK GOD!

Paul writes this to the church in Corinth:

"We are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord."  2 Corinthians 5:6-8

Paul was so confident in his hope in Christ that he was excited to and willing to die.  I've never had enough confidence in the Cubs to risk my life on a bet that they would win it all; but I have enough confidence in Christ to risk my life on a safe bet that He will win it all.  Christ is a sure bet.  He is not only the place to put our hope, He is the source of it.  Every day is Opening Day with the hope I have in Jesus.

So cheer for the Cubs, maybe even hope they win it all this year; enjoy Opening Day, but remember that our hope is in the Lord today.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Power of the Cross

As many of you know, I've been blogging every day during Lent.  I do this because I want to add a discipline in my life that encourages spiritual growth in me.  I hope that you get encouragement from this Lenten challenge of mine.  I hope that you're finding Lent as a great time of growth as well.

On Sundays I get the chance to be fed by teaching and worship with my local church.  This morning I was most fed by a song we sang during worship.  Pay attention to the powerful and truthful words of this song .

What from your worship service excited you today?

Saturday, March 29, 2014


This is the final post I have from 2 Corinthians chapter 5.  Please read this short chapter so you have a context for what the following verses are about.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.  And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."  2 Corinthians 5:18-21

We are reconciled to God.  This means we were at odds with God and we are now no longer at odds with Him.  We were enemies of God, but now we are not His enemy.  Who initiated reconciliation?  God did.  We would have continued to be His enemy if He had not initiated reconciliation.  We are reconciled to Him by Him.

We who were reconciled to God have now been made ministers of reconciliation.  As one commentator put it, "The reconciled is now the reconciler."  This is amazing!  Be sure to read this correctly.  We do not reconcile people to God; rather we announce that God has reached out the olive branch of reconciliation to the people of the world.  We announce the Good News that Jesus has made reconciliation with God possible if the hearers of the Good News would just accept the olive branch extended by God Himself.  What a great privilege!

We are ministers of reconciliation because we are ambassadors of Christ.  We speak the words of God, not our own words.  Charles Rivkin is the United States ambassador to France.  Does he speak his own message to the French government?  Absolutely not.  Rivkin appeals to the French as if the U.S. government was doing it itself.  This is how we are to be as Christ's ambassadors to the world.  We speak His words "as though God were making His appeal through us."

Ambassadors of Christ, here is our appeal straight from God that we are to make to all the people of the world: "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."  Our message is the Gospel... it is Christ and Christ crucified.

Ambassadors of Christ, we are to be like the town cryer.  We are to proclaim the Good News of the Jesus.  "Hear ye, hear ye, one and all, God made Christ to be sin for us, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God!"

Those of you reading, Christ died for you.  He took your sins upon Himself and died the death you deserved.  He was buried and rose again conquering sin and death.  He has offered you life where you deserved death, heaven where you deserved Hell.  He will give you an inheritance beyond anything you can dream of.  He will give you His righteousness.  This is Good News and as an ambassador of my King I want you to hear this Good News.  Accept what Christ has done for you.  Be reconciled to God through Christ today.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A New Creation

I'm going to continue in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 today.

"... we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so on longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"  2 Corinthians 5:14-17

If you have been baptized you may remember this type of language.  In many churches when believers are baptized this is said: "Crucified with Christ (as the person is lowered), buried with Christ (as the person is immersed in the water) and raised to walk in new life (as the person is raised out of the water)."  I love this language as people are baptized because it helps demonstrate what happened when the Holy Spirit entered them at conversion.

We believe that Christ died for all for all of us, therefore we are all dead to our old selves.  We believe that Christ was raised from the dead as the first of many that are raised from the dead.  Jesus was raised from the grave and so we are now alive as our new selves at the point of salvation, whenever that is.

Because of that we need to look at ourselves and others as new creations.  We will not someday be new creations, we are new creations today.  So, we need to look at other believers in that light.  Rather than seeing all their faults, we must look at them from a heavenly point of view and find the evidences of God's new creation in them.  We must also do the same for ourselves.  I know too many Christians who beat themselves up and pick themselves apart.  Stop that!  You are a new creation.  To unfairly criticize God's new creation is not right; you have no right to criticize what God has made.  You have no right to bash God's new creation whether that creation is you or someone else; for that matter you also have no right to hate anything of the old order, but the new order is even more off limits.

"The old has gone, the new has come!"

The sentence above is not just talking about individual people.  That verse could read, "the old order has gone, the new order has come."  Paul was not just making a proclamation about believers having new life, he was proclaiming a new order of life on earth.  When Jesus said, "It is finished" on the cross, He was announcing that what was needed for the entire Gospel message to come true was finished and the entire Gospel message is that creation will be redeemed and made new.

The new has come means everything to believers.  We believe that Christ was the first of a new creation.  When Jesus burst out of the tomb the whole Kingdom of Heaven began to burst out with Him.  We are evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven is here.  Is it completely here now?  No, but it is here in part.  We are part of the new order bursting into earth.  We, the new creations, will do things that are like our homeland, we will act in accordance with the rest of God's new creation.

If Christ is in you you are a new creation.  Remember that and view yourself as a new creation.  Remember to view others as a new creation and treat them accordingly, recognize the potential that lies in them because of what they are.  Announce that the old has gone, the new has come!  As God's new creation we are charged with being a part of the new order coming to earth.  Will it come completely before Christ returns?  No, but we can be a part of its triumphal entry onto the earth that is groaning for it to come.

Live as the first fruits of the new creation today.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Compelling Fear and Love

Today's post will continue in 2 Corinthians chapter 5.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Since, then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.  What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.  We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than what is in the heart.  If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again."  2 Corinthians 5:10-15

In the passage above there are two things that should compel us to evangelism: fear and love.  Let's look at each.

1) Fear compels evangelism.

Paul says that we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.  This should inspire fear in us.  I used to think that Christians were spared from the judgment seat of Christ, but I was wrong.  We will all stand before the Lord and have our deeds judged, whether good or bad.  Only if you are a Christian can you withstand this judgement.  But even as a Christian this strikes fear into me.  I do not want to stand before God and have Him tell me all the bad I did or all the good I didn't do.  I don't want Him to show me all the people I didn't share the Gospel with when I had a chance.

When I stand before God in judgment I want Him to say, "Well done good and faithful servant."  I desperately want that, but it won't happen if I don't get off my butt and do something.

"Since, then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men."  Because I know that all men are to be judged I want to persuade people to claim Jesus' righteousness as their own.  I fear the judgment with the righteousness of Christ, I can't imagine the judgment for someone who has not accepted the mercy of God.

Fear of the Lord should compel evangelism; it should not paralyze it should motivate.

2) Christ's love compels evangelism.

"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who should live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again."

Christ died for me so I want to live for Him and not myself.  If my neighbor died for me I would be so grateful.  My neighbor would never mow his yard again or shovel his driveway.  I would work for my neighbor because the love he showed me.

Christ died for me so I live for Him.  And Christ died for everyone so I want to share the love of Christ with everyone. If I knew a way that everyone could get tickets to see the latest blockbuster movie I would tell a lot of people.  A ticket to the latest blockbuster movie is nice, but the Good News that Jesus loves everyone is infinitely better.  Jesus loves everyone and everyone needs to know that.

Don't covet the love of Christ.  Share it.  Don't be ungrateful for Christ's love, be inspired to action by it.

Fear of the Lord and Christ's love compel us to evangelize.  I want you to know that there are many reasons to fear the Almighty God, so you should desire reconciliation with Him.  I also want you to know that the Almighty God loves you.  He doesn't just want to reconcile with you, He wants to love you like a son or daughter today.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Practicing for Heaven

"Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it."  2 Corinthians 5:6-9

As I continue in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 we come to this famous passage.  I want to say just a few things about it.

First, because we know that when we die we will be with the Lord, our engagement period will be done, we do not fear death.  We know that death is gain.  In fact, Paul says we would prefer to be dead and in heaven with the Lord.

Death should not scare Christians.  Yes, I'm afraid of the process of dying, but not of death.  I hate the idea of leaving my loved ones behind, but that will all pale in comparison, yes it will not even be a memory when I see Jesus face to face.  Death does not scare me because I have a great thing to look forward to at death.  Death for me and all believers will be sweet.

That being said, Paul shocks us a bit in verse 9 of this chapter.

"So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it."

I expected Paul to say, "So I can't wait to die.  In fact, I'm sitting here counting down the days until I go home with the Lord."  But he didn't write that.  Instead he wrote that because death is going to be sweet we try to please the Lord now.

Imagine if I told a baseball crazy 9-year-old boy that I was going to take him to a Major League Baseball game sometime on Saturday, but I didn't tell him when.  This boy would be ecstatic.  He would be so excited to go watch the pros play baseball in the big stadium.

You know what this boy would do from the moment he woke up on Saturday?  I'll tell you from some experience.  This boy would get dressed in his favorite team's shirt.  He would put on his cap and glove and be ready to go to the game.  But I can tell you what he won't do.  He won't sit in his room waiting, unless it's to look at every baseball card he has.  No, this boy will be outside in the yard.  He'll be tossing a ball up to himself and making diving catches.  He'll be hitting the ball, then pretending he was a pitcher he'll throw the ball as hard as he can while imagining he's striking out the other team's best player.

When you tell a baseball crazy young boy that he's going to the game, he'll want to go outside and play baseball until you tell him to get in the car and drive to the game with you.  He'll be imagining the moment of the big game until he's at the big game.  He'll be practicing for the big game out of his inability to sit still because of his excitement.

This is what Paul is talking about.  Paul can't wait to be at home with the Lord, so he wants to practice for heaven.  Are you so antsy to go to heaven when you die that you want to live heaven here now?  That is what we're called to.  In heaven we will please God perfectly, so today we make it our goal to please God.

When Christians die they go to be with the Lord, they see Jesus face to face.  While we Christians live we are practicing for eternity.  We are little boys who can't wait to go the the big game so we play in the front yard.  Does your desire to be with Jesus inspire you to serve Him today?  If not, I think you may want to go to heaven to be comfortable, not to be with Jesus because being with Jesus in His fulness will be serving Him.

Desire to be with Jesus.  Practice for heaven today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Longing to be Married

This time last year I was engaged to my now wife, Christine.  Engagement was a beautiful, exciting and frustrating time.  My wife and I got engaged from January 17th of last year and then were married on August 17th.  The period between January 17th and August 17th is one I will never forget, and one I never want to do again.

When you're engaged you in a weird place.  You're committed fully to a person, but that commitment has not reached fruition.  You're committed but aren't yet married.  You're close but not completely intimate.

It got even harder for the brief sixteen days that Christine lived in our house and I didn't.  I would go and visit her and sometimes fall asleep on the couch or at least start to fall asleep.  I would then have to wake myself up to leave my future home to go to the house I was living in at the time.  It was torture.  I just wanted to be married.  I just wanted to say goodnight to Christine instead of goodbye and I longed for the day when I could say goodnight and sleep next to her.  I longed for the day when we would actually be each other's spouse.

"Now it is God who made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."  2 Corinthians 5:5

The above verse follows what I wrote about yesterday.  God has made us to long for our heavenly dwelling; groan to be perfected in body, mind and spirit.  In verse 5 Paul wrote that we have "the Spirit (Holy Spirit) as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."

Here's an analogy to help explain this verse:

The Holy Spirit, in this verse, is like an engagement ring.  When I gave Christine her engagement ring I was promising to marry her, but I was not married to her on January 17th.  But the fact that we would be married was a done deal, I gave her a deposit, guaranteeing the wedding and marriage to come.

When Christine got her engagement ring she couldn't stop looking at it and admiring its beauty.  She felt loved, secure and wanted.  The engagement ring changed her life, and mine, for the better, but she and I longed for more.  The engagement wasn't the wedding, it was the promise of a wedding to come.

The Holy Spirit is like this.  The Holy Spirit allows us to have a relationship with God.  One of the three parts of God is with us at all time, but we long to know God in His fulness and that isn't how we know Him now.  We long for the wedding feast of the Lamb.  We, the Church, the bride of Christ, long to live with Jesus.  We long to have what we know, without a doubt, we will have.  Right now we have experiences, like dates, where we feel very close to God, but we long for the day when we live in His house.

My life as an engaged man was good, but my life as a married man is better.  I've learned more about my wife and have experienced so much more of her love as her husband than I did as her fiance.  I get to say goodnight and not goodbye to her every single day.

I can't wait to have that with God.  Please don't inject some sexual connotation, but I can't wait to live in God's house.  I can't wait to stop having mountaintop experiences with Him and instead just experience Him all the time.

I long to be married.  We as the bride of Christ, the Church, need to long to be married.  Our engagement period can be a time of immense growth as we prepare for the wedding day, but we should groan for the day when our engagement is over.  Christine and I knew the date of our wedding, the Church does not.  That being said, the Church knows the wedding is coming.  So, let's thank God for His deposit that guarantees what is to come, but let's long for what is to come as well today.

Monday, March 24, 2014

We're Not Souls with a Body

Over the next few posts I will take a close look at 2 Corinthians chapter 5.  Please take time to read the chapter.

In the first few verses of this chapter the Apostle Paul is criticizing the Greek idea of Dualism.  Dualism, in a nutshell, is the idea that humans are made up of an eternal soul and a perishable body.  Christianity rejects this idea.  As Christians we must believe in the eternal soul and the eternal body.  In fact, as Christians we should recognize that we are our body and our soul together, not one or the other.  The physical body is as much a part of our essence as our soul.  Where the Greeks said, the invisible is good and the visible is bad; we Christians recognize that God is the maker of the visible and the invisible.

"For we know that if our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened... not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."  2 Corinthians 5:1-4

I used the English Standard Version (E.S.V.) rather than the N.I.V. above because the N.I.V. butchers the translation of this passage in a key spot.

Paul wrote about our heavenly dwelling and used two separate metaphors.  Let's look at each to see what he's taught the people of Corinth.

First, Paul wrote about our earthly tent and our heavenly house.  In this metaphor, I believe, he is making a statement about permanence.  Paul was a tentmaker by trade and knew all about tents.  The tents Paul made were not your Coleman camping tents.  These tents were more sturdy than the tent missing two poles in your garage.  The tents in Paul's day were more heavy duty than what you're thinking of, but they were still not a permanent dwelling.  In fact, you might live in a tent until your house was ready to live in.  This is what Paul's taking about. Our earthly bodies, as they are, are not permanent dwelling places.  Our tents can't withstand all the elements; we need a permanent home.

In the end our bodies will be perfected and made eternal.  They will be renewed to the original design, they will be like the bodies Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden.  God called Adam and Eve's bodies good and our bodies will be renewed to be good on God's standard of good.   Until then we groan for bodies that are permanent, bodies that don't break down like a tent being packed away.

When we die will not be souls floating around.  We will not become angels.  Rather, we will be perfected humans.

Secondly, Paul wrote about being clothed. This is where I think the N.I.V. butchers the Greek translation.  In verse 4 the N.I.V. says, "... we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."  But in verse 4 the E.S.V. and other translations say, "... we groan, being burdened... not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."

Here's an analogy that I hope explains what Paul is saying.  In Iowa January is very cold.  In my house sometimes I wear jeans and a T-shirt.  If I walk out my front door when it's below zero outside I'll be cold in just jeans and a T-shirt.  If I stay out too long I'll freeze.  The solution to my problem is not to take off my jeans and T-shirt and go out naked so I don't freeze.  No!  The solution to my problem is to keep my jeans and T-shirt on and be further clothed.  Put on a sweatshirt, boots and an winter coat.

That is what Paul meant when he said, "not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed."  We don't need to get rid of our bodies.  What we need is to be further clothed by putting on our heavenly dwelling.  We need an eternal covering, one that withstands everything even time itself.

So, reject the idea that we are souls with a body.  No!  We are humans created in the image of God; body, mind and soul.  That means you're mind is beautiful, but in need of perfecting.  Your soul is beautiful, but in need of perfecting.  Your body is beautiful, but in need of perfecting.  Your body, mind and soul will live on in eternity, either in hell or the Kingdom.  Groan to be further clothed and fix your eyes on what is eternal today.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jesus Paid it All

Here's a song we did during worship this morning.  It's one of my favorites because it has such great words and makes me want to celebrate.  Take time to listen to it and focus on the words today.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Don't Lose Heart

"It is written: 'I believed; therefore I have spoken.'  With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that  is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  2 Corinthians 4:13-18

For the most part I'll let this passage speak for itself.  I want to just quickly highlight three things.

1) If you believe you should speak.

This doesn't mean that we'll all be the type to speak about our faith all of the time, but we can't speak about our faith none of the time.  St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."  We don't always have to speak to preach the Gospel, our changed lives will do it much of the time; but sometimes we will all be compelled to speak.

2) Don't lose heart.

Because of the hope we have in the resurrection we should not lose heart.  From the moment we are born we begin the process of dying but we have already achieved eternal life, which is knowing Christ, if we have been saved.  Because we have this hope we don't lose heart.  Also, we don't lose heart because our suffering achieves an eternal glory for us.  This is easier said than done, but rejoice in our sufferings because they pale in comparison to the glory they achieve for us.

3) Be heavenly minded.

Fix your eyes on what is unseen, what is heavenly.  When we think with an eternal perspective we make better choices.  The world thinks it's foolish to think about the unseen, but who's the fool?  Pursuing an eternal glory is much wiser than pursuing something that is gone in an instant, like a vapor as King Solomon said.

Don't be afraid to speak about your faith.  Don't lose heart.  Be heavenly minded today.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Jars of Clay

One year when I was in college my family and I took a trip to Washington D.C.  As a history major and patriotic American I had an amazing time.  We went and saw the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam, World War II and Korean War Memorials and so many other amazing sites.  We watched the changing of the guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stood in silence at the eternal flame at J.F.K.'s burial site in Arlington National Cemetery.

Another thing my family did was visit one of the Smithsonian Museums.  The museum was full of amazing artifacts and beautiful things.  One of the great treasures of the Smithsonian is the Hope Diamond.  It is a 45.52 carat, grayish-blue diamond worth $200-$250 million.  It is displayed in a 3-inch thick bullet-proof glass case with constant surveillance on it to keep it from being stolen.  This treasure of the Smithsonian is guarded the max and displayed to showcase its unsurpassed beauty to everyone.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but no in despair; persecuted, but no abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body."  2 Corinthians 4:7-11

The Hope Diamond is one of the world's great treasures; but the hope that is found in the glory of the Gospel is a far greater treasure to be sure.  The Hope Diamond is protected as well as humanly possible and displayed in a beautiful way; the Hope of the glory of the Gospel is displayed in jars of clay... fragile human bodies.

God in His wisdom and grace has decided to put the universe's greatest treasure in you and I.  He has put the light of His glory in our hearts as 2 Corinthians 4:6 says.  I don't know about you, but I don't feel like I display this treasure as gloriously as that case that holds the Hope Diamond.  But we are called to let the light of this treasure shine for all to see.

God in His wisdom and grace has decided to put His great treasure in our frail and weak bodies.  Our bodies are weak and under pressure from all sides both literally and figuratively.  But God preserves us.  We are struck down, but not destroyed.  God does this, I believe, not as much for our sakes as He does for the sake of the treasure in us.  God the Father loves Jesus so much that He desires to protect this glory while in lives in us.  And God loves you and wants to do you, the jar of clay, good.

When Paul calls us jars of clay it is to make a feel humble and honored.  We are humble because we know we are not vessels deserving of such a precious content.  We are honored because we are allowed to house this amazing treasure.  We aren't better because we house such a glorious treasure; rather, we are privileged to have such a calling.  Remember the glory of the old covenant was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, but the glory of the new covenant is in you!

Remember that you are a jar of clay that doesn't deserve to hold God's great treasure.  Remember that God will preserve you for the sake of the treasure in you.  And remember the great privilege you have, the privilege of housing "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  Display your treasure to the world today.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Powerful Word

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness," made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  2 Corinthians 4:6

This verse is incredible and incredibly encouraging.  Let's look at the encouragement it provides.

In my last post I wrote, in part, about how the Gospel does not need our help; it does not need sugar-coating.  This verse explains why the Gospel is more than fine on its own.

Read Genesis chapter one and look at how God created.  Below are a couple examples.

"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."  Genesis 1:3


"And God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.'  And it was so."  Genesis 1:24

In Genesis chapter one we see God saying "Let there be..." and there was.  God created the universe with His Word.  God spoke and matter came from nothing.  God spoke and life came from nothing. God's Word is the powerful force that created everything.

Paul encourages us with the verse at the top of this page.  "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

God's Word is powerful and the same God who created everything with His Word, speaks light into our hearts.  The Word of God does not need our help, it does not need us attempting to modify it to make it more relevant, it does not need us trying to add anything to it.  It brought life and light to the world and it brings life and light into dead sinners hearts!

Now, if God has spoken His light into your heart, shine on.  Like the children's song says: "Hide it under a bushel? NO!  I'm gonna let it shine."

Proclaim the Word of God without frills or sugar-coating and let its power go to work in hearts.  And let your light shine today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Honest Preaching

The next few posts will focus on 2 Corinthians chapter 4.  Please take time to read it.

"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  2 Corinthians 4:1-6

There's a lot going on in that passage, but I want to focus on one thing in particular.

When we preach the Gospel we need to preach only the Gospel.  Brothers and sisters, we do not need to use deception or distortion to win souls to Jesus.  The Gospel is powerful enough on it's own.

Sometimes I think we feel we have to sugar coat the Gospel or even our churches to make them appealing.  This is not the case.  Our job is to present the Gospel plainly and then let people respond to it themselves.  We don't need to improve the Gospel.  We don't need the health, wealth and prosperity "gospel"; lost sinners don't need the health, wealth and prosperity "gospel", people need the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.

But you say, "I don't distort the Word of God.  I don't use deception."

You may not use it intentionally, but I think distortion of the Word of God is rampant.  Walk into a Christian bookstore.  Look at the shelves and see how many verses out of context are put on coffee mugs and picture frames.  We write "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" on our basketball shoes and assume that means we can dunk.  Yet that verse is about being able to be content in all circumstance, including Paul in jail.  We say, "God won't give you more than you can handle" when someone is in a tough time, yet that's not even in the Word.  I think we must be careful not to unintentionally distort the Word.

Some of us use deception without thinking about it.  When telling someone about the Gospel we leave out the hard parts and tell them how great it is.  It is amazingly great, but Jesus wants people to count the cost of discipleship.  We must be honest in telling people the joy of being a Christian AND the discipline it will require AND the opposition from multiple sources they may face.

So, be careful not to distort the Gospel or use deception.  Remember that the Gospel itself is immensely powerful.  Remember it is the Gospel that has changed your life.  Remember, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts..."  The same Word of God that created the universe out of nothing is the same Word of God present in the Gospel.  It does not need your help; rather you and I are allowed to proclaim it.

And if you are attending a church that uses distortion and deception be a part of it changing or leave.  The health, wealth and prosperity "gospel" will not save the world; the Good News of Jesus and all that comes with it will.

Proclaim the Gospel honestly today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Insurance or Inheritance

I was going to write a post of my own, but I came across one by a friend that needs to be shared.  My friend Ben Dau wrote this on his blog.  Please take the time to read this today.

Is the Gospel insurance or inheritance?
That was a rhetorical question posed to me recently at a men’s retreat. I’d heard the question before, but it struck me in a new way.
Is the Gospel insurance or inheritance?
If the Gospel is insurance, the benefits pay out when I die. I “pay” my monthly premiums by going to Sunday morning service, having a daily quiet time, tithing and so on so that, when I die, I get to go to Heaven.
But, if the Gospel is an inheritance, then I receive the benefits when someone else dies. That is a profound truth. It is the difference between play-acting (hypocritical) religion and actually being the people of God.
When we treat the Gospel as insurance we tie ourselves to a religious system of “dos” and “don’ts”. It is a Gospel devoid of Grace because we are still trying to be “good enough” to get into Heaven. The result is hypocrisy, playing at being the people of God, but without any interior life change and without any power to actually set people free. All because we are living to get into Heaven when we die.
However, when we realize that the Gospel is an inheritance, everything changes.
When we surrender our lives to Christ, we are reborn through our baptism as the children of God. And if we are sons then we are also heirs. Inheritance is freely receiving what rightfully belongs to someone else. This means that everything that rightly belongs to Jesus (intimate communion with Father, power and authority to establish the Kingdom of God, righteousness, peace and joy, etc. etc.) is now accessible to us.
Inheritance is Good News. Inheritance is Grace. Inheritance means I’m dying to get Heaven into my life.
The reality that the Kingdom of God is breaking in all around us is Good News. And because the Gospel is an inheritance, all the sons and daughters of God (those who have surrendered their lives to God and have been reborn through the waters of baptism) get to play a part in seeing that Kingdom come and God’s will be done on the earth. We get to enter into the family business of setting people free, binding up broken hearts, healing the sick and making demons homeless. That, to me, is far better than some ethereal promise of “heaven” when I die. I don’t want to die and go to heaven – I want to live and see Heaven come to earth.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day

I'm part Irish, or Scot-Irish more accurately, and I enjoy St. Patrick's Day.  It's fun eating corn-beef and cabbage or Irish stew.  Or drinking an Irish stout, or at least a Shamrock Shake.  Today people wear green.  I got a chance to play Irish music from bands like Flogging Molly, Snow Patrol and U2.  It's a fun day to celebrate, or exaggerate, being Irish.

That all being said, I think we've really missed an opportunity to celebrate St. Patrick on St. Patrick's Day.  I think the saint himself would wonder what getting drunk, pinching folks not wearing green and trying to River Dance has to do with his life.

With that in mind let me tell you a little bit about St. Patrick.

Patrick was the son of a wealthy Welshman.  When he was 16 he was kidnapped by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland to be a slave.  While being held in slavery he took care of sheep on the emerald island of Ireland.  While a slave Patrick was left alone with the sheep and his prayers; it was during this time that he made a true conversion to Christianity.  Six years into his slavery he's said to have had a vision from God.  The vision led him away from his master and to a port where he was able to board a ship back to Britain.

Once back in his homeland he had another vision that featured an Irishman begging him to come back to Ireland with the Gospel.  So, Patrick, now a man in his early 20's, returned to Ireland.  He returned to bring Good News to the very people that had wrongfully enslaved him.

Patrick had immense success in his ministry.  Using things like the shamrock to explain the mystery of the 3-in-1 Holy Trinity he taught the Gospel to the Irish.  Patrick wrote that he baptized thousands of people on the island.  Converts became priests and nuns in large numbers.

Patrick also is said to have faced stiff opposition.  He was beaten, robbed and put in prison.  Yet, he continued to preach to the people who had enslaved him when he was a teenager.

Today, Ireland is not a pagan nation.  Today, Ireland is a Catholic country and St. Patrick's courageous love is a big reason why.  Patrick came back to the people who enslaved him with a message of love and redemption.  He changed the course of history because he chose to act like Jesus and the apostles rather than acting out the revenge he deserved to get.

What an awesome story!

St. Patrick's Day is a fun holiday featuring Irish culture and everything green; but don't forget St. Patrick on St. Patrick's Day.  More importantly, don't forget the God that enabled St. Patrick to bring love when he received evil and the freedom of the Gospel when he was given the chains of slavery.

Love courageously.  Share the Gospel boldly.  Remember the real reason for St. Patrick's Day today.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Selection Sunday

Today is Selection Sunday.  This is the day when teams are selected to be in the NCAA Basketball Tournament (for those of you wondering, I will not post about basketball every day).  This day is a big day for those who are interested in filling out brackets and getting involved in office pools or those filling out the one that Warren Buffet will pay out $1 billion to anyone who fills out a perfect one.

March Madness is finally here for basketball fans.

On Selection Sunday I want to remind you that you were selected by God.  I want to remind you that if you are a believer it is because God selected to love you.  Below are some verses that celebrate Selection Sunday.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.  In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will... to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves."  Ephesians 1:3-6

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit... fruit that will last..."  John 15:16

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."  1 Peter 2:9-10

On this Selection Sunday remember that God chose you.  He didn't chose you in the same way the selection committee chooses basketball teams for the NCAA Tournament.  They try to chose worthy teams.  God chose unworthy sinner and makes them worthy.

Praise God that He selected you today.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2nd Half Comebacks

As many of you know, I do sports play-by-play as part of my job.  Today I was at the Iowa State Boys Basketball Tournament covering our hometown team Waverly-Shell Rock.  Today's game was a consolation game which means the winner finishes in third place in the State Tournament and the loser is fourth.

Consolation games are notoriously bad.  Most games are won by the team that wants to be there.  The boys in this game have recently had their dreams of a championship taken away from them and finding the desire to compete is unusually difficult.

The consolation game today featured the Harlan Cyclones and the Waverly-Shell Rock Go-Hawks.  In the first half Harlan was amazing.  They were bigger, they shot way better and they looked like they wanted to be third place in the State Tournament.  The Go-Hawks were getting smashed.  With 44 seconds remaining in the first half Harlan was winning by 24 points.

At halftime the Go-Hawks had many reasons to give up.  They were losing by big time to the team that was the number one seed in the tournament.  The crowd for the game wasn't nearly as big as the crowd in the "games that counted" earlier.  Plus, they couldn't win a championship anymore anyway.

Well, in the second half Waverly-Shell Rock didn't give up.  They played their hearts out.  They hustled and played with aggression.  Somehow, someway they were dedicated to finishing the year strong.  Incredibly, Waverly-Shell Rock ended up winning 65-61 and finishing third in the State Tournament.  The crowd that was there went wild.  I was excited as could be.  It was an inspirational show of mettle and character by that group of young guys.

All that leads me to this:  What do you need to fight for in the second half?  What areas of your life seem like a lost cause?  Where are you tempted to give up?

The basketball game was just a basketball game this afternoon, but it demonstrates something larger.  We aren't called to do something until halftime.  We aren't called to give up.  When the coach talked to those boys at halftime he inspired them to believe they could win.  Do you believe that you can have victory in your struggle?

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."  James 1:12

If you are nearing halftime in a struggle in your life, I encourage you to keep fighting.  If you feel like letting go, I encourage you to hold on even more tightly.  After today's game each spectator was inspired by the play of the boys in the second half.  After today's game that team will never doubt their coach when he tells them they can come back and win.

Someone may be watching you and wondering how you'll respond.  If you come back fighting and persevere I know they'll be inspired.  If you hold on and keep fighting I know you'll believe the promises of God even more the next time.

"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."  Philippians 4:13

Don't give up.  Don't quit at halftime.  Storm back in the second half.  Fight the fight inspirationally.  Run the race to completion.  Come out of the locker room believing through Christ you'll have victory today.

Friday, March 14, 2014

God's Word Always Wins

"As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
Isaiah 55:9-11

There are times in my life when I wonder if I'm making a difference.  Do you ever feel this way?  One of the gifts of the Spirit entrusted to me is the gift of teaching.  I feel called and somewhat equipped to teach others to Word of God.  But sometimes I wonder if what I do makes a difference.

Some of you are thinking of comments to post to encourage me in this.  Likely you've been given the gift of encouragement if this is the impulse you're experiencing now.  But before you begin to think of encouraging things to type I want you to know that the verses above are my encouragement.

You see, if I feel faithfully teach and proclaim the Word of God I will be successful and I will make a difference.  Often I wonder how I'm making a difference or where I'm making a difference or when I'm making a difference, but because of verses like those above from Isaiah I should never wonder IF God's Word is making a difference.

God's Word will never return empty, or void as the King James Version says.  God's Word will accomplish what God desires.  God's Word will achieve the purpose for which God sent it.

This take all the pressure off of me!  I need to be less self-centered and I need to be more God focused.  When I'm self-centered I believe Satan's lies that I could screw up God's plan.  But when I'm God focused I realize that God WILL achieve His purposes all the time and if I'm faithful to proclaim His Word I will get a chance to achieve His purposes with Him.

God's Word always gets its man.  God's Word always wins.  My job is to teach God's Word faithfully so I can be a part of the victory.  This is a huge encouragement in my life.  I hope it encourages you today.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Father on His Knee

I have the privilege of leading a group of high schoolers in pursuing Christ at my church.  I enjoy getting the opportunity to teach them about our God.

The past few weeks we've been studying the parables of Jesus.  I explained that parables are stories using earthly language to explain a heavenly truth.  Parables were, in part, a way that Jesus used what His listeners understood to help explain what they couldn't fully understand.

Have you ever seen a father bend down to the level of his child to explain something?  I find it cute and touching to see a father go through the effort of explaining something in the way his child can understand.

"Daddy, what do you do at work?" a little girl asks her father who is a banker.

"Well," he starts as he gets down on one knee to look her in the eye.  He knows she won't understand his business if he starts using banker terms.  So, he begins to think of how he can explain it in a way she'll understand.

"Well, you know how you have a piggy bank with your tooth-fairy money in it?"

"Yes, Daddy" she replies.

"The bank is kind of like a big piggy bank.  We help keep people's money safe and help them save some of it for later when they need it.  We also give some people money to borrow so they can use it, then they give it back when they're done."

"Okay, thanks"  she says quickly and then skips away with her little pigtails bouncing.

It's a silly little analogy, but I love it.  See, the dad loves his daughter and wants to help her learn about what he does.  He can't start spouting off about the FDIC, asset-backed securities or legacy loans.  His daughter would be confused.  So, he put it in terms she could understand.

Our Heavenly Father loves us and shows us His love in a similar way.  The parables are, in part, God getting on His knee and telling us what He does, who He is and what we should do.  He takes earthly language and uses it to explain heavenly realities.

Open up the book of Matthew and pick a parable.  Read that parable and picture Jesus on His knee, like a father, explaining something to you today.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sun Tan in Glory

The name of this blog is Running the Race.  As I've written before, I love the analogy of our faith journey with Christ being like running a race.  When one runs a race they train hard, they run to win and they run toward a finish line with their eyes on the prize.

Paul doesn't use the analogy of running a race in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, but he does hit on the idea of making progress in your life with Christ.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."  2 Corinthians 3:18

I love this verse because it talks about us making progress in our race toward Christlikeness.  I often say that I want to be at least a step further in my race today than I was yesterday and at least a step further tomorrow than I am today.  This verse reiterates that idea.  We are being transformed with ever-increasing glory.

This truth is comforting and challenging.

It is comforting because, as a Christian, I don't have to be perfect today.  My life doesn't need to be nor will it be as gloriously Christlike as I want it to be.  There is no need to beat myself up over the lack of life change in me.  See, we are being changed with ever-increasing glory.  It is a process... a life-long process I might add.  We all transform at different paces.  When I die I will be transformed "in the twinkling of an eye" but for now I'm free to struggle and free to fail in my pursuit of radical life transformation.

It is challenging because as a Christian I'm not designed to be stagnate.  I should strive to be "transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory."  As a Christian I need to run the race; I should not be on the sidelines watching.

So, how do we transform with ever-increasing glory?

I believe the best and most obvious way to become more glorious like Christ is seen in the text of this verse.  We have unveiled faces and reflect the Lord's glory.  We reflect the glory of the Lord.  How can we reflect the glory of something we avoid?  "ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."  To transform we have to get the glory from the Lord.  We don't become more glorious by our own effort, but we tap into the glory of God.  This requires discipline but not self-righteousness.  We come to the Lord seeking to be filled, not seeking to give.  Christians can offer God nothing, but rather we offer the greatest glory to God by receiving His glory.  As John Piper often says, "Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."

Also, look at the tense of the verbs used in this verse.  "... are being transformed..."  See, we are being transformed.  The Lord is the one doing the transforming.  We are being acted upon.  Also are being implies a process.  So, hold on for the ride.  Endure what may come in the transformation process as Christ works this miracle in your life.

Run your race today.  Spend time at the feet of Jesus.  Sun tan in the glory of the Savior.  Be at least one step closer to the finish line of your race toward Christlikeness, but remember that to win you must rely on Him.  Be transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Happy Birthday Christine

Today is my wife's 23rd birthday.  I'm so incredibly blessed to have a kind, passionate, Godly woman as my wife.  She makes my life more fun and she inspires me to be a better man.

As Proverbs says:

"He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD." Proverbs 18:22

I have found what is good and I get to spend her 23rd year with her.

Happy Birthday Christine!  I thank God for you today.


Monday, March 10, 2014

You Aren't Smarter

Most Christians I know are caring, loving, humble people who are aware of the grace showered on them by Christ.  Many of the Christians in my life inspire me to greater obedience in some aspect of my life.  But some Christians are arrogant and self-righteous.  These few give the rest a bad name.  These few have no right to be arrogant and self-righteous.

I'll continue in 2 Corinthians chapter 3 to illustrate why Christians can't be arrogant and self-righteous.

"But their (the Israelites) minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read.  It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away."  2 Corinthians 3:14-16

Earlier in the chapter we read about how incomprehensibly glorious the Gospel is.  Those of us who claim the Gospel as our hope see this glory.  It's hard for us to imagine why others don't see the Gospel as glorious; we can't fathom why people reject the Good News.

Some might say, "Non-Christians are stupid.  They can't be intelligent if they don't accept the Gospel."

To that I say, "Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, etc."  People who reject the Gospel don't do it because they are unintelligent.  People who accept the Gospel don't do it because they are intelligent.

People accept the Gospel because, metaphorically, the veil has been removed, the scales have fallen off their eyes like Paul; People accept the Gospel because of the direct intervention of God Himself!

AND the veil is removed because we turn to the Lord.

Does God remove the veil first or do we turn to Him and then He removes the veil?  I say "yes".  This is a great mystery.  God initiates and we turn to Him.

So, if you believe the Gospel you aren't smarter.  If you believe the Gospel it is the grace of God that allowed you to believe.  Therefore, we must be humble.  We, too, did not see the surpassing glory of the new covenant until the veil was removed.  Therefore, be gracious to those who still have the veil hiding the glory from the eyes of their heart.

Here's what we need to do in light of this truth.  Pray and act.  We must continue to display the Gospel's glory through our words and actions.  We also must pray that God remove the veil from unbelieving hearts.  We can work all we want at reaching those blinded by sin, but only God can allow them to see the Gospel as beautiful.

Who is brought to your mind to pray that the veil be removed from their hearts?  Pray for that person today.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Already There

Here's a great song to encourage you to trust God.  The lyrics are fantastic.  Also, here's a neat explanation from the lead singer of Casting Crowns about the song "Already There".

Remember that God's already there today.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Surpassing Glory

Let's continue looking at 2 Corinthians chapter 3 as the previous two posts have.

"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?  If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!  For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing.  And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!"  2 Corinthians 3:7-11

To understand how awesome this passage is one must know the story of Moses in Exodus chapter 34.

"The LORD said to Moses, 'Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.'  Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.  And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant... the Ten Commandments.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD.  When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.  But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.  Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai.

When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.  But whenever he entered the LORD's presence to speak with Him, he removed the veil until he came out.  And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant.  Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD."  Exodus 34:27-34

The story of Moses in Exodus chapter 34 is amazing.  The old covenant was given to Moses and the glory surrounding it was so amazing that the people ran from Moses in fear.  The old covenant was glorious, but it brought condemnation.  The old covenant was glorious, but the glory was fading.

The story of Jesus is more amazing.  God Himself came to earth and delivered the words of the new covenant.  In fact, God Himself is the Word of the new covenant.  The new covenant brings eternal life.  The new covenant brings righteousness.  The new covenant's glory never fades away, it is eternally glorious!

Brothers and sisters, this is the covenant, the new covenant, that we are invited into with God.  This is the glorious ministry that we get to participate in with God.  This is the new covenant that make the old covenant seem as a dim light in comparison.

"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold."  2 Corinthians 3:12

"... let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."  Matthew 5:16

The new covenant will bring dramatic change into your life and make you increasingly glorious like the One who made the covenant with you.  Have faith in the surpassing glory of the ministry you've been called into.  Because the Holy Spirit lives in you, you can shine radiantly like Jesus today.

Friday, March 7, 2014

You are Competent... With Christ

So many of us struggle with feelings of incompetence.  We wonder if we're good enough.  We feel the immense weight of our calling and feel incompetent.  In my last post I wrote that we are letters from God and that we ought to live like letters from God.  I don't know about you, but often I feel unable to do that.

The Apostle Paul, however, was very confident in the Corinthians ability to be letters from God.  He knew that He preached the truth and that the Gospel would change them so that they would be beautiful letters from God.  Look at what he writes in verses 4-6.

"Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of the new covenant... not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."  2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Paul was confident in sharing the Gospel because of two reasons.

1) God is the giver of competence. 

Paul, though incredibly driven and intelligent, said that he was competent to be a minister of the Gospel because of God, not because of himself.  We are in the same boat.  We have no right to feel incompetent to the point of paralyzation, because it isn't you and I that needs to be good enough, it's God.  I don't have to be self-competent to be a minister of the Gospel (and we are all ministers, see the Great Commission).  If you believe that God is able, then you are able when you lean fully on Him.   This is the beauty of being temples of the Holy Spirit... we have the living God in us to work through us to succeed in His mission.

2) The Gospel has great power.

Paul was confident to share the Gospel because the Gospel was and is powerful.  The Gospel in the passage above is called the new covenant.  As I wrote in my previous post, the new covenant is one written on our hearts, not on stone tablets.  The old covenant killed.  No one, except for Jesus, could keep the old covenant.  The old covenant said, "If you obey, then I will bless".  The law made us keenly aware of our sin, our inevitable failure and our need for saving.  The new covenant says, "I will love you and forgive you and I will cause you to obey me".  In the new covenant God is the acting agent.  All who enter into the new covenant will have eternal life with Jesus... ALL!  All who enter into the new covenant will be changed by Almighty God... ALL!

This is confidence.  We don't have to be special and self-competent to have success sharing the Gospel because the Gospel is powerful enough on it's own.  All we have to do is take hold of the confidence we've been given and be bold in sharing and living the Gospel.

If you feel incompetent at times as a minister of the Gospel I want you to know you're normal.  We all feel this way at times.  But I want you to know that there is no reason to feel this way.  God is the giver of competence and the Gospel is powerful.  Therefore be bold.

And the next time you feel incompetent here's what I want you to do.  I want to you say, "Shut up, Satan!"  The Devil is the father of lies and he wants us Christians to believe we're not good enough to be a part of our Father's mission.  Don't believe the lies.  Know that you have been given more than enough to do your job.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  Be a beautiful letter from God today.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

You're a Letter From Christ

"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts and known by everybody.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

In the book of 2nd Corinthians Paul was trying to validate his ministry in order to convince the church at Corinth to listen to his instructions.  They wanted him to present letters of recommendation, but he refused saying that they were his letter.  Their lives and the way their lives changed was proof that the Gospel that Paul preached was true.

I love this imagery.  You are a letter from Christ.  What a cool thought.

Paul also talks about letters written on stone versus letters written on hearts.  Here is what he's referring to:

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,' declares the LORD.
'I will put my law on their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be there God
and they will be my people."
Jeremiah 31:33

We are a letter from God because God writes His law on our hearts when we are saved.  Also:

"... I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."  Ezekiel 36:27

If you have Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are a letter from God.  When we become Christians God begins to write His law on our hearts and to place the Holy Spirit in us to move us to follow Him.

We are letters from God for all to read because people will see this change and will notice a difference.  You cannot be a Christian and be unchanged.  It is impossible!  If you say that you're a Christian, but that you haven't changed you are claiming that God is mighty enough to save you from the penalty of your sin, but not powerful enough to change you.  Do you really think you are some stubborn stone that is too heavy for God to push?  Do you really think there is something that God cannot do?

When you accept the reign of Christ in your life you will have the Holy Spirit in you and you will have God actively writing His law on your heart.  When you become a Christian you will be a letter from God to the world.

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm not saying that we should be judgmental and start setting up our own idea of what pace at which other people's lives should be changing.  God works in all of us at different speeds, but He works in all of us without question.

So, ask yourself: "Am I a good letter?"  "Is my letter being displayed to the public or am I keeping myself in the file cabinet?"

The old saying is that we're the only Bible some people will ever read.

Live changed.  Be a letter from Christ today.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent Challenge 2014

Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the official start of the Lenten season.  Millions upon millions of people worldwide will spend Lent giving something up.  This is the traditional way to remember Lent and it is a fantastic way to focus our attention off of the blessings and on to the Blesser.  If you are giving something up for Lent I hope that you find great fulfillment in that and a unique closeness with God this season.

I will not be giving anything up for Lent this year.  In 2011 I realized that I had never done anything for Lent.  I reasoned that because I was a Baptist I didn't need to.  I reasoned that our God is not interested in our religious practices; rather, He is interested in us living for and with Him in a personal relationship.

I was right.  We don't need to follow a Church calendar to follow Jesus.  We don't need to observe Lent.

What I missed in my "evangelical snobbery" (to modify a Lewisian term) was that observing Lent, though not a mandate, is a good way to follow Jesus better.  I will not observe Lent out of religious obligation; I will observe Lent as a way of challenging myself to dive deeper into the waters of Christ.

That being said, I will not be giving anything up for Lent this year.

I will be adding something for Lent.  For the fourth consecutive year I will be blogging daily during Lent.  I have found that by blogging daily I force myself to have a real, well reasoned encounter with the Word.  I have to not only read my Bible, but I have to understand what I read.  I've also found that I have to look all around me for inspiration.  I've seen the Gospel in the weather, in my friends, in movies... I've seen God all around me.

So, I will blog daily again this year.  I pray doing this stretches me.  I also pray that what I write will be an encouragement to your faith as well.

Are you doing anything to observe Lent this year?  Please let me know with your comments.

Consider utilizing the Lenten season to grow your faith in Jesus today.