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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Gospel in the Workplace

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism."  Colossians 3:22-25

Before I get into an application for this passage I want to say that this passage does not endorse or condone slavery.  Paul was not endorsing slavery, rather he was writing to a group of people in a flawed society.  Obviously, some of the people who were part of the church at Colosse were slaves.  This is an amazing point.  The Gospel united people from all walks of life.  Slaves were at the bottom of the social hierarchy in the Roman Empire, but in the church slave and free, landowner and peasant were equals in Christ.

Today in the world we still have slavery.  It is an abomination, it is evil and I pray for the day all the captives are set free.  However, most of us are not in slavery (If you are call 1-888-373-7888.  That is the National Human Trafficking Hotline and they can get you help).

So, since you are likely not a slave I want to look at the passage above from the prospective of an employee.  I believe that there are applications in this passage for our workdays.

1) Work with character.

Character is who you are when no one is looking.  Paul would encourage today's employees to work hard, even when the boss isn't looking.  We do not work only to win the favor of our boss.  We must have character and we must value doing good work.

2) Remember who you work for.

We work for the Lord, not simply for men.  This doesn't just apply to pastors; this applies to machinists, welders, engineers, secretaries, nurses, computer programers and even radio D.J.s.  You must see Jesus standing behind your boss.  When he or she gives you an assignment you must realize that you are doing it for the Lord.  All things in your workplace can be done for the glory of God.

3) God will repay those who do wrong.

God does not show favoritism toward bosses.  If your boss has wronged you, Jesus will repay him/her for it.  You don't have to grumble and complain.  You don't have to get your boss back by slacking.  Jesus will take care of it.  Remember, Paul is writing to slaves here.  If slave masters will get what they deserve how much more will the boss that isn't paying you completely fairly.  Unlike slaves, you can leave your job if you want, but unless you leave your job you are compelled to be all in because you work for God.

Our workplaces can be a pulpit.  I'm not talking, necessarily, about standing up and preaching the Gospel at work.  I'm talking about working in such a way that people notice a difference.  Christians should be some of the best employees in the world.  Work like the Gospel has affected you today.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Family Circle

I'm continuing for the next couple of days in Colossians chapter 3.  There is so much that can be mined from this amazing passage of Scripture and I've only found a tiny bit but I've been blown away.

"Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged."  Colossians 3:18-21

The family is integral to the local church.  Obviously, Jesus is the foundation that all churches must be built upon, but the family is critically important.  I wouldn't say that the family is what the church is built upon, but it is central to the church.  When I read the Bible I notice that the structure given for our relationships in the world is like concentric circles.  God and myself in the middle; my immediate family whom I live with and I beyond that; my immediate family and my local church; my local church and my community; and so on.  It's hard to be authentically good at the relationships on the outer edges of the concentric circles if we aren't doing a good job with the inner circles.  If my relationship with God is not right, then my wife and I will struggle.  If I can't love my family well, then I'm going to have a hard time authentically loving my church family, and so on.  That being said, the closer to the center circle you get, the harder the relationship is because those people know the real you more accurately and the real you is messy.

Paul gave the church at Colosse some checks and balances for relationships in the family.  Wives and husbands were given checks and balances and parents and children were given checks and balances.

For wives and husbands submission and gentle love were given as checks and balances.  In the phenomenal book and video series "Love and Respect" these were explained in depth and made very clear, my wife use information from that explanation on a daily basis.  Wives were told to submit because husbands respond very well to respect and very poorly to disrespect.  Men have a deep need to feel respect.  Husbands were told to be gentle and loving to their wives because wives respond very well to gentle love and very poorly toward harshness and unloving behavior.  Do husbands need to be loved?  Yes.  Do wives need to be respected?  Absolutely.  Men are often good at giving respect, because we know how to give what we need.  Conversely, women are often good at giving love, because they know how to give what they need.  Paul was addressing both sexes where they need addressing.

As for this business of submitting.  To many women submission it is a dirty word and I totally get it.  Submission, however, is not about worth.  Men and women are completely equal, they are both made in the image of God.  Men and women are not the same though, we reflect God in a different manner because neither sex could ever completely reflect the nature of God, or get close.  Also, I heard my pastor say this yesterday and I thought it was very good.  Submission, as Paul writes about it, cannot be demanded.  The tense it is in Greek doesn't allow that.  Men who demand submission like Paul is asking will not get it.  This type of submission comes from a woman who willingly gives it.

Parents and children were given obedience and gentleness as checks and balances for intrafamily relationships.  Children are to obey their parents in everything.  This is not done for the sake of the parents only, it is done because children can in this way please the Lord.  Parents are to be gentle and not overbearing.  The perfectionist parent is frowned upon by Paul's instructions.  Parents are to be supportive, protective, loving, gentle and understanding.  If a parent does these things they are much easier to obey because the child trusts them and feels safe in that love.  If a child obeys it is much easier for a parent to not be overbearing and to be gentle and understanding.

The family is an important building block for the local church and for the Church universal for that matter.  We must work on our family relationships so that we reflect God's glory at home.  If you can't love your family well, how much has the Gospel affected your heart?  It is easy to put on the hypocrite's mask in public, but acting as Christ desires at home is much harder, trust me.  Love your family well and view that love as evidence of your salvation today.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I Will Arise and Go to Jesus

Today at church we had an awesome time of corporate worship.  In worship we flipped when we stood up and sat down.  Now, while that seems silly, it was like walking backwards to school; that little change made all the details of worship stand out.  For some reason I felt incredibly attuned to the Holy Spirit.  We sang great songs and people read amazing passages of Scripture, including one 11 year-old girl that read the 23 Psalm while I cried at how beautiful it is to see children loving the Lord.

We sang many songs that affected my soul today, in fact we could have not had a sermon and I would have walked away full.  The song that stuck out to me most was "I Will Arise and Go to Jesus."  Take time to listen to it today.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Do We Sing?

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  Colossians 3:15-17

That is how we do church.  Above is Paul's basic instructions for how we operate as the local church when we are together.  I want to look at a few of the instructions given above.

First, we are to operate together in peace.  For more on that you can read my post from yesterday on the subject of peace in the church.

Secondly, we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.  The Bible must be a cornerstone for what we do when we assemble together, whether in a church sanctuary or a home Bible study.  The word of Christ is to dwell in us.  We are to be soaked in it until it soaked in us.  We should reflect what we see in King David in Psalm 119; we should be in love with the Christ's words.

How do we do this?  How do we "Let the word of Christ dwell in you (us) richly"?

Paul first recommends teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom.  This is something we often do well.  I hope you attend a local church where the Word of God is central to the teaching in the pulpit.  I pray that your pastor has you open the Scripture with him every time he preaches.  I hope that your Bible studies, Sunday school classes, youth group lessons, discipleship classes, confirmation classes, etc are built on the foundation of the Bible.  I think we often do this well or at least understand that this is something essential to what the local church is to do.

Paul's second recommendation for letting the word of Christ dwell richly in us involves singing.  Paul encouraged the church at Colosse and would encourage your church to sing songs.  We are to sing songs that spring up gratitude in our hearts and that help the word of Christ dwell in us.

When I visit Lutheran services I notice that they do a great job of singing the Psalms.  Every Sunday a Psalm is sung verbatim by the congregation.  Now, these songs are not the most musically satisfying, but they are the Psalms and the words are unbeatable.  In many other churches I hear the congregation singing the Psalms but they might not know that they are (example from Chris Tomlin).  These songs help us memorize and meditate on the words of God.  I still sing "I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter His courts with praise..." whenever I read Psalm 100:4.

We are also to sing hymns.  Hymns are something, as a Baptist, that I'm very familiar with.  Hymns are often those songs that are jam-packed with theological truths.  These songs, most of the time, do not have words taken straight from the Bible but they capture the themes and doctrinal truths of the Bible so well.  And hymns, by the way, are not necessarily something that was written long before you were born.  I'm noticing more and more contemporary hymns being written, but the old hymns are so great because their words have given them great staying power.  These songs are important to sing at church because when we have times of great trial we can remember and pray the words of something like "It is Well with My Soul" or when we see the mountains of Colorado we can belt  out the praise of "How Great Thou Art".

Paul says to sing spiritual songs.  These are songs that are written with words of truth and that stir our heart's affections for God.  There's a lot of overlap between hymns and spiritual songs.  Some songs will stir our hearts toward the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus or the Father or they might focus on an attribute of God perhaps.  These are songs that are important to the life of the church.

We must structure our church gatherings in a way that helps those who gather have the word of Christ dwell in them.  This must be done through teaching, preaching and singing.  If you've ever wondered why we sing at church, this is why.  Music bonds words to our hearts so powerfully and we must wisely pick lyrics that we want engraved on our hearts.

Finally, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  Whatever it is that we do when we gather must be done in the name of Jesus.  So, teach, learn, serve and sing in your church so that the Word dwells in you and do it all for the sake of Jesus' name today.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pursue Peace

As the son of a pastor I've seen my share of church fights.  Church fights are ugly, silly, un-glorifying to Christ and usually avoidable.  I've seen a church fight, I kid you not, that began from something as trivial as someone whistling in church because they couldn't sing.

When we, the body of Christ, fight one another we make Jesus look less attractive to an unbelieving world.  We, the group of people supposedly dedicated to making much of Christ, belittle Christ when we fight one another.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful."  Colossians 3:15

The Church universal and the local church needs to let the pursuit of peace be the general rule for our conduct with one another.

Before you pick a fight over something, from worship style to doctrine, ask yourself if it is worth it.  Being right is all fine and dandy, but is being  right worth disturbing the peace?  There are times when a closed mouth is more right than saying what you think is so right.  There are times when we need to let love cover someone sin rather than make sure justice is served.

Peace is a hard thing to create and maintain in a group of people, even or especially in the church.  Peace is also an extremely easy thing to disrupt and lose completely.  Let the pursuit of peace be your general rule for conduct in the church.

Here's one tip for letting peace rule in your interaction with people.  "And be thankful."  Those are the final three words of verse 15.  How about next time you feel the need to tell someone off or to correct them you had to think of why you're thankful for them first?  Imagine that before you could tell someone off you had to name a reason why you're thankful for them first.

The people in your local church are your family.  The people of the Church universal are members of the same body you are.  Let's start acting like that's true.  Let us pursue peace.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful."  Obey this command today.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Know Who You Are

Sometimes in our effort to dig deeper into the treasure chest of knowledge of God we leave behind what we've already learned.  The things that rocked us before have been thrown away in search of something new, something novel about God.  Friends, every bit of knowledge about God is to be kept and adored.  Today I want to start with something so fundamental yet beyond amazing.

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved..." Colossians 3:12a

God chose us, He set us apart and He dearly loves us.  Wow!  This is not a truth to be thrown away when we learn something new, this is a jewel to be eternally delighted in.

God chose you.  Yes, you.  He chose a broken, feeble, rebel.  God picked you out and decided to pursue you; not only that, He decided to create you, watch you rebel and then win you back.  The Church, the body of Christ, is a group of chosen people.

We are a holy people.  Holy in this sense means 'set apart'.  God has something more for you than the rat race of meaningless life described by King Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  As the band Switchfoot sang, "We were meant to live for so much more."

You are dearly loved by God.  This is more mind-blowing than just about anything I can think of.  I'm sitting here trying to find something other than God Himself that is more amazing than the fact that God loves us.  God is the greatest being/thing in the universe; in fact, He made the universe.  And He loves you.  Let that sink in.  He loves you dearly.  Treasure that fact.

God has defined us.  You and I don't get to define ourselves, the Author of Life defines us.  So, you don't have the right to be self loathing, suicidal and self-exiling.  You don't decide if you're lovable, God's already done that.  It is an insult to God to re-define what He's already defined.  As Christians we are a chosen people, holy and dearly loved and nothing will change that.  Nothing, so stop trying and just accept that you are dearly loved.

Paul then moved on to tell us what we are to do in light of God's definition of us.

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."  Colossians 3:12-14

I'll let those verses speak for themselves, but that is how we live in light of who we are.  For more on bearing with one another I invite you to read my pastor Jim Lee's blog on that, he does a great job explaining that in a short text.

I implore you to be captivated with the "elementary" truth that you are chosen, holy and dearly loved.  Meditate on that truth and live in light of it.  Know who you are and act accordingly today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kill the Old Man

I'm continuing in the third chapter of Colossians.  In the verses I last wrote about Paul had just given some great news.  In the following verses Paul described how to respond to that good news.

"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."  Colossians 3:5-10

In the prior verses Paul explained that we were raised to walk in new life when we were baptized.  When we became Christians we became a new creation.  However, our old self is not completely gone yet and our new self is not completely perfected yet.  Here lies the battle.

We must kill the old man daily.

We are daily in a war against the spiritual forces of evil AND our old self.  My old self wants nothing more than to keep on living for himself and to keep on sinning, so I've got to kill him every day.

How do we kill the old man?  Well, there are many ways but I want to highlight a few.

1) Feed the new man.

An old Indian parable goes like this: Every day I wake up with two dogs fighting for control of my being.  One dog is evil and wants me to be evil as well, the other dog is virtuous and wants me to be, too.  Every day they fight and you know which one wins?  The one I feed.

2) Put on the new self.

Let the Spirit make you into the new man.  Take off the old clothes of sin and put on the new clothes of righteousness.  Remove and replace.  Take off the sins described in the passage above and put on what is described in the verses that follow: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with one another and forgive each other and on all that put on love which binds them all together.  Killing the old man is never just about not sinning, we must replace sin with righteousness.  My dad says sometimes we get too busy to sin, spend your time striving for righteousness.

3) Gang up on him.

Let others help you fight him.  The old man won't have much of a chance if you invite others to pummel him with you.  This means accountability groups, prayers groups, Bible study groups, a mentor... anyway to get with others to work on killing the old man.

4) Prayer .

The old man will only be killed by Jesus in the end.  Do all the things listed here, but unless Christ fights for you you're hopeless.  Pray and act on what you've prayed and the old man will die.

5) Study Scripture.

Paul says that our new self, "is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."  That means we must be filling ourselves with the knowledge of God.  We must study Him so we can become like Him.  How can we model our lives after One we don't know?  We can't.  So, we must study our Creator to know Him and His ways better and better and then place ourselves under that knowledge in order to conform to it.

Every single day we need to kill the old man or he will suffocate our faith.  So, use the tools given above and the hundreds of others that are given in other places and kill the old man.

Kill the old man today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jesus is the Cleft of the Rock

"For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."  Colossians 3:3-4

We have been given new life in Christ and through Christ.  Our old self died and our new life is hidden with Christ in God.  I understand the new life versus old life analogy in this passage but the idea of being hidden in Christ was peculiar to me until I thought of Moses in Exodus chapter 33.

"Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.'

And the LORD said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence.  I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  But,' He said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.'

Then the LORD said, 'There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."  Exodus 33:18-22

Moses wanted to see the glory of God, but God knew that Moses, a sinner, could not stand face to face with Him and live.  The sinfulness of Moses was in danger of being consumed by God's awesome perfection; Moses would die if He saw God the Father face to face.  So, God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock.

We are in the same predicament.  We want to see God's glory, but we have sin still in us.  While I am a new creation I am not yet perfected; I will be perfected but I am not yet.

This is why we are hidden in Jesus.  We don't just need to be saved from the fires of Hell, we need to be shielded from the awesome, burning perfection of God.  We are hidden with Christ.  Jesus gives us access to the Father without being consumed.  While on this earth we desperately need this.

But notice what comes next, "When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

When Christ appears or when we die our sanctification will be made complete.  We will be perfect.  And at that moment we will be with Jesus in glory, in the direct, face-to-face glory of God the Father.  We won't need to be hidden in the cleft of the rock because we will not have an ounce of sin in us because Christ will finish the job as He promised to do.

"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden."  Genesis 3:8

Presumably before the Fall Adam and Eve walked with God and saw Him face-to-face in the Garden of Eden.  The verse above was directly after the Fall.  See, Adam and Eve were fully aware that their sin made God dangerous to them, so they hid from Him.  Sin keeps God from us and keeps us from God.  When men and women return to our original, sinless design we will no longer need to be hidden from God, we will see Him face-to-face.

I am hidden in Jesus, the cleft of the rock, and allowed to enter the presence of the Almighty God and one day when my sanctification and glorification is complete, I will see the three-in-one God face-to-face.  I will one day and for eternity after that be able to look on the face of my God.  Until then I thank God that He has hidden me in Christ.

Thank God that your life is hidden with Christ in God today.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Passion and Knowledge

Over the next several days I'll be writing about Colossians chapter 3 as our Bible study is going through it now.  This chapter, like the ones before it, is jam packed with truth and applications.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."  Colossians 3:1-2

As I wrote last week, our baptism declares that we were crucified and buried with Christ and raised to walk in new life.  Paul spells that out and then transitions to let his readers know what it looks like to walk in new life.  To walk in new life, Paul says, we must set our heart and mind on heavenly things.

To set our heart on the things above is , as Matthew Henry says, "to set our affections upon them, to love them and to let our desires be toward them."  Paul tells us to fall in love with the things of God.  Our heart will chase after what it loves, so we must set our heart on things above.  We have to point our hearts toward its goal which is God and His ways.

To set our minds on things above is to think about the things and ways of God.  This is much of what we do in theology.  We study to know God more.  We read our Bibles and great writers to get our minds to think about the Almighty more and more.

"The heart is deceitful above all things..." Jeremiah 17:9

Our hearts are not naturally something that we should follow.  We tell people to follow their heart, but that is really bad advice unless they've told their heart what to follow.  Our heart is deceitful and will lead us astray.  Our heart left on its own will pull us into the lusts of the flesh not the service of God.  That is why I think that Paul tells us to set our heart and mind on the things above.

The mind left on its own does us little good.  There are many theology professors that are danger of Hell because they know it all but have not fallen in love with God.  We are told in Luke 10:27 to "love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and all your mind."  The mind engaged without the heart does not love God as He deserves, and perhaps the mind cannot love God at all on its own.

The Christian life is about passion and knowledge for God.  Passion without knowledge will always be misguided; knowledge without passion will be empty.  The way to set your hearts and minds on the things above is not to find which one you are doing well and back it off until it equals the lesser.  No, we must maximize both.  If you are lacking in passion, I urge you to set your heart on the things above in any way possible.  If you are lacking in knowledge, I beg you to put yourself under good teaching and soak it up till you pop like a tick.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" today.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Revelation Song

Today at church we had a great message from Daniel chapter 10 and got to witness a baptism.  It was a fantastic service.

The sermon, if it's not up yet, will be available to listen to soon and I encourage you to take a listen.

Above is the song we did during worship that touched me most.  Take time to listen to "Revelation Song" today.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Remember Your Baptism

Tomorrow during our church service we are going to have a baptism.  Miss Anna Knapp will be baptized and we will get to observe her baptism and celebrate with her.  I'm looking forward to this and I've been thinking about baptism because of what Colossians chapter two has to say about baptism.

Some in the church at Colosse were telling people that they needed to be circumcised to belong in the body of Christ.  Paul flatly denies that idea, saying that baptism, not circumcision, is the ceremonial sign of the covenant and the sign of belonging to the people of the covenant.

"... having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins,"  Colossians 2:12-13

Baptism is a beautiful symbol of what Christ accomplished for us at the cross.  Baptism does NOT save you but is something we do in response to our salvation as a declaration of what Christ has already done in us.  The symbolism of baptism is rich and worthy of celebrating and that's what my church will do tomorrow.

We practice emersion baptism of people who have declared their faith in Jesus.  During baptism we say, "Crucified and buried with Christ and raised to walk in new life!"  I want to look at the passage from Colossians and see why we say this.

"Having been buried with Him in baptism..."

Baptism is a picture that says Christ death and burial is my death and burial.  Count how my times the Apostle Paul says "in Christ" or "with Christ" in the letter to the Colossians.  It is astounding.  Baptism is a symbol that Christ died to pay the penalty of my sins past, present and future.  Christians proclaim "It is finished!" at baptism.  There is nothing more we need to do to fulfill the penalty of sin or the obligations of the law because in Christ it has already been done.  We have been buried with Jesus in baptism.

"... and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead."

In baptism we shout that we have new life, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." 2 Corinthians 5:17.  We no longer have to be slaves to sin and to the new old self, we have been made a new creation, one that can live for Jesus.  We were raised to new life through our faith, not works, in the power of God.  Though we were dead the same God who raised Jesus raises us!  Buried with Christ is like saying your sins are forgiven, raised with Christ is like saying go and sin no more.

Baptism is a rich symbol and something to be celebrated.  Though I don't agree with how the Lutherans do baptism, I do love what they often say during an infant baptism.  They say, "Remember your baptism."  Now, how on earth I'm supposed to remember something I did as an infant, I don't know; but I love "Remember your baptism."  I want my church to celebrate that Anna is getting baptized tomorrow, but I also want us to remember our baptisms, too.  I will spend time tomorrow reflecting on how what Anna is proclaiming for herself, I can claim for myself, too.  I was crucified and buried with Christ and raised to walk in new life.

If you're a believer and have never been baptized, I highly encourage you to do so in obedience to the Bible.  If you were baptized as a baby, like Anna and my wife, and want to be baptized after having pledged yourself to God, I encourage you to do it.  For those of us that have been baptized already, remember your baptism today.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Don't Live Like Grace Doesn't Exist

Too often we Christians struggle to live like grace is real and has really collided with our lives.  We profess grace and then teach law.  We sing grace and enforce law.  How can we live like grace exists?  The Colossians struggled with this, too.

"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross."  Colossians 2:13-14

We were dead and now we are alive thanks to grace.  We were under the regulations of the law until the law was nailed to the cross with Jesus as He fulfilled both its regulations and its penalties.  Paul goes further in Colossians chapter 2.

"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."  Colossians 2:16-17

Why practice these things when they pointed to Christ?  Why continue with the shadow when you have the real thing in Jesus?  Paul continues with an edge of sarcasm later on in the chapter.

"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 'Do not handle!  Do not taste!  Do not touch!'?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Colossians 2:20-23

Don't live like grace doesn't exist!  Humans love to impose religious regulations on one another, but Christ has called us out of that.  Don't get me wrong, those of us who are in Christ are called to a higher standard, but we don't achieve that standard through self imposed rules or self-help initiatives or religion.  We achieve sanctification through the work of the Holy Spirit, not through the work of our own efforts which "lacks any value in restraining sensual indulgence", though mysteriously our own efforts play a part.

The biggest thing I want Christians to do keep in mind is that religion is about imposing rules on others.  We are not to do that.  Some in the church at Colosse were telling others that they needed to be circumcised or they need to observe a feast day or they needed to avoid pork.  Paul was strongly against this.

For a better understanding of what it looks like to live in Christ through grace and not through the law, I invite you to read a blog by my friend Pastor Ben Dau.  In it he explains three categories of the law and our responsibility to each.  His post is one of the best I've seen on this subject and I'm not just sharing it because he's a friend.

Friends, you are no longer a slave to sin or the law.  You were purchased by grace and are alive in Christ.  Don't live like grace doesn't exist today.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Self Help is Helpless

Self-Help is a genre that sells millions upon millions of books and DVDs every single year.  In fact the self-improvement industry is a $10-billion per year industry in the United States.  Since 1936's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" began flying off the selves there has been a bevy of self-help books, authors, videos and speakers.  Since 1859's book entitled "Self Help" in which Samuel Smiles gave us this opening line, "Heaven helps those who help themselves" Americans have been on the quest to help themselves improve themselves.

It's not just America that is fascinated with ideas of self-help and self-actualization; since Adam and Eve wanted to do it themselves, humans across the world have been trying to do it themselves.  The church at Colosse was no different.  They were given the simple and powerful Gospel but continued to try to do it themselves.  They, like we, thought there had to be more self-effort involved with the Gospel.

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and of the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over ever power and authority."  Colossians 2:8-10

The Colossians had the Gospel but people were trying to get them to follow extra religious obligations.  The Colossians were being tempted to help themselves rather than rely fully on Christ and what Christ had already and would accomplish in them.  They were tempted to rely on "hollow and deceptive philosophy" instead of the rock solid Gospel.

Self-Help is mostly about us trying to find fullness.  We try to find fullness in our work, in our marriage, in our __________.  The people who write self-help books are trying to sell fullness in some area of life.  Fulness is found only in Christ, "you have been given fullness in Christ."

Not all self-help books are bad.  Learning skills in finances or physical fitness and the like can be good things, but I promise that is not the source of fullness.  When we look for what the Gospel promises in things other than the Gospel we will be disappointed.

Self-Help is about what you do for you.  Christianity is NOT a self-help religion.  Christianity is about what God has done for you, not about what you do for you or even what you do for God.  In self-help you need to take initiative, in Christianity God took the initiative.  Christ came from heaven to earth as the Deity in bodily form to take the initiative to bring God glory and you fullness.

So, read a book about budgeting or not over scheduling or about losing 10 pounds in 6 weeks.  These things are not bad, but they are not going to fulfill you, only Christ does that.  Don't be deceived by hollow human thinking, instead by satisfied in Christ today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rooted in Christ

"Are you saved?"

This question dominated my Christian thinking when I was growing up.  I thought this was the end all be all question of faith.  Don't get me wrong, this is an important question.  Knowing whether or not Christ's righteousness is yours is extremely important and one can never overstate its importance.  I just got caught up in thinking it was the only or most important question of faith.

"Are you in Christ?"

I think this is a far better question of faith because it covers the issue of salvation but also delves far deeper.  Let me show you what I mean from Colossians chapter two.

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."
Colossians 2:6-7

Christianity is far more than a conversion experience.  I had a conversion experience but that is only part of my story, an important part but a part.  Christianity is about living in Christ each and every day.  Jesus taught about this in John 15 when He spoke about the vine and the branches.  We are to be in Christ.

Let me give you another picture of how we are in Christ.

We are to be "rooted and built up in Him."  I love this imagery.  We are to be like trees.  Trees are don't grow by moving around and chasing food sources.  Trees grow by being rooted in soil and extending those roots as deep and as wide as necessary to get the water and nutrients needed to grow and to be strengthened.  Trees grow higher as they grow deeper and they overflow with fruit or nuts or whatever they produce when their roots are absorbing the goodness from the soil.

We are to be like trees.  Christ is the soil and we must be rooted in Him.  We must be unmovable but growing.  We, like trees, need to grow into Christ deeper and wider so that we can get more of His inexhaustible living water and nutrients needed to grow upward.  I don't ever notice the roots of my trees unless they get into the septic tank or something, I notice the height and girth and acorns from the trees.  So it is with others; others will notice the outward growth in your life, but you will know that your roots are deep into the soil.  If your roots are deep you will display strength and you will overflow with thankfulness.

The church at Colosse thought that they would grow outwardly by adding human regulations and religious rules to their lives.  Paul wanted to free them from that thinking by confirming that growth came from being in Christ and growing deeper there, not from circumcision or feast days or by not eating some sort of food.  We need to realize the same thing.  Religiosity doesn't grow fruit, being in Christ does.

Are you in Christ?  Or are you trying to grow on your own?  Are you in Christ?  Or are you trying to earn grace that's given to those who hide themselves in Christ?

The Christian life is about more than being converted.  The Christian life is about being planted in Christ and growing right there.  "Continue to live in Him" today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day- A Repost

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.

Years later back in his homeland he had another vision that featured an Irishman begging him to come back to Ireland with the Gospel.  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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Encouraged and United for Treasure

Today I'm back in the book of Colossians in chapter two.

"I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.  My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.  For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are an how firm your faith in Christ is."  Colossians 2:1-5

There are lots of reasons to be encouraged in heart and united in love.  Many of you are filling out NCAA Tournament brackets today.  That guy in the office handed you a bracket and told you that the whole office is filling it out and having a pool or you got an e-mail from a friend inviting you to log in and fill out a bracket online.  You've been bitten by the bug and you have full blown March Madness.  You're caring about teams you've never cared about and you're likely professing knowledge about teams that you don't have.

Before you fill out your bracket you could get the wild idea to send a letter to your favorite team, your pick to win it all.  Perhaps, you send a letter to Coach Ben Jacobson and the UNI Panthers.  In the letter you write them to be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the will to win, namely the will to win the tournament, so that you win your office pool and become $50 richer.

Paul wrote the letter to the church at Colosse "that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love" but his reason for doing so was not to win an office pool.  Paul said he did that, "so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding."  Paul wanted the Colossians to be encouraged in heart and united in love so that their doctrine was good.

Paul had a deep desire for the church to have good doctrine rooted in the person of Christ.  Many false doctrines were wrapped in fine-sounding arguments and some in the church were being deceived.  The climate of today is no different; there are many nice sounding false doctrines that would pull us away from the supremacy of Christ.  We, as the church, need to encourage one another and to be united in love so that we stay firm in our doctrine together.  We, like Paul, should desire our church to be delighted when those in our local church are orderly, or in step with one another, and firm in our faith.  And the way to get to this point is teaching, yes, but more than just teaching; the way to have a local church stay faithful to the true Gospel is to be encouraging one another and united to one another in love on the foundation of the one, true Gospel.

False doctrines sound most appealing to us when we are discouraged in heart or separated from the group.  Satan loves a weak or lone sheep.  So, encourage one another and be united in love to one another.  As my pastor has said before and I've repeated often: staying faithful to Jesus is a community project.

In Christ is "hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge", therefore let's encourage one other's hearts and be united to one another in love so that we can be rooted firmly on Christ.  This treasure of knowledge and understanding is worth the effort.

So, ask yourself: How can you encourage someone you love's heart to continue to pursue knowledge and understanding of Christ today?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Remove and Replace

This morning at church I was struck by the fact that I don't need just a clean slate.

So often we rejoice in the fact that our sins have been forgiven and we should rejoice in that.  We had a sin debt that was insurmountable, un-payable, and certain to destroy us.  We needed a clean slate.  We needed our sin debt wiped clean.

But we need much more than a clean slate or even a clean heart.  I don't just need a heart that's been cleaned, I need a new heart.

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you a heart of stone and give you heart of flesh."  Ezekiel 36:26

I need so much more than forgiveness, I need transformation, I need to be a new creation.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5:17

God is in the removal and replacement business.  God removes our sin from us and replaces it with righteousness.  He will not only forgive us, He will perfect us.  We go from wearing dirty rags to clean robes; not because our rags are washed, but because we've been given new robes.

"The angel said to those who were standing before him, 'Take off his filthy clothes.'  Then he said to Joshua, 'See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you."  Zechariah 3:4

Thank God that He's in the removal and replacement business.  I am so prone to sin that giving me a clean slate isn't enough, I need transformation.

Thank God for His forgiveness and pray for Him to transform you.  Also, take time to listen to this song we worshipped with today.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Have Courage and Be Kind

Today my wife and I went to see the movie "Cinderella".  This was one of those movies we went to for her, but she's been to more than a couple for me.  I said I would walk out of the movie if Gus Gus wasn't in it, but he was and I stayed in the theatre and watched the movie and even enjoyed it.

In the film before Ella's mother died she gave her daughter a mantra or rather a command..."Have courage and be kind".  Throughout the movie Ella repeats the word "have courage and be kind" as she comes to a point when it would be hard to be kind.  She held these words dear to her heart and put them into practice repeatedly as she demonstrated a courageous level of kindness to a step-mother and step-sisters who deserved a kick in the teeth rather than kindness.

"Have courage and be kind" is a decent mantra.  "Have courage and be kind" is a good thing to teach children and a good thing to practice but that's not the point of this post.

"I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:11

"You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees."  Psalm 119:68

"Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long."  Psalm 119:97

"Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path." Psalm 119:105

Unlike Cinderella's mom God is not dead, far from it, but He has left us with words that are to be treasured and put into practice.  See, like Cinderella treasured her mother's words and put them into practice, we must do the same.

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  Matthew 28:18-20

These are just a few of the commands that we were given to treasure and put into practice.  Treasure God's words and put them into practice today.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Boring Testimony

"Everyone is invited to share their testimony."

For a long time when I heard this phrase, or something like it, I felt as if I had nothing to offer.  I have a boring testimony.  I was never in a biker gang, I never did drugs, I wasn't in the grips of alcohol, I never even made it to Middle School before becoming a Christian.  So when I was invited to share my testimony I passed on the opportunity.

I remember the day I gave my life to Jesus.  I was a very young child and I was struck by the beauty of a sunrise.  It looked as if I was riding into heaven.  I remember thinking that I wanted to be in heaven with God forever and ever.  So, I asked my mom to pull over and pray with me and I gave my life to Jesus.

Now, there was a baptism a few years after that and a rededication of my life at summer camp, but I firmly believe that moment on the road with my mom was my moment of conversion.

So, my story seemed boring to me for a long time and I didn't share it much.  To be honest, I was embarrassed of my boring testimony.

Now, I'm so thankful for my boring testimony.  See, through the years I have been amazed at my capacity to sin and to think evil thoughts... and this is with a converted heart.  I wonder what sort of pain I would have caused myself and other if my testimony wasn't so boring.  I think about the hell I could have raised.  I realize that I could have hardened my heart forever if God hadn't saved me before my heart got any harder.

I love my boring testimony.

I don't have children yet, but I often pray that they have a boring testimony.  I pray that the children of my friends have boring testimonies.  I don't want kids to waste any time without Jesus.  I'm so thankful that I was spared from wasting time away from the Giver of Life.

I so badly want my children to have a boring testimony.  Below is a post I wrote back in May of 2012 that highlights that desire through a story.

An Introduction

I usually don't do this type of writing.  I've done it once before but it's not my forte.  That being said, today I had a daydream while driving that I'd like to share with you.

In my dream I was dead.  I'd been dead for a long time and I was in heaven.

While in heaven I was standing by the banks of the River Jordan when I saw my daughter crossing.  She made it across to the shore and I ran to meet her.  I hugged her and excitingly welcomed her to heaven.

"Hey Beautiful, can I give you a tour?" I asked.

"Of course, Dad." She replied.

I took her on a tour of heaven.  I introduced her to her Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma Ray because she had never met them.  I introduced her to Esther, Ruth, David, Paul, John and Mary.  I took her on a walk down the streets of gold until we reached the crystal sea.

Finally, it was time to do what I was most excited to do.  Something I had been waiting to do for a long time.

"Beautiful, I want to introduce to Jesus." I said beaming inside.

"Don't be silly," she replied with a goofy yet warm grin. "you already introduced me to Him a long time ago."

"... as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

I know that this was just a daydream but it is a dream I hope comes true for me and my family.  I want to be a father, when the time comes, that introduces his children to Jesus early and often.  I want to lead my family to the Author of Life.

For those of you that are parents, I ask you to introduce your children to God early and often.  For those of us that aren't parents we need to prepare ourselves for the task of introducing our children to Jesus today.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Gospel of Spring

One of the things I do every day is read the weather on the air.  Just a little over a week ago I was announcing a wind chill of 35 below zero.  This week the temperatures have been in the sixties.  Spring has most definitely sprung and it did it remarkably fast.

I love Spring because things come alive.  The snow melts revealing the ground that I haven't seen in months, the birds are out and singing, the geese have changed direction in their flight and people are finally outside.

When I was in college my friends and I would be amazed every Spring.  Each Spring beautiful girls were all around outside sitting in the sunlight.  We didn't see most of these girls during the Winter months and we wondered where on earth they were in January.  To this day I'm convinced that some pretty girls hibernate when temps are below 50 degrees.

Today is a beautiful early Spring day and I just got done walking to the coffee shop.  My community is alive with people walking, biking and jogging around town.  I absolutely love it.

Spring is a time of renewal for our world.    Trees will soon be budding, my wife will be planting flowers in no time and people are coming out from being hunkered down for the Winter.  Spring's renewal energizes me and makes me think about the Gospel.

One of the things that all the seasons are is an example of God's faithfulness.  Every year the same seasons come and go, transitioning from one to another without fail.  Absolutely God's faithfulness on display for the world to see, but Spring is a much clearer reminder of the Gospel than any other season.

The Gospel is about God renewing His world.  On the Cross, Jesus began this renewal and it will continue until its completion.  The world is exiting the Winter of sin and is in the early stages of God's Spring until we get fully bloomed renewal of all things.  We see little bits of renewal in changed lives, but one day all things will be new.  They will be new just like the renewal of Spring except absolutely perfect.

So, enjoy the Spring weather.  Soak up the sun and enjoy your town coming to life.  And when you do enjoy seeing Spring, remember that Spring only points to something better.  Don't avoid enjoying Spring at all because in some way by enjoying Spring less you enjoy God more; no, enjoy Spring to its fullest while knowing that something even better awaits.

Think about the Gospel of Spring today.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Happy Birthday Christine

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

This verse is true.  I have no blessing in my life quite as sweet as the blessing of having Christine as my wife.  It is an honor and privilege to be her husband and I thank her and God for this.

Today is my wife's 24th birthday and I'm reminded of what a good thing woman I have.  Christine is so sweet and she's helping me become a genuinely nicer person.  Christine is thoughtful and caring and is helping me grow in that area, too.  She is hard-working and intelligent and I hope she passes that down to our children.  I could write on and on about the characteristics I love about my beautiful wife, but I'm going to tell her in person myself.

What I want to encourage you to do is appreciate your spouse if you have one.  Touch your wife sweetly and give her a big hug.  Kiss your husband and tell him you're proud of him.  Remember that if you're married you have found what is good and have received favor from the LORD.  Appreciate your spouse and show love to him/her today.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Escapism and Being Heavenly- A Repost

Below is a post I wrote back in October of 2012.  Please take time to read it today.

Escapism and Being Heavenly

My small group is in the middle of going through a study called "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church" by N. T. Wright.  This study, along with other things I've been reading, has been challenging my thoughts on escapism and being heavenly.

When my Grandma Ray died my cousins and I got to sing "I'll Fly Away" at her funeral.  I love that song.  I love thinking about leaving this world and flying away to heaven and unless Jesus comes back before I die that is exactly what I will do.  But is that my hope; flying away from here?

I've been challenged to abandon my desire for escapism.  What's been challenging me to do this is the Word of God.  The Bible is full of calls to live for God not leave to God.  Jesus prayed, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."  Jesus' desire was that Earth become like Heaven.


When I read the creation story in Genesis I see God making a first rate product.  Throughout the story He says His creation is good; and good is a big word for God because we read elsewhere that no one is good but God.  In fact, when God is finished making mankind He still says that all of creation is good.

One of God's desires now is to make all things new.  If I had a '65 Shelby Mustang that was beaten to death and I wanted to make it new I would not go and buy a new 2013 Mustang.  No, I would restore that '65 Mustang to what it looked like when it rolled off the assembly line in Michigan.  That is how God makes things new.  He is going to restore the Earth, at all costs, back to what it was like in Genesis chapter 1.  He will make it like new.

Now, knowing that God's desire is to restore the earth wouldn't it be a slap in His face to hold up a belief and a hope in leaving earth with absolutely no desire to come back?  Yes.  In fact in Revelation we see a multitude of saints who are excited to come back to earth with their victorious King Jesus.  Heaven will come down to earth in the last days.  "Now the dwelling of God is with men..." Revelation 21:3.  Note it doesn't say the dwelling place of man is with God.  God will come down to rule Earth.  Heaven and Earth will be one!

Right now Heaven and Earth aren't one but the process of melding the two has already begun and its beginning was at the cross.

In the Old Testament the Jewish understanding was that Heaven and Earth intersected at one point: the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  The Holy of Holies had the Ark in it and was separated from the rest of the Temple by a four foot thick curtain.  Once a year one priest went into the Holy of Holies.  When he went in he had a rope tied around his waist so that if he dropped over dead in God's presence the other priests could pull him out.  The Holy of Holies was the only intersection of Heaven and Earth in this theology.

Then came the cross.  While Jesus was on the cross an earthquake came and tore that four foot thick curtain in two from top to bottom.  Heaven had begun to burst into Earth.  More than that, Christians are now the Holy of Holies.  The Holy Spirit lives in us.  Paul says we are the Temple.  We are the intersection of Heaven and Earth.  Since we have the Holy of Holies in us we have a job to do.  We must be heavenly.  We must participate in Heaven bursting into Earth.  It will not be complete until King Jesus comes back to Earth, but we are heavily involved in God's plan now.

Heaven and Earth are becoming one now through the Holy Spirit living in us.  How awesome is that!  So, let's not spend the majority of our time wanting to get the hell out of here; rather let's spend our time getting the Heaven in here.

Pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."  Be heavenly today.

Monday, March 9, 2015

10 Reasons to Church Hop Forever

"Church hopping" or continuously "church shopping" is something that is quite common today.  I want to give you ten reasons to church hop forever, to never land in one local church body.

1) You'll become an expert on church services.  You could even start a website giving reviews and ratings for all the churches around you.  You could rate children's programs, musical worship and sermon quality.

2) You'll often be the center of attention.  Many churches are so warm and welcoming to newcomers, imagine getting a warm and over the top welcoming once a week forever.

3) You'll never have to be vulnerable.  If you're never vulnerable no one can hurt you and you'll never have to go through the terrifying and awkward experience of opening your soul up to another person that isn't in your family.

4) No one will ever expect you to tithe.  Think about what you could do with an extra 10% every check.  This would completely free you from the additional financial effort all of those suckers who faithfully give to their church have.

5) No one will notice if you miss a Sunday... or seven Sundays.  You could go your whole life without ever being accountable in church attendance or any other spiritual discipline.

6) You can attend a church without the burden of serving.  I mean, who wants to serve in the nursery or help on the finance team?  Not serving will give you so much free time.

7) No one will ask you to join a small group or Bible study.  Who needs another evening activity in their schedule?  Plus, in a small group you might have to contribute... yuck!

8) No church business meetings.  Need I say more?

9) Fewer people prying into your life wondering how they can pray for you?  Seriously, it's none of their business anyway.  Why would they want to know where you're hurting or struggling?  Do you think they really want to love you?

10) No expectations of spiritual growth.  You're probably very comfortable in your faith life, right?  Why push it then?  If you grew maybe things wouldn't be so comfortable anymore, maybe you'd feel convicted.  What a nasty feeling conviction is and growth usually is painful and no one needs pain.

So there you are, ten reasons to hop from church to church forever.

Obviously (if you know me I hope this is obvious), I wouldn't recommend a word of what I just wrote.  I feel it is incredibly important to be a part of a local church family.  If you are "church hopping" currently I have one question for you:  Do you have any intentions of landing at a local church?   Churches aren't for your entertainment.  Christians aren't meant to be church connoisseurs, we are meant to be members of a local church and members of the Church universal.

If you are church hopping now, I encourage you to land somewhere.  I guarantee you that you'll never find a perfect church, but I also guarantee you that you'll grow more as part of a church than apart from one.  Please become part of a local church today.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Before the Throne

This morning I had another great time at church.  We worshipped and were in the book of Daniel for the sermon.

This is the worship song that I responded to most this morning.

What did God teach you this morning or what worship song did you respond to most today?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Suffering, Secrets and Energy

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.  I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the Word of God in its fullness... the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but in now disclosed to the saints.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me."  Colossians 1:24-29

There are three things I want to point out from this passage.

1) Suffering is necessary for the advancement of the Gospel.

Don't believe that you will have success in completing the Great Commission without some degree of suffering, whether major or minor.  The servant is not greater than the master, if Christ suffered you will suffer.  Jesus said we will suffer, "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  John 16:33b.

Ask yourself, is the Gospel worth suffering for?

2)  There is no secret knowledge in Christianity.

Paul reiterates that the Word of God regarding the Gospel has been presented in its fulness, there is not secret knowledge.  God chose to make known to us the glorious riches of the hope of glory.  The church at Colosse was infected with Gnosticism, which said you needed secret knowledge to mature in the faith.  Paul said that was absolute bologna.  All wisdom was presented so we can be perfect (mature) in Christ.

3) We labor with Christ's energy.

"To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me."

We need to be humble if we are serving Christ and His Church.  It is not even with our own energy that we struggle for the cause.  We are so dependent on God that even when we serve Him we need Him.  This is a huge reminder that to serve the causes of the Kingdom is a privilege because Jesus doesn't need us.

We will suffer if we want to advance the Gospel, but rejoice in that suffering because we are part of God's winning plan.  We must not treat the Gospel or theology like it is secret knowledge to be hoarded.  We must not treat the message of the Gospel like something we understood and others can't.  The knowledge of the Gospel is accessible to all.  Finally, we must remember that we labor with Christ's energy.  Right now as I type this I am exhausted from working out.  This exhaustion reminds me that I have limited energy and power.  If I'm to accomplish something of eternal good I need limitless energy and power and that comes only from Christ.

Remember that the Gospel isn't a secret, be willing to suffer for its sake and labor with the energy of Christ today.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Believing Good News

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of you evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation..."  Colossians 1:21-22

This is such Good News.

I was once an enemy of God.  My behavior was against the ways of God and my mind was set against God.  Before the Gospel collided with my life I could not think about God correctly, my mind was perverted by the power of sin.  I was born into sin and set against God.

But now I've been reconciled to God through Christ.  I did nothing to repair the relationship, God came to me to right the relationship that He didn't wrong.  Jesus' physical body was tortured and crushed for me.  He was killed so that I can have a reconciled relationship with God.

I once was corrupted, stained and guilty.  I was unworthy to be near God.  I was guilty of rebellion against His throne and worthy of the penalty that follows such a rebellion.

But Christ has reconciled me to God.  He will present me holy in God's sight.  I will be holy in the eye of our perfect God's, not by the standard of a man with flaws.  I will be without blemish, not a spot of uncleanliness in my body or in my soul will exist.  I am free from accusation.  Satan is the accuser and tries to bring charges against me, and over and over I'm untouched by his accusations because of what Jesus has done.  I am free from accusation from Satan, other men or even myself.

This is Good News.

Now what?  This Gospel is so great, what do I need to do to earn it?

Nothing, just believe it.

"... if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel.  This is the Gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant."  Colossians 1:23

All the Good News written above is mine.  My only duty now is to trust that God was telling the truth when He announced the Good News, the peace terms, the reconciliation agreement.  There is no work that earns us salvation, absolutely none.  However, there are times when believing the Gospel can be work.  My mind was once totally perverted by sin and some times I sink back into that.  I doubt the goodness of God.  I have a hard time believing that He would do all that good for me without a payment plan.  If I were God it wouldn't work that way and I, at times, devalue God by thinking that He would act or reason like I do.

Christians, what God says about us is true.  He says we were unworthy of love, and that is true.  He also says He loves us beyond limit, and that is true.  We must believe that we were who we were, but we must also believe that we are who we are now in light of the Gospel.  Continue in your faith, don't be moved from this hope.  This hope is 100% bankable and true.  We are what God says we are.  We are reconciled, holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.  Hold on to that, don't be moved from that Good News.

Read the words of Scripture that describe your new identity and believe them today.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Plato and Jesus

The church at Colosse had several heresies that had taken root in it.  One of which is what I would call Platonic thinking.  You all remember Plato, not Play-Doh, from philosophy or history class.  Plato was a Greek philosopher that reasoned that what we perceive on Earth is not real and could not be perfect.  He theorized that what we saw on Earth was just a shadow of what he called "forms" in heaven.  You may remember his allegory of the cave that illustrated this.

I'm not writing this to school you on Plato and his philosophy, but you must understand that basic idea to understand what some of the people in Colosse where thinking.  They supposed that Jesus could not have been really physical or He could not really be God.  They thought that what was spirit was good and all matter was evil or at least less than good.  Now, everything that you and I see on Earth today is tainted by sin and less than good, but it did not start that way.  In the beginning God created all matter and it was good.

Paul wrote his letter to the church at Colosse in part to address this heresy.  Paul knew that Jesus was fully God and fully man.  Jesus was really a physical human being and Jesus really was/is perfect.  He was born of a woman and He is God who has always existed and will always exist.

Keep this heresy and Paul's attack on it in mind when you read this passage:

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all His fulness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross."  Colossians 1:15-20

You can see that Paul stresses that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, not a shadow of Him.  Jesus created ALL things, in heaven and on earth.  Jesus holds all things together.  All things were made by Him and for Him.  The people in Colosse that mixed Platonic thinking in with Christianity were wrong and Paul showed them that clearly.

Before we say, "Silly Colossians, how could you believe this?"  Let's take a look at ourselves.  Much of what we modern Christians have done in the last few centuries has brought us back to Platonic thinking mixed in with Christianity.  This is being combatted but how many of us long for heaven and forget that earth is being reconciled by Christ?  Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins, amen, but He did so much more than that.  The cross of Christ did pay the penalty for sin but it did more than that, too.  Colossians chapter one says that the cross of Christ was to "reconcile to Himself (God) all things whether things on earth or things in heaven."  Jesus redeemed all of creation on the cross.  Let's not forget that lest we take on Platonic thinking and lessen the victory accomplished on Calvary.

Jesus was fully man and fully God.  Jesus forgave your sins on the cross and He reconciled all things to God on the cross, once again everything will be good.  Think about the great victory that Jesus won on the cross and anticipate what a redeemed world will look like, today.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Desert People

Some passages are just too good not to share in their entirety in a blog post.

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:9-14

The church at Colosse was full of Jewish believers, it wasn't exclusively Jewish, but it did have a lot of people well versed in Jewish law and history.  This Jewish population had been there for about 200 years, since the reign of terror of Antiochus III and IV had driven them out of Palestine.  We can expect Paul's letter to the church at Colosse to have many Old Testament references and it does.

"For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves," Colossians 1:13

"So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey."  Exodus 3:8

"Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement.  I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God."  Exodus 6:6-7

"You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."  Romans 6:18

Paul clearly pointed to the Exodus and announced a New Exodus.  The Exodus of the nation of Israel is an amazing feat in and of itself, but it isn't in and of itself... it is a picture pointing to Christ.  Moses the king's son came down to Egypt to rescue Israel with mighty acts of faith.  Jesus the King's Son came down from heaven to rescue His people with mighty acts of faith.  The ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea have nothing on the Cross and resurrection of Jesus!

You and I have been redeemed from slavery.  We have been rescued from the dominion of darkness.  Amen!  God has done it.

But like the Israelites we are a desert people.  They were rescued from Egypt but didn't get the Promised Land immediately.  We have been rescued from the dominion of darkness but I am still waiting to fully see the kingdom of light, the kingdom of the Son.  This new kingdom is here, but not yet.  We wait in the desert, we are desert people.

We are desert people.  That's why Paul prayed for us to be strengthened with all power for great endurance, patience with joyful thankfulness.  When the Israelites were in the desert they grumbled and lost faith over and over.  I don't want to do that, but I do grumble.  I need to grumble less in the desert.  I have already been brought into the kingdom of the Son even though I wait to see it completely.  Therefore, I need to endure with patience and rejoice in thanksgiving to my Father who has qualified me to live in His Kingdom through His Son's death and resurrection.

Desert people, we have been rescued from evil tyranny and have been and are being brought into the New Kingdom.  Because of this I pray that you endure with patience and rejoice with thankfulness for what God has already done and will do for us, today.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

If You Only Knew

The book of Colossians was written in part to combat some errors that the church at Colosse had.  These errors ranged from relativism, to Platonic reasoning (things in heaven are good and all matter is evil), to angel worship and Gnosticism (believing you needed special, secret knowledge).  Paul wanted to keep the church at Colosse away from these false lines of reasoning.

No doubt people had left the church at Colosse and had begun to follow a bastardized version of Christianity or had abandoned the faith altogether.  They weren't leaving the Baptist church and going to the Lutheran church down the street, they were leaving Christianity.  This had to have hurt Paul's heart deeply.  In fact, you can see this in his letter in chapter one.

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding."  Colossians 1:9

Paul heard about the strife in Colosse and the heresies that had invaded the church and had torn people away from it.  He wrote that since he heard about it he prayed continuously for them.  Paul was torn up inside and went to God on behalf of the church at Colosse.

I find it interesting to read what Paul prayed for the people of the church at Colosse.  He prayed that God would fill them with knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Now, the Gnostics were all about knowledge, but Paul was not talking about secret knowledge.  The church had already been given all the knowledge they needed for salvation.  There is no secret knowledge needed to be a Christian.  4-year-olds playing with Play-Doh and 60-year-olds with a Ph.D. can both understand the Gospel and accept it.

So why did Paul ask that God give them knowledge?

The other night as we studied this passage in Bible study, my friend Kat made a great point and I'll paraphrase it.  Paul prayed that they would have knowledge because if they really had knowledge they would not leave the church.

See, many people in the church at Colosse were leaving the church and the Gospel for something different and "better".  Paul knew that if they only knew, really knew they would never leave.  If they only knew the Gospel they would never leave it.  Jesus said a similar thing when He gave the parable of the soils.  The one that hears and understands was the one that was saved.  We can't just hear the Gospel we must understand it.

To understand the Gospel you don't have to be a rocket scientist.  No, all intellect levels can understand the Gospel.  When we understand the Gospel, really understand it, we will be unshakeable.  When we understand all that the Gospel wins us, all that the Gospel saves us from, when we understand what we have we will never abandon it.

If I said to you, "All you have to do is stand on this street corner until I come back sometime today and I'll bring you $100 million."  You would stay there, right?  If you left it would mean that you didn't believe I was coming back or you didn't understand what I was saying.  Now, if I came back and saw that you left and then found you and asked, "Why did you leave?" you would say, "I didn't understand that you actually were coming back.  I thought it was a prank or scam."  You wouldn't leave the street corner because it got a little rainy. You wouldn't leave because your friend asked you to go to lunch.  No, getting a little wet is worth $100 million.  Missing lunch with a friend is worth $100 million.

Understand the Gospel, really understand it.  Look at the promises of Scripture.  Search through all of what the Gospel accomplishes for you.  Examine all that awaits you if you don't have the Gospel.  Do this because if you only knew you would hold fast to the Gospel.  Many things will help keep you faithful to the Gospel, but nothing will keep you more faithful to the Gospel than the Gospel itself.  Know the Gospel and stay faithful today.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Call Someone Out

I don't know about you, but I hate calling someone out when they've screwed up.  I often think to myself, "I can't believe they're doing that" or "Somebody needs to tell them they're night quite right", but I rarely want to say something to someone in person.  Online is a different story.  Online I need to pump the breaks.  I often want to correct some mistake or misunderstanding that someone has and I really shouldn't do that over Facebook.

In the book of Colossians the Apostle Paul had to combat some errors in the church at Colosse and I think Paul gives an incredible example of how to go about calling someone out.

I want to first say that the point of Colossians chapter 1 is not primarily to teach us how to call someone out.  There is some home-run, shout amen theology in this chapter, but I do think there is a principle, not THE principle, but a principle for how to call someone out on an error.

Paul did not start the church at Colosse and he may have never even met the people of that church.  Paul was alerted to some harmful errors that existed in the church and threatened to undermine the Gospel within the church and the entire community.  So, Paul began his letter very tactfully because this body of believers did not know him personally.

Paul started by announcing his authority in the church.  Paul was an Apostle and that office in the early church granted him authority to instruct and correct within the church at Colosse.  Paul wanted, in the first sentence of his letter, to let his readers know that he had the credentials to offer instruction and correction.

Notice, though, that Paul didn't begin his letter with corrections for his readers.  Paul pened a beautiful introduction full of grace, peace, thanksgiving and love.  He realized that if his instructions and corrections were going to be taken he must let the church know how much he loved them.

Paul said,
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father.  We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints... the faith and love that spring from hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the Gospel that has come to you."  Colossians 1:2-6a

And soon after that he said,
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding."  Colossians 1:9

Paul loved the church at Colosse and want them to know that.  He prayed fervently for the church at Colosse and wanted them to know that, too.  He knew that many in Colosse wouldn't care what Paul had to say if he started his letter with corrections.

When you call someone out do you first let them know that care for them?  Do you let them know that you are proud of the good they're doing?  Or do you just jump right in with a "You know what you're doing wrong is..."?

The old expression says people won't care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Many times this is true.  So, before you correct or criticize someone think about what they're doing right.  Before you offer constructive criticism, let them know how much you love them.

I'm a stubborn person who hates to be told I'm doing something sub-par or flat out wrong.  If you're addressing me you'll want to start with a kind word.  I'm guessing many of you are the same and I'm guessing some of the people that are irritating you or that are missing the mark in your eyes are like me, too.

Calling people out is important.  Calling people out can be loving.  Let's make sure when we call each other out we do it in a loving, gentle way.  So, before you send that critical e-mail to your co-worker think of his or her positives and start your message with a gentle, loving tone today.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Daniel's Strange Dreams

One thing that I love about my church is that it teaches the whole counsel of the Word.  Now, we don't teach through every word of the Bible every year, but Grace Baptist does not shy away from difficult parts of the Bible.  I hope you can say the same about your local church.

Currently we are going through the book of Daniel.  Most people have heard sermons on Daniel and the lions' den, the fiery furnace and the writing on the wall; but most people have not heard sermons on Daniel's dreams in chapters 7 through the end of the book.  We are currently going through those dreams and I'm enjoying learning from passages that I've often skipped when I read.

I invite you to listen to some of these sermons on the book of Daniel because I'm sure you'll be fed and inspired by them as well.

I hope you take time to listen to some of Daniel's strange dreams today.