God of Our Own Understanding

lightstock_294429_xsmall_user_1188538Several times this week I’ve been confronted by others perspectives on God.  At an AA meeting, celebrating a friend’s sobriety, I heard testimony from others about how they trusted in God – “as they understood Him.”  A best-selling book has become a movie and will most likely make millions – but yet it portrays God in a way that is different from the Bible.   A popular “Christian” artist caused a firestorm on Twitter by discrediting the Orthodox teaching of Jesus’ substitutionary death for us on the cross.

Is any of this a big deal?  Social media has seen a slew of reprisal posts calling for people to “calm down” with all this doctrine and just love each other, after all people…we aren’t supposed to be theologians, are we?  That’s just for seminarians, Pastors, and other egg-heads, right? [No…that picture is not me…]  Well…yes, we are…because anytime we open our mouth (out loud or online) about God, we are theologians.  So it is sort of a big deal- because like it or not, we are all theologians.  The question remains will we be good theologians or bad ones?

The way to be a good theologian is to seek to know God where he reveals himself and teaches us about himself – in His Word, the Bible.  We must therefore conform our thoughts about God to be aligned with what’s in the Bible, not of our own understanding. Here…don’t believe me – look what the Bible says…

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

(1 Corinthians 2:12–13 ESV)

Two applications come from consideration of this passage.

  1. The Holy Spirit brings understanding.  Our eyes have to be opened by God to understand spiritual things.  Jesus is the one who “utters the words of God and gives the Spirit without measure.” [John 3:34] so we receive the Holy Spirit through hearing the Word of God proclaimed about Jesus…the gospel.  After conversion, we continue to seek deeper growth and understanding through the Holy Spirit causing us to understand God’s word.
  2. Theology informs our lives – we live out what we believe.  Humans are interpreters.  We all have a worldview, a perspective that we filter life through.  What we believe about God is HUGE, it colors all of our interpretations about life, so we must be all the more diligent to ensure it is accurate, as compared to who God claims to be in the Bible.   Otherwise…we can drift away into strange and dangerous teachings. [See more from Hebrews 2:1; 2 Tim 4:4, etc.]

 

Adoption, the Gospel, and Fairness

Nearly 2 years ago I received a call from my wife that I had received many times before. She told me that DYFS called and they want to place a foster child in our home.  We’ve said ‘yes’ to 7 children previously, but this one seemed different.  4 month old baby boy.  Undernourished.  Almost definite we could adopt if we wanted to – truth be told, we had been hoping we’d find a child we could adopt someday. We said yes immediately.

As I drove home from work that day, I was anticipating a cute, cuddly baby boy.  When I walked in the door and saw him, I was shocked.  Sticks for legs and arms, oversized head, sunken eyeballs.  I was angry…I was trying to not be self-righteously angry.  “How could anyone starve a child in this day and age?”

Baby S quickly started to thrive, mostly because of my wife’s status as a SuperMom.  We started our journey with him – as he started to grow and change.  His smiles, his laughs, his first crawling (more like Army crawling/sliding/dragging), first standing up, first walking, first foods…first words. His obsession with balloons and YouTube Kids. The “not-so-fun” stuff like poop filled diapers, a seemingly constant need for schedule modifications and baby sitters, the countless nights of interrupted sleep, screaming, dinners with friends cut short by projectile vomiting, an awesome case of coxsackie virus on vacation…and the introduction of the full blown 2-year old fit when you do not draw the letter “S” to his exact requirements, or “dit” (sit) when and where he’d like you to. In all that he became our son.  A part of our family.  He had a brother and a sister, grandparents, pets…and an extended family at church that adored him.

img_0028Now, 2 years later we held each other as the DYFS van came back, this time to take him away and reunite him with his birth parents. I snapped this picture standing with the van door open in the awkward, and seeming 45 minutes (in reality probably 2 minutes) it took the driver to strap S into his carseat, while Mel and I cried our eyes out. I didn’t know what else to do, I felt stupid for just standing there. The “impossible” had happened, and it seemed to happen fast.  The trajectory turned quickly from adoption, to him being removed from us and reunited with the situation that put him with us in the first place. Shock.  Pain.  Loss of words. Anger. Disbelief. Fear of the future. Then today…just numbness and grief.  I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

The thing that comes to mind most often is “this isn’t fair.”  And that would be correct – but it points to a greater truth.  This world isn’t fair.  It’s broken.  It’s chock full of unfairness.  It’s that way because of sin.  We were all created to be in perfect relationship with our good and perfect Heavenly Father, but we chose to reject him – and in so doing fractured the perfection of this world and opened the door for sin, pain, hurt, sickness, unfairness to charge in and take over.

But there is a greater reality that sin hasn’t taken over completely – because it can’t.  Our loving Heavenly Father knew that we would reject him, and despite the stupidity of our choice, he had a plan that he enacted at the perfect time to reconcile us, forgive us, heal us, and conquer sin and unfairness, forever.

Today, we receive this thru repentance and faith.  We turn (repent) from our choice to reject God, and believe (faith) in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to he sent to absorb his full wrath for our sinful choice on the cross.  He then was resurrected from the dead to prove that the sacrifice was accepted and also to allow us to be united with him in new life.  We live this new life here on earth by his power, and one day he will return to permanently banish sin, sickness, unfairness, and death.

While human relationships will always be flawed and full of sin, and occasional unfairness – thru Jesus our relationship with God can be one of perfect grace, healing, hope, and fairness.

While we won’t always know why things happen, we do know that God is always good and always fair, most profoundly because of what he demonstrated to us in the cross of Jesus.  Fairness in treating sin the way it needs to be treated, and overwhelming grace to give us something far above we could ever earn.

So in that, we press forward.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

(Romans 8:32 ESV)

 

 

Walking in Thankfulness

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“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

(Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)

Paul is writing to the church, Christians, reminding them of the gospel and encouraging them.  As you are Christians – then WALK in Him.  Biblically speaking, to “walk” is to “live.”  So then, as Schaeffer said – How then shall we live?

First way is “rooted and built up in Him.” This means to be a Christian, our hope, our lives, our purpose, our mission is centered around Jesus.  We are to be “rooted” in Jesus, like a tree’s roots go deep into the soil, so the roots of our lives should go deep into Jesus getting our nourishment from him.

This world tempts us to sink our roots into other soil – We must be careful to see what sold our roots are actually in.

That brings us to the second way – we are to walk “established in the faith”.  We are to live as those who are confirmed, sustained, strong in the faith.  Note we also see that this is “just as we were taught.”  It’s the faith that we were taught. We learn this in His word, the Bible.

These two things, living rooted and built up in him; walking established in the faith as you were taught – should then result in something. 

So what’s the result?  Thankfulness.  Not mere thankfulness – overflowing, abundant thankfulness.  This is something that is ours to do, ours to recognize.

We can live in abundant thankfulness because of what Christ has done in our lives.

We were dead in sin, unable to save ourselves, alienated from God, objects of His wrath, broken and needing healing and we can’t fix ourselves. God in his mercy and grace, gave us Jesus.   We then live transformed lives and we then abound in thanksgiving.

This gospel-based thanksgiving can transcend circumstances because it’s based on what Christ has done.  This Thanksgiving, let’s abound in thankfulness for what Jesus has done.

How Firm a Foundation

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My iPhone, as reliable and critical to my life as it is, does have its quirks. For example, every once in a while it apparently downloads and plays random music from my collection. On this morning’s ride to the office, I had originally planned on catching up on my sermon listening, but apparently I didn’t download any (Hey…it IS a Monday…)…so music it was. A few minutes into the drive, the song “How Firm a Foundation” (Enfield version of course, although the original was written in 1787) came on to my surprise. Surprise because it wasn’t on there yesterday. When I hear this song, I think something like “What a great song about the faithfulness of God’s word.”  Yes…but this time the lyrics hit me like a wrecking ball, especially those after verse 1 – here – check out from verse 2 on:

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

I never realized the extent of how it is not US holding onto God..but how God strengthens, helps, upholds, sanctifies…US.  How he will not let us be deserted to our foes, and he will never forsake US.  He keeps, guards, protects and holds his children fast.  Even in our deep waters he has a purpose, he is purifying us (consuming the dross) and refining us to make us more into his beautiful image.

The more we think it’s up to us – the more anxiety and stress builds.  The more we think there is no way out other than sinning, the less we depend on God.  This hymn is a great reminder that God calls us to himself, saves us through his son Jesus, and sustains us in his mighty power for the work he calls us to.

It reminds me of Isaiah 41:10, which I’ll leave you with:

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Isaiah 41:10 ESV)

 

 

 

 

The Massive Importance of His Sacrifice

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The bottom line is that what today traditionally represents, the sacrifice of Jesus, is massively important.

Everything hinges on who Jesus is and what he came to do.  There is much confusion – some say Jesus was a good teacher, a kind man, even a “perfect man” – and the usual answer to the question of what he came to do was “die on the cross for our sins.”  Why did he have to do that?

I’m thinking of (at least) our reasons why this day is massively important:

 

  1. Jesus’ sacrifice saved me from God.  Ephesians 2 tells us that we were all at one time, objects of God’s wrath because of sin.  God is justifiably angry with us because of our willful rejection of Him.  The amazing thing is that God makes the first move to reconcile us to Him by Jesus. We were saved from God by God.  As Propaganda says, “let that one bake your noodle.”
  2. Jesus’ sacrifice satisfies all of God’s wrath for my sin.  Jesus’ sinless life and sacrifice in my place, satisfies ALL of the wrath of God against me – IF I have understood this by faith and live a life of worship and submission to God.  That’s a big IF…because until you turn from your sin and to Jesus, your sins are not forgiven.  As John 3:36 says, “His wrath is still on you…”
  3. Jesus sacrifice took my sin AND my shame.  With sin comes shame, sometimes huge shame, guilt, grief, pain. Isaiah 53 says that the Messiah will bear it all.  Jesus is both fully man and fully God, therefore he understands all of the hurt and he bore it on the cross, and has the power to atone for it.
  4. Jesus sacrifice paves the way for life.  Without His sacrifice, there is no payment for sin, if there is no payment for sin, then there is no way to be forgiven.  But God just doesn’t merely forgive our sin – he takes our sin and in exchange gives us new life.  As Christ rose from the dead, we too – by faith – obtain a new life.  This is tremendous HOPE that goes beyond any seemingly hopeless situation – nothing can take that new life away.

Maybe this is the season when you make the most important decision you can ever make, one with eternal significance.  Turn from your sin and embrace what God has already done in Jesus by His sacrifice.  If you have already done so then dwell.  Consider.  Soak in the depth of this amazing, loving plan of God.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1–4 ESV)

What Did Jesus Come To Do?

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If someone asked you to tell them in one word “What did Jesus come to do?” what would you say?

 Maybe “die on the cross” or “help people”?
 I want to read 1 verse from Luke 4:18 which may help answer this question.  To set the scene a little, this is Jesus himself speaking publicly probably for one of the first times in the synagogue on the Sabbath…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,”
(Luke 4:18 ESV)
Do you see any common ideas in this passage?  Liberty – literally a ‘release from captivity’ or a ‘release from a punishment or guilt’
I would suggest that this passage is telling us that the one word we could use to answer the question of what did Jesus come to do is “freedom.”   Jesus came for freedom.
The undeniable fact is that since the Fall, since sin entered the world, everything here is under the curse of sin. We are totally unable to fix the situation by our own power, and are only trapped in it. Trapped.  Prisoners.  Captives.  In need of being released – whether we realize it or not it’s true. Christmas is a great time, usually a happy time with family and presents – but for some it highlights the brokenness of this world – family drama happens a lot around Christmas, conflicts, hatred, bitterness, sins against family. Maybe you have been sinned against by your family and friends and being forced to be with them on Christmas just makes you more aware of that.
Will it ever be fixed? Can we just encourage you — all along, it has been God’s plan to provide freedom in the Messiah – the one who came on a mission to be the payment that is required to purchase our freedom.   You see, this verse, even though it’s in the gospel of Luke, it is really Jesus himself quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah – who hundreds of years earlier wrote about the Annointed One, the Messiah, the Christ will come for freedom. Jesus himself makes a bold claim and says “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled…”  meaning – “Hello…I am Him — – The Messiah.”  Talk about your controversial statements – the crowd was so angry after hearing him say this, that the Bible tells us they literally wanted to throw him off of the nearest cliff. (Luke 4:28-29)
The message that we celebrate at Christmas is the message that the long foretold Messiah has come to bring us freedom from sin, guilt and shame and live the abundant life he created us to by finding our true joy and purpose in our Creator – God.   You can be free this Christmas, and wouldn’t that be the greatest gift ever?

Remembering 9/11

9-11-Tribute-In-Light-MemorialGod does not cause evil, sinful men do evil as an act of rebellion against their Creator.  Yet, God is not helpless and unaware of the evil men do, he is sovereign over it…using it for the billions of reasons that we will never understand because we are not Him – yet we may catch a glimpse of a reason every now and then.

Twelve years ago, God used an astounding act of evil to spin my head around, get my eyes off of myself, and return to my Creator.  He used 9/11 in my life as a giant wake up call, that my life without Him at the center is ultimately empty.

God is also the God of all comfort.  And so, while today I’m very thankful for God using 9/11, I’m very aware that there will always be people who still mourn the loss of loved ones.  We remember them, hug them, pray for them.  We encourage them that the only true comfort is not found in this world, where I was searching for it in my pre-9/11 self-centered fog – it is in a person – Jesus Christ, who came on the ultimate rescue mission to provide a way for a rebellious people to be reconciled to their Creator, by his selfless act of taking our punishment on the cross.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

(Mark 10:45 ESV)