Maturity In Christ 6-12-18

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I have always found it curiously odd how children look toward adulthood impatiently, while many adults longingly long for the days of childhood. A legal definition of adulthood is a person who by virtue of attaining a certain age, generally eighteen, is regarded in the eyes of the law as being able to manage his or her own affairs. In most cases, an adult is no longer under the care of a guardian.

At the end of the third chapter of Galatians Paul calls believers to a mature faith. Such maturity is not found in returning or turning to a religiosity of mere rule following, but in the true gospel of freedom. In Galatians 3:23-25 we are told that before Jesus the law “was our guardian,” protecting us and preparing us for the good news of the true gospel of freedom. Now in Christ, we have everything we need. In Christ, the law is our mirror now, not our master. It helps us to clean our faces, our consciences. The law does not condemn us. In Christ, we have been set free.

Paul writes: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal 3:26). In Christ, believers have been adopted into a freedom that allows us to live in relationship with Him and others as full heirs of God. Our adoption brings blessings today as well as into the never-ending future (see: Gal 3:23-25). In fact, we have been redeemed into Sonship. Redeem is a word that comes right out of the slave market. To be redeemed is to have been purchased into freedom. Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, sought us and paid the price in full on the cross.

We have not only been redeemed but also adopted as God’s son. Paul explains: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal 4:6-7). First, Paul uses an Aramaic word “Abba” to communicate two aspects of our relationship with God. The term “Abba” can be translated “Daddy” or Papa” showing the intimacy we have with God through Jesus Christ. Second, the term has been found in ancient legal documents in the process of sons claiming an inheritance from their departed father. “Abba” describes the open access we have been given into the heart of God.

Paul throughout Galatians ties Sonship with being an heir. Some might be quick to interpret son as child or son and daughters, and certainly, this would be appropriate in the sense that Paul means that all people are given the opportunity to be adopted as God’s child. However, Paul uses the term “son,” because in ancient times heirs were mostly male, so the term “son” became somewhat synonymous with “heir.” He wants us to understand that we have been fully adopted by God in Christ and made full heirs. Christ redeemed us from the curse of sin; in Him, we are adopted as God’s child, and as God’s son we are joint heirs with Jesus. The simple truth is that God will honor all believers as He has honored His one and only Son.

You can tell Paul’s deep concern for the Galatian believers when he reprimands them by basically expressing as their spiritual parent, “I taught you better.” He is addressing their exchange of freedom for slavery by turning from the true gospel of freedom and accepting the counterfeit gospel of law and works (see: Gal 4:9b-11). He even uses a well-known story from Judaism to make a point in refuting the Judaizers who are preaching the counterfeit gospel. He speaks of Abraham, Abraham’s two sons, and Abraham’s son’s two moms to declare that we are like Isaac who miraculously was brought into a forever family (see: Gal 4:21-31). Paul exclaims, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal 4:28).

Paul’s encouragement to believers to mature in the faith is expressed at the end of chapter four with a challenge. Since we have been redeemed, no longer identified as a slave, but as a free son, live like it. The gospel of freedom provides a new identity and we ought to live under that new identity. We are no longer a slave to sin we are a child of God.

We have been offered so much in Christ. We have been set free! Yet, it is so easy to live like we are still slaves. Let’s encourage one another to mature in our faith and live the life of freedom, fullness, and faithfulness we have been so graciously granted in Christ.

The True Gospel 6-4-18

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The late Muhammad Ali in a Reader’s Digest interview once commented: “One day we’re all going to die, and God is going to judge us [our] good deeds and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell, if the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven.” There is little doubt that Ali is one of the greatest boxers ever to live, but his theology is sketchy.

In Galatians chapter three Paul writes about the gospel of freedom. He realizes that the Judaizers were teaching a counterfeit gospel that added to Christ the law (works). Paul is deeply concerned about the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers because the Judaizers were trying to make the Gentile’s also Jewish. In essence, this counterfeit gospel was teaching that Jesus is good, but to be truly accepted by God you must also follow Old Testament ceremonial law and be circumcised. Paul’s frustration with this falsity is clearly revealed in his statement in Galatians chapter five: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves” (Gal 5:12). The problem is that the Judaizers were following the poor leadership of the Pharisees whom Jesus described: “Everything they do is for show” (Matt 23:5a). Therefore, Paul reminds everyone of the true gospel.

In the first few verses of chapter three of Galatians Paul confronts those believers who were trying to make it through life on their own strength as well as falling into the trap of people-pleasing. Now don’t get me wrong it is not wrong to please people, but people-pleasing is when one compromises what they know to be right to be accepted by others. In the Galatian church, people were exchanging the true gospel of peace (salvation by grace) for a counterfeit gospel (salvation by works). The Judaizers were saying you are saved through Christ and works, but the true gospel is God’s promise of salvation delivered in Christ alone, by faith alone. In fact, the very Spirit of God is given to those who come to God by faith.

Paul uses Abraham as an example of saving faith. He is the perfect example for many reasons, but especially since he is the earthly father of the Jewish people and the recipient of the Abrahamic Promise. If Abraham is made acceptable to God by works the Judaizers are right, but if he was made acceptable through faith alone the true gospel Paul has shared is proven true for both Jew and Gentile (all people). In other words, Paul shows that salvation has always been by faith. Paul explains: “I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ” (Gal 3:5). He continues: “The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God” (Gal 3:7). Then he concludes: “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith” (Gal 3:9). The Spirit is given to all believers, like Abraham, through faith. In Genesis, we discover that God promised Abraham that, “in Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (see: Gen 12:1-3).  This promise is not confined to an immediate, single family or a single nation, but all the families of the earth. This promise is fulfilled in Christ through whom all believers are made true sons and daughters of God (see: Gen 15). Jesus has redeemed us so all (Jew and Gentile) can receive the promise of salvation through Christ (Gal 3:13-14). Jesus is all we need. Jesus allows the promise made to Abraham, way back in Genesis, to be fulfilled (Gal 3:15-16). We are free from the bondage of sin as well as the chains of religion, which would make us work to receive the promise (Gal 3:21-22).

Now back to Ali’s statement. He was right one day all of us will stand before God and give an account of our lives, but Jesus is the difference maker. Paradise is not a matter of good works or some cosmically divine scale of good and bad deeds. Eternity with God is based solely on faith in Christ. Those who chose Christ, who receive His offer of eternal life, are true sons and daughters of God and those who don’t are not. The true gospel of peace is that we are saved by faith alone, and it is this grace of God that allows us to find salvation, and it is this same grace that allows us to continue in faith as those who are saved.

We have much to celebrate as true sons and daughters of God. I am so grateful to enjoy God’s promise to Abraham with each of you. Out of deep appreciation, we get to love God and make Him known.

Chaining An Elephant 5-29-18

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Many of us have heard the story of how they train elephants in the circus. While they are still small, they tie a strong rope around their necks and secure it to a sturdy pole. The baby elephants naturally pull and tug trying to escape with no success. They do this over and over again until they finally give in to fear and the reality of being shackled. That is why you can walk by a fully-grown gigantic circus elephant and find them standing passively with a rope tied around their neck that isn’t attached to anything at all. The elephant becomes so accustomed to being held back by the rope, that merely the rope itself and fear keep the animal in check. If only they knew their true power. If only they realized that by the time they have grown up, even a rope “secured” to a pole could no longer contain them. Then they would experience true freedom.

There is a big difference between being set free and living free. The true gospel came from Christ apart from any man-made laws. That is not to say that that the gospel does not set some demands on us. We discover in the book of James: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). This is not to say that anyone’s good works save, but that good works follow genuine faith. The gospel is free but sets a trajectory for our lives. Salvation brings freedom, but being free is not that same as experiencing freedom.  We like a circus elephant can be snared by fear and ignorant of our power, living shackled lives, when in Christ we have been set free.

In the second chapter of Galatians, we discover that Paul is upset when he finds that Peter, who knows better, is adding to the true gospel. Paul notes: “But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Gal 2:11-12). Peter was preaching the true gospel of freedom while living as one under the law and he did so out of fear. Paul cares too much for Peter and the church to allow this to continue (Gal 2:4-14).

We discover that the gospel of freedom demands unity. Peter and others were not eating with Gentile (ethnically not Jewish) believers, because it was against Jewish cultural law. The true gospel of freedom demands unity among believers, and this unity cannot allow exclusivity. What Peter was doing was racist. When the gospel enters the picture, there are no “other” people, just people. Its like remodeling shows today. It seems the goal of almost any project is an open concept. They tear down walls to provide open living space that flows from room-to-room. Paul is doing the same thing. He is seeing people come to Christ and then enter separate rooms (Jews and Gentiles). Paul takes the gospel like a sledgehammer and begins knocking down the walls that separate God’s family. Paul will later write: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

There is another thing the gospel demands. The gospel demands sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made pure; changed to become more and more like Christ. Paul explains: Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law” (Gal 2:16). The sanctified life, experiencing freedom, does not occur by mere willpower, but by continuing to live by faith in Christ. Paul declares: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20). Paul shares that he failed at trying to experience freedom and sanctification through works. That does not mean we do whatever we want, but that we grow more and more like Jesus as we love Jesus and allow Him to empower us to live for Him. The true gospel of freedom does not come from anything we have done, but through placing our faith in the finished work of Christ. Experiencing freedom does not come by our self-willed power, but through the continuing work of Christ in us, as we continue to place our faith in Him. Christ died and rose so that we can be set free and experience freedom.

As we do life together, let’s encourage one another to live free. Let’s not allow ourselves to give in to life as it was before Christ. Let’s not give into fear. Let’s continue to live by faith in Christ empowered by Him to experience unity and sanctification. Now that’s freedom.

Institutional Syndrome 5-21-18

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Those familiar with the prison system will tell you that one of the challenges those who have served time face once released, especially those who have served a long sentence, is learning how not to live in prison. The term used to describe this is institutional syndrome. The problem is that they have been set free, but don’t know how to live free.

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to believers who had the same problem. They had been set free by Christ, but did not know how to live free. In fact, they were going back to a form of bondage instead of living in freedom. They turned from the true gospel to a counterfeit gospel. The true gospel proclaims that salvation is found in Christ alone. This counterfeit gospel was teaching that salvation is found in Christ plus something else. They had entered into salvation in Christ by grace but mistakenly believed their continued acceptance by God was found in Christ by grace and works. The true gospel of grace is not only the way to enter the kingdom of God, but is also the way to live in His kingdom.

Paul uses very strong language to express his concern: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6). The word “deserting,” used here by Paul, was used of traitors. He is literally calling them traitors to the gospel. Paul warns them, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9b). The group preaching this counterfeit gospel is known as Judaizers. They were teaching that Jesus was crucial to getting you saved, of course, but faith in Him alone is not enough to allow you to be fully accepted by God. After you come to Christ, they taught, you would have to adopt the full range of ceremonial and cultural Jewish customs.

Paul begins in Galatians chapters one and will continue into chapter two to share his own story of coming to Christ and call by God to share the true gospel. Paul wants the reader to understand that he was indeed saved, received the true gospel and was called to share it with Jews and Gentiles alike. Gentiles are people who are not ethnically Jewish. He uses his testimony to illustrate that the true gospel is evidenced by transformed lives. He writes of his radical transformation: “‘they only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (Gal 1:23-24). Believers celebrated that this man (Paul) who once persecuted the church had been saved by Christ and was now proclaiming the true gospel.

Pastor and author Tim Keller describes the gospel as: “the message that we are more wicked than we ever dared to believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared to hope.” The true gospel brings freedom. The true gospel is about a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The true gospel empowers us to break the shackles of religious legalism. Legalism is a way of living that obeys certain rules in the belief that keeping their requirements will earn some form of blessing. Paul had once been shackled by religious legalism but had been enabled by Christ to walk the road of freedom and desired for the Galatian believers to experience the same.

It is a privilege to partner with each of you as we partner with Christ.  Together let’s embrace the true gospel and encourage one another to not fall prey to the many counterfeits that would lead us astray. I celebrate that we have found freedom in Christ. Let us continue to walk in that freedom.

On Loving Family 5-14-18

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When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). Who is our neighbor? When Jesus answered this question, he shared a story we call The Good Samaritan (see: Luke 10:25-37). The answer is that everyone is our neighbor. Now, all of us know that relationships can be messy. There are people who are simply difficult to love. There are people who think so differently, whose worldview is so dissimilar from ours that it is a challenge to love as a neighbor. However, I believe some of the hardest people to love like Christ are those in our family. The old adage rings true: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” What am I getting at? Well, if everyone is our neighbor and we are to love our neighbors, then we need to love our family with Christ-centered neighborly love.

No family is perfect, even Jesus’ family. As you know, Jesus’ birth was not without controversy. Mary, while a virgin (Lk 1:34) is miraculously pregnant. Joseph considers breaking off their marriage, but due to divine intervention decides to take her as his wife. We presume Joseph died prematurely (Joseph apparently did not accompany Mary to the wedding in Cana, and after the crucifixion, Mary went to live at the home of the un-named Beloved Disciple, which she probably wouldn’t have done if her husband had still been alive.) Jesus was the older brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas as well as of at least to sisters (Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). When Jesus left home to begin His ministry, other members of His family appear to have disapproved (Mk 3:21). We don’t know the reasoning, but on one occasion Jesus refused to talk to His mother and brothers when they tracked Him down and tried to see Him (Matt 12:46-50). For some time in Jesus’ ministry, His brothers did not believe Him (John 7:5). However, eventually, Jesus’ mother Mary and His brothers join the early church after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14). The oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers was named James. He became a very important leader in the early church and is the named as the author of the New Testament book of James. Another brother of Jesus, called Jude, is the named author of the New Testament book of Jude. Think about it. God sends His Son into the world and places Him in the midst of a family with issues. Why? For one thing…every family from one degree to another has issues. However, in spite of this truth believers are called to love their family neighbors.

Through the story, The Good Samaritan, we not only discover that everyone is our neighbor and we are to love them, but also that the Samaritan was able to love because he felt empathy, had compassion, and showed mercy, in part, because he saw a man hurting and was in need. The Samaritan was able to relate to being in need and fulfilled The Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12). The truth is that as we love God with everything and continue to walk with the Lord in faith, the Spirit of God makes us more like Christ enabling and empowering us to love all neighbors, even family neighbors. Perhaps, then, the real focus is not on loving everyone, including family members, to honor God. But, first, we are to fall deeper in our love for God.  In doing so, we position ourselves to receive His unlimited resources for us. Then we can actually love all others. It appears we need to give up on mere willpower and trust in God’s power at work in and through us.

As part of God’s family let us encourage one another to seek God and His kingdom first, then allow Him to love others through us (see: Matt 6:33). Love all others, especially family, might be challenging, but the one who gave all for all of us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is more than capable of leading and empowering us to show neighborly love to all people.

When Loving People Is Hard 5-7-18

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There is no doubt that God calls us to love all people. Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan makes it crystal clear that we are to love our neighbor and everyone is our neighbor (Lk 10:29-37). The dilemma is that some are easier to love than others. We are not just to like those like us, but those different from us. When I speak of those different from us, I am really speaking of everyone since no two of us are exactly alike.

The simple truth is that God has created each of us unique. He is the potter, and we are the clay. Some of us have blue eyes and others brown. Some of us are right-handed, and others left. Some are gifted at one thing and others another. People hold different political views and even religious views. However, we were all made by God and made on purpose. The Psalmist declared:  “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psa 139:13-14). God has also redeemed people on purpose and for a purpose. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus: “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph 2:10).  There is no doubt that the more significant the difference between ourselves and others the more difficult it can be for us to treat them like a neighbor as Christ has taught us to do.

The good news is that we discover three principles from the life of Christ that empowers us to love different neighbors. First, loving others takes empathy. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Jesus has empathy for people (Heb 4:14-16). As Jesus empathizes with us, we ought to empathize with one another. We can love different neighbors, because we can relate to them, and all others, at the place of our brokenness. We can follow Christ’s example and be empathetic and love them.

Second, loving different neighbors takes mercy. Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Jesus showed mercy to others (Jn 8:4-11). On one occasion Jesus is confronted with an adulterer, and He has the power to punish her, but He chose mercy. Jesus speaks the truth to her: “From now on sin no more,” but he spoke these words with love, “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus had the power to punish but chose to lovingly show mercy. As Jesus shows mercy, we ought to show mercy. We can love different neighbors without compromising the Bible. We can show mercy and stand for truth. But, we can’t claim to love like Christ loves and not show mercy.

Lastly, loving different neighbors takes compassion. Compassion is good-hearted commiseration and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. Matthew records in his gospel: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Jesus had been traveling throughout numerous cities and villages and proclaimed the gospel and healed the sick. He had seen the failure of leaders in their responsibilities to care for those in need. They were in essence, leaderless. Jesus had compassion and in the next verses challenges us to do the same. We can love different neighbors when we allow the Spirit to fill us with Christ-like compassion.

I really wish I could say I am always good at loving people different than me. I am not, but I have discovered that as I grow in Christ and partner with Him, He has filled me with empathy, mercy, and compassion for others. I am not as consistently filled, as I ought, by more than I ever have been and I am growing. I desire to know God and make Him known. I desire to be more like Jesus. I want to love like Jesus.  In all honesty, loving different people takes Jesus. Partnering with Him so He can fill us with His empathy, His mercy, His compassion – His love for others.

It is a true honor to do life with each of you. As we grow in our walk with God, we will grow in our love for others.

Responding in Love 4-30-18

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In approximately AD 65 Peter wrote his letter 1 Peter to the early church that was growing in spite of the rising persecution they were experiencing under the Roman Empire. Peter is encouraging believers that God is in control and that suffering for the sake of Jesus is noble and good. He teaches that life can be hard, but God is always good while reminding them that for the believer a much better day awaits them in paradise.

In the second chapter Peter writes:

“When Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:23-25).

It is hard not to long for retaliation in the face of unjust criticism or suffering. However, Jesus returned insult with meekness as a lamb (see: Isa 53:7). How was he able to do so? Christ’s humble response was the result of continued entrusting of Himself as well as those who mistreated Him entirely to God. He knew that God is good and just and would work everything out in the end.

Peter wants believers to understand that we can indeed follow Christ’s example. When we have faith in God and believe that He judges rightly, we can forgive others and entrust the outcome to Him. The simple truth is that every bad deed will either be covered by the blood of Christ or repaid justly by God.

Peter draws our attention to the unique, substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Jesus and our healing. Healing in the atonement (Christ’s death bringing redemption and reconciliation with God) does not in this context refer to physical healing, but to the forgiveness of sins. Peter wants believers to understand that Jesus’ death should lead to a profound change in their lives. In Christ, in all circumstances we can sever all ties to the sin that entangles us and live lives devoted to Christ in a holy manner, living in righteousness. As Isaiah proclaimed:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6).

This redemptive work of Christ has allowed us to return to the Lord and walk under His compassionate care, sound wisdom, and unlimited power.

In short, we can follow Christ’s example because in His example lies the sacrifice that brought us salvation and the power to be sanctified, where we cooperate with God having Him execute in us the ongoing transformation of greater Christlikeness. We can love others and respond lovingly, not by our mere willpower, but by the freedom, fullness, and faithfulness found in Christ.

Life can be hard, but God is always good. Let us continue to be encouraged by the example of Christ. As we journey together let us encourage one another in the truth that through the finished work of Christ on the cross we can follow His example of trust in the Lord and expression of humble love to even those who make it difficult for us to do so.

Who Is My Neighbor? 4-23-18

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When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). This command leads us to ask a couple of foundational questions: Who are my neighbors? And, How am I to love him? As we explore God’s Word together, we discover that God desires to fill us with His love, so that, we can be a conduit of His love to all others.

There is an encounter with Christ that occurred about six months before His death and resurrection with a lawyer that helps us answer these questions. The account is found in the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The lawyer wants to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers the question with a question. Basically, Jesus asks, “What do you think?” The lawyer answers correctly by answering, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27). However, a problem arises when the lawyer desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor” (Lk 10:29)?

Although the lawyer knew the Old Testament Law, he had yet to discover that no one can keep this commandment without God’s love in his heart. The lawyer had given a good answer, but he would not apply it personally. The lawyer ought to have answered, “How can I do this? I am unable and need help.” However, he did not admit his own lack of love for both God and others. The result, instead of being justified by submitting to God and seeking His mercy (see: Luke 18:9-14), he tried to justify himself. We find the lawyer embarrassed. He had asked a question he had already known the answer to, so he asks another one. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Jews in Jesus’ day split hairs over this question by excluding anyone who was not a Jew (i.e., Gentiles and Samaritans) from their neighbor list. The lawyer believed he had presented himself a loophole. This thought of his was a fatal move in the debate. Jesus is about to share a story that will answer the lawyer’s evasive question. Any debater knows the trick of asking, “Define your terms!” “Who exactly is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is direct and crystal clear.

The story Jesus shares has become known as The Story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-35). Jesus starts the parable out by introducing “a man” (Lk 10:30). Jesus doesn’t give away the identity of the man. We don’t know his tribe, race, social status, or language. We apparently don’t need to know any of that! Jesus left all that information out. Just “a man” that’s all we know. It could have been anybody who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. To be honest, if we begin asking about the man’s background and all of that, we start ruining the whole story. Jesus wants to leave the subject right there. All we know is that this man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Jesus fixed it so that all we have to deal with is the man’s suffering. We don’t know how well educated he was or how poor he was. We don’t know what family he came from or what side of town he lived on. Barely breathing, bloody, and near death, the “man” was left to die.

We discover that a Levite and a Rabbi, the religious elite, walk by and offer no help. They simply make excuses and continue on their journey. Then, we discover:  “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Lk 10:33). By using a Samaritan as the hero, Jesus disarmed the lawyer. It was Jewish religious professionals, experts of the Law, who had ignored this man. It was a Samaritan who demonstrated love by helping him.

We often look at “neighbors” as people who are much like we are; we have mutual acceptance and respect, affinity. Jesus turns this thought on its ear. He broadens the common understanding of neighbor. He describes love for God as measured by love for others, including those not considered like us or even likable. In short, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question: everyone is our neighbor.

God calls us to love Him and our neighbors (everyone else). As we believe in Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit, then love with our Lord’s love and seek to see people rescued as we have been rescued. Let us encourage one another to this end.

The Second Coming 4-16-18

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I read an account recently involving President Dwight Eisenhower. He was vacationing in Denver, Colorado and read in the local paper about a six-year-old boy, named Paul, living in the area that had a life-threatening illness. In the article, it was noted that he desired to meet the president of the United States. Spontaneously, in a gracious gesture, he decided to answer the boy’s request. Unannounced Eisenhower arrived at the boy’s house. The boy’s father, Dale Haley, answered the door. Can you imagine being the one to open the door and see standing there the president? For some time the whole neighborhood excitedly talked about this remarkable visit. However, one remembered the meeting with personal regret. Dale, the boy’s father, was still beating himself up on being dressed in old worn-out clothes and unshaven. Of course, the president had shown up unannounced, so Dale was unprepared.

Over three hundred times the New Testament addresses another unexpected arrival. Not of a U.S. President, but of the King of Kings and Lord of the universe. Of course, we are speaking of the return of Christ – His second coming. The good news is that although Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected, we can be prepared. The simple truth is that much of what has been written in the New Testament was written to prepare people for His return. John encourages Christ-followers to “abide in Christ, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (1 Jn 2:28).

In our preparation, we need to be cautious not to become obsessed with the second coming and fall into speculative theology. However, we must not avoid the reality of Christ return. We ought to stay focused on the essentials that all Christians, in all places, at all times, have believed about the return of Christ. It is essential to keep the main thing the main thing by knowing God and making Him known.

The nature of Christ’s return is clearly laid out in Scripture. Christ’s return will be personal (Mt 16:27; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 4:16). Christ’s return will be visible. Having disappeared from sight at His ascension, He will reappear at His return (1 Tim 6:14; 1 Jn 3:3). Christ’s return will be glorious and powerful (Mt 24:30-31). Christ came as a humble servant; He will return as triumphant King. Christ’s return is certain to happen, but uncertain when it will happen (Mt 24-25).

The purpose of Christ’s return is clearly laid out in Scripture. Christ will be acknowledged as Lord and King (Rev 1:7; Ps 2:12; Is 40:5; Tit 2:13). The church of Christ will be glorified and transformed (2 Thess 1:10; Col 3:1 Col 3:3). Christ will judge the living and the dead (Jn 5:22, 27; Mt 25:31-33). The second coming is the coming of the Righteous Judge. Christ will make all things new (Rom 8:18-25; 1 Cor 15:35-53; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1).

In light of all we understand biblically about the return of Christ a question rises to the surface: How do we prepare for Christ’s coming? Whenever Christ or the apostles taught on the second coming, they did so to answer the question of how we ought to live today. Our anticipation of Christ’s return encourages us to pursue holiness and godliness (1 Jn 3:3; Heb 10:24-25). Our anticipation of Christ’s return moves us to faithful service (Mt 24:45-25:30). Our anticipation of Christ’s return shapes our understanding and engagement in the mission of the church (Mt 28:18-20). Our anticipation of Christ’s return inspires us to endure hardship patiently. This inspiration is in view as James writes to fellow believers undergoing great persecution, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:7-8). Anticipating Christ’s return fills us with joyful confidence (Tit 2:13; 1 Jn 2:28). We discover in Scripture that eager anticipation of the return of Christ is a mark of vital Christianity (Phil 3:20; tit 2:13; Jude 21). Stephen Seamands suggest that the reason many believers today do not anticipate the return of Christ is that, “We just don’t miss Him enough, long to be with Him enough or desire enough that He be with us.” He declares in response, “we need to repent and pray, imploring Jesus to forgive us and to increase our love-passion for Him.”

Although the time of Christ’s coming is unknown to us, we know He is coming. We don’t need to be unprepared. As we know Him and make Him known we live prepared lives ready and waiting for His return.

It is an honor to serve Christ with each of you. I hope all of us can pray, “Come Lord Jesus.” Together let’s anticipate and prepare for Christ’s return. Let us encourage one another to “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

Christ Exalted 4-10-18

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A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, once wrote, “Christ ascended to the right hand of God that He might lift us up into an ascension life.” The New Testament Writers believed the ascension of Christ was extremely important and wrote and preached of it often. It is fascinating that the Old Testament verse quoted or alluded to in the New Testament more than any other is a verse directly related to it. “TheLord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Psa 110:1). This verse is referred to in the New Testament a total of twenty-three times.

We read the account of Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:6-11. We are told: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). However, the implications of Christ’s ascension are much broader than this account. First and Foremost, the New Testament writers wanted us to understand that Christ had not only been raised from the dead (quite remarkable in and of itself), but He has also been exalted to God’s right hand and enthroned as King. Here is the point as Stephen Seamands explains it: “For Jesus is not only risen but reigning, not only alive but sovereign, not only central but supreme.” Therefore, when we fail to exalt Christ as reigning King, something or someone else inevitably assumes the throne.

Not only has Christ been exalted, but also Christ followers have been raised to new life in Him. We read over and over again in the New Testament that those who have professed faith in Christ and confessed Jesus as Lord, are joined to Christ. The Apostle Paul repeatedly declared, now they are “in Christ.” Meaning that the major movements in Christ’s life are now movements we are now caught up in too. This truth leads us to the second reason why the New Testament writers kept coming back to Psalm 110:1. They understood that not only was Jesus raised as exalted King but since believers are now joined to Him, they too were destined and invited to sit with Him on the throne. In the revelation given to John we read: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).  The tragic reality is that many Christians do not realize this, never learning to live in Christ from the seated-on-the-throne position that has been granted them in Christ. Now there is no doubt that believers can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” But, the simple truth is, if we are going to be any earthly good we must be heavenly minded.

Again look at Luke’s words: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). We are to understand the cloud as reminiscent of the cloud that descended upon the tabernacle constructed by Moses and the people in the wilderness (Ex 40:34) and the temple built by Solomon (1 Kings 8:10-11). With the cloud came the glory or manifest presence of God. To enter it was to be in the immediate presence of the Lord. Christ ascending into heaven means that Christ was brought back to the place of the fullness of God’s presence. When He became incarnate, the eternal Son voluntarily laid that aside (Phil 2:5-11) and limited Himself to and awareness and experience of God’s presence through human faculties and consciousness. The ascension means that the period of self-limitation had come to an end.

The fact that Christ ascended into heaven also means that Jesus is no longer limited by time and space, as He was during His earthly life when He could only be in one place at one time. N.T. Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same spatial continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creation. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the One who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. One of the practical realities of this is that Jesus is fully accessible, without needing to travel to a particular spot on earth to find Him. Jesus is always with us in actual presence. As Stephen Seamonds explains: “because we are with Him in heaven and He is with us on earth, that means we can live every moment of our lives in the holy of holies presence of God. This reality led St. Patrick to pray: “Christ be with me, within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” Because Christ is in heaven and no longer on earth, He can bring redemption to all places at all times. Since Jesus is “the one who ascended,” He can “fill the entire universe with Himself.” This truth led Paul to proclaim: “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10)

Not only has Christ been exalted and His followers raised to new life in Him, but also believers have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. The ascended Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33). Through the Spirit, both in our personal lives and as communities of faith, we are given power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8), to carry out Christ’s mission (Jn 20:21-22), to live victoriously over sin (Rom 8:9; Gal 5:16-25), to overcome weakness (Rom 8:26), to forgive our enemies (Acts 7:55-60), to now we are God’s beloved (Rom 1:7; 8:15-16) to be bold ad courageous (Acts 4:8-13, 29-31), to use our spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4-11), to exercise spiritual authority in Christ (Acts 16:18), to persevere in prayer (Eph 6:18), to patiently endure trials and suffering.

All of this is why A. B. Simpson proclaimed: “Christ ascended to the right hand of God that He might lift us into an ascension life. Let’s encourage one another to rightly acknowledge and live in this precious reality. It is a joy to do life with each of you and be united together with Christ in such a significant way.