Monday, March 19, 2012

I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6)

Where you sit makes a difference. 

At the reception, the wedding party has a special table of honor and they often are served first.  In a courtroom, the judge has his own chair, presiding over the proceedings, and people may only come near him if invited.  A kid would never think to walk into homeroom and take the teacher's seat as his own.  You just don't do that!  Even around our dinner table, everyone has their designated spot and Shirley and I occupy the two head seats, facing each other.  If one of the kids decided to "feel their oats" and take one of those seats, they would receive a stern look and probably a growl! 

While growing up I remember holiday feasts where there was never enough room around the main "adult" table for the kids to sit there too.  We children had our own place to eat, often an old card table dragged out of the closet and recruited for duty.  Usually, if we wanted food we had to wait for the adults to get their fill and then petition them to pass it from the main table.  It was very clear who was honored and important and who was not!  It was a memorable moment when one was invited to sit at the adult table.

Jesus once gave some sage advice to the religious leaders, telling them to take a less important seat when they were an invited guest at a feast.  They might then be invited by the host to sit in a more important place, which would be an honor, coming on the heels of their humility.  Even if that didn't happen, it would be far better to sit in a less important spot than to proudly park one's hindquarters in a more honored place, only to be asked later to go sit in the cheap seats!

In Ephesians chapter one verses 19-22, we see the honor bestowed on the Lord Jesus:

"These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His [God's] might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet..."

First of all, we need to realize that where Jesus is seated is not a's a throne.  It is a throne of grace for us but a throne of judgment for His enemies.

Second, we need to realize that Jesus' throne is above every other ruler (whether human, angelic or demonic).  Apart from the Father Himself, there is no higher throne.  Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and He is the Lord of hosts, the head of the entire angelic realm.  Therefore, what He says goes!

Third, we should note that all the other thrones of rulers...visible and invisible...are not even close to possessing the authority that the Lord Jesus has.  Jesus is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every other name!  No one is even a close second to Him.

And that brings us to today's Scripture:  "even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:5,6).

The implications of this revelation are staggering.  We, the Church, the body of Christ, share Christ's throne!  Christ's enemies have been put in subjection under His feet...the feet of the body of Christ!  The Lord Jesus, therefore, desires to exercise His supreme authority on earth through His people...His prayerful, humble, united people! 

Can you see maybe why the devil wants to keep us prayerless, proud, and divided?  Yeah, I thought maybe you would!

Maybe you can now see also why our enemy doesn't want us to know who we are in Christ and why he works so hard to accuse, belittle, and demean us.  He's scared of us!  So why should we be scared of him?

Let me make one final note about our position in Christ, which I think is really cool.  Look with me at verse 7: " that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

Did you catch that?  Okay, here's the Rich paraphrase:  God saved us, brought us out of spiritual death into life in union with Jesus, and raised us up to sit with Jesus on His throne so that when we actually do get to heaven, the Father can spend the rest of forever loving on us, and hugging on us since we'll be right next to Him!

Are you smiling?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I am God's co-worker (1 Corinthians 3:9)

When I was a kid, I know I didn't appreciate and I certainly didn't take advantage of the opportunities my Dad gave me to work in the yard with him.  In fact, I would typically do everything I could to avoid doing so.  Okay, I admit it, I was a lazy brat!

Funny how things change as you grow up...especially when you grow up spiritually and emotionally.  In my adult years I came to relish the chances to do yard work at my parents' old home in Pennsylvania.  No better way to spend a fall day!  While my Dad would ride around on the tractor mower, I would weave in and out and around the bushes and trees, doing the "trim" with the hand mower.  I'd cut back the bushes and hack off dead tree limbs while he'd watch and smile.  I'd find the outside work therapeutic and I know my Dad was glad for the help.  After the work was done, we'd both grin with satisfaction at what we'd accomplished, cherishing the chance to be together and work together.

Now I've got kids of my own who are almost grown up and pursuing their own careers.  One of my favorite things is to come up with some kind of work project around the house and get them to help.  And some times I think they actually enjoy long as it isn't too hard, and I give them plenty of notice so I don't totally wreck their Saturday plans, and it doesn't take all day, and ESPECIALLY if they get paid!  Personally, though the work needs to get done and there is satisfaction in hard work done well, the greatest enjoyment I get out of it is being with my kids.

Today's verse, I think, helps capture the Father heart of God.  It says, "For we are God's fellow workers (or co-workers); you are God's field, God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:9).  In 2 Corinthians 6:1 there is the parallel thought as Paul wrote, "And working together with Him..."

The first thing we need to understand from these verses is Who is in charge!  God is.  We are co-workers with Him, but He's the boss. 

That old bumper sticker "God is my co-pilot" has it all wrong.  We need to get this straight:  God isn't interested in being anybody's co-pilot.  He's in the driver's seat and therefore any co-working with Him that is going to be of any value needs to be His work done His way by His strength in His time and for His glory.

Second, let's not be under any delusion.  God could do what He wants done much faster and easier and without screw-ups if He did it all by Himself.  Right?  I think of all the times in ministry where I have messed up so badly and yet for some reason God keeps on giving me more to do.  Why is that?

I think it's because like a good Father, God knows that we need to be involved in work that is significant. And by co-laboring with Him, He knows we will grow up and become more like Jesus and we will...deep very happy and satisfied.    God, I believe, gets tremendous satisfaction in watching us grow, and He is happy when we are happy for the right reasons.

Third, I firmly believe that it brings God immense delight to hang out with us and accomplish things together with us.  Beyond making sure the work is done, beyond the growth that takes place in our lives through the work, God loves us and the nature of love is to be with the one that is loved.

And maybe that's the most amazing thing of all...that the God who really doesn't need anything or anyone, wants to be and chooses to be with us.  And I don't think He'd have it any other way.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

God has not called us to freedom and relationship with Him just so we can dance around gleefully, enjoying our freedom by ourselves.  Freedom is meant to be a chain reaction...God breaks your chains so He can use you to set others free as well!

Think about this for a moment:  Even before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the Lord already knew His plan to bring (soon to be) fallen mankind back into relationship with Himself.  This was not a hastily contrived strategy, but a plan born in the heart of God from all eternity.  The Son of God would come to earth, live, suffer, die, rise again and ascend back into heaven. 

Then the risky part of the plan would be launched with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  What was the risk?  That God would entrust the spreading of the good news of freedom and reconciliation to His people...weak, fallible, vulnerable you and me.  Would His risky plan succeed?  I bet the angels were biting their fingernails.  Do angels have fingernails?

Today's Scripture reads:

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself  through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

I love this passage of Scripture, in part because the Lord used it mightily in my life early in my ministry. 

I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ's high school ministry right out of college.  Even though I was 22 years old and at least four years older than the high school seniors, I was still intimidated by them...especially the "leaders."  Since I was looked down on by my peers while in high school (which was before I came to Christ), the moment I walked back on the high school campus where I was seeking to minister, I reverted back to my old way of thinking.

Nobody wants to talk with me.  These students don't respect me.  They won't listen to me.  They will laugh at me. 

Me, me, me.  It was all about "me" as I was wrapped up in my own fears.  The enemy was definitely using my past against me.  And he was winning!

Then one day my director...who was older and more confident in the Lord and in himself...went with me to a high school basketball game.  I watched him as he reached out as a friend to the students.  They responded to his warmth and friendliness and pretty soon he was engaged in meaningful conversations with some of the student leaders.  I was amazed!

Later on he reminded me that God had called me to that school and that I was His ambassador.  I had every right to be there as His messenger of reconciliation and that I could hold my head high and be bold for Christ because the King of kings had sent me there.

The truth powerfully set me free and I stopped viewing myself as I used to be and started viewing myself as I now was.

So who are we?  We are new creations in Christ.  The old you and me are history.  The new you and me have come and look out world...we have been commissioned by the Most High God to spread His good news to a needy human race!  God is saying, "My Son died for you so that you can be forgiven!  I will not count your sins against you anymore if you just put your faith in My Son!"  God is reaching out, even begging people to come into relationship with Himself...and He wants to use you and me to do it!

Through Christ's becoming literally "sin" for us, we have now become the very righteousness of God in Him.

What an honor.  What a privilege.  What a responsibility.  What a high, high calling it is to be an ambassador.  And what higher calling than to be an ambassador of heaven sent to planet earth...and that is what you are!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I am a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16)

Have you ever been to one of those "fun houses" at an amusement park?  It has been decades since I've been to one, but I can still remember laughing at myself.  The mirrors made my body look like a string been or a pumpkin or a pear or something else distorted.  Though it was fun, it was always a relief to look in a normal mirror and see how I really looked.

After those innocent elementary school years had passed, and adolescence arrived, I had more serious problems with mirrors.  I really didn't like myself at all...especially how I looked.  I was tall and extremely skinny.  I had nasty looking acne sores.  I was ashamed to smile after I was bashed in the mouth by a baseball bat as a kid, chipping one tooth and killing another, leaving it an incurable yellow color.

I tried everything I could to change my appearance.  I laid under a sun lamp to try and improve my skin condition.  I lifted weights and ate everything in sight.  I shaved off the soles of my shoes and slouched a bit to try and appear shorter.  I even prayed I would shrink!

It all seems pretty silly now, but at that time I was extremely insecure and didn't know the Lord. 

After I came to Christ, I realized that God wasn't going to shrink me.  That wasn't the solution to my problem.  What I needed to do was come to realize that I was fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and that He loved me just the way I was.

But the death blow to my poor self image came when it dawned on me that God has bestowed the greatest dignity possible on this (now) bagging, sagging and dragging physical body by making it His temple!

Today's verse, 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NIV) says, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"

How can any believer in Christ still view his or her own body with disgust knowing that God lives there...that God moved in of His own free will...and that He will never leave (see Hebrews 13:5)!

Maybe your body would never make the cover of Vogue or GQ;  that's okay, Jesus' wouldn't have either (check out Isaiah 53:2).  But, in Christ, you need to know that you are precious in God's eyes and the presence of God in your body beautifies it beyond human comprehension!

So the next time you look in the mirror, know that what is looking back at you is the house, the home, the temple of the living God.  And God is delighted to live there.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I am a personal, Spirit-empowered witness of Christ's (Acts 1:8)

The senior pastor of my church has the true heart of a soul-winner, which is really refreshing.  A couple weeks ago at church he taught all of us to make a gospel bracelet (with different colored beads that provide prompts for sharing the gospel) during his sermon!  It was fun.  The idea was that each person attending the worship service would get a bracelet to wear, then, during the sermon, he or she would put together one bracelet for the church's mission to Peru and one to use here at home in sharing our faith.  I think the church attendees made around 500 bracelets for Peru!

I was excited to use the bracelet and so I wore it with a short-sleeved shirt on while flying out to California for one of our CFM University Practicums. 

Eagerly awaiting who would sit next to me on the plane, I saw a young lady...probably in her 20s or 30s...ambling down the aisle.  She had a funky hat and bright-colored scarf on, and she was carrying a tote bag that had a whole bunch of tiny skull-and-crossbones designs on it.  I said to myself, "She has got to be the one!"

She was.

She hoisted her bag into the overhead compartment and plunked down in the middle seat (I was by the window).  I noticed she was carrying two or three books, one of which looked like a Bible.

It was.  The other book was Crazy Love by Francis Chan. 

Almost immediately she commented on my bracelet, saying how pretty it was.

"It's a bracelet that helps me explain to people how they can know Jesus as their Savior," I replied.

She nodded and asked me what the different colored beads meant.  I was able to clearly explain to her the way of salvation by using the bracelet...just what our pastor had meant for us to do.  I was excited!

"It's really amazing that I am sitting next to you," she remarked.

"Oh really?  What makes that so amazing?" I responded, knowing the Lord was continuing to open the door to be a witness to her.

"Well, I have really struggled for a while with forgiving myself..."

Amazing it was.  As we flew west toward California, I was able to explain to her all about God's forgiveness and why, through His forgiveness of us we had the right and responsibility to let ourselves off the hook, too.  It turns out she was a follower of Christ but was stuck in this place of unbelief and unforgiveness.  I suggested she get Victory Over the Darkness and The Bondage Breaker and she said she would. 

I also explained to her that her sitting next to me was no coincidence.  My original flight from Asheville to Atlanta had been delayed, so I was put on another flight in order to catch my connection to Salt Lake City.  But the flight that I ended up on was delayed, too, so I missed my connection anyway.  They told me that I would have about a 9-10 hour layover at the airport in Atlanta and then would fly direct to San Diego.  I decided to go up to a Delta information desk and the lady was able to put me on an earlier flight to San Diego, with only a five-hour layover in Atlanta. She told me there were two seats I could choose from on that Atlanta-San Diego flight.  One was a middle seat and the other was by the window.  Guess which one I took?

Talk about a divine appointment!  And this is just one of a number of these kind of "chance" meetings that I have had on the plane and in a restaurant over the past couple of weeks.

What a privilege it is to be led by the Spirit to those who need to know Christ as Savior, Lord and Life!  Jesus said, just before His ascension, "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

I am convinced that people around us are far more eager to hear the good news than we are to tell it.  Let's allow God's Spirit to empower us that we might become His bold, enthusiastic witnesses of the grace of God in Christ.  Jesus promised to empower us and we never know what exciting things He will do when we just open our mouths to speak.  Personally, I can't wait until heaven when we'll get to hear all the amazing stories of what God did when His people took the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit!  Let's fulfill our calling as personal, Spirit-empowered witnesses of Christ!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I have been chosen and appointed by God to bear fruit (John 15:16)

I was in the middle of a two-week Practicum for my graduate degree in Christian counseling when the Lord decided to powerfully intervene in my life.

The presenter was encouraging us to ask the Lord to show us our "old name."  He was referring to any label that had been slapped onto our soul...maybe early in life...that had continued to dog our steps and keep us back from experiencing the full realization of our new identity in Christ.

I thought about people whom I had counseled and how they had been labeled as "ugly" or "stupid" or "can't do anything right" or "wish you had never been born" or...  Though I was very aware of the rejection that I had suffered as an adolescent, I wasn't sure what my "old name" might be.  So I prayed about it.

Several days later, it came to me.  My "old name" was outcast.  Boy, that really hit the nail on the head.  That's exactly how I felt for years.  I felt like nobody liked me; that I didn't belong; that people didn't want me around.  And so I retreated into my own world.  It felt safe there, I guess, but it wasn't fun.  And, at the core, I was pretty lonely.  Sadly, though I had some casual friends, my closest friend was my dog.  If I wanted anyone to hang out with, I had to call them up.  Rarely, if ever, did anyone choose to spend time with me unless I asked them.

After figuring out our "old name", the presenter then encouraged us to ask the Lord for our "new name."  He wasn't telling us to try and get a sneak peek at our new name written on the white stone in the book of Revelation.  He was suggesting we ask the Lord for a revelation of our new identity in Christ. 

What might my "new name" be?  The thought really intrigued me.

After some time, the Lord crystallized my thinking and told me my "new name" was chosen friend.

Today's Scripture in context (the words of Jesus) provide the biblical basis for that new name:

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you."  (John 15:15,16 ESV)

There it is!  Chosen friend.  All of God's children...including you...are God's chosen friends!  But it was particularly meaningful for me to hear that since I had been (and seen myself) as an outcast for so long.  The Lord even gave me a partial paraphrase of John 15:16, in light of how I always had to be the one to call people up to spend time with them or I would be alone.  God said:

Rich, you did not call me up but I called you up!

Wow!  Thank You, Lord!  You took the initiative with me to be my friend.  You didn't have to choose me, but You did! 

And what was God's purpose in choosing you and me?  So that we would bear fruit...kingdom results... through answered prayer.  What a privilege! 

God took an outcast and called him His chosen friend so that my life could count for His see people rescued from the domain of darkness, brought into the kingdom of Jesus, and set free to walk in fruitful newness of life!

And that's what He has done for you as Christ!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I am a branch of the true vine, Jesus, a channel of His life. (John 15:1-5)

I painfully remember the day in college when the Lord first began to bring the wonderful truth of Jesus being the Vine and I being a branch home to my heart.  I was a senior at Penn State University.  I called it "State Penn" in those days and was later paroled after four years with a degree in meteorology.

I was an "on-fire" Christian by my senior year, having first placed my trust in Jesus as Savior in the fall of 1972, my freshman year.  Subsequent to that decision, I came face to face with my need to repent of running my own life, and by God's grace, I came to surrender to Him as Lord in the summer after my sophomore year.  That was a powerful work of God, but that's another story for another day.

By the time my senior year rolled around, I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ; had been trained in how to share my faith; and was on a roll, zealously and relentlessly moving through my entire dorm floor (72 students), bound and determined to share Christ with everyone on that floor before I graduated.  It got to the point where I would walk down the hall, people would see me coming and they'd run in their rooms and lock their doors.  Undaunted, I would find another time to catch them off guard and share the gospel with them before they had the chance to escape!  I didn't take the time to get to know most of the guys...I didn't think I had the time.  I was just eager to check another person off my list and get the goal accomplished.

Somewhere along the line, the initially godly desire to evangelize my entire dorm floor evolved into the subtly ungodly goal of simply reaching my objective.  It became much more about me and what I wanted as opposed to God and what He wanted.

One day I was listening to a set of tapes on John 15 by the late Ron Dunn, and the Lord convicted my heart.  I realized that I had trusted Christ as Savior, was trying to submit to Him as Lord, but I had not come to see Christ as my Life. 

I believe that is a journey that all of us in Christ must walk...coming to know Christ not just as Savior; not even just as Savior and Lord; but as Savior, Lord and Life.

Some, by the amazing grace of God, come quite rapidly to all three.  Others spend decades in Christ before they move beyond the basic place of salvation and progress to surrendering to Christ as Lord.  Many...perhaps most...never come to embrace Him as Life.

Shortly before His death, our Lord wanted His disciples to make sure they knew where life came from.  He wanted them to know that the Christian life isn't "trying to imitate Jesus".  Good luck!  Give it a try for a while, if you think that is possible to do in your own strength.  You'll soon grind to a halt in frustration, guilt and weariness.  It is a futile endeavor, because the only One who has ever lived the Christ-life is Christ Himself!

What does the branch need to do in order to receive the strength and nourishment it requires to be vibrant, filled with fruit?  It needs to abide, to remain, to stay connected and yielded to the vine.  It is a place of trusting, not trying; resting not striving. 

At that moment listening to those teaching tapes, broken and reproved for my fleshly attempts at obeying God's commands, I chose to take my place as a branch trusting in Jesus, the Vine, as my Life.  I made the conscious decision to allow His love, His wisdom, His power, His direction, His Life to flow in and through me, becoming a channel of His life rather than simply an outflow of my own fleshly humanity.  It was a decision that completely altered the course of my ministry.

And it can alter the course of yours as well.

If what I have been writing is going over your head or maybe you're trying to wrap your mind and heart around it and it just isn't clicking, I encourage you to take the words of Jesus in John 15 and pray about them.  Think about them, asking the Holy Spirit to make real what our Lord was teaching:

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."  (John 15:4,5)

Sadly, it is very possible to go through life thinking that we are doing what God wants and even seeing "results" but not bearing any fruit to God's glory at all.  Jesus meant it when He said that apart from Him we can do nothing.  He didn't mean that you can't get up in the morning, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to work or school, do your work, come home, have dinner, spend time with the family, watch TV and go to bed without Him.  People do that all the time.

What Jesus meant is that apart from Him you can do nothing that constitutes fruit that remains to the glory of God.  Apart from the strength, power, motivation and love of Christ, it will just be wood, hay and stubble to be burned up at the final judgment (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).  But the works that we do while abiding in Christ are gold, silver and precious stones that will be eternal.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to see much or even most of my life go up in smoke when my works are judged by the King.  How about you?

Won't you make the choice today to abide in Christ, allowing to be your all, your very life?

By the way, you may be wondering if I ever accomplished my goal.  Nope.  The Lord wouldn't allow it.  I reached 71 out of 72.  But I know He orchestrated another way...a better way than my fleshly reach that final one!

No, I didn't reach my goal, but I was able to reach God's learn that I am a branch of the true vine, Jesus, a channel of His life.