Thursday, September 29, 2011

I can find grace and mercy to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Boy do I need help.  And so do you!  If the truth be told, every moment in our lives is a time of need, because apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5).  The "secret" is coming to the realization that we need Jesus every minute of every day.  Ah, but that is another study for another day.

Today's Scripture in context reads:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

I don't know about you, but I am sure glad Jesus became human and took on flesh and blood just like us (Hebrews 2:14).  I realize that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit know everything.  But there is just something comforting, I guess, in realizing that Jesus really knows because He lived as a human on a fallen planet among sinful men, just like we do.  Like us, Jesus was tempted.  Unlike us, Jesus never sinned.  Therefore, He always knows the path of victory over temptation, and we can discover it, too, at the throne of grace.

Recently my emotions have been all over the map:  anger; joy; satisfaction; exasperation; anxiety; triumph; aggravation; peacefulness; name it...I have been there.  Now, you may not have experienced all these emotions in as compact a time frame as I have, but over the course of your life you have experienced them all.

So did Jesus.  Jesus felt very strong emotions, but He never sinned.  He never let the emotions rule His spirit and thus rob Him of faith in the Father.  So Jesus can sympathize, because He has been there.

Our strong emotions are not necessarily sinful, but when we experience strong emotions (especially hard ones), we are perhaps most vulnerable TO sin.  We can easily cave into fear...or succumb to sinful desires...or wallow in self pity....or erupt in destructive anger...or...

Jesus indeed sympathizes with our infirmities (weaknesses) but He never sympathizes with our iniquities (sinful patterns from the faulty wiring in our souls).  True, "hurt people hurt people", but that is not the way it is meant to be.  Being hurt ourselves does not give us a license to hurt others.  Being sinned against does not grant us Divine permission to sin back.  Two "wrongs" never make a "right."  Two wrongs make two wrongs.

There is a place where we can go to avoid sin and defeat temptation.  It is the throne of grace.  We can go there confidently because Jesus, our great high priest, has already gone before us, bringing the necessary sacrifice on our behalf.  The sacrifice was Himself.

Run to the throne of grace today.  Pour out and pray out all that is on your plate and all that is on your heart.  Come with humility to receive grace, because God promises to give grace to the humble (James 4:6).  And you will find the help you need.

So don't waste a moment trying to figure out how to make life work by yourself, seeking to solve your problems on your own.  You were never meant to do that and you can't anyway.  But Jesus can.

The throne room door is open 24/7.  The Lord is there on the throne of grace, waiting and eager to show you the way out of temptation and into victory, to give you the grace and mercy you need in this time of need.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7)

I have to admit, this Scripture is one of my all-time favorites in the Bible.  I have used it hundreds of times in teaching and probably quoted it a million times (slight exaggeration!) to the devil when he tried to stop me by fear and intimidation.  I'm sure Timothy found great strength through these words as well.

I know that Timothy, Paul's son in the faith, tends to get a lot of bad press from Christians about being timid and fearful, as if he was some sort of sniveling wimp.  But hey, let's give the guy some credit!  He pastored a church in Ephesus, which was like the spiritual warfare and pagan worship capital of the world (just check out Acts 19, if you don't believe me).  He stuck like glue to Paul and the apostle said of Timothy, "For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.  But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father" (Philippians 2:20-22).  And despite the horrors of the persecution under Nero, Timothy didn't bail.  He finished the course well.

I don't know about you, but I think I might have needed a little encouragement now and then if I had been in Timothy's sandals, ministering in such a hostile culture!  And so the apostle Paul, like the loving spiritual father he was, encouraged his son to continue ministering with the spiritual gifts he had been given with these strengthening words:

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [or fear], but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline [or sound judgement or self control]."

Think about fear for a moment.  What does it do to you?  Well, first of all, fear robs us of power.  It makes us weak and we think ourselves helpless and are ready to run or we are paralyzed to do anything.  Fear also cuts off the flow of love.  Love is other-centered, but fear is self-centered.  Fearful people have no emotional energy to love; they are too consumed with survival and self-protection.  Finally, fear steals away our clear thinking (sound judgment) so that we are uncertain, anxious, confused or panicky.

But God hasn't given us that kind of spirit at all.  So when fear tries to take over, we know that it is not from God.  We can stand against that spirit of fear (and I do believe it is an actual spirit, because the Bible says it is!) and claim instead the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God the Father, and the sound mind of Christ to sustain us.  Yes!  I believe the entire Trinity...God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit... come fully to our rescue so that we can walk by faith and not by fear, even in the face of danger.

Have you been overwhelmed by fear?  Have you ceased to walk by faith and instead caved in to fear in some area(s) of life?  Feelings of fear are not sinful, but when we give in to that fear and no longer walk by faith, we commit sin, because whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

So, to begin your journey out of fear into faith, first confess and repent of giving in to fear.  Second, ask God to fill you with His Spirit of power, love and a sound mind.  Third, when fear-feelings strike, stand against them in the name of Jesus proclaiming something like, "I refuse this fear, for God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and a sound mind!"  And fourth, continue to walk by faith knowing God...God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit... is with you.

Then you will be able to joyfully shout like King David, "I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

As you may recall, we are taking a blog-journey along a pathway that is leading us into a deeper understanding of our new identity in Christ and with it, increased freedom.  The first leg of our journey took us into truths about our acceptance in Christ.  We are now more than halfway through the portion of our trip that is grounding us in our security in Christ.  And soon we will embark on our travels to grasp our significance in Christ.

Each Scripture provides another stepping stone in this journey of moving us closer to the heart of God for us in Christ Jesus.  If you have just recently joined us on this journey, welcome!  I encourage you to go back down the path and catch up with past blogs.  Don't worry; we'll wait up for you!

In our last blog, we investigated the truth that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  We talked about heaven being our destiny and that it is normal and healthy to be homesick for heaven!

Today's Scripture, however, adds to our understanding of our true homeland and we see that heaven is not only our destiny but our current reality!

Now, I know what you're thinking.  "Rich has finally gone off the deep end.  He's now so heavenly minded that he's lost his earthly mind!"  Well, that would actually not be so bad a thing, as you'll see in a moment, but let's first look at today's Bible verse in context.  And may the Holy Spirit illumine our hearts so that we can understand how today's truth applies to us as I sit here at my computer writing this week's blog and you sit at yours watching it...with my feet and yours firmly planted on earth!

"Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him."  (Colossians 3:1-4)

Now, there's a lot of really important stuff tucked in there, but let me try and sum it up.  Looking at Romans 6:1-11 will help.  Those verses tell us that when Jesus died on the cross, the old sin-loving you and me died there with Him.  And when He was buried, that old self was buried with Him.  And when He rose from the dead, we rose with Him into newness of life in Christ.  Well, in case you hadn't noticed, Jesus isn't living (in bodily form) on planet earth anymore.  He is in heaven and since we are part of His body...Jesus being the Head of the body...when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, we went with Him!

So not only is our future destiny in heaven, but according to Scripture, our current reality is in Christ!  God has us sheltered from all the junk the world, our own flesh and the devil himself can fling at us while we are temporarily residing on this planet.  Who we are, our spirits/souls are so safe...hidden with Christ in God...that nothing can ever separate us from God's love.  Nothing can ever take us away from Christ.  Nothing can ever yank us out of Christ.  We are alive and safe in God's arms in Christ.

Do I fully understand this great truth?  Absolutely not.  Do I believe it is true?  Absolutely!  Do I always live in accordance with it?  I wish!

You see, if we truly saw ourselves as present and not just future residents in heaven, it would dramatically affect the way we live, because Christ Himself is our life.  We would think more about the things of God.  We would set our hearts and our affections on the things of God.  We would live more like God.  Let's read on in Colossians 3:5-10 (and you can also get the same idea in summary form by also reading Romans 6:11-14):

"So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience.  You too lived your lives in this way at one time, when you used to live among them.  But now, put off all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it."

You and I are new people...heaven-people!  The old earth-man is dead; the new heaven-man is alive, safe and secure with God in Christ.  Let's keep that old man and its ways buried and let's see the new man radiate with the life and goodness and holiness of God while we walk out the rest of our days here on earth.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)

Every once in a while people will ask me what my ethnic heritage is.  I'm sure you have laid awake at night wishing you knew...!  Well, toss and turn no more.  I am, according to the flesh, half German and the other half some mixture of English, Scotch and Irish...heavy on the Scotch (the drink, that is).  All that European lineage has, over a number of generations, swirled together to form what everyone around the world would recognize me to American, or as they enjoyed calling me in Georgia, a Yankee (which is a somewhat suspect breed of American who happens to hail from "up Nawth")!

There's no question about that.  I look like an American, talk like an American, dress like an American, eat like an American, and so least on the surface, at first glance.  But underneath there lies something fuller, deeper, richer, more meaningful, more permanent...a citizenship that outshines even the most ardent patriotism.  Paul wrote about it in Philippians 3:17-21 (NIV):

"Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

Kind of strange, isn't it?  To be a citizen of a place where you have never lived!  Our daughter, Michelle, was like that for a little while.  She was born in the Philippines but was immediately, upon birth, legally a citizen of the United States of America.  Why is that?  Because her parents were (and are) U.S. citizens.

Every one of God's children is, upon spiritual birth, legally a citizen of heaven.  Why is that?  Because that's where our Father is from!  Isn't that cool?

Sadly, there are many who live with this world as their home.  And, apart from Christ, this is as good as it gets.  Now that's a scary thought!  They are enemies of the cross; we embrace it as the only means of forgiveness.  Their destiny is destruction; ours is eternal life.  Their god is their stomach, their belly, their appetite; our God is the Living Lord of the universe!  Their glory (what they boast about) is their shame (what they should be ashamed of); our glory is the Glorious One!  Their minds are on earthly things; our minds are set on the things of our homeland, heaven...or at least they should be.

Here's a radical thought:  Instead of turning on the tube tonight and absorbing the usual mind-numbing fare, why not spend some time with your Father, "eagerly await[ing] a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

For the citizen of heaven, we have a choice:  We can either be earthsick or heavensick.  Earth sickness is a disease of the soul that makes you long for more of what the earth has to offer...stuff that won't last, doesn't give life and can't satisfy.  Heaven sickness is a longing for heaven and is not a disease at all; it is homesickness for the One for whom we were created, and is a "symptom" of supreme health of the soul.

We are in this world but not of it, just like Jesus was in this world but not of it (John 17:14-18).  Some might say, "He's so heavenly minded, he's no earthly good!"  I say, "It is only when you are heavenly minded that you are any earthly good!"