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.