Christ in You!

christ-in-youWe live in dangerous times. We are like sailors tossed about on the sea, fearing the waves will tear the ship in two. How easy for us to become alarmed and discouraged, to despair that God has abandoned us.

We all need hope in our times. Hope greater than wishful thinking, knowledge based upon fact. Hope based upon the Word of God, upon His character that never fails. Hope as an assurance, a conviction, freedom from all doubt that God will “come through.”

The apostle Paul lived in perilous times. Yet he lived with great hope that certainly was not based upon his circumstances. Consider his frequent sufferings from stoning, floggings, shipwreck, imprisonment, betrayal, hunger, thirst, a “thorn in the flesh.” He lived under a tyrannical emperor who murdered his own mother and threw Christians to the lions. Paul’s own beloved Jewish people despised his message.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory”—this was Paul’s hope in the midst of great trials. For him, this was not only a theological concept, but a living reality, a personal experience.

What did he experience? In Colossians 1, he speaks of Christ, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Christ, who created all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, all thrones and dominions, rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.

Christ, who is before all things. Christ, in whom all things hold together. Christ, the head of the body, the church. Christ, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. Christ, the preeminent one. Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Christ, who reconciled to Himself all things on earth and in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.

All of this was more than a concept to Paul, but also an experience. How does one describe such an experience?

How could Neil Armstrong fully describe the moment he became the first man in history to walk on the moon? How does a bride describe the moment when the ring of her beloved slips over her finger? How do a father and mother fully describe holding their first-born child for the first time?

What these people know differs from that of bystanders. These personal experiences cannot be described. Only experience brings full understanding.

“Christ! In! You!” What Paul’s words embody, and what Paul experienced, dwarfs all other human experiences. Those without Christ know nothing of it, and often, too many believers know little of it because they have fooled themselves (or have been fooled by Satan) to expect little from God. This should lead each of us to ask, how much do we expect of God?

Paul makes clear that his experience of Christ in him is to become the experience of all believers, not just a select few religious people. Paul invites us “to comprehend with all the saints [you and me] what is the breadth and the length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge . . . to be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

In whatever prison we find ourselves—and we all know them—let us each accept Christ’s invitation to know Paul’s experience for ourselves in our uncertain times. Then we will become more motivated to offer that Good News to others.

Tagged , , , , ,

The Accessible King

2016-12-through-jesusQueen Elizabeth has reigned for almost 65 years. We all know her face, but if any of us sought to enter her private quarters at Buckingham Palace without proper credentials, we would be arrested and jailed. No one enters the presence of royalty without the right credentials.

God is King of the universe. None of us can enter God’s presence without the right credentials either. Without right credentials, access to God is impossible. Then what are those credentials?

Paul tells us, “Through Him [Jesus Christ] we have access…to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

This is the message of Christmas—we have access to the King through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ makes the King our Father as well. It all began in a manger, was accomplished on the cross and confirmed in His resurrection.

By giving us access to God, He made the King personal. If we received a personal phone call from Queen Elizabeth, inviting us to dinner, we would never forget it. What Jesus Christ provides for us surpasses anything Queen Elizabeth can offer. This access is available, not just to special people, but to all who trust Jesus Christ, whatever our backgrounds and stations in life.

Through Jesus Christ, God the King becomes both a Friend and a Father, but He is not like any other. Just as we would never treat the Queen with casual familiarity, so we would never take God for granted, but honor Him for who He is.

We live in a world increasingly out of control. Our hearts fail from fear. We may suffer with frail bodies. We may struggle with deep problems in our families and marriages. We are subject to accidents and other mishaps. We may find our minds slipping away from us. We may wrestle with drives and desires that get the best of us. We all bear loads beyond our ability to bear alone. Our lives are full of unrest and worry. Even as believers, certain things drive us to despair.

Only the King can help us. We need to know we can access Him at any time, and that He wants to dwell with us and us with Him. We need to know He welcomes us, that He will hear us and take us seriously. We need to know we are not just faces in a crowd.

We need to know He will regard us as members of His family whatever our failings. We need to know we make a difference to Him. When we have taken time to seek Him, we need to know that He is always waiting for us.

We cannot know our purpose in life or successfully face life and death apart from our access to the King. We would never gain access to Him apart from His taking the initiative to provide us the right credentials. He has willed that His Son, Jesus Christ, come into the world and become our access to Him.

Thank the King He has made it possible for us to approach His throne with confidence and boldness through Jesus Christ. Millions of people are waiting to hear this message. In the coming year, let us join together to make Him known.

May you and your loved ones have a blessed Christmas and New Year.

Tagged , ,

Walk in God’s Light

2016-11-in-the-lightThe light of God is like a great feast of endless delight for all who accept His invitation to partake of it. With His light, we know we are headed in the right direction. He sent His light into the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, in whom there is no darkness at all.

Those who gladly receive the Light that is Jesus Christ will experience transformation. We receive a changed nature and become part of His new humanity. We receive a more childlike nature, more inclined to trust the word and the person of Jesus Christ in opposition to the prevailing culture. We more readily delight in the truth of God.

Our eyes will open to things we never saw before, and which others, who do not have the Light, cannot see. We will more readily speak the truth. We will more readily see the true mind and character of God and desire that above all else. We will more readily live a life of fruitfulness, joy and peace.

This does not mean we can or will attain sinless perfection in this earthly life, but we will have greater ability to understand ourselves and our world from God’s viewpoint. We will put less trust in human wisdom. We will better understand that human wisdom will disappoint us in some way because human understanding always falls short of God’s perfect Light.

Every follower of Christ has the Holy Spirit who provides the potential to experience all the light of Christ. Because of sinful habits we have developed since birth, we may still allow emotions, social or business pressures, cultural norms and other things to sway us—things that seem logical and even good to us, but do not take into account the full truth God makes available to us.

David was a man after God’s own heart, and yet he allowed Bathsheba’s beauty to capture him more than the Light of God. He suffered dire consequences for his acts, and brought untold suffering upon himself and others that continued even after he repented. In many ways, Judas and Peter perceived the Light better than any of us, yet they betrayed and cursed the Light for short-sighted reasons. If they failed, we are also subject to failure.

Jesus invites and warns us at the same time when He says, “While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” We have the Light now, but if we ignore the Light, we will not always have Him. If we continually look to our own light, darkness will overtake us, and he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.

The Light of God is found in the Word of God through the Spirit of God. We must learn to let His Word speak to us in our daily lives, let it challenge our ideas, let it take precedence over cultural norms and trendy presumptions. Learning to follow the light is difficult for people like us with sinful tendencies to wander.

Let us remember that in the end, it is not we who possess the Light, but the Light Who possesses us. This is the ultimate message of the Good News, and let us make sure that others see signs of the Light in us.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Grace to the Graceless

2016-10-graceOur effective fulfilling the Great Commission sometimes depends upon how we honor the most dishonorable people of our lives with God’s grace. This may include parents who mistreated, neglected and abused us.

To a degree, we all experience dysfunction. All parents are sinners. Yet some of us have or had parents who gave us little more than misery and torment. Just the thought of them revolts us. God commands us to honor our parents, but how do we honor them?

You cannot truly obey this command until you first know God and the great work He has already done for you through Jesus Christ — deep in your heart, not just in your head. This requires a supernatural act, the earnest of the Holy Spirit, assuring you of deep gospel truths in deep ways, as they apply to your unique situation.

Those truths include God’s foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justifying and glorifying of you before creation (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-5). You may have terrifying or awful parents, but long before God created Adam and Eve, He chose to pull you from this muck and make you His own. Not even the cruelest parents can pluck you from His hand.

Vietnamese people have a proverb that well illustrates this fantastic truth: “The lotus grows in mud, but it doesn’t smell of mud.” You are that lotus. Discover who you really are in Him, and He will give you the grace to honor wretched parents even as He has chosen to honor you.

Remember that God is a “Father to the fatherless” (Psalm 65:8). He can use everything for the good of those who love Him and are called of Him (Romans 8:28). Take a small step of faith toward Him, see Him act, then take another step. Be honest with God about your feelings. As a man, He was “despised and rejected . . . a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” (Isaiah 53:3) so He understands your situation perfectly. He wants to help you do what you can’t do yourself.

Remember that honor is primarily an action, not a feeling. It is an offer of God’s grace to graceless people. It does not mean trusting them or tolerating further abuse or rewarding their evildoing. Thank God He is big enough he can even use such nasty people to bring you into the world and adopt you into His royal family!

Practically speaking, how can we honor dishonorable parents? Here are some suggestions:

  • Become willing to forgive them and release emotional baggage. Only the Holy Spirit can help you do this. With Him all things are possible (Mark 10:22). Read Lewis Smedes’ Forgive and Forget—a helpful book.
  • When possible, call and listen to them, and say nothing when they say hurtful things.
  • When possible, do acts of kindness for them.
  • Accept them where they are. Don’t expect them to match your expectations.
  • Note any good things they may have done and express gratitude for them.
  • Don’t criticize your parents before other family members.
  • Create safe boundaries to prevent manipulation.
  • Teach your children to love their grandparents.
  • Pray for parents who mistreated you.
  • Let your relationship with Christ shine through. Who knows? God’s grace in your life, shown to them, may eventually bring them to Christ. It happens.

Sometimes the hardest people to win for Christ come from under our own roof. Let God use this acid test to train you to reach around the world in His name.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

When Our Children Don’t Succeed

All of us who have children want them to succeed in life. We become overjoyed when they do, and we proudly tell others of their accomplishments. Their success reflects upon us. In a very real sense, we regard their success as our success.

What if they don’t succeed? What if their accomplishments are few, or worse, what if they fail and become burdens to our family and to society? Whose fault is it? Most parents tend to blame themselves. They spend endless hours asking themselves where they went wrong and where they failed God, not always able to arrive at solid conclusions.

May I offer a word of comfort to such parents: God the Father is the most perfect of parents, but all of His children (you and me) are abject failures in His sight. Is it possible that God the Father does not judge us as parents on whether our children succeed in life but on the way we live out His love and grace toward them? None of us will ever have a perfect family this side of heaven. So what is God looking for?

Christian family counselor Emmerson Eggerichs suggests a worthy biblical model for a good parent in the father of the prodigal son and his ungrateful older brother. In their own ways, both sons are miserable failures.

In this parable, Jesus clearly wants us to imitate the father’s grace toward his sinful sons. Throughout this parable, the father demonstrates remarkable patience in the face of outrageous behaviors and attitudes. As we study this parable, we become amazed that the father does not disown both of them for their insulting and ungrateful ways.

The father in Jesus’ parable represents God Himself. This means that to become successful parents, we must learn to first love God even more than we love our children. When we learn to love God first, we soon become overwhelmed by His grace. When we see the powerful grace of God working in our own sinful lives, we begin to take a different attitude toward our children and their failures. We begin to see them from God’s perspective.

Rather than see (and even resent) our wayward children as imperfect reflections of ourselves, we begin to think of them in the way that God regards us. Rather than judging or even rejecting our children, we begin to show them the same grace of God that He has displayed toward us. Like the prodigal son, some of our wayward children may return “home,” humble and repentant and ready to serve God and their fellow man.

Even if our children do not return, we will have the peace of knowing we succeeded in demonstrating the grace of God toward them.

Let us all learn to become overwhelmed by the grace of God. Let that growing experience of His grace make us the best parents. It will also help us to submit to our husbands, give ourselves to our wives, and do things that encourage rather than discourage our children. It will also make our gospel message more credible to a world filled with failure.

God’s grace helps us to accept others’ failures when we see how God receives us in spite of our failures.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Do You Truly Know Him?

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached, “What this world needs more than anything else is personal knowledge of the true character of God. Our basic problem is a profound ignorance of God’s character.”

If anything, those words are truer today than ever before—a profound ignorance of the character of God. Tragically, this is true even in many churches that call themselves “Christian.”

Too many Christians have bought into the lie that God is a creation of our psychological state, and that we can pick and choose what parts of God we like and leave out whatever makes us feel uncomfortable. Too many Christians have bought into the lie that religion begins and ends with ourselves, that God is about “meeting my needs and the needs of my family.”

The names of God in the Bible do not allow us this fantasy. God’s names in the Bible do not result from philosophical speculation but are the names God gives to Himself. They reveal His true being. They shatter our ignorance. They remind us that He makes us, we don’t make Him.

God reveals who He is through His names because He wants us to experience Him. He wants us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” God is always greater than what we think of Him. If we are attracted to the God of love and grace, we must also experience the holy and righteous God who hates and judges our sin. We must also experience the God who demands our total submission to Him. In our present culture, these truths cause discomfort even in the church.

When we adapt God to our own desires and dreams, we cannot experience a true relationship with Him. True relationship with anyone is impossible with fantasies about that person, even more so with God. Whenever we leave something out of God’s character, we experience less of Him, not more. We know less of His love and grace. We know less of His power. In the end, He becomes remote and impotent to us, and we trust Him less, not more.

In today’s world, a remote God is the last thing we need. With all its confusion and turmoil, the world looms large, and God appears small and ineffective even to many Christians, unable to help them overcome daily problems of raising families, deal with health issues, find hope in turbulent electoral politics, face the prospect of death.

God is pleased to reveal hundreds of names of Himself in the Bible. The multiplicity of God’s names in scripture reveal how great He really is—and how little we truly know Him. The multiplicity of His names also demonstrate God’s continuing and patient invitation to us to know Him better.

When we allow Him to surround and embrace us with who He really is, and not who we want Him to be, we discover joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the midst of war, opportunities in the midst of obstacles, accomplishment in the midst of mundane toil.

The multiplicity of God’s names speak of the greatness of God. Let us proclaim this great God to a fragmented world and anticipate His promise of that day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

God Introduces Himself

God introduces Himself . . . This fact makes the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ different from any other religion.

In all other religions, a celebrated philosopher, teacher or prophet tries to introduce us to God. But humanity’s ideas about God, no matter how seemingly noble and high-minded, always fall short. We always reduce God to something less than Who He is because that is what sinners always do—they fall short. We are all idolaters.

This is a constant danger for all of us, even if we call ourselves evangelical Christians. We all have this tendency to simplify God, to make Him less offensive, to reduce Him to the most common denominator so as to include as many people as possible within the fold. I constantly must watch this tendency in myself.

As sinners, we tend to become attracted to the spectacular, to the “big show.” The people who witnessed Jesus’ earthly ministry exclaimed at His miracles and followed after Him to see what He would do next. But later, they shouted out, “Crucify Him!” Amazement at Jesus’ miracles does not translate into falling at His feet and crying out, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

As sinners, we naturally like an easy-going God of love who forgives us (i.e., winks an eye at sin) and fulfills our every wish and dream. Many false prophets today, who call themselves “Christians,” promise this false god and attract multitudes. This god is tame and controllable, like a domesticated cat. He is also powerless to save anybody.

All of these deadly tendencies are why we desperately need God to tell us who He really is.

We know God best by how God introduces Himself to us in the Bible through such names as I AM WHO I AM and ELOHIM. God reveals Himself in many such names throughout the Bible.

In his book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby lists more than 350 ways God introduces Himself to us through His names. These names God gives to Himself reveal His character, not only as a God of love, but as pure and righteous, a hater of sin, with no beginning and end, three-in-one and one-in-three, unchangeable, everlasting, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, King of kings–and utterly holy.

I AM WHO I AM dies a humiliating and unspeakable death, and promises to come back as judge to separate the sheep from the goats. No simple God here, and multitudes don’t want Him. They don’t want this holy God over whom they lose all control because He is in control, not them. Little do they know, He is the only God who can truly help them.

This is the God we are called to proclaim to the world around us. Through Jesus Christ, I AM WHO I AM is the only God who can save us from our small ideas and even smaller power. He is the only God who can redeem and transform our lives, give us a glimpse into the future, and create a New Heaven and a New Earth.

When God introduces Himself to us, we had better accept Him for Who He really is, not the domesticated fantasy He is not. Our eternal destinies (and the world’s) depend upon it.

Tagged , , , , , ,

God is the Owner

“Stewardship is another term for fundraising.”

How many times have you heard or thought that? This common misconception permeates our culture, even in the church, but it is heresy of the worst sort.

“Stewardship” comes from the Greek word, oikenomous, from which we derive our words, “economy” and “economics.” Originally, it referred to someone who managed a household. He did not own the household, but held it in trust for the owner. As Christians, our owner is God. We are to maintain and manage our “household” on His terms, not ours.

Our “household” contains all that makes up who we are and have, and the environment in which He places us, all of which He owns. We are not the owners but the managers of our abilities, gifts, talents, money, time—and our salvation.

Stewardship is another word for ministry, and ministry is another word for service. Both “ministry” and “service” come from the same Hebrew and Greek words. Stewards are servants used by others for their purposes. True Christians are “on call” by God for His purposes, not our own. His purposes always involve us and the redemption of the lost, of renewal and restoration, and re-creation.

Servants obey the orders of their master, but we serve a Master who has already proven His service to us. We do not serve a tyrant but One who has already served us beyond the call of duty. When we were sinners, Christ died for us. He took the form of a bondservant (Philippians 2:7) when He put aside His glory and came from glory as one of us.

As Christians, to become a “steward” is another way of saying, “Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This servant attitude includes such qualities as encouragement, consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and compassion, a spirit of unity, oneness of purpose, humility of spirit, looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4).

Paul responded to Jesus’ servanthood by saying, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

In other words, stewardship means more than just how we use our money (although it includes that). It is a way of life. It involves our whole beings in relationship to Jesus Christ and others in the light of how He has served us, as individuals and as the church. It is using our lives and experiences to serve His purposes for this world and for the New Heaven and New Earth.

Stewardship means learning to see where we are now and where we would have been apart from His foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying and glorifying us through Christ (Romans 8:28-30). Stewardship is our response to the staggering realization that out of His pure mercy and grace alone, we are part of His royal family.

There are no small people in God’s royal family. If you are part of His family, whatever your gifts and life experiences, you have a strategic place as God’s steward. Someone has said, “[A city] can manage quite well for a long time without a mayor, but we can’t manage many days without garbage collectors.”

Whether you are a mayor, a garbage collector, or something else, others are depending upon your service and ministry right now. Don’t let them—or Him—down.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Monica’s Prayers

Monica's-PrayersEach believer in Christ is called to do great and mighty things for God. To say, “I am just a small and insignificant person” shows lack of faith and insults God to think He cannot work through you.

The name of “Monica” is remembered for the lasting influence she had upon her son, Augustine. A Christian woman of the 4th century, she was called by God to pray him into the Kingdom. It doesn’t sound like much of a calling—to pray for a single person—but Monica did not waver in her commitment because she knew God had placed this upon her.

Augustine was not a promising prospect. Highly intelligent, he was also lazy, a lover of pleasure and sensuality. Monica tried to teach him to pray, but he twisted her intentions by praying, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” He took a lover and had a son out of wedlock, and he did many other things that broke Monica’s heart, but she never stopped praying for her son with many tears.

One day, as Augustine tells it himself, he heard a childlike voice say to him, “Take up and read.” He saw this as a divine command to open the Bible and read the first thing he saw. When he opened the Bible, he found himself in the Book of Romans, and his eyes fell upon these words:

“…not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision of the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13-14).

These short words struck him as a summary of his own life and a call to commit his life to Jesus Christ. It came as a word from the Holy Spirit. From this moment on, Augustine became a new man in Christ.

In coming days, Augustine became one of the most prolific and influential Christian thinkers and writers of all time, influencing Protestants and Catholics alike. Martin Luther and John Calvin were strongly indebted to him. His influence helped to end slavery in Europe. He helped to lay early Christian foundations for later scientific learning and research.

Augustine gave credit for his transformation to the faithful prayers of his mother, Monica, who never gave up on him even in his darkest days. In the end, Monica’s prayers not only influenced her son’s life but also generations of believers and of human society around the world.

Monica’s story and that of her son, Augustine, teach all of us the power of our influence, and how it may even change generations not yet born. God is glorified when we put ourselves into His hands. God told Jeremiah, “Call unto me, and I will answer and do great and mighty things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). God’s invitation to Jeremiah is also His invitation to us.

In dark days like our own, God especially loves to work His greatest works, through people willing for Him to use them.

All major revivals and awakenings begin in dark days when nameless people, known only to God, cry out to Him. The most influential people in the world are those not paralyzed by the times but energized by them because they anticipate His victory and their part in helping to make it happen.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

We Are Not Powerless

Not-PowerlessToday, millions of people feel alienated from society. To feel alienated is to feel excluded and powerless. Right now, Christians are coming under increasing attack. We are told we live in a “post-Christian generation.” Christians and Christian values are mocked as backward, stupid and harmful.

In the past, Christians have influenced society in dark days. In many ways, they have helped to reduce illiteracy, increase freedom, free slaves and addictions, helped children, increase scientific knowledge and invent new devices to improve life. Persecuted Christians held civilization together after the Roman Empire deteriorated and collapsed.

Do Christians have any influence in our world today? Is the 2nd coming of Christ our only hope? “We are not powerless…” said John Stott, “What we are, rather, is often lazy and shortsighted and unbelieving and disobedient to the commission of Jesus.”

John Stott, English preacher, author, and influential evangelical leader was named by Time magazine as one of the “100 most influential people of the world.” He has offered four ways by which the average Christian can influence this generation for Christ:

  1. Prayer. Most people dismiss prayer as a psychological device, but serious, Spirit-led prayer is the creative power of God to accomplish humanly impossible things for God’s kingdom and glory. Most people do not pray with power or seriousness. Even when we pray, we still act as if everything depends upon us. True prayers of faith move God to move mountains, including spiritually dull and rebellious cultures.
  2. Truth. All truth is God’s truth, never the devil’s truth. All lies are the devil’s lies. Writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” The world needs more Christians who can effectively communicate Bible truth through words, art, literature, science and every other part of life. All truth vindicates the Bible, and the wise Christian who advocates the truth changes lives and society.
  3. Example. We help others see the advantages of Christian values by the way we live, work, raise our families and help others. Our example should present a clear difference between Christian and world values. Jesus tells us that when people see our good deeds, “they will glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). A complaint of many people is that they see no difference between a professed Christian’s life and that of anyone else’s.
  4. Group solidarity. Jesus began His ministry with only 12 dedicated men filled with the Holy Spirit, yet those 12 men’s influence changed the world, even in their own day. God has not changed. Robert Belair of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University has said, “The quality of a whole culture may be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.”

All major revivals, awakenings and evangelism explosions begin in dark days when people get on their knees and cry out to God. Our crises become God’s opportunities to act in great and mighty ways. The most influential people in the world are those who are not paralyzed by the times but energized by them because they anticipate His victory and their part in helping to make it happen.

Tagged , , , ,