Tag Archives: Christ

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Mature Believers

As believers in the Great Commission, we must never become content just with winning people to Jesus Christ. Jesus told us to “make disciples,” not just make converts. Discipleship training must follow conversion or chaos will take place.

The church in Corinth is a good case study in how a new church should not run.

The new believers lived in a pagan city with a bad reputation. Throughout the Roman Empire, the stereotype of the typical Corinthian was a drunkard or a harlot. Many new Corinthian Christians came out of this mold. They were not use to self-discipline. They had multiple bad habits to overcome. Like young children, Corinthian Christians were divisive, loud, self-indulgent, disorderly, rude, selfish, manipulative and argumentative. They revealed a “me-first” attitude. They exhibited many impressive spiritual gifts, but they didn’t know how to use them wisely—like a ten-year-old boy behind the wheel of a car.

Paul indicates the Corinthian believers were truly Christ-followers, but they lacked maturity. Like a good father, Paul wrote to remind them that God is a God of order, not confusion. To remind them of their childish ways, Paul said, “Shall I come to you with a rod?”

The problem-filled Corinthian church was like many of our own churches today, and the new churches we plant in places where the gospel has never gone before. Whatever age or culture, many churches are often filled with disorder, threatening their ministries. In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul presents three metaphors to serve as models for a dynamic and orderly church:

  1. Mature-BelieversThe runner. Believers must train themselves like runners-in-training. Runners organize their diets, sleep, exercise and habits to prepare their bodies and minds for the coming race. The race becomes their chief priority, and all other things become secondary. Good pastors and elders serve as coaches to prepare their congregations for the coming race of life. Earthly races reward winners with perishable rewards. The final goal of the Christian’s race is resurrection and eternal life with an eternal God. This requires putting aside old habits of thought and action that distract us from effective preparation.
  2. The body of Christ. Just as the body has many parts that work together in unity, so the church is made up of many people with many gifts who must learn to work together in unity. Each person has a different but critical role to play. The Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. As we listen to our Head and respect each other’s role, we will accomplish much together for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom in the world around us.
  3. The virgin bride. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul likens the church to a virgin bride awaiting her husband (Jesus Christ), untainted by impure doctrines by false teachers. Pure doctrine is essential for a truly dynamic church that bears much fruit.

Whether we live in the West or India, we all face the challenge of immaturity and disorder in our churches. We have much to learn from the Corinthians. Thank God for His patience with us! Let us reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Him, and learn to run the race together in unity and purity of doctrine, and the whole world will look on in wonder at His grace.

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He Welcomes You

Reconciliation does not equal intimacy. Two enemies may reconcile but never become true friends. They no longer fight, but they have little contact.

How many Christians secretly live lives like this? They know Jesus has reconciled them to God, but in heaven, they believe, they will dwell on the outskirts because they fail so miserably.

Is this a common Christian experience? Is this why many Christians judge others for their sins as they try to deal with their own uncertainties? Is this why so many Christians feel no joy, become over-involved in “church work,” or hang around the “fringes of faith?”

Many people are convinced that only certain special individuals can achieve true godliness. Catholics have their “saints,” but in different ways, Protestants do, too. These misled brothers and sisters are reconciled to God, but do not believe intimacy with Him is possible because they know their many flaws and failures.

How foreign to the Good News! In Romans 5, Paul tells us that we who are of Christ belong to a new kingdom, a new human race—now! We no longer belong to the kingdom of the first Adam, the kingdom of sin and death. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are “in” the Second Adam, Jesus Christ.

That means whatever is true about Jesus Christ is true of us. We have a new standing with God. Christ is forever, once and for all, dead to sin and death, so are we. Though Christ died, death did not have the last word. So it is with us.

He-Welcomes-YouChrist enjoys eternal fellowship with the Father. So do we. In Ephesians 2:18, Paul tells us that we have “access to the Father.” The Greek indicates the highest possible intimacy with God the Father, like Jesus has with Him. It doesn’t depend upon what we do or how we feel, it depends upon Him and what He has done on the cross.

All this requires us to dramatically rearrange our thinking. The Welsh preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, compares our new position in Christ to that of a newly freed American slave. The laws changed, but many former slaves had difficulty accepting their new freedom. They didn’t know how to relate to their old masters. Only when they learned new habits of thinking did they live in the freedom the law said they already had.

Like Abraham, we must believe because God said it, not when we feel good about ourselves. In one of the most remarkable passages of scripture, Paul tells us to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). In other words, regard it as accomplished fact.

Paul tells us to become transformed by the renewing of our minds—by changing our habits of thinking—so we recognize that God already loves us and welcomes our company as He welcomes the company of His Son.

When we see Him face to face, we will be like Him. We will not live on the fringes of heaven, but become part of His inner circle. When we learn to see ourselves the way God already sees us, we will live in the freedom that is already ours.

This is Good News for everybody who will hear it! Let’s make sure they do!

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Men & Women Alike

MenWomenAlikeOrganized religion has tended to devalue women and deny them power and influence. This includes organized Christendom throughout much of its history.

Christendom is never as radical as the Bible. When we read the Bible, it becomes clear that God has always had different ideas about women from most religious leaders.

In the beginning, when God created woman to become the “helpmate” to man, He did not create an apprentice or an assistant for the man. The Hebrew word for “helpmate” implies that the woman is equal to the man, even if God created the man first.

The Fall separated man and woman from God and from one another. It brought a curse upon woman in which she became subordinate to the man.

The world into which Jesus came was the world of the curse. That world put little value upon a woman. They held little social importance. Their testimony counted for little if anything. Yet throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus shows an unprecedented respect for women.

The first persons to whom the risen Christ appeared were women. Their testimony to men of the empty tomb and His personal appearance brought Peter and John to the empty tomb and confirmed the truth of everything the women told them. This verification of a woman’s testimony is the first sign that Jesus’ resurrection broke the curse upon women that reigned from the Fall.

Because of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection, we who put our trust in Him live in the Kingdom of the Second Adam that restores God’s original intent for women.

In the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit came upon men and women alike, with no distinction. From the earliest days, before the 1st century church degenerated into “Christendom” and “religion,” women played important roles as leaders, teachers and prophets. The leaders of the early church included women such as Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Chloe, Nympha, all of whom Paul commends for their good and faithful work.

In Galatians 3:28, Paul says “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That is, male and female share one purpose, one calling. The gifts and fruit of the Spirit belong to all.

In some circles, much is made of Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14:34 for women to keep silence in the church. We do not have the space to discuss this in detail, but in the light of everything else said by Jesus and Paul, it is clear that this passage deals with a special circumstance that does not negate the overall message of the New Testament—God has ended the curse of women’s subordination and chosen women to places of ministry and influence.

In other words, God’s special call upon women is part of the gospel message.

In India, where women and girls still play subservient roles, and suffer from inferiority and degradation, we make a powerful witness for the gospel when we treat our wives, girl children, female relatives and sisters in Christ with the respect that Jesus gave to all women.

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