Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less...

Photo courtesy of IceYeti
My wife and I have started Beth Moore's study titled Paul: 90 Days on His Journey of Faith. Today, for me, was day nine and it was centered on Paul's conversion and the account of it we find in Acts chapter 9. One of the questions that she asks us to consider prior to the lesson is this;

"Your saving encounter with Jesus may very likely have come with fewer flashes of light that Saul's did. Has this troubled you? Why should it not?"

Now, before I go any further let me say that I have strange feeling that I may have already addressed this subject matter in the past. So, if this is a repeat then I am sincerely sorry but it is what is on my heart and mind this morning and it is my blog so I'll write what I want to write. So there.

The thoughts that this question sparked in my mind focus on the idea that some believers have that if you didn't have a massive, lights flashing, emotional, amazing conversion experience then there is a strong chance that you are not saved. Indeed, I have heard it preached that if you do not remember the moment of your conversion then it never happened. I for one have trouble with this idea and I want to tell you why in as fair-handed a way as possible. Also, I want to point out what I believe are some potential dangers of this kind of doctrine or theology.

Let me say this also, there are many examples of people having drastic conversion experiences in the Bible and throughout Christian history. Paul stands as the prime example but we also have to look at the earlier accounts in Acts of thousands of people coming the Christ after the sermons of the apostles. Also, I think about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who put his faith in Christ on the road side and was baptized then and there.

On the other hand I think about the disciples. Was their moment of conversion the moment that Christ called them out of their boats and tax booths to follow Him? Perhaps so, but there was still a huge amount of misunderstanding and denial that would follow. Was their conversion moment Easter Sunday when they rushed to the empty tomb to be witnesses to the risen Christ? Maybe it was on the road to Emmaus when Christ walked with them and their hearts burned within them. My point here is that the conversion of the disciples may be a little more difficult to nail down than Saul/Paul.

Now let me get into why I think this doctrine can be potentially dangerous. What is our salvation based on? I would submit that our salvation is based on our faith in, and belief on, the finished work of Christ on the cross, on our behalf. The danger lies in that if we rest our salvation on an experience rather than Christ alone we are treading on very thin ice. Often times when we talk people and invite them to come to Christ we warn them that it is not about feelings or emotions but about trust in our heart, mind and soul. I believe the same can be said for our conversion experience or lack thereof. I wake up every morning knowing that my hope for salvation lies only in Jesus Christ. Can I point to a specific moment and date? No, I can get close and tell you about when I took hold of my faith as my own rather than something my parents or grandparents believe for me.

I have been pressed further on this matter (for which I am grateful by the way) and asked about a time when I came under conviction of my sinfulness. Yes, I do remember a time in high school when I was overwhelmed by the immensity of my sin and the suffering of Christ on the cross of me. However, if we insist on pin-pointing one time then we run the risk of forgetting that the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin on a daily basis in the process of sanctification. Furthermore, I believe we should never grow comfortable with the Cross of Christ. We should never find ourselves saying, "Oh yeah, I remember a time when I was really moved by the Cross." Does it not move us to this day? Have we enjoyed the salvation of Christ for one moment in our lives and then allowed sin to reign without any conviction because "we got saved way back when"? I should hope not.

Another thing I would like to point out. If we emphasize a moment rather than the person of Christ we run into what we see in the Church all the time; people who say "Well, I went forward when I was 12." but they've never darkened the door of the church since. Haven't we all heard of people who lived like Hell but at their funeral someone reminds us that they went to the altar for salvation 35 years prior? Now, I'm not making a judgement call on their salvation but this is what can happen when we encourage people to "get their ticket" because that is all that really matters.

What if, like Paul and the other New Testament writers, we emphasized a life lived in Christ rather than an experience? Aside from the examples given in the New Testament by the lives of the Apostles we are given little, if any, teaching on having to remember the exact moment of our salvation. Why? I can't say for sure but I wonder if it isn't because we are not to focus on the experience but on the Person of Jesus Christ and our daily dying and trusting in Him. Let me be clear on this. I am not discounting the memory that many believers have of their salvation experience. It is a beautiful thing to see a saint of God who fondly looks back on the years that have transpired in their service to God. The last thing I want anyone to think is that I am trying to demonize those who have had vivid conversion experiences. If I was that would mean I would have to demonize Paul and that would be ludicrous. Furthermore, many times a dramatic conversion becomes an integral part of someone's testimony, it sure was for Paul. This is evidence of the power of the Gospel. What I do want to expose is people who say, in the minds or with their lips, "If you didn't have an experience like me then you aren't saved," or "If you didn't have an experience like Paul, you aren't saved."

I think we need to understand a few things in order to have a more complete picture of our salvation in the year 2011. Without a doubt the means of salvation and the Gospel have not changed. God saved people through faith in Jesus Christ today just as He did 2000 years ago, this much is absolutely certain. How that all happens, though, may be different. Think about this, in the time of the apostles it was impossible for someone to grow up in a Christian home. They were the first generation of people to whom the Gospel was available. Peter and John and Matthew weren't raised by Christians, they couldn't have been. However, in our day children have the unbelievable blessing of being exposed to the Gospel from the time they are born. I, for one, cannot remember a time when I did not know who Jesus was and what He did for me. This is a product of being raised by godly parents and grandparents. Did their faith save me? Heavens no! It did provide an environment which was conducive to me working out my own salvation in due time. Also, for better or for worse, we have a variety of traditions within the larger scope of Christianity. Again, this was not the case for the early Church. In some traditions the emphasis is on "confirmation" and in some the emphasis may be on walking down the aisle and making that public profession of faith. My question is this: if we look at two people who are now 30 years old and both are dedicated followers of Jesus Christ does it matter how they got to that point? Is one more "Christian" because they had a tremendous salvation experience and the other found his or herself slowly morphing into this new thing called a Christian?

As I look across the landscape of the New Testament I simply can't find any place where the measure of someone's salvation is found in an event in their life. It is found only in the event of Christ's crucifixion and each individual's response to it. I think that the doctrine that says you must remember the moment of your salvation, at it's most sinister, can be nothing more than a way to make Christian's doubt their salvation and potentially pad the numbers because people are being saved repeatedly. I remember the day of my salvation, it was the first Good Friday. When that was finally applied to my life I could not say but I know I have today, that much I am sure of. The solution is, as I have said repeatedly in this post; let's start taking our eyes off of ourselves for salvation and put them on Christ as our hope. It is He who saves us and He who holds us firmly in His grasp not doctrine or man's opinion.

Let me say one final word and then wrap this all up. I do believe in what may be called "eternal security" or the idea of "once saved always saved." I think it is biblical and of sound reason. I will not go into why I believe this right now but maybe some other time. I say that because I don't want anyone to get the idea that we need to be saved each and every day. What I do mean is that we are saved forever whether or not we remember the moment that that was locked in. What we need to do is remember and act like we are saved every day when we wake up. If that was not the case then why would we be encouraged to put on the armor of God?

So there you have it. I may have ruffled some feathers or even made someone downright angry but this is the way I see things and I will not settle for the spiritual abuse that some people cause in Christian's lives.



Monday, August 29, 2011

OneCry update

 Hello everyone. I just received this link from Dan Jarvis, the leader of the "voices" team for OneCry. I can't encourage you enough to check out the video and information on this site. The launch date for the movement is officially February of 2012 but that doesn't mean you can't start praying and getting excited now! The intro video is about 2 1/2 minutes and it is time well spent. The tech team at Life Action Ministries has done a magnificent job with it. Again, as things progress I will be putting out more information and updates as they come to me.




Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why are you a Christian?

Photo courtesy of svilen001
As I was recently reflecting on some people I know, some people I've heard of and some people I've seen teach a question came to my mind. Depending on the inflection that you use when asking the question it could come across in at least two ways and depending on how this post flows we may look at both. Now, without any further ado, the question:

Why are you a Christian?

The original impetus behind this question, in my mind, was seeing people who claim the name of Christ yet disregard, ignore, or discount most of the traditional teachings of the faith. For instance, say a person calls his or her self a Christian yet does not believe in the Resurrection. Why call yourself a Christian? This is THE central teaching of the New Testament and according to Paul it is by this fact that the rest of Christianity holds together.

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15:16-17).

Furthermore, the message of the early Church, particularly the disciples, was firmly rooted in the belief that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead. This leaves me to wonder not only why people who do not believe in the Resurrection would call themselves Christians but how they could do it.

Now, before I get side-tracked into a discussion about the Resurrection let me refocus on the main objective; the question of why you are a Christian. As far as my feeble mind can tell there is another layer to this question that we must uncover to get at the answer and I think it has to do with what it means to be a Christian. You see, being a Christian (or believer, or Christ-follower, or whatever else you want to call yourself) is not a byproduct of where you were born, who you were born to, or what philosophy you ascribe to. I can call myself a Brazilian until I'm blue in the face but that doesn't change the fact that it would just be something nice to call myself. Why do I say that? Simply because I am not from Brazil, I don't look like a Brazilian, talk like a Brazilian or have anything else in common with Brazilians other than being human. I could walk out the door and call myself a Hindu but any real Hindu would laugh because I don't believe the things that their religion holds to. There would have to be some kind of benefit to my claiming to be a Brazilian Hindu in order for me to want to do that.

This takes us right back to the primary question. There must be some kind of benefit to calling yourself a Christian even though you don't subscribe to traditional, orthodox, Christian beliefs. I can see that in America there might be a chance that there would be some political or economic benefits to claiming Christ. However, there are ministers in the Christian Church that do not believe in foundational doctrines such as the Resurrection, Creation, the Virgin Birth or the inspiration of the Bible. My reason is useless to provide an answer as to why they would want to be a Christian, much less a minister thereof. I'm not going to go out and join PETA. Why? Because I don't believe in the same things that they do. If I did join that organization I would certainly think twice about going to the annual gala with a rack of ribs or a T-bone steak.

This is exactly what I see happening. If, in our little metaphor, PETA represents the Church then we have key leaders coming to the banquet wearing fur coats, zebra boots, carrying crocodile handbags and ordering the 8 oz. Filet Mignon. Clearly there is a problem here and some red flags should be flying. Let me pause for just a moment and say this. I don't find myself angry or mad about this situation as much as I am confused. I just don't get it.

Here is what I see happening. There are those who look at the Christian faith and see traditions that are appealing, philosophy that is stimulating and a portion of a message that will make things better for people without offending them. There is no doubt that a large part of the Christian message is that we are all equal and that we should take care of the poor, marginalized and downtrodden. I not only admit that but I also preach it! However, the message of Christ is far more than an economic system that insures there is enough for everyone and a salve for the soul in a chaotic world. If you want that then you can look almost anywhere, including secularism. What you can't find anywhere else is the message that there is one God that became a man, lived among us to teach us, died for our transgressions, was raised from the dead and wants to give us a new life in and through Him.

Here is what I see being a Christian means. It means, not transforming the world to be a better place, but being transformed by Christ Jesus. Know this, we are not being transformed by a philosophy or a theology, we are being transformed by a person, by God. Now, I think we are getting at the root of the problem. To some Christianity is another system among many and one that is palatable to them. This is simply wrong. Christianity is a person and because of that person and what He did for us we can be in a relationship with God Almighty. This relationship is not about what He can do for us, and it certainly isn't about what we can do for Him. The relationship is in place so we can know God and glorify Him and make His name great in all the earth.

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:8,10).

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Your name forever (Psalm 86:12).

If you don't believe you were ever in darkness to begin with. If you don't want to know God and share in His resurrection because you don't believe Christ was ever raised. If you don't believe that this God wants to transform you so that you can know Him. Why are you a Christian? Is it because the traditions are appealing? Is it because the theology gives you a good mental workout? Is it because you see Christianity as offering a good option for healing the wrongs of the world? Why?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Purpose in the Shadow of Death.

Photo courtesy of goody2230
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Job 13:15

The thoughts for this post were inspired by two things. First, it came from a discussion I had with my father-in-law in our Sunday School class last night. Secondly, it has come from the experience of a dear saint of God, Pastor Mike Wilkinson, who went home to be with the Lord Jesus on Saturday night at 6:04 pm. Pastor Mike was the father of my good friend, and our youth pastor, Matthew Wilkinson. Though I was only able to spend a few hours with Mike over the past year his life, testimony and ministry were well known to myself and so many in our church family. His passing came at the end of a long battle with various forms of cancer and though he will most assuredly be missed there is no doubt that he is rejoicing with Christ this very moment.

The question that naturally arises when you see a saint of God, one of His faithful servants, succumb to a terrible disease is, "Why wouldn't God heal him?" To say that prayers were offered on Mike's behalf would be a massive understatement. Between our church, his church and all the other believers who were praying for him I can be fairly certain that the Throne of Grace was overwhelmed with the name Mike Wilkinson. Yet, in the end the answer was "No." Beyond the true, albeit obvious, answer that it was the Lord's sovereign will, what explanation can we give? What good news can we find in the shadow of death?

While contemplating these questions last night two scriptures came to my mind. The first you see at the top of this post; "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." It is generally dangerous to take Job at face value but I think this statement applies and I'll explain as we move along. The second scripture was from Matthew 7:24-29 where we have the statement of Jesus concerning the house built on the rock and the house built on the sand.

Let me preface the rest of my comments with a question, one that I aim to answer. What have we, American Christians, built our faith upon? I would suggest that, like our business ventures, we often base our faith on results. If we have enough of the right kind of faith we will never be poor, hungry, sick or without a custom silk suit. There are those out there who believe that if our faith is genuine and strong then we will never experience the tragic, uncomfortable consequences of a sin ravaged world. If you have enough faith you will be rich. If you have enough faith you will be healthy and prosperous. Then if the results of riches and health are not present two things can happen. First, you can be condemned by others as being faithless. Second, in the absence of those results in your own life you can abandon your faith.

Let us now return to Job for a moment. There is much that went wrong in Job. Though he started out strong he did end up falling prey to the sin of pride and self-righteousness. However, along the way there is much that went right. After being afflicted by Satan Job's wife encourages him to "curse God and die." To which he replies;

You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity? Job 2:20

Then we have the aforementioned words of 13:15. What kind of faith does it take to trust in God even though our world is falling apart around us? Is it a greater or lesser faith than the one that is based on the good results? I would submit that it is the former. Herein lies the lesson that came to me as we were searching for meaning and purpose behind the passing of Pastor Mike. His entire life was devoted to preaching, sharing and displaying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those around him. What if this tragic end was allowed by God to show the world what it really looks like to build our faith on the solid Rock of Christ. If his faith was built on the sand of results then it would have failed when it was evident that the battle was lost. Yet, from what I can understand we have an image of a man who was clinging to the hope given to him by Jesus Christ. The hope that there is something beyond this life, something that is far more amazing, precious and wonderful. The hope in the promise that whatever pains we suffer, whatever sacrifices we make in this life will be repaid exponentially when we meet the Lord.

This lesson can be extrapolated to any saint who suffers and dies at a time that the world would define as "premature." It flies in the face of theology that bases the measure of faith on results because it puts the measure of our faith in the person of Jesus Christ, His sovereign will, and the promises of His Gospel. I accept that this may not be the happy-feely answer we are looking for in our times of grief and mourning. Nor is it meant to be. However, one old saying is that the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." If that is so then I pray that the suffering of the saints is a lesson for the Church in the construction of faith's foundation. I think that one day we will find that those who built on the firm foundation of Christ had a ministry that outlasted their life on this earth and even in their absence God used their example for the edification of His people. It takes a faith that is not easily measured to say with Job, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." That is no shallow results driven faith. It is, as I believe Bonhoeffer would say, a costly faith and a faith that God rewards and uses to impact the world. May we all be so bold.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Franklin Heights Christian School: A Testimony of Revival

Many times revival among the Church is driven and spread by the testimony of the saints. In light of that I would like to share a story of one movement of God that I had the privilege of experiencing last year. Some of you may have heard this but I wanted to put it down "on paper," so to speak so that it will not be lost. Now, this actually happened about a year ago but I believe it will still be edifying for the Body even now just as the old stories of revival still have an impact on us.

The setting for this movement was Franklin Heights Christian School in Kannapolis, NC during one of their weekly chapel services. I was asked to bring a message for this service but I am so glad that the Spirit moved almost from the beginning. Per the usual order of worship the student led praise team began to lead us and we were singing "Amazing Grace, My Chains are Gone" by Chris Tomlin (Oh, how the Lord has used his music to move people's hearts so many times). Somewhere in the middle of the song my dear friend and teacher at Franklin Heights, Tony Wagoner, came forward and asked for a microphone. He encouraged the band to continue to play softly in the background while he spoke words that the Spirit had laid upon his heart. As emotion overcame him and a few tears began to trickle down his cheeks he shared that he believed that there were students there who were still bound by chains. These chains were hindering them from truly worshiping God freely. As he continued a few students and teachers began to make their way to the altar. Then the flood gates opened and more and more came forward until the altar was packed full of people on their faces before God. This time of spontaneous prayer went on for a full fifteen minutes and after all hearts were satisfied we finished singing.

At this point in the service it would normally be time for one of the teachers to come and give a devotional "thought for the day" but the Spirit was still heavy in the place and one of the students was moved to give testimony. He came forward and shared how God had acted in a mighty way during a time when he was asked to deliver a message at his home church.

After this young man's testimony it was time for me to bring a message. The good news for me, at a time like this, was that my only task was to NOT quench the Spirit that was already moving so evidently among the school. Thanks be to God that the message that I prepared was exactly the one for that moment in time and it was called "Pressin' On." Without getting into too much detail the overall message came from Philippians 3 where Paul talks about pressing on towards the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

After the message we showed the video of Derick Redmond, the track star of the 1992 Olympics who pulled a hamstring muscle during the race that he was highly favored to win. After collapsing on the track in sheer pain his father runs from the stands, pushing past security and helps his son make it across the finish line. The message? In our efforts to "press on" through the trials of this life, God, our Heavenly Father, is right there with us to make sure we get to the finish.

As we watched the video and the praise team came back to play a closing song the altar was once again jam packed to the point where students and teachers were crowding the aisles. Teens were praying with teens. Teachers were praying with teens and teachers were praying with teachers. Tears flowed freely and hearts were poured out to a gracious and powerful God.

This continued for another thirty minutes which overran the allotted chapel time by a long shot. Just imagine this, a group of middle and high school students praying and worshiping God in the middle of the school day for an hour and a half!

After chapel was over I reluctantly went on my way back to the church that I was serving in at the time praising God for His movement that morning. Later in the day, however, I spoke to Tony and found out that the revival went on throughout the day and more than one student was saved IN CLASS!

I want to be perfectly clear on this. This visitation by the Spirit was not because of my message, or the music, or the words spoken by Tony, or even the testimony of the young man. It was because there was a room full of people who were attentive to the Holy Spirit and ready to experience what God had for them on that morning. Furthermore, the school is blessed to have leaders who are willing to let the Spirit move as He will and put the spiritual well-being of the students above the earthly education.

Many times we hear of movements of God that last hours upon hours, days upon days or even years upon years. Those are the kind we pray for and seek but sometimes it is not how long the Spirit moves but how the Spirit moves and the lasting effects of it. I, for one, will never forget that morning at Franklin Heights and I know that it had some very eternal effects on many of those students. Personally, my prayer is that we have just begun to see God move in ways like this and we are praying that He will move in even mightier ways in the future. However, as we look around at the spiritual landscape of our nation and the Church we need to be excited about these, perhaps, first drops of rain from an approaching outpouring of God on our land.



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus

Photo courtesy of nighthawk7
Over the past three days I have been in Buchanan, Michigan at "The Lodge," the retreat center of Life Action Ministries. I was there with 12 other people to talk about "OneCry" which is a movement that seeks to call for nationwide spiritual awakening. Let me say this, none of us were there because we are giants among American Christians. We were there because God brought us together with one passion and vision. The details of how each of us became part of this team are stories of God weaving events and meetings together so that He could put together a team of people who are passionate about seeing a visitation of God in America.

My own story begins in Israel in March of this year. My mother and step-father were on a tour of the Holy Land led by Erwin Lutzer of The Moody Church. One day my mother was able to sit and chat with Dr. Lutzer and she shared with him about my ministry and my heart for revival. This led to an invitation for me to come to Chicago for the National Conversation on Revival in June. During this conversation I was able (not by coincidence by the way) to have lunch with Dan Jarvis who is heading up the "voices" team of OneCry. We parted ways with blessings upon each others' ministry and went home. Then, a few weeks later Dan called me to ask if I would like to be a part of this team. My response, "Let me pray about it...YES!" My point is that it is not by my own merit that I find myself a part of this team. It is purely by the hand of God and I think everyone else would say the same thing.

Even the vision did not originate with us. First it came from God but the earthly vehicle was Byron Paulus, the Executive Director of Life Action. This vision is God sized and extends far beyond getting churches to have good "revivals." It truly is nationwide and something that God alone can orchestrate. I pray that you will be hearing much more about OneCry but let me give you a brief overview so you can see the scale of this movement. The initial goal of OneCry is to have:

50,000 prayer warriors who will intercede for the other members of the movement and pray that God would send true renewal to our land.

5,000 "voices" for revival that will act as John the Baptists and be voices in the wilderness spreading the message of revival throughout their communities.

500 leaders for revival who will partner together in mobilizing God's Church toward revival until He comes.

Granted, these numbers are meant to be benchmarks and we certainly are hoping for more. However, can you imagine 50,000 believers uniting in prayer for America to repent, be broken and experience a true movement of God? Listen to what James 5:17-18 say about the prayers of just one man;

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced fruit.

Just prior to that statement James gives us this, which is a beautiful expression of what OneCry is about;

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

This tells me that confession of, and brokenness over our sin coupled with earnest prayer is a powerful tool for healing. Truly, revival or renewal or awakening is something that God alone can produce but there are ways we can prepare for it and "pray it down" from Heaven. It is here that OneCry steps in and hopes to unite the Body of Christ in repentance and prayer for His revival in our land.

On the last night of our meeting we joined together for prayer in the great room of the Lodge. During this time I could only think of one thing to pray and it came from the words of John at the close of his revelation;

Come, Lord Jesus. 

This is my prayer and I believe it is the prayer of revival. We want to see Jesus come. Yes, we want Him to come again in power and glory to get His Church and end the suffering and wrong doing in the world. However, in the meantime I pray that He would visit us with His Spirit and renew us to an authentic and vibrant life in Him.



As the OneCry initiative comes to fruition and is promoted publicly I will keep you informed of specific steps you can take to be a part of this nationwide call to spiritual awakening. Please be in prayer for all the leaders of these three teams and begin praying that God would visit us and be magnified by us.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

God's Fame > Our Fame: 1 Peter 2:9 Part 5

Photo courtesy of jamez0
Well, we are finally ready to embark on the final leg of this journey through 1 Peter 2:9. I must confess that I never believed one verse could lead to a five part blog series but this one is so rich and it is vitally important that we understand who we are in Christ. Over the course of the past couple of weeks we have seen that, according to this passage, we are four things in Christ: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God's own possession. While each of these descriptors is unique, they are all interconnected and even when considered together they do not fully express the new life that we have in the Lord Jesus.

The last part of the verse serves as a wonderful reminder of why all of this is made possible. It would be extraordinarily easy for us to become prideful or even arrogant after finding out that we are royalty of the highest order, or that we are handpicked for God. Knowing that that is the case the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to ground us right back in reality and place the focus on who is really important in all of this...God. He says;

that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light (ESV).

This is our reason for being. This is the reason that God has adopted us, called us and saved us; so that we might make much of Him. Once we realize that we have not earned any of what God has graciously given us then there is no other course of action than to stop and magnify His name in all the earth. The great and mighty God of the universe has bestowed grace upon grace on us and we should want nothing more than to tell others how marvelous He is.

If we look to the example of our Lord we find that honoring God was His overriding motivation. In John 17:1 He says;

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.

This sentence belongs to the opening line of what has become known as "the High Priestly Prayer" of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was mere hours before He would stand before an unjust court and be sentenced to die by crucifixion. Yet, in the forefront of Jesus' mind was bringing glory to God the Father. What kind of mindset produces such incredible selflessness? A mindset that puts God's fame, honor and will over and above our own. It is a total re-prioritization of what is important in our lives and what we are living for. What Jesus knew then, and what we know now, is that He would soon die, be raised again and ascend into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. This is the ultimate honor and one that only God Himself can bestow. What Jesus is saying is, "Do all of that so that you will gain the glory." God the Son wanted all of that done so that people could see the overwhelming mercy, love and grace of God and exalt Him for it. We are invited to become royalty not so that we can polish our fingernails on our shirt and have people look at how wonderful we are. We have become royalty to display to the world the unfathomable grace of a God who would sacrifice everything on our behalf, a God who extracts us from the darkness of sin and places us in His light filled presence, a God who gives us a new life through His Son Jesus Christ.

You may be thinking, "Hey, what kind of arrogant and egotistical God do we serve?" This would be a reasonable question if we were simply talking about a fallen human, but we are talking about the perfect God. God wants us to glorify and exalt Him because that is the kind of thing that only comes from an intimate relationship with Him. God wants us to proclaim His excellencies because that points more people to Him who will then come into a relationship with Him and spend eternity in His awe inspiring presence. Unlike a private party where three or more makes for a  crowd, in Heaven the old saying holds very true, "the more the merrier." This verse points out a truth that is often times lost in our proclamation of the Gospel. We are not inviting people into a relationship with a God who begrudgingly saved us from the fires of Hell. We are proclaiming that God has rescued us from the darkness that is in the world and transferred us into the light. This is an act of gracious mercy that was not required of the Almighty. He chose to do it and in light of that choice we should be inexpressibly grateful to the point that we want to make Him famous in all the world.

So, it is true that we are royalty, we are chosen, we are holy and we are God's own possession. However, to truly understand why all of this is the case we have to understand that God has done that for us so that we will magnify Him. He didn't do it because we deserved it and He didn't do it so that people would think highly of us. He did it so the world around us would think highly of Him. This is the reason you are royalty in the line of Christ and specifically chosen by Him. Now we must live like it and talk like it.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

He Doesn't Want to Rent You: 1 Peter 2:9 Part 4

Photo courtesy of davidlat
As we begin to close in on the final portion of this series on 1 Peter 2:9 we find that we are not only handpicked by God, royalty and a great big nation of people, we are also "a people for God's own possession" and if you read the King James Version you find out we are a "peculiar" people. How do you like them apples? You, Christian, are peculiar and the Bible says so. This is actually a good example of where using the KJV gets kind of tricky for us today because the language doesn't simply have the addition of "thees" and "thous" many of the words don't have the same connotation today as they did back then. To us, "peculiar" means weird or strange. In the context of this verse it means a special people that God has chosen as His special possession, hence the phrase used in the NASB.

Now, before we go too much further I think it is important to look back into the Old Testament and see what we can learn about possession. Here I am not talking about possession as in demon possession, but rather possession as in ownership. When the Israelites entered into the Promised Land they engaged in a military campaign that would insure their habitation of the land. Beyond that they divided up the land so that each tribe could inhabit a particular portion. However, even though they inhabited the land they did not possess it. The proof of this comes from the rest of Israelite history and their constant battles, both militarily and spiritually, with the people who were also dwelling in the land. Over and over again, they are fighting with the Philistines or putting up Asherah poles or worshiping in high places. You see, to inhabit something is different than to possess it. For instance, I can inhabit an apartment or house without possessing it. We call that renting. The same could be said for a car. Often times I ask to borrow my step-father's pickup truck so we can move stuff. Does the fact that I am driving the truck make it mine? I think Bill would say, "Uhhhh, NO." Here is the difference in definition:

Inhabit: to dwell, occupy as a place of settled residence.

Possess: to have and hold as property, to enter into and control firmly.

Do you see the subtle difference? Now, here's the really amazing thing. Christ does inhabit us. As believers we have Christ in us and we are in Christ. The Bible is clear on this. However, He doesn't just want to dwell within us, He wants total control. We often talk about "the God shaped hole" in our hearts and lives that Jesus wants to fill. Garbage. Jesus doesn't want to fill some small portion of our hearts and have some control over what we do on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. He wants ALL of us. To be a follower of Christ is to be "firmly controlled" and "held as property" by God. We can accept Christ as our Savior and go no further in our walk with Him and allow Him to only inhabit our hearts. I think Paul speaks to this notion in 1 Corinthians 12-15;

Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Obviously there is alot going on in this passage, but one of the things that it tells me is that whatever was not of Christ in our lives will be burned away and lost on the day we enter into the Kingdom. There is no doubt that if we have been saved and redeemed by Christ we will make it into heaven but we'll look like a meteor that has just tried to enter the earth's atmosphere, all smoking and charred because most of us has been burned away.

To truly be possessed by Christ means that we have become slaves to Him. Paul and James even identify themselves as "bond-servants" of Christ in the introduction to Romans and the book of James. Bond-servants and slaves are the property of the owner. They don't get to do whatever they want, whenever they want to. Unfortunately the fallen world that we live in has given the idea of slavery and fallen meaning. Please understand that the only slavery that I am condoning is that to Christ Jesus. We, as humans, have no right to claim another human being as property but God has every right to demand total allegiance to Him. Remember, though, this is not the demand of a tyrannical, celestial dictator. This is the loving, perfect God who sent His Son to die for each of us so that we might have a new life in Him.

There is yet another way to understand the idea of being God's possession. Most people have a few cherished possessions. When we were children our most prized things may have been stuffed animals or G.I Joes. As we grow older they may take the form of pets or cherished mementos from loved ones who have gone home. When I was overseas our most cherished items were things like root beer and Little Debbie snack cakes. Whatever the item is we guard it and take special care of it. I believe we can understand our being possessed by God in the same way. The Bible is clear that He has an incredible love for His people and it follows that He would take special care of us.

It should be awe-inspiring that the God of the universe cares about us enough to call us His own possession. This, in turn, should motivate us to allow Him to completely possess us, not just part, but the whole. You, dear friends, are God's own possession and that has deep implications for your life.



Friday, August 5, 2011

The World's Largest Nation: 1 Peter 2:9 Part 3

Photo courtesy of flaivoloka
Holy: moral and ethical wholeness or perfection, sanctified, set apart.

Nation: birth, race, nation, from nasci to be born.

This third portion of our series on 1 Peter 2:9 is interesting and it flows logically from the first two descriptions of who we are in Christ. In part one we found out that we were hand picked by God to be a His people and following that we learned that we are royalty because of our new-birth into Christ's royal line and because we will one day be married into it. Having set the stage with those two facts Peter goes on to tell us that we are a "holy nation." To understand this more fully we must understand the meaning of "holy." For the longest time my image of holiness was either divine or something that is kind of "untouchable." Let me give you a somewhat humorous example. I remember one time when I was a kid being very concerned that I shouldn't put anything on top of my Bible. Why? Because it is the "Holy" Bible and it would be sacrilege to put something on top of it... right? Luckily I had a very caring and discerning grandmother who shared with me that that probably wasn't the case. Yes, we should put nothing above it as our authority but putting another book or notebook physically on top of the Bible is probably not an issue.

It is informative and enlightening to do even a short study on the word "holy" because it really gives us a new understanding of what the word means ( I suppose that is the whole point of doing a word study on any word). There is an aspect of "holy" that means perfection and moral purity and that is rightly attributed to God. Depending on what translation you use you may find that Matthew 5:48 tells us to be "holy" or "perfect" as God is perfect or holy. In this instance the two can be interchanged, and often are. In this context the Bible is telling us to be morally pure just as God is, there are no two ways about it. Is it possible? Only if we have the perfect Christ dwelling within us. Do we realize this exhortation in our lives? Rarely, if ever.

The other aspect of the word "holy" is to be sanctified or set apart. It is this meaning that I think we need to apply to our being a "holy nation" as well. The Bible is teaching us that not only do we need to be pure but we also should understand that we are set apart for the purposes of God and His Kingdom. In the Old Testament God pulled Abraham, and later the Israelites, out from among the other nations to be special to Him and to fulfill a special purpose in His redemptive plan. As New Covenant believers we become, by spiritual grafting, part of that special group of people that God has pulled out and set apart. Truthfully, our reason for being set apart is just the same as it was for the Israelites; to be the people through which the world sees the Messiah. Matthew 5:14-16 tells us;

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

We have been specially selected to be part of God's royal family so that the world can tell there is a difference. If all the cities are on hills then there is nothing special. If there is room full of lights then one does not stand out. Yet, within the darkness of the world God has set us up and apart to display His glory. This does not mean that we build a wall around ourselves that shuts the world out. We are told that that wall of division has been broken down by the Cross. We are to display, openly the glory of God among a world that desperately needs to see it.

The second part of the description, "nation," applies directly back to our being royalty in God's Kingdom. The word "nation" shares a common root with the word that means "born." The idea of a nation has more to do with who you are born to and less to do with lines drawn on a map. Of course, we have given the word a slightly different meaning today because it does have to do with geo-political division but this is not the original intent. The number one way to be a part of the nation of Israel was to be born a Jew. Naturally, you could convert to Judaism but the easiest and more foolproof way to be identified as a Jew was by birth. The same can be said for being a part of God's holy nation. We are included in that number by our birth, or more specifically, our re-birth as Christians.

This is an important concept for us to understand as Christians, particularly American Christians. As believers we have a large family, or nation, that we are a part of that transcends national boundaries. There are Hispanic Christians, Arab Christians, Asian Christians, European Christians, African Christians, and the list goes on. Yet, our deepest and more real nationality is that of Christ and His Kingdom. It would do us well to look at a picture of the earth from space and take note of the fact that different countries are not outlined in red or colored pink and purple and blue and green. All you see is chunks of land floating among vast expanses of blue water. It is impossible to tell that people in Asia look different or speak different from the people in America. I would submit that this is how God sees the world.

So, in conclusion, as followers of Christ we are a "holy nation." That means that we should be pure morally as well as the fact that we are set apart for God's purposes. It also tells us that we are part of a vast group that spans to all corners of the globe and, in fact, all time. This is part of who we really are in Christ and the difficult challenge for us is to start acting like it.



Monday, August 1, 2011

You are Royalty: 1 Peter 2:9 Part 2.

Photo courtesy dcubillas
Today we're going to continue our five part investigation of who we really are in Christ as expressed in 1 Peter 2:9. If you missed the first part you can go here and catch up with our discussion. The next part of Peter's description of believers is truly amazing because it is something that only Christ could do there are some very interesting points of contact between being a "chosen race" and a "royal priesthood."

The first thing that stands out to me about this element of who we are in Christ is that it is a "dual office." What I mean by that is that being of the royal line and the priestly line are two very different things. If we look back into the Old Testament we see that being a king and  a priest was an impossibility within the Law that God set up. One of the most vivid evidences of this comes from 1 Samuel 13 when King Saul offers a burnt sacrifice before Samuel arrives. Samuel's response tells us all we really need to know:

You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord you have established you kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. 1 Samuel 13:13-14a.

At this point in history the king was the political and national leader of the nation and the priests were the spiritual leaders and the priests were the only ones authorized to enter into the presence of the Lord. The lone example that is contrary to this is Mechizedek who was the king of Salem in Genesis 14:18-20. There are two major differences between Melchizedek and the other kings, however. First, Melchizedek lived long before the Law was given to the people of Israel. In fact, he predates Israel altogether. Second, he was a foreshadowing of Christ who is the final and eternal High Priest and King of Kings.

Now, back to the point at hand. There are basically two ways in which a person can become "royal." Unless you have been living under a very large rock for the past several months you are probably aware of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate. If you saw the wedding festivities you witnessed all of the pageantry that the British royal family has to offer. The interesting thing for us is that Kate was not royal of her own merit. Her family may have been wealthy and well-to-do but they were not, and never will be royal due to that wealth. To become royal Kate had to marry into the family. Now she is a princess and is as much a royal as anyone else. So, one of the ways to become part of royalty is to marry into the family. The other and most obvious way to be royal is to be born into the family, the royal line. Now, here is the kicker, we have been brought into the royal family of God both ways.

Romans 8:17 says this;

and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ...

Galatians 4:7 reiterates this fact;

Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Through that act of being "born-again" we are made heirs of the Kingdom of God. The only possible means of this is through that spiritual act of birth into the royal line of Christ. Take a moment and let this sink in, you have been born into the line of royalty. Not British royalty, or Saudi Arabian royalty. You are royalty with the King of the universe. The One who created it all! In the words of Marty McFly, "This is heavy."

So it is clear that we have been born into the royal line of Christ. What about the other part about marriage? Well, it is quite simple and in reality it hasn't happened yet. The Church is described as the Bride of Christ. One day, when all is said and done, the Church will be presented to Christ as a bride adorned and ready for the wedding feast to end all wedding feasts. At that time there will be no need for the sun because the glory of God will illuminate the world and there will be no need for a temple because God will dwell among His people (Revelation 21). This all tells me that there will be no way around the fact that God's children will be part of His royalty. We are born into it and one day we will be wed into it and no one can say otherwise.

The second part of the dual office described in 1 Peter 2:9 is "priesthood." Again we have two ways into this office. First, if we are made heirs with Christ, and of His line then because of His perpetual priesthood we are also priests. In the old covenant the priesthood was passed down through the line of Aaron just like kingship was. Thus, in the New Covenant we are grafted into Christ's priestly line. Furthermore, in Matthew 27:51 we are told that when Jesus died the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. This curtain was in place to keep people out of the Holy of Holies. The blood of Christ, shed on the cross, tore down that barrier so that all may enter into the presence of God freely, through His blood. Now there is no need for a human intercessor to take our prayers before the Almighty. We are now invited in, as priests ourselves, to the throne room of God. Make no mistake about it, we are not entering in on our own merit. We are entering in through the merit of Christ on our behalf.

In Christ we are a "royal priesthood," a dual office that only Christ can fulfill. We are royal, meaning that we are heirs to the Kingdom of God because we are born into the line of Christ and one day we will be His bride. We are also a nation of priests and we have access to God, directly because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. This is a big deal, and as we saw last time there is nothing that anyone can do to change who we are. No matter how hard I try to be someone else in this world, I will always be a Herring because that is who I was born as. I can try to scrape off my finger prints and change my name but the fact remains, I am a Herring, the son of a Herring. No matter how hard Satan tries, he cannot make you anything but an heir to Christ's Kingdom. Once we are born again that is who we are, that is our identity. We are royal. We are priests. However, we do well to remember that it is not because of something we have done. We must always remember, with humility, awe and gratitude that it  was something done for us by the One who loves us more than we can comprehend.