Month: September 2015

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Thessalonians 4

bibleRead 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The process of sanctification is ongoing, and once begun, cannot stop.  The basis of sanctification is the radical departure from our sinful nature into the complete and holy nature of God the Father.  This process does not happen overnight nor does it happen without challenge and suffering.  This process is often slow and often arduous.  However, although each step is a painful tear from the world with which we have until this point been so comfortable and satisfied, each step also reveals more and more validation that the process is not only necessary but is ultimately liberating.  As we move closer and closer into a union with the spirit of Christ himself in our daily lives, we likewise move closer to the realization of the hope towards which we ultimately strive.  That hope is the realignment of this world as it is with how it was intended to be.  That hope is also the realignment of our spirit from its current state back to its created purpose.  This original creation was intended to be one with the Father in every aspect.

The process of sanctification cannot be rationed; it is always more.  To be merely content with where God has brought us “so far” is a loss.  Resigning to the fact that he can do little more with us is absolute failure.  The spirit born anew in Christ always strives to go farther and search deeper than before.  This desire for more does not arise out of a desire for mere activity.  It arises out of the realization that the more we align ourselves with the spirit of Christ the closer we will be to him.  This closeness is what produces the “wings of eagles and feet of deer” in us that allow us to soar above and beyond, or run gracefully through, the suffering of this world.  This closeness has the power to calm every storm.  The desire to do more and more with Christ is not just busywork.  The desire to do more and more is proximity.  The more we strive to be like him, the more will be one with him.

Serving the King: Suffering

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Suffering (Isaiah 53)

In the first section, in 1 Samuel 15, we met Israel’s first king: Saul, a king with human tendencies and human abilities.  Saul demonstrates so well the potential of the human heart to fall victim to power, success, temptation and glory.  In this section we will read one of the most powerfully prophetic scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53 shows another sort of king, a “suffering servant” who is the complete opposite of Saul.  This individual, innocent of sin, is the most glorious and most praiseworthy figure in history, yet received nothing but suffering, disgrace and shame in his mission to save the world.

The Bible can be difficult to digest because it is an ancient text, but it also can be difficult because of what it demands of us.  The Bible and, more specifically, the teachings of Jesus Christ, establish a bar of behavior that is intimidating at best.  Christians are called into a life of service that no human being could ever live up to. Jesus Christ’s depiction of true Christian character seems superhuman and impossibly unrealistic.

Unfortunately, many Christians and non-Christians leave the expectations and frustrations there.  They see expectations and demands and never move beyond the daunting realities that those demands present.  But this mistake can be resolved if we understand Isaiah 53.  In the Gospels we don’t encounter a list of demands and orders from a distant and judgmental deity.  Rather, we meet Jesus.  The suffering servant came into our world and lived alongside us in order to model a way of life so that we could follow him and not simply the commands.  Jesus never preached orders.  On the contrary, Jesus preached repentance, change not to harm us but change that can free us.  Jesus announced “good news,” not “new rules.”

Jesus preached himself because only in him can we truly live the way he expects us to.  He is the savior of Isaiah 53 who did far more than we will ever be expected to do, simply so that we wouldn’t have to.  In Jesus we have a God that suffered, felt pain, and understands us completely.

Why did Jesus choose to come into the world? The question can be confusing.  If we view his life as a platform by which to give orders and make demands, then his sacrifice and the way he lived falls out of order and lacks purpose or rationality.  For thousands of years God spoke through the prophets, like Isaiah, to deliver important messages to his people.  Therefore, what necessity would there be to send someone as valuable as his son to do the same job?  However, if we think about the life of Jesus as he himself proclaimed, his purpose begins to fall into place.  The mission of Jesus Christ was not only to save his children, but to be with them and love them by living alongside them, and finally, by dying for all of them.

In our social lives, the people that we are closest to are typically people who share the most in common with us.  We are drawn to these people; we depend on and trust them.  Therefore, knowing our hearts, God knew that the only way to reach us was to be a “God with us.”  He came as a servant to show us that he was willing to serve in a way we could never serve.  Only through the reception of his life and service as a free gift, undeserving and unearned, will we find the ability to live the life that he desires for us.  Jesus Christ came into our world to serve us with only God’s approval in mind.  Through the life of Jesus we see that God understands us: our trials, our sorrows, our tribulations. Not only has he experienced them all himself, but he can truthfully say that he was tested beyond anything we can possibly compare with.  Lack of understanding and empathy does not emanate from a God who demands too much from us without knowing us.  The lack of understanding is ours, directed toward Jesus, who gave more for us than we could ever give him in return.  He suffered in ways we never will be required to.

Jesus was the teacher of all teachers for many reasons, but one of his most powerful qualities was his ability to lead by example.  He led us into salvation by his example.  All that is left for us is to do is be moved by his life and begin to follow in his footsteps one step at a time.

Tuesday Devotional: Colossians 1

Read Colossians 1:1-15bible

We live in a world of abundant and overpowering distractions.  Take a moment to count how many different voices are calling out to you to do, to see, to go, to buy, etc.  Sadly, the God of all creation has a tendency to blend too easily into this crowd of voices.  We are busy beings, trying to do as many things as we possibly can every day, week, month and year.  Found within this busyness is, for many, a Sunday morning church service.  Within this service is a language so grand and powerful that for an hour we forget the limitations of this world and our spirits are infused with a hopeful confidence that seems strong enough to do just about anything.  Within that church we speak of God as the creator of the heavens and the earth.  Within that church we speak of God as the first and the last and the beginning and the end.  Within that church we speak of Jesus Christ as the redeemer who pays our debts and gives us rebirth.

This tone and these words are not normal.  We often don’t use them outside of the church walls.  In our daily lives we display an insultingly lackadaisical approach to the presence of that tone or the meaning of those words.  Do we really understand what it means to say that he was the beginning and will be the end?  Do we really understand what it means to profess faith and submit to the creator of the heavens and the earth? Do we really understand what it means when we bear the name of Christ? Are we truly identifying ourselves with the cross where Christ became the ransom for our sins?  The truth of the Gospel is extreme. It is unreasonable and illogical to react to it in any other way.  The reaction to the Gospel has to be extreme. Hearing its claims must move us to fall to our knees in complete submission.  If we profess faith in the Gospel yet live in a way not far removed from the life that preceded the encounter with the Gospel, we have misunderstood that Gospel.  If we profess faith in the God of the Bible and are yet convinced of our own power, or yet in control of the direction and course of our lives, we have misunderstood the Gospel.  If we profess faith in the cross of Christ and continue to strive for perfection, to attain salvation through our personal record, we do not understand the Gospel. 

The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims concerning the nature of the living God.  This God does not need us for anything, nor does he have to listen to our opinions at all.  However, he continues to use us, bless us, and listen to us because he loves us.  The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims about the life and sacrifice of Christ.  The message of the Cross does not give us new guidelines to improve our lives or free passes to find peace with the daily sins that plague us.  The message of the Cross is that faith in the sacrifice of Jesus creates a being different from the old, that can never go back.  There is always movement with the cross of Christ, but just as Christ carried his cross forward and never back, forward motion into deeper union with Christ is the only acceptable outcome of our faith.  The Gospel is not just another idea, voice or message amongst the thousands of messages we receive on a daily basis.  It is THE message.  It is THE good news.  To understand it for exactly what it claims requires us to broaden our scale of measurement to a point so big that at a certain point we disappear, and only Christ remains

Serving the King: Strength

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Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

  • Serving with Obedience
  • Serving with Strength
  • Serving with Suffering
  • Serving with Priorities
  • Serving with Change

 

Serving with Strength (Psalm 62)

When it comes to serving people or doing good deeds, the old debate springs up if any truly selfless act exists.  Most people acknowledge that behind every act of goodwill is always some self-serving motivation.  As we do good things or serve others, motivation is always in question.  If our motivation is for ourselves, we negate self-less service for others.

But God in Scripture demands selfless service from his followers. This makes us wonder: does God not understand to whom he is talking?  Does he not understand our limited ability to do such things?  The answer to this comes through the word of God, where we can see that God does know exactly to whom he is talking, and he fully understands our limited potential without him.

Service can usually be divided into two categories.  On one side, you serve to gain something for yourself.  On the other, you serve to pay what you owe.

Serving with the hopes of gaining something in return for the service is, at its core, selfish.  The true motivation behind this has everything to do with you, rather than those you serve, making this so-called “charity” sinful at its core. Unfortunately, this is the outlook of many churchgoing Christians.  Behind the façade of their busy “service” schedule is the desire to ultimately cash in on all of the good deeds for future rewards.  Going to church is a way to gain points.  Sharing the Gospel with people on the street gains points.  Opening the door for a co-worker gains points.  Regardless of the method, selfishness and self-centeredness lurk behind each righteous deed.  Serving God in this way has nothing to do with God at all.  In all honesty, God is simply the man at the carnival stand who cashes in your tickets for stuffed animals and goofy pens.

Serving to pay a debt comes with entirely different motivation.  Serving because we expect something in return allows us to occupy the center of all of our deeds for others.  However, serving because you are in debt puts the focus on the one you are serving, rather than on you.  Awareness that you are heavily indebted to someone adjusts the heart and soul into “payback” mode.  For example, if someone went two hours out of their way to help you on the side of the road because your car broke down, you would naturally have a desire to do something, big or small, to thank them for their assistance and effort.  The most effective way to feel love is to give it. The most powerful motivation to serve is to receive outrageous mercy and love.

In Psalm 62, repeatedly the psalmist refers to God as a “rock” and a “fortress.”  The psalmist repeats that in God alone are safety, strength and hope.  The psalmist has clearly experienced the personal, tangible power and mercy of God, and stands boldly upon this foundation.  It is clear to the writer that it was not in his own strength that he was serving God, and it was not as a result of his strength that he was so cared for and protected.  This individual understood that the true strength came from one place alone.

Each Sunday Christians pour into churches around the world under the banner of Christ.  The question that lies at the foundation of this fact is, “Why?”

For some, perhaps, this devotion is motivated by hope of future reward or praise.  Going to church is simply a requirement by which to garner favor with God and admittance into heaven. But the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, indeed the whole body of the Scriptures, shows that no one person can ever do enough to justify admittance into heaven. Nor can we receive any righteous reward out of human effort.  The truth is that we are ultimately and completely justified only by the perfect sacrifice.  Only by his wounds, his selfless service, are we completely healed.  Serving God can never stem from a desire to earn our reward or our glory.  Serving God the way that Jesus preached is by God alone and for God alone.  It is in Jesus we find a reason to serve. It is in his life that we find the strength to serve.

Tuesday Devotional: Philippians 2

bibleRead Philippians 2:1-11

The nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is displacement.  It is shifts and redirection.  There is nothing stationary or static about the Gospel, nor the life of one overcome by it.  The gospel moves and initiates movement.  This motion begins with the radical dislocation and displacement displayed by Jesus Christ.  The Gospel is anchored in the fact that God himself was dislocated from his rightful place of dominion to a place of disgrace, humiliation and suffering.  Jesus Christ came into this world as a servant. It is then impossible and contradictory for any who profess faith in him to model a character different from his.  As Christians, our lives are anchored by the fact that God humbled himself to be what others needed him to be, and rather than what he knew he deserved. It runs in the face of the Gospel to expect anything different in our own lives.  As Christians, the source of our faith begins with Christ’s service.  It is then reproduced in our lives in service to others.  This service then unites us with Christ and his character, fueling us with daily perseverance to overcome the suffering in this world by knowing that we are of one mind with him.  If division or disunity exists in a fellowship of believers as a result of selfish ambition or vain conceit, Christ no longer has a place in that fellowship and it can no longer rightfully claim to bear his name with any integrity to the Gospel.  The church cannot disconnect itself from the life of Christ nor can it survive without him.  The church ceases to exist if the spirit and character of Christ ceases to exist within it.  One cannot enter into fellowship with Christ or other believers and remain unchanged or unmoved.  At the heart of Christianity is the shift from what we feel we deserve, to what we know he deserves.  It is complete submission to his character and the power of the Holy Spirit to recreate that character within us.  This submission requires the willingness to be dislocated from places to which we have so firmly planted ourselves in the past.  Service to others essentially has nothing to do with whom you are serving and everything to do with why you are serving.  You are serving each day because the God of Heaven and Earth came into this world and served in a way we could never serve.  Therefore, service is not humility to what is being served.  Service is humble acceptance of the truth of Christ’s service and the need for service to be present in our lives if we expect God to be present in our lives.

Tuesday Devotional: Ephesians 1

Read Ephesians 1:3-23bible

Found within this passage, so laden with spiritual imagery and truth, is a rather simple concept.  In the description of the works and purposes of Jesus Christ, Paul shares his desire that we all “know [Christ] better.”  While the walk of every Christian is complicated by our natural, worldly resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit, the life and purpose of that Christian life is simple.  The Christian’s goal is not to achieve.  The Christian’s goal is simply to know.  Our life’s purpose should be to daily come into a greater understanding of Him, entirely focused and centered on the fact that we do not know him well enough, deep enough or close enough. We should approach each day with the understanding that there is always more we can learn about him.  Knowing him is not learning about what he is so much as knowing who he is.  As we better understand who he is and has always been, we ultimately come into a greater understanding of who we are, who we have been and who we become in communion with him.  The key to unlocking the greater mysteries of the Gospel in relation to our existence in this world and the promises of the next is in knowing God the Father.  When we know him intimately, the foundations of truth and love reveal a daily existence based on faith in something we will always and forever find strength in.  Knowing God is more than just knowledge.  Knowing God is experience with knowledge.  You can read every book on the face of the earth about how much God loves you and has given everything for you, but until you experience this love firsthand, these messages will hollow and easily forgotten.  Knowing God is being loved by him, and we never forget the feeling of being loved.  The feeling of being loved affects us at the deepest level of our being.  When we know God’s love we realize that he not only loves us now but has loved us from the beginning.  Knowing God becomes the rock that all else is built upon.  Knowing God becomes the power to move.  Knowing God is everything. Without it there is nothing.

Serving the King: Obedience

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  For the next five weeks we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

  • Serving with Obedience
  • Serving with Strength
  • Serving with Suffering
  • Serving with Priorities
  • Serving with Change

 

Serving with Obedience (1 Samuel 15)

In 1 Samuel 15, we are plunged into the moment of no return for Saul, the newly anointed first King of Israel, and his relationship with God.  After Israel demanded a King of their own in place of God, God granted their request and gave them Saul.  Although he began his reign over Israel as a humble-hearted servant, Saul’s character began to change with success and popularity.  As is the case with many of us, Christian or not, the moment we see more of ourselves we see less of everything else.  This is where we find Saul as we enter into Chapter 15.

However, at this point we can’t be too critical of Saul.  Saul still believed that he was doing God’s work and acting in a way pleasing to God.  In the passage, God had given Saul direct orders to deal with the Amalekites completely and conclusively.  With zeal and strength in the Lord, Saul overpowered them with ease and was left with the choice: to see his orders out to the end or to compromise God’s will to pursue his own.  Unfortunately Saul made the same mistake that we often do. He compromised God’s true will in order to follow his own interests and desires.

God ordered Saul to eliminate the Amalekites completely. Although Saul defeated them on the battlefield, his priorities after the fight changed once he let his heart and the people around him influence his decision-making.  As the battle came to a close, Saul had the king of the Amalekites, King Agag, alive and potentially useful for a ransom reward.  Saul also found himself with an impressive financial and material bounty taken from the Amalekites.  As Saul began to listen more to the desires in his own heart, the voice of God faded ever further into the background.  Saul concluded that God would not think critically of his decision to do what he truly desired as long as God’s command was at least partially obeyed.  To Saul, there was large-scale sin and small-scale sin and God would naturally view his as that of the smallest order.  After all, he did defeat the people God ordered him to.  Would God be so displeased if he took a little reward for himself on a part of his dutiful “service” and “obedience?”

Samuel, the prophet who was God’s messenger during Saul’s ruling years, entered the scene as Saul was carrying out these sacrifices.  Noticing Saul’s blatant disobedience, Samuel began to rebuke Saul for his actions.   At this point it is far too easy for us to judge Saul’s actions, shocked that someone could disregard the commands of God in such a manner.  However, as we read this passage in front of the mirror, Saul’s actions following Samuel’s initial rebuke has a lot in common with us.  Saul begins to make excuses as to why he did not do everything God had demanded.  To this Samuel has a powerful, one-word response.  STOP.

As Christians who actively work in the church, or even as Christians who are living our days under the banner of Christ, there are often times when we clearly are aware of what we are supposed to do, yet we hesitate.  For whatever reason, we doubt either our initial calling or the necessity to follow that calling to the exact specifications.  In other words, we all face moments when we want to do one thing and God wants us to do another.

It is never easy to follow a path that seems lead nowhere, or lack a purpose and direction.  However, as Christians, there must be a deeper motivation to our service.  Our service can never be about knowing the destination ahead of time, or the easiest way to get there.  As Christians and God’s children, we must follow and obey because we are aware that the One handing out the orders has our best interests in mind and deserves our service.  The moment we begin to stray from our orders is the moment that we have either lost trust in God’s ability to know how to do something, or lack the faith that he knows how to get us somewhere.  Either way, straying from the will or plans of God shows complete lack of respect.  We are prideful beings who like control and only God can heal this sickness in us.

It’s important to remember that all along Saul thought God would understand and be pleased with his actions.  Saul is not sinning in the pursuit of unrighteousness.  He is under the impression that God’s righteousness can find harmony or balance with our own personal desires.  What we learn from Saul is that, as much as we have been programmed to repent of our sins and all of our unrighteousness, we as Christians need to be ever aware of sins done out of righteousness and “good deeds.”  The one thing that Saul never says is, “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong.”  He could not believe that God disregarded his efforts and achievements.  How could an obedient servant be criticized for such a trivial deviation from the original objective?

As we carry out duties within the church and society we must always be aware of why we are doing the things we do for God, and if we are serving to be obedient to God or to our own hearts.  In other words, do we obey out of a love for God?  Or do we obey out of a love for ourselves?  As Christians, although our dependence on sin will fade over time, as we are reborn in spirit we must be aware of the never-ending presence of sin in our lives.  Sinful desires can be overcome, but sin will never disappear as long as we are alive.  In Jesus Christ, God is with us, but because of the fall, so is sin.  Even as we go to church on Sunday and serve, even as we share the word of God, we must never forget that none is good but God.  The only “good” person has ransomed us out of our imperfection.  It takes the realization of God’s saving grace through the work of Jesus Christ to find true motivation to serve with natural, genuine obedience to God alone.  We ultimately find the motivation to “be good” only because he is perfect.  Jesus calls us to be servants, not out of the promise of riches or rewards, but out of a desire to be one with him through our sacrifice in the name of obedience.

Tuesday Devotional: Galatians 1

bibleRead Galatians 1:6-10

The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unique and unparalleled.  The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only has the ability to heal the brokenness of a single human life, but can also heal the brokenness of the world.  This Gospel can and will reverse things we believed irreversible.  To those who have experienced this strength of the Gospel, it is a direct encounter with the living God.  However, due to the sin in our lives, this experience can become overpowered by temptations. We are called out of his presence into a life willing to forget the power we were once so overcome by.  The world allows for and often encourages compromise.  In many instances, compromise is not only welcome but necessary to function as loving neighbors and stewards of the peace in Christ by which we live.  However, to compromise the integrity and truth of the life and message of Jesus Christ is to reject it entirely.  If we compromise the truth of the Gospel we alienate ourselves from the truth that saves us. We take up a position of opposition to the message of salvation, and take on the role of opposition to the mission of Christ and his Church.  The power of the Gospel can and will heal, but only if left in its original state.  The moment the message is doctored in even the slightest way, the power of the message of the Gospel is removed.  Jesus lived and spoke truth. Only the truth he spoke will set us free.  There is no power in a half-truth Gospel.  As Jesus taught his disciples, we as Christians are in this world but are not of it.  As we profess our faith in the cross, we do not identify with this world.  The life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ were of a world of righteousness, justice, love and truth.  This is not a truth we contribute to, or respond casually to.  This truth is the bedrock upon which our entire being is built, and that foundation, once compromised, will ultimately result in the collapse and destruction of everything built upon it.

The church must always welcome and embrace all who come to seek the face of God as it has always been, with love and gentleness.  However, the church must reject entirely those who seek to redefine the Gospel as something it never claimed.  To preach the Gospel in truth is to preach the power of God that can and will change and heal what is broken.  To preach the Gospel of half-truth is to remove God from the equation, and to become a proponent for the advancement of sin and its destructive power in this world.