Month: November 2015

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Peter 1

Read 1 Peter 1:13-25bible

Nothing about the new life in Christ is realistic.  Everything about it pushes the standard limitations we place on what is possible.  Approaching the word of God and how it applies in this world is completely unrealistic from the reality established by the world we have been raised by.  Everything about the new life in Christ calls us to expect what our world teaches us to never expect.  The world leads us to believe that certain things are not to be expected, that certain things are out of the range of possibility, and certain things simply cannot be.  The concept of genuine selfless love for another is clouded by our belief that the limits of our human hearts can neither handle nor be expected to exhibit such unrealistic love.  The concept of complete abandonment to an authority that has the power to permanently change us from paralyzing insecurity to confidence and contentment is not realistically possible. We are wary of anything that might tempt us out of the real world and into a mere fantasy state.

There is no synchronicity between the new life in Christ and the life we were born into in this world.  The two lives are in a state of constant contradiction.  The more one is overcome by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the more one begins to perceive oneself as a “stranger” in this world.  A stranger that has a home somewhere else, but is nonetheless in this world with a job to do.  That job is not to reproduce or replicate the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others.  That job is to simply bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our own life.  One cannot simply share the expectations of the Gospel with another and expect that those expectations be received, followed and cherished.  Rather, they are completely unrealistic and should receive an adverse reaction.  If one is listening and understanding the implications of the words of the Gospel, these words are not liberating.  To begin with, they are crushing by the magnitude of what they expect from us.  They are unrealistic and impossible.  They should not be taken seriously— if the words are the only witness.

However, witnessing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in the life of another suddenly opens the door of possibility.  The real-time power of the spirit of Christ in man is the only witness that can effectively lead a person from utter desperation in the face of the Gospel’s expectations to complete satisfaction and hope.  We are not meant to read the words of God as one reads literature.  Literature is from man and for man and thus will be received by man as man would naturally receive it.  The words of God are from God, for man. They will shake us, press us and ultimately change us.  Our expectations when standing in the presence of God must only be to expect something entirely different from ourselves.  However, what we should expect to find is beyond our reality and supernaturally good.

The Virgin Birth: Crucifixion and Resurrection

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. 

(source)

Support for belief in the Virgin Birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:

  1. The Ascension
  2. The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
  3. The Gospel
  4. The Virgin Birth

This week, let’s consider how the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus support our faith in the Virgin Birth.

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection provide similar ideas and thus will be discussed together. Just as the previous post referenced the discussion of the Virgin Birth as being less important than the discussion of Christianity in general, the same point applies to the Resurrection and Crucifixion. While Jesus never personally wrote anything down, and while we do not have physical proof of his body or a tomb, his name has come down to us as arguably the most important in human history. Debates about Jesus are typically over whether or not he was divine, or thought of himself as divine, or if his followers applied those attributes to his name only after his death. However, historians and scholars alike agree that there was, in fact, a man named Jesus Christ, who lived in Israel at the time that the Gospels place him there and that this man was crucified.

Just as the discussion of the virgin birth leads one to belief in the Ascension, the same applies to the discussion of the Ascension leading one to belief in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In order for there to be Ascension, there must be a place from which to ascend. As history brings Jesus to us a real man who was crucified under Roman governor Pontius Pilate, this man named Jesus must have died under this punishment, and that death should have ended his followers’ allegiance. With crucifixion a death reserved to torture and execute the worst of criminals, the followers of Jesus must have been, and were, as stated in the Gospel of Luke, in utter grief and confusion at the time of his death on the cross.

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Luke 24:13-24

The fact that grief of these disciples became devotion, worship, and belief gives us a story of a man that was completely man enough to die but likewise God in his power to rise and ascend in victory. At this point, as we trace the story of Jesus backwards from the Ascension, we are left with the man of Jesus: clearly in this world, but not from this world.

Tuesday Devotional: James 2

bibleRead James 2:1-18

Submission is at the heart of obedience.  And contrary to popular belief, obedience does not limit or confine, as much as it potentially liberates.  The difference between an obedience that oppresses and an obedience that liberates is in the will of the one who obeys.  If the obedience is ultimately for the sole benefit of the leader at the expense of the one obeying, this obedience will only benefit one party.  If the obedience is for the greater good of the whole and both parties benefit from the obedience, then the obedience can be a means to liberate rather than imprison.  Everything about the life of a Christian revolves around this state of complete submission.  There is no life or union with Christ if there is no submission.  Along the road of discipleship exists only one shepherd with one voice, and the sheep that follow after and listen for that voice have only one choice once they hear it: submit to his authority, and follow. 

This, however, is not a submission or obedience that empowers the one giving directions, while burdening the one following.  The purpose of submission to the authority of God’s voice, spirit and will is his pure desire to free us from ourselves.  Left to our own devices we will recklessly and carelessly destroy everything that surrounds us.  Our human nature is not bent to serve others with the fervor with which we daily desire to serve ourselves.  The human heart has a tendency to overlook more far-reaching implications and consequences of our own actions in trade for more immediate gratification.  We are a horribly near-sighted and forgetful creation.  We learn and then we forget the lesson.  We hear and then forget what we heard.  We follow and then forget why we were following and whom we were following in the first place.

Along with all of this, we are predictably unstable.  We stand firm and then we collapse.  We know for certain and then question everything at hand.  In the presence of God’s word and the life given us in Jesus Christ, being in a state of near-sightedness, forgetfulness or instability is impossible.  The life renewed in Jesus Christ is the opposite of all of those things.  When we allow the words of Christ to enter into our lives, and when we completely submit to him, we are made aware of certain truths that are immovable and unshakable.  When wandering makes our direction unclear, our God leads us through the desert as a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke that is unmistakable and undeniable.

In these moments the reality of his presence in the desert of our confusion must not be taken lightly or overlooked.  The only way to miss the pillar or the cloud is if we choose to look another way or close our eyes.  Otherwise, it is there, it is real and it directs us where to go.  In times where we are tempted and our flesh prompts us to act as our old life would desire us to, the transforming power of the Spirit must receive our complete submission to turn from our old self and press forward, both with the spirit of Christ and the faith that the impossible transformation is complete in Jesus Christ.  In times of blessing, where we are overwhelmed with peace and joy in our lives, we must never forget that before we were, God already was.  We must never forget that it was his authority over creation that willed us into existence, and all of the blessings that we enjoy had their beginnings far before we ever knew we desired them.  We have been given simply because the authority of the Lord has willed us into a position to receive.  The submission and obedience required by God’s authority is not to establish a hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy.  He desires that we submit to him because if we submit to anything else, we will lose, and lose everything.  He is our protector and provider.  Submitting to his will results in our protection and provision forever, by the only one who has the means to provide what we need.

 

Reflection: The Virgin Birth and the Ascension

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. 

Support for my belief in the virgin birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:

  1. The Ascension
  2. The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
  3. The Gospel
  4. The Virgin Birth

This week, let’s consider how the Ascension supports and fulfills our faith in the Virgin Birth.

Debate about the origins of Christianity and its various doctrines often dominate, and at times tend to hijack, opportunities to share and witness the Good News to believers and non-believers alike. While debate often arises over certain topics like the Virgin Birth, in some ways this becomes the classic example of putting the cart before the horse. Instead of arguing or debating the historicity of the virgin birth, we should be asking a much more important question: “Why are we discussing Christianity in the first place?” The mere fact that Christianity is being discussed is a much more important topic for discussion and inquiry.

The only reasonable explanation for the emergence and survival of the Christian faith is that a man named Jesus Christ actually lived, died, was buried, resurrected and then ultimately ascended into heaven, out of the sight and reach of his believers, only to then bless them with the power necessary to teach and physically heal the world through the power of his name. The mere fact that the Christian faith has survived persecution, outlasted empires, emperors, tyrants and wars is an almost unbelievable historical fact. The fact that men and women throughout history have affected the world the way they have, in the name of Jesus Christ, is evidence that they were touched, healed and gifted with extraordinary abilities that are inexplicable even to the persons who received them except by the one Name: Jesus. The fact that there is a debate about the virgin birth is proof that Christianity is a faith worth discussing.  Jesus did not live and die an old, wise man in the arms of his faithful followers, but, after a violent death, he resurrected and ascended as he promised, and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father.

Tuesday Devotional: Hebrews 2

Read Hebrews 2:5-18bible

Man was not created to be alone.  There are far reaching implications of this truth, both for good and bad.  Even times of joy may be followed by emptiness when what is being enjoyed or experienced cannot be shared with someone else.  Similarly, in times of trouble make us desperate when what we suffer cannot be shared with another person who can understand or empathize.  God has not given us the luxury to look him in the face and tell him, “You don’t understand.  You don’t know!”  In times of suffering, our desire to be rescued from our pain is sometimes matched by our desire to be isolated in our suffering, to feel an odd sense of superiority in being the only one who can understand what is happening and what we are feeling.  When we indulge in our suffering, knowing that no one can understand our suffering allows us to avoid healing and rescue, leaving us self-obsessed in our pain, which belongs only to us, and self-satisfied in knowing that only we can understand ourselves.

But God has not allowed us the luxury of wallowing in our misery and claiming exclusive right to our suffering.  The beauty and glory of God being truly Emmanuel is that, despite his majesty and authority, in order to bridge the gap between his creation and himself, he lowered himself so that man would never have be able to claim a sense of advantage or authority over him.  It was in his submission to man’s authority, the authority of the life and death of man, that he sought to firmly establish his everlasting authority over it.  It was in his submission, in lowering himself physically to wash the feet of sinful man, that he ultimately brought all of his creation under his own feet.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is absolutely nothing that we can claim to possess that Christ has not already possessed.  There is nothing that we can claim to have experienced that he has not already experienced to a much higher degree than we have.  There remains nothing that can separate us from the life and love of Jesus Christ. 

This truth was not established to remove our excuses.  This truth was established so that in times of joy and in times of suffering we would always know that the God that presides and reigns over all of creation is a God who is with us, in everything. He gives us permanent and everlasting fellowship in both our joy and suffering.  He suffered, not so that we would never have to, but so that we could come to the realization that this world we live in has been overcome by his suffering and salvation, and we can live in this world being slowly transformed into a new creation, with hope in the life to come.  God does not demand that we come to him and exemplify his perfection.  God came to us.  He came to us taking the form of man, bearing man’s sin and imperfections, so that we could need nothing else except for the truth of himself and his Gospel.

Reflection: The Consistency of the Promise

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re discussing how we can trust the Bible as the inspired Word of God. 

The Christian belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is rooted in four aspects of the Bible.

  1. The Consistency of the Message
  2. The Consistency of the Effect
  3. The Consistency of the Power
  4. The Consistency of the Promise

This week, let’s look at how the promises of God help us trust the Bible as God’s Word.

Our limitations were explained in last week’s reflection, however, one more aspect of our inability to “know” is worth noting. Although our passions and dreams encourage us to do and know more, the reality of our humanness is that more often than not we can’t do more, and we have no ideas or inspirations. The suggestion to know the outcome of a particular situation premature of its conclusion is foolish, given our limitation of foresight and foreknowledge. Thus, we are reduced to making educated guesses and assumptions— nothing of weight in regards to truth or certainty.

Once again, the Bible sets itself apart as a collection of promises, made during times where not nearly enough fact or information is present to support them, consistently fulfilled. There is something uniquely powerful, and also terrifying, about how much God professes to know in the Bible. There is a casual confidence that emerges from the pages of the Bible as God reflects on his plan and the way in which he has, is, or is planning to carry it out, regardless of the will or abilities of man. The casual and almost hypnotic redundancy and consistency of God’s plans and methods throughout the Bible is at a casual glance unimpressive and some might say tired and unimaginative. However, once one understands that this Word is not telling a fictitious story but is telling the history of real people, real places and is still in effect in our present age, one is suddenly and violently thrust from a view of the Word as boring or predictable to an understanding that God has known all along what he was going to do, what he had to do and what he intends to finish.

Tuesday Devotional: Philemon

bibleRead Philemon

There is something radically different in the way a person is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ versus the way they naturally mature or alter their behavior over time.  As people age, inevitable changes occur.  These changes can vary from the slight to the dramatic, but they can be followed with relative ease.  Observing a person’s growth over a given period of time is like tracking a sequence of interconnected dots.  There is a well-established understanding in human development that while some changes give cause for some consideration, there is often a relatively simple explanation as to how or why the change occurred.  This is not to belittle the change; it is simply to address the fact that human change is relatively predictable.  But a person confronted by the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ who yields to the authority of said truths experiences a transformation rather different than the traditional course of maturity or human development.  The transformation of a person by the Gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing short of supernatural.  The changes in the person are inexplicable. They defy logic.  Moreover, these changes are real.  They do not come and go like a phase.  They are roots that are planted deep and yield consistently good fruit. As the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms a person, the desires and interests of their old self are radically transformed as well.  The desires that used to satisfy now fall pitifully short of satisfaction.  While the old self clung to certain idols of the heart with stubborn persistence, the new self becomes aware that these old desires never truly satisfied and only bring distance from the God that has satisfied the self so completely.  True transformation by the Gospel can be measured in many ways, but one way is in how ready we are to hold on and how ready we are to let go.  If the desires of our old self continue to convince us of their power to fill our cup, we have not yet made room for God to fill it.  If the desires of our old self become to us slithering snakes or poisonous spiders that we are quick to let go of, we can be encouraged that the truths of the Gospel are in fact transforming us.