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Archive for the ‘Truth’ Category

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:3-8)

As Paul begins his letter to the believers in Colossae, he does so with a heart of thanksgiving – because stuff is happening in that church! This isn’t some building with a sign “Christian Church” in front of it; sterile on the outside and sleepy on the inside. No, this is a group of people where God is actively at work. Gospel fruit is coming forth. Paul is encouraged because there is abundant evidence of supernatural life:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Here we see depicted the true evidence of the hand of God in a gospel work.

There is faith in Jesus Christ. Note: the Scripture no where validates faith in faith. Nor are we to have faith in one of a buffet line of possible deities. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ (see our previous study on verses 1 and 2), sees that the gospel message has turned former pagans to the one true Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is love for the saints. Throughout the New Testament, one of the hallmarks of a true gospel work in the heart of men and women is holy, sacrificial love. Of all of the fruits of God’s supernatural work, a surpassing love among formerly selfish people shines brightest. This comes about by the indwelling of the Spirit of God – it is more than human affection.

There is hope for the future. Paul here is underscoring the objective hope of a resurrected future for all believers; but that message of God-secured hope also births a subjective sense of hope in the heart of the Christian.

There is increase. The gospel is not some set of dogmas, embraced but without any real effect. No, the work of Jesus Christ bears fruit; growing fruit, increasing fruit; wherever the gospel is embraced. Lives are changed.

There is truth. In our day, people love to separate “spirtuality” from truth (capital T truth). Paul knows of no such thing. The message of the gospel is specific, and a messenger such as Epaphras is considered faithful because he has not only embraced the truth, he is accurately teaching it to others.

We will always be surrounded by a culture that wants to use God-words (grace, love, truth, jesus, spirit, etc.) divorced from God-meaning. Those empty forms of belief or religion will never bear gospel fruit, because they deny gospel realities. No church is even close to perfect, but where the Spirit of Jesus dwells, we’ll see the evidence Paul describes above. The gospel is not mere words – it is power.

Transformation and orthodoxy and fruit-bearing all dwell together in the living church of Jesus Christ.

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She was unclean. A notorious sinner in the town actually – perhaps a prostitute.

An immoral wretch, at the bottom of the totem pole.

Immoral womanBut she was intrigued by this loving, kind, forgiveness-dispensing Jesus, and she dared come to Him to express her appreciation and love in a tangible way – anointing His feet with very expensive perfume.

All this, in the house of one of the self-righteous religious folks of the day. Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus in for a meal (after all, on the prophet circuit, Jesus was head and shoulders above any contemporaries! He was really stirring things up with His authoritative teachings, His miracles, and His kindness to the lowly and outcast).

Because Simon was more interested in hosting a prophet than humbling himself before a Savior, he did not honor Jesus with the courtesy of providing water to wash His feet. In fact, when the unclean woman made up for Simon’s lack with her tears and perfume, Simon sneered in his heart – “some prophet – he doesn’t even know that this wretched woman touching him is a sinner!!”

Au contraire – it was Simon who did not know he was a sinner. And Jesus nailed him to the wall with a little parable about debts.

Read the rest of the story here. And then ask yourself; am I the forgiven sinner who loves his/her benefactor? Or am I the blinded sinner who denies his or her indebtedness, and therefore shows no love – feels no need – for a Savior?

Here’s the point: no matter how deep, wide, and long-lasting our sins – no matter how profoundly mired we are in our moral uncleanness – Jesus is far, far, infinitely and immensely far greater in His love and grace.

Did I mention far?? The Scriptures talk about His willingness to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. That’s…………….far.

The first work of grace is a spiritual awakening to our uncleanness. The next work of grace is a painful awareness of our utter bondage and helplessness in our rebellion. Conviction of sin is the awful mercy of God. Yes, we did all that. Yes, we are utterly foul and helpless. No, we are not righteous, not one bit.

Then we will turn to a Savior. Then we will worship. Then we will love much, having been forgiven much.

Cleansed prostitutes will be in heaven. Once-unclean and immoral people of every stripe, gender, race, and background embrace Him now, and will enjoy Him forever. But there will be no self-righteous ones there to sneer.

photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) via photopin cc

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He couldn’t even walk there himself.

The remarkable rabbi was nearby. The one who was healing people with all sorts of diseases.

But he couldn’t make the trip on his own. You see, he was paralyzed.

Not sore. Not lame. Totally unable to walk. Any doctor would have put it on his chart – “Hopeless case.”

His friends had to carry him to Jesus.

What followed was both remarkable and outrageous. Go ahead – read Matthew 9:1-8.

Jesus saw the hopelessly afflicted man, his friends, and their collective faith. And He said,

“Sorry, dude. That’s too tough a case for me.” No.

“Hey, thanks for coming! Have you checked out Galilee Memorial Hospital? – they have a great setup for paralytics!” No.

“Why, look at the time! Gotta go, folks, see you all next week.” No.

What Jesus did say was totally unexpected, and absolutely inflammatory: “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

The religious scholars in the crowd were utterly appalled. A man, pronouncing forgiveness of sins?? Blasphemy!

Now, of course, anyone could SAY they forgive someone’s sins – it may be blasphemy, but who can prove him wrong? It’s just words, after all.

So Jesus challenges the disbelievers: “Which is easier, to say “Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home.”

Which the man, undoubtedly grateful and thoroughly amazed, promptly did.

Publicly. Right in front of all the skeptics.

Compassion? An outrageous display – way beyond what was hoped for.

The man and his friends came hoping for the miracle of movement; they left with that and the miracle of forgiveness.

The skeptics, meanwhile, only left with perplexed anger.

What is holding us back from coming to this compassionate, authoritative, spiritual physician? If the Son of Man/Son of God is pronouncing (and effecting) spiritual healing, then by all means, we should be coming to Him with faith.

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The New Dividing Line

When it comes to religion, we all have a compulsion to draw lines: Who’s in? Who’s out?

Who are God’s chosen people?

(Assumed) membership in the club of the divinely favored has divided us through the ages. Patting ourselves on the back for being in the club – wearing a diviner label, as it were – brings out the ugliest in human pride.

Jesus totally ruins that self-congratulatory party. He’s so disruptive that way…

In Matthew 8:1-13, Jesus does marvelous works of healing grace for members of two very disfavored groups: a leper, and a Gentile. In the Jewish economy, the pure, the chosen, the favored ones, were the physical descendants of Abraham. The unclean (like lepers and foreign races) were excluded from nearness to God.

Except they weren’t, once the new age of promiscuous grace dawned on the world. Have you ever put together the ideas of “God” and “promiscuous”? It’s a startling and wonderful thought. Someone who is promiscuous shares his or her favors around freely. Grace is like that. Dwelling inside the walls of a special club isn’t.

For a time, the Jewish nation was commanded to be separate from the world, and elaborate rules were put in place (by God Himself) to teach the human race about holiness, impurity, and sacrificial cleansing.

“Be separate,” said the Lord. And there were very good reasons to stay at arm’s-length from the pagan practices of the surrounding nations. There was much wickedness out there. There still is.

But the point is often lost – there is just as much wickedness in here. In my heart and yours. No matter what club we grew up in, or joined.

Then came the gospel of grace. And the new dividing line was humble, needy faith coming to a willing, forgiving, all-powerful Savior. The dividing line is not bloodlines. Not geography. Not diviner labels. Heart-devotion.

The children of Abraham were not merely to be his physical descendants. They would be all those with the faith of Abraham – even the unclean, the foreign, the defective, the broken, the polluted, the guilty – any and all who come to Jesus with their spiritual leprosy AND faith were now welcome into the very presence of God.

Tasting His goodness, and loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, has always been the main point – even from the earliest days of the Jewish nation.

The dividing line is now a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of gracious pardon humbly received, not bloodlines inherited or doctrinal systems embraced.

Our dividing lines can allow us a sense of superiority, while at the same time keeping us from a genuine relationship with God (and other people). If your distinguishing mark is, “I’m a good (Baptist/Jew/Muslim/Catholic/Buddhist/Pagan),” then you may, in fact, be hiding from God behind your barrier of external righteousness.

Your diviner label, which you think makes you better, is nothing more than (as the Scripture so bluntly puts it) “filthy rags.”

Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who hid behind their bloodlines, their external works of righteousness, their religious posture. But He welcomed sinners who believed in Him.

Here is what godliness looks like: “(the) leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing, be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:2-3)

There is still a dividing line between the holy and the unclean, the righteous and the wicked, the people of God and the people who love the world. But you won’t find that line in religious club membership with the right name and list of qualifications.

Spiritual lepers who have been humbled, cleansed, and who love their Savior are the people of God. And they come in all shapes and sizes and genders and races and backgrounds. They’re not better than anyone else – in fact, their track record is often far worse. Which led them to grace instead of preening self-righteousness.

They’re only “in” because God showed them how “out” they were – and welcomed them home to Himself.

As He is perfectly ready to do with you and me. When we are ready to admit that our club uniform is, in fact, filthy rags (not holy vestments); and that, as hopeless spiritual lepers, we need a healing Savior.

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

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Satisfied

satisfiedWe all want to be satisfied (in the most common use of the term). I made some (smoked) pulled pork last night – and believe me, we were all satisfied at meal’s end!

But, our temporary feelings of satisfaction pale into insignificance when we consider this question: Can God be satisfied? Clearly, we’re going to need to consider a variant meaning of the word compared to, say, the appeasing of our fleeting appetites!

“If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” I John 2:1-2

For God to be satisfied, in this case, means that His wrath is fully appeased through an effective, once-for-all-time sacrifice to take away the guilt of sin – healing the breach caused by our rebellion.

Yes, God IS satisfied – utterly, totally, and universally satisfied – and it has something to do with an advocate for sinners, Jesus Christ.

Satisfied here implies complete, without flaw – when Jesus said, “It is finished!” as He perished on the cross, it meant that satisfaction for sin was now reaching a whole new level. One sacrifice for all sin, for all peoples. A satisfaction that anyone in the entire world could enter into, at any time, and be reconciled with God.

We don’t sacrifice a lamb for our daily sins – that is to go backwards into the time when God was instructing the human race through types and symbols. All those temporary sacrifices were like brush strokes, painting the portrait of the Lamb of God to come who would fully satisfy the wrath of a just God with a perfect sacrifice.

We need no Mass to crucify afresh the body and blood of Christ. We can do no good works to appease God when He has already satisfied His perfect requirements through the giving up of His Son. Our acts of devotion are to be from a wellspring of gratitude and joy that God is satisfied with those who embrace His Son.

We cannot earn favor. We cannot cancel our guilt. We cannot cleanse our own stains. We cannot appease our offended consciences or obey a law that we already despise; and we certainly cannot satisfy a holy God. Our feeble efforts at reconciling ourselves to God through ANY religious observances or good works are like sitting on the beach digging through sand with a bent spoon to try to find a bit of water, when the whole ocean is in front of us. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that God is satisfied – with Jesus Christ. Embracing and following Him, we enter into a rest that nothing else can give: the smile of a satisfied God.

If I put a heaping plate of nourishing food in front of you, and you decide instead to scratch around on the floor looking for crumbs – would that satisfy either of us? So, when God makes abundant provision and we embark on a do-it-yourself project, we stiff-arm the only One who can satisfy.

We can be washed in the ocean of God’s grace. Bent spoons and crumbs don’t bring a smile to God’s heart. Anything that has the trappings of Christianity without the satisfaction of God as its constant heartbeat is simply missing the point.

It is vanity to think that we could satisfy a God who has already satisfied every requirement of His holiness. We can, however, bow to worship and humbly receive His gracious kindness.

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” I John 1:8,9

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Clueless Birds

MockingbirdAs I sit in the (relative) quiet of my study this Sunday morning, there is a squawking noise outside – sparrows happily jousting with one another for their turn at the feeder that hangs from the red maple by our deck.

Wings flapping as they hop from deck rail to seed-holder, they greedily go after their morning breakfast, provided by someone they’ll never know, someone they’d fear and flee from on sight.

Someone who gladly provides for them anyway. Because they are alive and have a purpose; even if that purpose is only to sing and look pretty and propagate and remind us that we are but one species in a glorious pantheon of wonderful creatures.

A mourning dove has now joined them – big, slow, with its incredibly distinctive and plaintive cry. And sometimes, my ears will delight at the calls of the neighborhood mockingbird (my favorite), one of the many reminders that God has a whimsical sense of humor.

These birds are clueless about higher purposes, yet they glorify God, even when not conscious of it.

Sometimes I wonder how clueless I am. Yet it is my calling and privilege to knowingly glorify God.

Not just take the daily abundance that he gives and fly off in fear…

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My Idea of Justice

I find that I have a very ambivalent relationship with Justice.

Like every human being made in the image of God (well, I guess that’s all of us!), my instinct for justice is undeniable. Murderers should be severely punished. Thieves (corporate or otherwise) should be locked up and have their assets liquidated and returned to their victims. People who do great work should be promoted.

We are hard-wired to seek consequences for choices, on both the reward and the punishment level.

Some feel squeamish about justice. But steal our wallet, smash our car, hurt our kids – we pretty quickly find out that we yearn for justice like everyone else. On a personal and societal level.

But then I read statements like this today, in Psalm 58:

Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth!

…and I look around and say, where? Isn’t it often the case that the wicked “get away with it” while the righteous suffer (see Psalm 73)? If God is just, and a Judge over all the earth, why is there so much injustice? In the timeline of our experience, it all seems so uneven and inconsistent. What’s up with that?

This can be a real stumbling block to faith. Of course, reading through the Scriptures, we do find numerous places where God actively brings judgment on those who oppose Him, and even judges His people when they stray off from His ways. But other times, He seems silent. Is this injustice? Impotence? Absence? Or something else?

From our (admittedly limited) perspective, it looks like there’s not a whole lot of justice going on! But maybe – just maybe – this is a good thing.

The same psalm opens with this bald statement of our universal human sin: “the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth speaking lies.” If just our little white lies were subject to the justice they deserve, we’d all be living through a Category 10 hurricane of wrath each day. Let alone all the other ways in which we daily fall pitifully short of perfect holiness.

God is just…and patient (or, in older English – longsuffering). God is a God of justice…and mercy. God is opposed to the wicked…and inscrutably wise in His eternal purposes.

In other words, justice will not always occur in the way and in the timing we expect. It WILL occur, as sure as day follows night – but, as for me, I am glad it is not immediate and fitting to the crime. Because I’d be a dead man 100,000 times over for all of my violations – in action and in heart – of God’s law.

Throughout the Torah, we see the principle of substitutionary sacrifice for sin – justice taken out on an animal substitute, such as a spotless lamb. Blood was shed as payment for human sin. Day after day, year after year. This understanding continued forward into the Christian faith, with the full outworking being a once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, for sinners of every race.

Justice satisfied via sacrificial substitute??? My sin cancelled out by the sword of justice falling on a willing, and faultless, sacrifice?? What’s up with that?

Scandalous idea. And that, my friends, is the gospel.

It’s God’s idea of justice, linked in mysterious wisdom to mercy for fallen men and women. Justice, and deliverance from justice. Holiness meeting humanity over a table of atoning love.

I’ll take that over my idea of justice any day.

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