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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Breaking the Rules

Jesus was well known for many things. His compassion. His healing power. His wisdom.

But He was also a rule-breaker.

Not just those man-made rules, mind you. He purposefully violated natural laws. Again and again.

You just don’t heal a virulent disease like leprosy with a touch. But, Jesus did.

Giving sight to someone born blind? Not possible. Jesus did that, too.

Raising the dead? Definitely against the rules. Of course, that didn’t stop Jesus.

Or, as I was reading this morning in the gospel of John (chapter 2), taking six large waterpots full of water and transforming them into wine for a wedding celebration in the town of Cana. Not cheap swill, mind you. The good stuff. Cana Cabernet.

Hundreds of people witnessed His miraculous works. Even His enemies couldn’t deny them.

According to the rules, we just can’t do this supernatural stuff. I’ll probably swing by the pool in our housing development today while walking the dog, and I guarantee you, no matter how vigorously I wave my arms and how loudly I chant some magical incantations, that H2O isn’t becoming anything but pool water. I might entertain the neighbors, however.

I’m subject to the Rules. Natural law. Science.

Only Someone ABOVE natural law can break these rules. The One who rules nature itself can override natural law and do supernatural things. And when it comes bringing life out of death, that is the main point of Jesus’ gospel.

Being “born again” is experiencing rule-breaking, live-giving, supernatural re-birth. The gospel of hope is for the dead and the guilty and the powerless.

He takes the plain, tasteless, even polluted water of my soul and pours in the wine of His grace. He opens spiritually-blinded eyes. Transforms a sinner into a worshiper.

water into wine

When God makes a Christian, He breaks all the rules. There is no such thing as a “natural” Christian. Where Christ is, there is super-natural life.

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When it comes to our salvation, one of the most comforting thoughts is that God is “all-in.” Some people imagine (much to their needless worry) that somehow Jesus is convincing a reluctant Father to do a big favor and be nice to sinners; or that the work of the Son and the Spirit are somehow disconnected and perhaps even at cross-purposes; but all such unworthy notions should be put away when we read the testimony of the Scriptures.

Trinity sanctifies

The mystery of the Triune God of the Bible is great – and anyone who claims to have wrapped their head around the depths of the essence of the One-God-Three-Persons of the Christian faith is either a genius of the highest order, or else delusional (I vote for the latter).

But that doesn’t stop us from affirming, as Charles Spurgeon does above, the clear teaching of the New Testament: that God is united in His love, His intentions, and His work. God’s purpose is one – and He is all-in on our salvation.

We are sanctified (progressively purified and made holy) by, in, and through the single purpose and all-in activity of the living God – Father, Son, and Spirit.

AllIn

Today, we may feel spiritually dead. We may have defiled ourselves through some indulgence of sin last night. We may be filled (again) with doubts and anxieties. We may even feel like opting-out.

Has any of this changed God? Not a bit. His eternal purpose remains steadfast; His love is unfailing and unchanging. When God gives a covenant promise, it is not up for negotiation or renewal. His purposes are a cord of three strands, which cannot be broken.

All things are of Him and from Him, and He will bring all of His redemptive work to completion.

Our hope is not in a “part” of a fragmented or fickle God – it is in all of God, who is all-in.

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(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:9-12)

As Paul rejoices in the evidence of God’s work among the saints in Colossae, he goes beyond giving thanks. Past and present grace point to future growth: he beseeches God for progress – for increase, and the continual outworking of practical godliness.

This is gospel hunger; when we see Jesus at work, in us and in others, we want more. In fact, when it comes to ongoing sanctification, that’s one place where God is quite happy for us be greedy!

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

We need (and seek) filling. While the initial work of salvation by faith is a marvelous work of transformation, it is only the beginning. Each day, we need more and more of God’s Spirit. He is an unlimited God, and our minds are darkened by sin; we can never gain enough wisdom and spiritual understanding. Today’s 30 watts of light is to draw us forward to tomorrow’s increase to 40.

We need (and seek) holiness. Walking worthy of the Lord means that our heart of faith is manifested outwardly by clean hands, bearing good fruit instead of returning to defiled, God-displeasing ways. A few external changes to please men won’t cut it here – this is a lifelong pursuit of conformity to Christ in order to please the God who loves us.

We need (and seek) power. Humbling ourselves to be saved by Christ makes us painfully aware of our weakness – our utter powerlessness to save ourselves. In fact, as we make progress in grace, we see even more of the depths of our weakness – and thus, we pant after the power of God to strengthen us. We know that we’ll never attain patience and holiness and fulness without a constant increase in God’s powerful work in us.

Paul understood that salvation was not merely the one-time embrace of a message. It is a death and resurrection, with constant infilling by the Savior who is determined to make us after His image – in this life, and in the life to come. Gospel salvation is progressive in its outworking.

Since we are to share in the inheritance of light with all the other saints in heaven, we gladly embrace the joyful hardship – the painful liberation – of making progress day by day along with our fellow saints on earth.

Colossians 1:1-2: Why Listen to this Paul Character?

Colossians 1:3-8: A Harvest of Gospel Fruit

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(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:1,2)

Paul opens his letter to the church at Colossae with some pretty audacious words:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Now, if I write you a letter, I’m just going to say at the end of it:

   -Steve

or, if you’re part of my professional network:

   -Warm regards, Steve Woodruff

or, if we’re in a particularly close relationship:

   -Love, Steve

That’s it. Just me, expressing my thoughts and feelings. No claims of authority or (capital T) Truth.

Not so with Paul in his letters to the churches. He regularly opens with expressions that show that he is no ordinary fellow, penning a few random thoughts. He wants his readers in Colossae to be very conscious, from the opening words of this epistle, that he is not speaking merely from and for himself.

He is an apostle (meaning a “sent one”). He was uniquely chosen and commissioned, along with a handful of others, to bear a message of good news to all the nations. He is not a news reporter, not a blogger, not Billy Bob down the street. He has been set apart as a special herald of a message that did not originate from him.

He is sent by Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself commissioned His apostles to go out and carry His message. Paul is therefore not representing himself, spewing his own opinions of dubious or limited relevance. Paul very self-consciously presents himself to the churches – including us, in this day – as a messenger from Jesus.

He is a message-bearer by the will of God. Paul did not elect himself to this position – in fact, he was a fire-breathing Christian-hater until the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, and God converted him into a believer and disciple. God chose Paul. God commissioned Paul. God gave him gospel revelation to proclaim to others.

He speaks blessing from God. It was a high and holy position to speak the authoritative blessing of God upon his people, and Paul, without hesitation, pronounces God’s grace and peace to these believers in Christ. Paul stands in the role of a fatherly prophet to the disciples, serving his and their great High Priest by bringing comforting words from God’s heart.

You and me? We can speak God’s truth to one another, but we can never occupy this place of apostolic authority. We can take each other (and even our pets!) out on a rowboat, but we’re not Noah. You can write poetry, but that doesn’t make you David the Psalmist-King.

Here’s the point: it has always been fashionable to try to undermine Paul’s authority (and therefore the authority of the New Testament) by claiming that Paul is only speaking his mind – not proclaiming the mind of God. As we’ll see throughout this letter, Paul gives us no such option – he very deliberately portrays himself in a position of authoritative Truth-telling, because that is the position God put him in.

The prophets of old, of course, did the same – and, sure enough, they were also questioned and rejected by unbelieving skeptics. But that didn’t change the fact that God chose to speak – with authority – through frail human vessels.

What an amazing and frightening privilege this was – to stand as God’s herald and speak His word. I write hundreds of words a day in blogs and e-mails and text messages and updates – but never with a sense that I am an Apostle speaking the fresh revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Paying me much heed, therefore, is quite optional. Paying attention to the revelation of God through Paul is a matter of spiritual life or death. Apostle-words are not optional.

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Super Savior

Super SaviorIf you’re focused on Christian dogma, Christian rituals, Christian practices, or even Christian examples (good or bad), you’re missing the point.

All of those things are important, of course. But they are the spokes. Our focus – in our own hearts, in our church life, and in our dialogue with the world – needs to be on the hub.

Christ is a super savior.

No, He’s not wearing a cape and jumping over tall buildings. But just look at the language of Colossians 1:15-20, and note the incredible pile-up of superlatives used to describe Him:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

These are outrageously out-there claims. This person, Jesus Christ, is God in the flesh; and He is before all, above all, in all, ruling over all and reconciling all. The entire created order is His.

In other words, He is superior, and everything else (including you and me) is subordinate. Our fictional superheroes don’t hold a candle to His sun.

Let this sink in for a minute. That immense, beautiful, and complex universe that surrounds us? It is His. It did not just appear out of thin vacuum. He made it, He upholds it, He rules over it – we are not the pawns of chance and random forces, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made by the supreme and only God, who rules over every force, visible and invisible.

The Scripture proclaims Christ as the superlative, supreme reality. He is not one of many gods. He is God. Audacious, yes?

One of the deepest works of sin is this: we want to imagine that we are in charge; or, that nothing is in charge. Sin is all about denial of reality. We’ll believe just about anything, as long as it doesn’t involve a King to rule over us. That’s why unbelief is, ultimately, a moral choice. It is the personal rejection of your Creator/King. It is the ant telling the earth to get lost.

If you give anything your attention, let it be the super Savior. Everything else, by definition, is a lesser consideration.

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It’s one thing to hear, or see, something beautiful to the senses. And, it’s a qualitatively more wonderful experience to meet someone who is fascinating.

But the real beauty is in going deep. Time spent in contemplation, reflection, and communion. Making new connections of mind and soul that take a few scattered gold coins and turn them into a fortune.

That’s what meditation is for. It’s gaining insight. It’s self-aware application. It’s soul-digestion.

It is expansion.

Meditation is not the emptying of yourself. It is knowing your emptiness, pulling up to the pump, and re-filling.

Meditation

We humans have been given an extraordinary gift – the capacity to contemplate. We rob ourselves when we settle for digital distraction, which only serves to occupy the bare surface of the mind and heart before the next sensation comes along.

That’s junk food. Meditation is how we create a nutritious, 3-course meal.

A couple of days ago, I read this passage from the (always excellent) devotional volume by Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening:

Revolve in your mind that wondrous word, “faultless!” We are far off from it now; but as our Lord never stops short of perfection in his work of love, we shall reach it one day. The Saviour who will keep his people to the end, will also present them at last to himself, as “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.” All the jewels in the Saviour’s crown are of the first water and without a single flaw. All the maids of honour who attend the Lamb’s wife are pure virgins without spot or stain. But how will Jesus make us faultless? He will wash us from our sins in his own blood until we are white and fair as God’s purest angel; and we shall be clothed in his righteousness, that righteousness which makes the saint who wears it positively faultless; yea, perfect in the sight of God. We shall be unblameable and unreproveable even in his eyes. His law will not only have no charge against us, but it will be magnified in us. Moreover, the work of the Holy Spirit within us will be altogether complete. He will make us so perfectly holy, that we shall have no lingering tendency to sin. Judgment, memory, will-every power and passion shall be emancipated from the thraldom of evil. We shall be holy even as God is holy, and in his presence we shall dwell for ever. Saints will not be out of place in heaven, their beauty will be as great as that of the place prepared for them.

…and the thought struck me – how often do I ponder the work of salvation as positive – absolutely re-creating me – as opposed to just the removal of sin?

God, and His law, will be magnified in me?? Can that be??

Therefore, it isn’t my destiny to “barely make it” through this life of fallenness – no, God is infusing my life, and will infuse my life for all eternity, with Himself. And He won’t stop and cannot be stopped. This led to very liberating contemplation which I am even now enjoying as I re-read the words.

Yet how often have I read and heard such words with dull ears and a sleepy heart, so that the benefit never takes root?

A new perspective is often the key to unlocking deep levels of freedom and change. It’s not enough to just take in words, images, and other “content”. We need to gain clearer vision, continually. Daily. There’s no short-cut to practical acuity and wisdom – it comes through contemplation.

Scratching the surface of information or relationships may give us a form of breadth. But we don’t need more roots; we need deeper ones. We don’t need more snacks – we need to digest and assimilate. Meditation is the pathway to greater insights and life-giving understanding.

 

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Hope-full Purification

Trying to be holy without standing on a base of hope is like….well, it’s like running through a dark wilderness with a broken compass, wearing worn-out moccasins while carrying an angry and sharp-beaked octopus on your back. During an ice storm.

OK, the analogy is imperfect, but you get the point. If you seek holiness without a firm anchor in hope, you simply become a guilt-ridden Pharisee.

Trust me – I know from experience.

We see the God-honoring way of becoming holy in I John 3:1-3:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appearswe shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

First, we embrace God in a love relationship. We become, and then ARE, His children (a fact, a fixed identity. Done deal.)

Then, we embrace the fact that our ultimate destiny – our future identity, secured by an all-powerful God – is total conformity to Christ. We WILL be holy. A done deal that is getting done now.

Finally, we then are able to take on whatever efforts to actively purify ourselves. Practical holiness becomes practical only when we embrace our identity, our beloved-ness, our destiny.

Holiness is hope-fueled. Guilt, fear, and moral pride only lead to an external straitjacket of attempted behavior-modification. Orthodoxy and effort without humble and grace-filled hope only lead to defeat.

The Christian has to unlearn Pharisee-righteousness by resting in faith first. THAT will lead to sincere striving for sanctification. Fueled by strong hope.

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Now

The past 2 weeks have brought an unending litany of bad news in our nation and around the world. I don’t even want to list the events because it’s depressing to just mention it all.

It can be overwhelming, frankly. And our limited capacity to take in that much gloom is regularly swamped by an insistent flood of media that pounds us with stark imagery and doomsday opinioneering.

I’m finding myself shutting down and walking away, out of sheer self-preservation. You?

We aren’t designed to carry this much angst. And some of us double or triple the load, by continually carting around the baggage of past regrets, or constantly wringing our hands about an uncertain future.

Me – I’m totally into raking through the ashes of the past. For some reason, I can trust God for the future – He’s big enough for that – but then I hesitate to believe that He’s big enough to fill in all the cracks of my stumbling, stupid, and stubborn past. What kind of crackpot theology is that??

People often say that faith is irrational. Actually, my unbelief is irrational.

It’s hard to keep running the race when you’re carrying baggage, or doubting your arrival at the finish line.

seabiscuitGod is infinitely sovereign over the past, He is infinitely involved in the present, and He is infinitely in charge of the future. Because He’s…God. He’s infinite. Period.

I tend to hold to that theology in my head, while my heart still clings to some idol that is smaller than the circumstances of now, then, and later. That’s when it all becomes overwhelming.

The broken limbs of my faith will, however, heal in time.

We must be careful not to obsess over all the negativity that surrounds us, or that is inside us. Like moths to a light bulb, we find ourselves drawn to gloom and doom. And that darkness can blind us to our only hope for the entire timeline – God Himself.

Give yourself some space to think on good things (Philippians 4:8). Read Psalms that depict the over-all God in His exceeding glory. The past and the future don’t belong to us. Focus on now – including the many blessings that surround us. Let’s not let the gloom sink us. There is hope!

And perhaps, like me last night, shut down all the bad news and just watch Seabiscuit. Because out of busted-up and imperfect can come victory.

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Your God is Too Small

That was the title of a book I read many years ago, by author J.B. Philips. I really don’t remember any specific content, but the title pretty accurately sums up the core message.

We think small thoughts of God.

At times – many times over the years, truth be told – I’ve wondered if God could forgive my sins. If He could actually “do” this salvation thing. Can the Lord truly renew a wreck like me?

But then I thought – when I walk outside, I don’t question whether I’m going to feel enough of the sun’s light and heat to survive the day. I am confident each morning that the sun is big enough for me (and everyone else on this lovely planet, for that matter). There is so much more than enough sun that it would be silly to question its riches of power.

Yet, how much of the sun’s total energy output actually falls on the earth?

Oh, about one one-billionth of a percent.

Were I to stand at a street corner at 11 am, anxiously looking up at the sky and wondering if the sun would still be warm at 2 pm, I’d rightly be considered by my neighbors to be a bit daft. And my anxiety and questioning really wouldn’t change the nature of the sun anyway, would it? Doubt doesn’t diminish a single photon.

Sun

Do we walk out the door and question whether there will be enough air to breathe that day? Do we stand at the shoreline of the ocean and wonder if there’s water enough for a swim? Do we think the sun is insufficient to give light today, tomorrow, and next week?

Yet God, who made all of these things and billions of galaxies beside, is not enough to take care of me??

Hmmmmm….

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Two Cats

For many years, we have had two cats – brother and sister (though they look nothing alike!)

TwoCats

That’s Spike on the left. Mittens is on the right.

They not only look different – they also have quite different dispositions.

When there’s food involved, Mittens will come and rub up against me. She’ll show the bare minimum of affection, based on immediate felt need. Once she’s fed, she pretty much keeps her distance – always a bit skittish, and never wanting to be picked up and held. She’s not hostile – just not warm and cuddly.

No-one would conclude that at-ease trust is her strong suit.

Mittens is as pretty as all get out, with lovely soft fur – and I wish she’d just relax and enjoy our company more. We care for her, but can’t really express it very directly, because she’s more into a paws-length relationship.

Until she needs her daily bread. Then we’re….useful, I guess.

Spike, on the other hand, is our lover. Just look at that face! When I’m on the deck trying to read, he’ll hop up into my lap for some extended petting time. Spike purrs freely. He likes to be brushed. He initiates contact. He doesn’t mind being picked up and held.

He just wants to be friends.

Two cats, same family, same master who cares for them both.

There’s a lesson here. I am far too much like Mittens in my disposition toward God.

I think Spike has it right.

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