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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

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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Is it really true that Christ heals all of our diseases (Psalm 103:3)?

We do well to pay heed to the encouraging words of the gifted English preacher from years past, Charles Spurgeon:

There is no relapse where Christ heals; no fear that His patients should be merely patched up for a season, He makes new men of them: a new heart also does He give them, and a right spirit does He put within them. He is well skilled in all diseases. Physicians generally have some specialty…but Jesus Christ is thoroughly acquainted with the whole of human nature. He is as much at home with one sinner as with another, and never yet did He meet with an out-of-the-way case that was difficult to Him. He has had extraordinary complications of strange diseases to deal with, but He has known exactly with one glance of His eye how to treat the patient. He is the only universal doctor…healing in every instance. Whatever our spiritual malady may be, we should apply at once to this Divine Physician. There is no brokenness of heart which Jesus cannot bind up. “His blood cleanseth from all sin.”

I’ve been to a lot of specialists lately. Even with all their training, each one is quite limited in knowledge and healing skill. Not so with Jesus. He knows every corner of my soul, and He has guaranteed that, in time*, I will be fully restored into His perfect likeness.

When we look at the accounts of Jesus in the gospel, we see His divine power meeting all sorts of diseases – physical and spiritual – and conquering them all.

  • Leprosy? -done.
  • Demonic possession? -done.
  • Blindness? -done.
  • Hardness of heart? -done.
  • Death? -done.

Think of all the people through the ages He has embraced with His powerful love!! The haters, the arrogant, the religiously proud, the disbelieving, the sexually immoral, the wandering, the despairing, the oppressed, the rebellious; murderers, thieves, liars, indifferent, self-satisfied, unstable….the list can go on for pages, for He has seen it all. And no-one takes Him by surprise or exceeds His power. Including you.

You gaze within and feel the discouragement of, once again, facing your temper. Your selfishness. Your immoral cravings. Your may feel ready, like Jonah, to leave your post and run off somewhere instead of obeying God. You feel the shame of your internal contradictions and wonder if there will ever be any deliverance. The deliverance is Jesus Himself; and we are to embrace his “all” in our case and say, “Lord, you’ve seen all this before; and you see me right now. I am not unique and I am not alone. I believe YOU – help me in my unbelief and discouragement. Your all includes me.”

Sometimes I like to look out over the ocean (on those rare occasions nowadays when I get to see a beach!) and think, “Who am I to think that all my foulness is bigger than that body of water?” Yet even the depths of ocean, which serve as an analogy of the love and forgiveness of God, are miniscule compared the reality of His infinite grace. All means all. Even all of me.

*ah, the inevitable asterisk. “In time.” We recognize that God chooses, at times, to bring immediate healing of some maladies (physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological), while in many cases He chooses to exercise His power over longer periods of time. I would just love for sanctification (the process of cleansing and purifying) to be immediate and on-demand – but the Bible makes it clear that we are to live in a long walk of obedience and faith, laying hold of the hope that ultimate healing of every effect of sin will occur when we pass from death to new life in eternity. Our glorification (all!!) is guaranteed; our gradual sanctification is getting us there.

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Three weeks ago, as I got off an airplane in Newark NJ, I unexpectedly suffered a minor stroke. I recovered quickly but there were definitely some lessons learned – not only for me, but for all of us (here’s the story: A Scary Moment in Terminal A).

However, there was another lesson learned which I’d like to share on this personal blog. And it has to do with what God showed me about Himself through the kind ministrations of one very special nurse.

The first two days (Tues. and Wed.) in Morristown Medical Center were somewhat confusing, as the initial testing was inconclusive about the occurence of a stroke (had to wait for an MRI that kept getting delayed), plus there was some instability about my room situation. The care was certainly professional; but I was feeling anxious because I wasn’t getting answers – about the diagnosis, about the pending MRI, and about whether I’d be able to leave on my scheduled flight at the end of the week.

Enter Nurse T____________ (I won’t use her name, because I’d like to think that this story actually describes the care and concern of thousands of nurses who aren’t individually praised in any blog post).

Nurse T____________ came to my bedside Thursday morning and listened to me. But she did far more than that….she took immediate, personal action.

– She pushed to make the MRI happen immediately – and it did.

– She pro-actively interacted with (chased down!) the doctors to start getting some answers.

– She heard my concern about the possibility that my release might not correspond to my son’s work schedule, and said, “Well, I live around there, and if he can’t drive you, I will!”

– She noted that I’d had a headache from lack of coffee that morning and said she’d take care of that the next morning. And sure enough, as soon as her shift started that next day, she delivered me a cup of Starbucks that she bought just for me.

– She kept me informed about the entire process, but also kept her twinkling-but-sharp eye on my activities since I am probably not THE most compliant patient around. It was actually comforting that eagle-eyed Nurse T____________ wasn’t going to let me get away with anything…

In other words, she became my advocate – and not only me, of course, but all of her patients on the floor. But – she very much took a personal and pro-active interest in my well-being and exuded warmth and supportiveness along with professional competence.

The effect this had on me? I finally relaxed. I was in good hands. The right person was on my side, helping navigate the bewildering world of the hospital setting. I didn’t need to feel like it was up to me, in the midst of my confusion and ignorance, to make everything happen.

This care became an unexpected source of joyous mediation for me, as I realized that I was catching a glimpse of the heart of God. Here are some of the texts I sent to my wife during this time:

Nurse1

Nurse2

Nurse3

Nurse4

Nurse5So, for all of you nurses out there – including Nurse T____________ – a profound thank you from your patients who value what you do, on the floor and from the heart. And if you are a servant of Christ serving in a hospital setting, you may never know how God may reveal Himself through you. The stroke, I’d just as soon not repeat. But the rich vein of love and truth that has warmed my heart as a result – I’ll treasure that forever.

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(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:13-14)

The claims contained in this couple of verses are absolutely mind-boggling. If anyone thinks Christianity is just another of many “religious systems,” this passage puts a stake through the heart any such notion:

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

– You mean, He hasn’t given us a new set of rules to follow? Not the point.

– Jesus isn’t all about high ideals and a great example to follow? He is, but that’s not His main mission. 

– The Christian faith is not just one of many equally valid ways to get to God? Not even remotely.

Here is what this passage teaches, and it’ll rock your world once you begin to see your spiritual reality clearly.

1. We are under the dominion of darkness. Moral, spiritual darkness. That’s right, you and I are not free agents. We are in captivity – blinded and helpless to serve God. It’s called sin – and if the Scriptures are clear about anything, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s the sinful condition of all mankind. Including you. And me. And them. Everyone.

2. God delivers people through Jesus, His beloved Son. Was God content to leave us in darkness? No – He sent His Son to be the Savior, so that any who are willing to escape the clutches of darkness can call out to Him for rescue. Yes – any=you.

3. Salvation involves a very real, supernatural transfer. When Christ lays hold of a sinner who seeks Him, there is an actual regime change. We may not see it with physical eyes, the way we might see someone fly from one country to another on an airliner and seek refugee status, but it is just as real. The kingdom of darkness has lost a subject. The kingdom of God has gained a reborn child. And this is a permanent status change. You’ve been made a citizen of a different realm.

4. Entry into this new kingdom meets our most profound spiritual need. God hates sin, and uncleanness cannot abide in His presence. So He brings about redemption through Jesus Christ – all of our sins are punished in Him (our substitute) on the cross; so that we might experience full and free forgiveness and cleansing. You see, the doorway into God’s kingdom requires a payment for all our sins, a price we can never conjure up ourselves. Redemption is a gift of grace, not a wage we earn.

When we embrace Jesus Christ in the gospel (“good news”), we come under His loving, beneficial rule. He is our Lord, and we would have it no other way, remembering the cruelty and folly of our life under the dominion of darkness.

Militant Islam, on the other hand, would impose the rule of Allah on all, setting up the dominion of a Caliphate on earth. It is the kingdom of an iron fist. You will be transferred by force into the bondage of Shariah law, or be killed for resisting. Bad news, for sure. Jesus, on the other hand, does not move us from one form of darkness to another. His kingdom moves us into the realm of light, and grace, and love. That’s why His message of deliverance is good news.

Finally – and this is implied all over this passage – there is no Christianity without direct, powerful, divine, supernatural, and personal intervention. There are many “shells” of Christian expression that have abandoned the power of the gospel, for a mere outward form of empty words and powerless rituals. Where you find the captives being set free from sin and darkness, there you are seeing the gospel in action.

— Prior posts in this series —

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

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

Colossians 1:9-12: Praying for Progress

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Emmanuel: God With Us

Emmanuel

For every person who has ever lived, there are truths that surround us like the sky above – God is above all, and in all, and we owe our every moment of life to Him.

“I have created you – carefully designed you from the smallest cell all the way to the color of your eyes.”

Wonder-filled thought, that God Himself knit us together in our mother’s womb.

“I know you – your every thought and desire; your every hope and pain; your every deed and disappointment.”

How often we feel alone and unknown in this life – yet God knows us far more deeply than we know ourselves.

“I care for you every moment of every day, even when you are blind to Me.”

Today’s provision of food and water and a stable earth; the blessings of sun and sleep; the next breath and the next after it – all are from His generous hand.

I am.

The universe is not some cold, meaningless place in which we drift, alone and void of meaning. We are, because God is. We are created by an infinite King with nobility woven into our DNA.

Yet, blinded by the hostility of sin, we refuse to love Him – even acknowledge Him – in the midst of all of His blessings.

But to the Christian, the marvels don’t end there. Even greater riches are poured out upon us through our adoption as sons and daughters in Jesus Christ.

I am your Savior.”

We could not and would not come to Him; but He comes to us as the loving, powerful rescuer. In the very name of Jesus is the meaning, “Deliverer.”

I am your God and Father.”

God as Creator, Lord, and Judge – these are frightful realities for a sin-stained soul. But God as adoptive Father, embracing the wandering sons and daughters of Adam and bringing them home to Himself – this is unspeakable mercy.

I am with you – always.”

Life on a fallen world is scary. With a sovereign God going before us, however, pledged never to leave or forsake us – we can move forward with confident faith.

I am in you.”

Through the outpoured Holy Spirit, God takes up actual, personal residence in our souls, uniting us to Himself for time and eternity. No force inside or outside of us is greater than His presence.

These are the pillars on which we build our lives. Jesus’ coming to earth is not some faraway feel-good narrative; it is the story of God not only overseeing the universe He has created, but reaching down to the very creatures who have despised Him, and pouring out mercy upon mercy. Not just once 2,000 years ago; but today, this moment.

Emmanuel – God is with us. Our denial does not change His reality. He is; and He comes to us today, inviting us to a table overflowing with reconciliation and grace. Let us not be ungrateful rebels and refuse Him entrance into our hearts.

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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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