From Knowledge to Knowledge

Started in on Colossians this morning. First thing that comes to mind, “How did he do it?” How did Paul pray for all these churches?

With all that he had on the go, often working by night and preaching by day, how did he continually intercede without ceasing for the people in the places where he had sown the gospel and it had taken root? With all the immediate, day to day ministry things on his plate that needed praying for, how did he maintain the fervor and make the time to also pray for the Romans (1:9b), the Ephesians (1:16), the Philippians (1:3-4), the Thessalonians (1Th. 1:2, 2Th 1:11), and, as I take note of this morning, for the Colossians too (1:9)? Lord, teach me to pray!

And then I take note of what Paul prayed for as he remembered the saints at Colossae before the throne of God.

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, 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.

(Colossians 1:9-10 ESV)

Four things I see Paul asking the Lord to make real in the life of these believers. That they would: 1) be filled with the knowledge of His will; 2) so that they might walk in a manner worthy of Him and pleasing to Him; 3) so that they would bear fruit in every good work;   4) and thus, increase in their knowledge of God.

And what I’m chewing on, in particular this morning, is how knowledge leads to knowledge.

Same word for knowledge both times. More than just knowing about something, the original word has the idea of thoroughly knowing. Of knowing well, or being fully acquainted with something. And, says Paul, if we are fully acquainted with the will of God, and walk in the way of God, we will increasingly become fully acquainted with God Himself.

Paul wanted those redeemed by the Son to intimately know the Father. And that, he says, comes as they accurately know His will.

Not some secret, mysterious, see if you can guess it will. But the revealed will of God. Revealed in the law and prophets. Revealed in the gospel. Revealed in the written word of God. Revealed in the incarnate Word of God.

Want to know God? Not just know about God, but really know God? Seek to be filled with the knowledge of His revealed will.

Want to know His revealed will? Don’t know how you get there apart from His inspired word.

We need to be people constantly in our Bibles. Not as some sign of piety. Not in order to amass great head knowledge. But because it unleashes the walk worthy of the Lord. It’s the catalyst to a life lived that’s fully pleasing to the Lord. A life that bears fruit in every good work. And, in so doing, causes to grow an experiential, living, dynamic knowledge of God.

From knowledge to knowledge. From being thoroughly acquainted with the will of God, to increasingly understanding the ways of God. From believing the truth of gospel, to behaving more and more in light of the gospel. From trusting in His promises, to actually experiencing His power.

Lord, move mightily to answer Paul’s prayer for the saints today. That we too might filled from knowledge to knowledge.

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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Grace In the Most Unexpected Places

Strike three, in a sense. Under Moses, despite great deliverance, every adult who walked out of Egypt, hundreds of thousands of people, died wandering in the desert because of unbelief and rebellion. Moses himself failing to enter the promised land.

Then, under the Judges, unimaginable darkness! The post-conquest generation, those after Joshua and his generation, found that worshiping the idols of the nations around them was but the on-ramp for adopting their degrading pagan practices. Judges producing so many “heroes” because of the people’s repeated descent into being like the nations around them. Strike two.

But then a glimmer of hope. Under the kings, after a bad start with Saul, things looked promising . . . literally. God blessing David, a man after his own heart, with not only a kingdom but with a glorious, hope-filled promise, “Your throne shall be established forever” (2Sam. 7:16b). But that too, at least in appearance, was relatively short-lived. 1Kings starts with David’s death and 2Kings finishes with Jerusalem’s destruction. David handed over a kingdom to his son ready for peace and prosperity, but Judah’s last king sits in a foreign prison, his eyes blinded by cruel enemies after seeing them slaughter his sons and raze God’s city. The people in exile, the glory departed. Strike three. Heavy sigh.

So I was not expecting to see grace in the closing words of 2Kings. Not sure I ever noticed it before. But finding grace in the most unexpected places is something I’m chewing on this morning.

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table.

(2Kings 25:27-29 ESV)

The king of Babylon graciously freed Jehoiachin, the second to last king of Judah. The eighteen year old who, like so many kings before him, “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2Ki. 24:9). The king who surrendered when Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians (24:12).

Other translations simply say he was “released.” But it was more than just a release. The old King James might have a better literal translation in that the king of Babylon “did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah.”

Lifted up his head. Not just released from prison, but also treated with kindness. Freed from bondage, and given a seat above other kings also taken to Babylon. His chains removed, but also given new clothes and a seat at the king’s table. No explanation as to why. Just an interesting epilogue at the conclusion of a tragic story in a land of such potential and promise.

But more than just an interesting epilogue, you can’t help but think it’s a God-breathed foreshadowing that He wasn’t done with His people yet. Just as God, after 37 years of corrective discipline, had moved the heart of king named Evil (who names their kid that) to show grace, in another 30 years or so he would move the heart of another pagan king to free His people from exile and allow them to return to the land of promise (2Chron. 36:22-23).

But even beyond that, it primes the pump of remembrance and response as it speaks of another great deliverance of someone who had given God their back. Not a king of Judah, but a kid from Vernon, who did evil in the sight of the Lord and, though he didn’t recognize it, was also in bondage to a cruel oppressor. A kid who, apart from anything he could do, was graciously freed by a Savior King at great cost to Himself. What’s more, this kid’s head too was lifted up as he was given a new set of garments–a robe of righteousness, seated at the King’s table, and was invited into communion with One “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (Jn. 1:27).

Wasn’t expecting grace at the end of 2Kings. To be honest, kind of surprised by grace at the end of my teens, as well. And really, I never cease to be amazed by His grace as it is, again and again, found in the most unexpected places.

To God be all the glory!

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Things

“Finally,” says Paul, for the second time in this letter to the Philippians. He got side-tracked a bit after his first “finally” (3:1). But now he’s gonna wrap up this short letter for real. And in the portion I read this morning, 4:8-13, I notice he talks a lot about “things.”

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. . . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

(Philippians 4:8-9, 11b-13 ESV)

Think about these things. Practice these things. Do all things.

What we set our minds on, and what we choose to give ourselves to, will have a direct influence, it seems, on what we are able to deal with.

And Paul says it’s a secret to learn. The only time in the NT, I think, where the term secret is used outside of understanding the revelation once hidden of Christ and the gospel. The original word used here is used only once in the NT, having the idea of being initiated into a mystery, of becoming intimately acquainted with a thing not intuitive to everyone. Of learning the secret of doing all things through Him who strengthens us. And, it seems, it is tightly linked to thinking about the right things and in practicing the right things.

Whatever is true, honorable, just and pure. Whatever is lovely, commendable, in essence excellent, and worthy of praise. Think about these things. These things sound a lot like the Savior.

To meditate on the person of Christ is to think about these things. After all, isn’t He the truth (Jn. 14:6)? Will not every knee bow one day before Him and show the honor due His name (Php. 2:10)? By His divine nature He is just, and by His great love and sacrifice became the justifier (Rom. 3:26). Remember that He came as the spotless, pure Lamb of God, who “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth” (1Pet. 2:22). What’s more, He is the Bridegroom, the Beloved, the altogether lovely One (Song 5:16).

Is anything more commendable, more excellent, or more worthy of praise than the One who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). Thinking not. Thinking about these things.

But the secret of doing all things lies not just in meditating on Christ, but also in imitating Christ. Taking what we’ve learned and received and heard, and practicing these things. Not just hearers of the word, but doers, as well. Training for godliness (1Tim. 4:7-8). Exercising. Cooperating with the Spirit’s work of sanctification as we strive to become more in reality what we are in standing. Doing “reps” of righteousness. Committed, by His enabling, to working it out, that we might know His working in us.

Thinking about these things. Practicing these things. Aren’t those, at least in part, what enables us to face all things?

Aren’t they part of the secret sauce that allows those who flourish to do so whether they are brought low or abound?

Frequently, consistently, chewing on the things of Christ. Regularly, diligently, trying to walk the talk. The things we think about, the things we practice, are the things that will help us learn to be content in every situation. They are the things which, through His Spirit, enable us to do all things.

Might we learn the secret.

Thinking about these things. Practicing these things. Doing all things.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Perpetual Motion Thing

Noodling on some of Jesus’ teaching this morning. Kind of a “chicken and egg” thing, but not really ’cause I know which came first. Maybe more of a perpetual motion thing.

Now, I’m no scientist, but I get the basics of what it takes for something to stay in motion indefinitely. Basically, the energy within that something never diminishes, it just changes from one form to another and back again so that that something always stays in motion. Impossible to achieve because it violates the laws of thermodynamics, that over time everything loses energy. But praise, God, we are no longer under law.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” ~ Jesus

(Luke 6:37-38 ESV)

At first read, seems to lean toward a conditional salvation based on our works. Judge not, condemn not, forgive, and then, you won’t be judged, won’t be condemned, you’ll be forgiven.

But we know that’s not true. For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). The finished work on the cross–Jesus bearing the full wrath of God for our sin–resulted in a forgiveness and eternal pardon available to all who receive it by faith. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus cried from the cross. What’s more, not only was Jesus “delivered up for our transgressions” but He was also “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). No judgment.

Such is our standing before the Father in the Son. No judgment. No condemnation. Forgiven. Abundantly blessed, given every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). And set in sanctifying motion. Being conformed into the image of Christ. Transformed by the renewing of our minds. The life we now live, lived by the Son of God in us through His Spirit. He increases as our old man decreases.

And through that, a new law of “heavenly dynamics,” such that a divine perpetual motion is possible. A motion sustained as we judge not, condemn not, forgive, and freely give. Those divine determinations then result in us knowing know afresh, despite our failures, the fullness of grace by which we’ve been saved.

But when we, instead, cede to the old man who’s prone to be judgmental, who’s tempted to pass sentence on others, and determines to withhold forgiveness, I’m thinking it causes things to atrophy pretty quick. That it sucks the life out of the new life we have in Christ.

If we live in a context of judgment, then eventually we experience judgment. If our norm is a standard that condemns, then, at some point, “the measure we use” will be “measured back to us” and we’ll be unable to shake that cloud of condemnation. If we refuse to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32), then eventually won’t we question how encompassing forgiveness can really be and whether it really can cover all our failings?

While the capacity for grace and forgiveness was not something we could manufacture, it was born–actually, born again–within us. And, in a sense, it’s kind of a use it or lose it proposition. And the more we use it, the more we live in light of it. The greater the measure we “press down, shake together, and let run over” the more, and deeper, we continue to know the abundant grace poured into our lap.

Kind of a perpetual motion thing.

By the grace of God. For the glory of God.

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Writing It Off

Scripture has a way of keeping things real. Just when you think you’re doing ok, you’re reminded of how grateful you are that your salvation doesn’t depend on how good you think you’re doing. The Book lets you look in the mirror, see your heart, and know deep down how far you’ve yet to grow. But, gazing into the written word, you also see afresh the Incarnate Word and you’re so thankful of who you are in Christ.

For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

(Philippians 3:3 ESV)

No confidence in the flesh, says Paul. Glorying in Christ alone, says Paul. Worshiping by the Spirit, says Paul. The real circumcision, says Paul. So grateful for that this morning as I’m reminded of how little I know when it comes to writing it off.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ . . .

(Philippians 3:7-8 ESV)

Inspired this morning by Paul. Challenged this morning by Paul. Chewing this morning on the implications of writing stuff off.

In the eyes of the world into which he was born, Paul had been set up for success. According to the law, he was top of the class. Among his peers, well on his way to being somebody. But then he met Jesus.

Rather than just knowing about the promised Messiah, he encountered Him. Got of taste of what it was to not just know about God, but to actually know God. Began to see the future, eternal potential or pursuing the King and his kingdom now. And so, whatever earthly success he might have had, whatever temporal potential might have been within reach, he counted it all as loss. He wrote it off “in order that I might gain Christ.”

Three times he asserts his willingness to let it all go for “the surpassing worth” of knowing the Lord. And I can’t help but ask myself, “What about me? Have I written everything off, let everything go, for the sake of Christ? Are my hands wide open?”

Like I said, Scripture keeps it real. A mirror that sometimes you may not want to gaze into for too long.

But you do, because you want to gain Christ–that desire seeded within you by the Spirit who longs to make Him known. And though my flesh is weak, my spirit so wants to be more like Paul, counting everything loss, releasing my grip on all that the world says I should value. Writing it off in order to “know Him and the power of His resurrection” (v.10).

Inspired by Paul this morning. But convicted as well. Knowing how easy it is to only count “most things” as loss. To write-off stuff, but selectively. To let go of any confidence in the flesh, yet reserve the right of recall.

Writing it off . . . by the grace of God.

. . . in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

(Philippians 3:8b-9 ESV)

Writing it off . . . for the glory of God.

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Of New Garments, New Wineskins, and New Wine

Chewing on the Pharisees’ confrontation with Jesus at the end of Luke 5 this morning. They’re looking for anything to discredit this upstart Teacher who is calling people–including even tax collectors and sinners–to repentance and to follow Him (5:27-32). Jesus is doing new stuff in radical new ways on an unprecedented new basis, and it’s upsetting their proverbial apple cart of religious tradition.

And they said to Him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink.”

(Luke 5:33 ESV)

And Jesus responds that they’re focused on the wrong stuff. That it is less about what His disciples are doing, and all about who they are following. He is the Bridegroom, come to give Himself to secure a bride, and they are His wedding guests invited to witness and participate in a never before seen, or imagined, act of grace and eternal love. They’re history makers, and the stodgy religious leaders are more concerned that they remain history followers.

And so Jesus speaks to them in three short parables, stories of new clothes, new wineskins, and new wine.

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. . . And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. . . . And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”

(Luke 5:36-39 ESV)

You don’t patch old garments with new cloth and you certainly don’t cut up a new garment to do it. First, the new cloth isn’t compatible with the old, and what’s more, you’ll disfigure the new garment trying to salvage the old. Fact is, a patch from the new garment isn’t gong to match the old, either in appearance or in durability. Translation: Don’t try and keep self-righteous, law-based living alive by patching it with grace. Don’t try and gussy up self-exaltation with bits of God’s unmerited favor. It’s not going to work. You can’t try and bolster the value of man’s efforts with the gospel of the finished work of Christ. They don’t go together. They’re mutually exclusive. Ain’t gonna happen. Don’t do it.

In fact, it’s like putting new wine into old wineskins. Now I’m not a wine guy, but I know enough that there is a life and vitality with new wine that needs to be contained in order to mature and become the stuff people are willing to pay big bucks for. And old wineskins aren’t going to cut it because . . . well, they’re old. They’re no longer pliable or elastic enough to hold the pressure caused by fermentation. Likewise the old box of religion just can’t withstand the active, living transformation caused by sanctification.

Rules and reg’s don’t cut it when there is a new heart of flesh bursting to live for Christ out of a new love for Christ. Instead it’s the new creation in Christ that’s able to constrain the new wine of Christ-infused righteousness as it matures. No longer in the adherence of the law, but by faith, believing that the work begun by the Spirit can be perfected by the Spirit. No longer measured by self-willed obedience, but now evident in Spirit-empowered response. Shedding the old, worn-out, inflexible ways designed to prevent a “slippery slope,” and instead living within a freedom that makes evident the power of Christ to save to the uttermost.

But the reality is, for many who have tasted the smooth, aged, familiar goodness of the old wine, they’re content with what is “good” and have little energy for taking a risk and venturing into what is “better.” They have little interest in something less tested, less tried, and less predictable. Content with the law, they resist grace. Believing their traditions are good enough, they refuse to venture out and experience what is better, the way of the cross.

“Oh, taste and see,” beckons Jesus to the Pharisees. Reject any idea that a piece of grace slapped on a garment of works somehow makes it better. Be willing to recognize aged and worn traditions for what they are, old wineskins unable to handle the active agency of the living Spirit of God. Having become familiar with the old ways and seeing that they’re good, be willing to walk in the new life of the freedom for which Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1), and find that it’s better.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Working It Out While He Works It In

There is a divine dynamic revealed in Philippians 2. An apparent partnering of man’s determination and God’s direction, of human effort and holy enabling. A matter of individual pursuits and Sovereign pleasures. Chewing this morning on the implications of working it out while He works it in.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

What’s the “Therefore” there for? Paul’s just exhorted the believers to be of one mind and one accord. To do so by deferring to one another–counting others as more significant than themselves and looking out for the interest of others above their own. In short, to have the mind of Christ. So, in light of how Christ manifested such an other-oriented life–by making Himself nothing and humbly being obedient even unto death on a cross–therefore, Paul says, work out your salvation.

Not work for your salvation. That work was finished on the cross, nothing we can do adds to it. But work out your salvation, the ongoing work of realizing the fullness of the redemption secured in Christ. A redemption that not only puts to death the old man, but which also gives life to walk as a new creation in Christ. Beyond being declared holy because He is holy, actually living in a holy manner because He lives in us and through us. Having been saved by Him, ours is now to figure out what it practically means to walk in Him. In the case of the Philippians, it was dealing with whatever was causing interpersonal friction within the church, and instead allowing the mind of Christ in them to enable the love of Christ through them. As in, putting away selfish ambition, saying no to self-interest, and pursuing a harmony that only comes through a willingness to submit to one another.

And so, they were to work out their salvation. But only because it was God who was working in them.

They were to work it out with “fear and trembling” while God worked it in “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” And that supernatural partnering, it would seem, is the divine normative for all believers.

Thank God I am not left on my own to work it out. That I’m not dependent on my own cognitive abilities and wisdom to know the will of God. And that it’s not reliant on whatever effort I can gut out.

Thank God that it is as God works in me that I can work it out. That as His Word is read, His way is known. That as His Spirit leads, His power actively enables. And all this, for His good pleasure.

To be sure, I need to be engaged. But to be equally sure, I am never alone when it comes to working out my salvation. Not left to my own devices, but wondrously equipped and enabled to participate in the divine nature.

Another encounter of the divine kind.

Working it out while He works it in. By His grace. For His glory.

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