A World At War With What We Worship

One of those mornings when, rather than create, I go back over previous years’ posts for the day I read these passages in my reading plan and see what I was chewing on then. Ended up hovering over a devo from 2009 . . . re-running it “as is” below.

Morning routine has changed a bit since then, but not much. I chuckled at the news headline that got me bent out of shape back then–if only that was the worst thing in the news today. But what hasn’t changed, and in fact is increasingly evident, is that our world is in opposition to our Savior. What hasn’t changed is our need to beware of being drawn into a kingdom that stands opposed to our King. What hasn’t changed is that we live in a world at war with what we worship.

And what hasn’t changed is that though we are called to be in this world, we must be on guard against living for this world or living like this world.

By His grace. For His glory.

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So, I’m kind of a creature of habit in the morning. I get up . . . turn on my computer . . . go downstairs and grab a cup of coffee and a glass of water . . . come back up to my study . . . open my e-mail program . . . bring up Internet Explorer . . . fire up i-Tunes and put some good “devotional music” on. When the internet comes up I usually have a quick glance at the news headlines on my homepage. This morning this headline caught my eye, “Atheist ads to adorn New York subway stations.” Brother! Then I settled into my reading plan. And then, as I’m reading in John 7, I came across something that brought that headline to mind . . .

“For even [Jesus’] brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.’ ” (John 7:5-7)

Jesus had decided to lay low and stay out of Judea because of those who sought to kill Him. When it came time to for the Feast of Tabernacles, His brothers said that He should go to Jerusalem for the feast so He could show off His “works” . . . if, in fact, He really did such wonderful works. “For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly,” they said, “If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” (7:4). They didn’t believe. In fact, they mocked Him, “Go, show Yourself to the world . . . if You really have something to show it.” Jesus’ response to them provides insights as to why atheists are rallying together in New York to spend thousands of dollars to put up signs that say, “No God, No Guilt, Debaptize Now” where millions of commuters can see it each day. Plain and simply, they do it because the world hates Jesus.

Hate is a strong word. Yup. You mean, hate like in detest? Yup. Hate like in loathe to the point of wanting to destroy? That’s it. The world hates Jesus. Why? Because, Jesus says, He bears witness that, at its core, the ways and works of the world are evil. It was true then, when the religious elite were on a mission to kill Jesus . . . it’s true now, when men hang signs on subway walls in order to proclaim “No God.” The works of the world are dark . . . Jesus is light . . . “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5).

And as I think about it, there are huge implications for us as followers of Christ. This world we live in . . . this culture we’re part of . . . is all part of a system that, at it’s core, is anti-Christ . . . not just ambivalent . . . but against the One who came to present Himself as an offering for sin, that the world might be saved. I know we’ve heard it a million times before, but really, how careful do we need to be so that we ensure that while we are in the world we are not of the world? James lays it out pretty clearly, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Maybe we’d just rather not think about it . . . but we have to. There is an abiding opposition to the things of Christ around us. We need to know that . . . be aware of that . . . and be careful, lest we end up acting like enemies of God ourselves because we’ve been drawn into a system of thought that, at it’s core, hates Jesus.

Heavy sigh . . .

Father, I receive Jesus’ statement of fact this morning as a warning. Help me to be alert to the world’s subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, opposition to my Lord. Impart the mind of Christ through the Spirit that I too might testify of its evil and flee its allure. Help me to be faithful to the One who has promised to be faithful to me. For Your glory alone . . . amen.

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Think Like Jesus, Live For God

For them, to not blend in was as good as putting a target on their back. To live like citizens of a heavenly kingdom was to increasingly be at odds with the kingdom around them. To stand out from the crowd was to invite the increasing wrath of the government. And so Peter writes to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” to encourage them to keep on keepin’ on by providing some “big picture” context for their current persecution.

He reminds them of their living hope and the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

And he reminds them of their calling. That they are a chosen people, a spiritual house, a holy nation. As such, they were to be holy because their God is holy.

But honestly, holiness only increased the difference. It only made them stand out more. And standing out hadn’t been working out so well.

So Peter also reminds them of their Savior. And that their call to suffer, even for doing the right thing and the holy thing, wasn’t unlike Christ’s suffering for them. Though He had committed no sin, though there was no deceit found in His mouth, though there was no accusation that could legitimately stand, when Jesus suffered unjustly He entrusted Himself to Him who would, one day, judge justly.

So Peter says, think like Jesus.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

(1Peter 4:1-2 ESV)

And it’s the phrase “ceased from sin” that’s got me thinking this morning. Peter encouraged these believers that, if they could adopt the mind of Christ and be willing to suffer in obedience to God, then sin would cease and desist. That it would come to an end. That they would be released from it.

Not that they would become sinless this side of heaven, but that sin would no longer be the great dictator of their lives. That the flesh–the old man, the natural woman–would no longer be the navigator setting the paths down which they sojourned.

Instead, Peter indicates there could be a turning point in a believer’s life when, having chosen to suffer for Christ, “human passions” would be supplanted by “the will of God” as the soul’s internal GPS. True north would be reset. Their own desires giving way to God’s direction. Their lusts having less influence over their lives as His purposes became more interwoven into their plans.

Again, not about being without sin. Not talking of perfection. Instead, about no longer being compelled, or impelled, or propelled by “evil human desires” (NIV). About no longer being “tyrannized by what you want” (MSG). About increasingly living out our days for what God wants. And this all possible when, through the enabling of the indwelling Spirit of God, we remind ourselves of the sufferings of Christ and seek to “arm ourselves with the same way of thinking.”

Think like Jesus, live for God.

Not wanting to be overly simplistic, but isn’t that in essence what Peter says will happen? Isn’t that the cause and effect being laid out here? The command to obey and the promise to believe?

I’m thinkin’ . . .

Only by His grace. Always for His glory.

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Eating is Believing

The crowd came looking for a meal. Jesus wanted to give them more. They longed to partake again of everything they had eaten the previous day. Jesus invited them to participate in a feast that would secure all their tomorrows. They wanted some sort of sign–like manna in the wilderness (they were kind of fixated on food). Jesus seized the opportunity to talk about another heaven sent bread–one that not only dealt with the hunger and thirst for the day, but also satisfied one’s hunger and thirst for eternity.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”   ~ Jesus

(John 6:35 ESV)

Quit fixating on yesterday’s loaves and fish, He said. Stop romanticizing about yesteryear’s manna in the wilderness. Instead, look to Me, the bread of life, “who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:34).

And it choked the religious elite in attendance. They heard Jesus say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they grumbled among themselves (6:41). They muttered, “From heaven? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? We know his parents. He’s from Nazareth. That’s nowhere near heaven!” (6:42) And they argued about what He meant with the word picture He would not let go of, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52)

So what did Jesus mean? If He really is the bread of life (and He is) then how can someone feed on His flesh? It’s really a matter of simple math.

We know that if A=B, and B=C, then A=C. If two things result in a same third thing, then the two things are equal as well. So let’s do the math . . .

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

“Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.

~ Jesus (John 6:47, 54a ESV)

Believing Jesus = Eternal Life. Feeding on His flesh and drinking His blood = Eternal Life. Therefore, Eating is Believing.

To partake of the living bread from heaven is to believe in the incarnate Son of God sent from heaven.

And to believe in Him is to abide in Him and have Him abide in us (6:56). To believe in Him is to live forever (6:51, 58), death but a temporary interruption for our bodies as, for those who feed on Him and drink of Him now, He will “raise them up on the last day” (6:54b).

He is the Bread of Heaven. And He is the One we believe in and feed on. And that, my friend, is food worth chewing on. For that is eternal life.  Amen?

Eating is believing.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Full-Time Job

They pursued Him not because of who He was, but because of how they had benefited from what He did. They were among the more than five thousand fed on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Those who had gut-busted (“eaten as much as they wanted”) on fresh bread and fine fish. Those who, when they woke next day from their food induced comas and realized Jesus was gone, went after Him. But Jesus, knowing their hearts, called them out: You’re not seeking Me, but the sign. And that, because you were stuffed.

So, the One they called Rabbi schooled them:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”   ~ Jesus

(John 6:27 ESV)

And while they weren’t totally picking up what Jesus was laying down, they understood enough to get that, while the bread and fish of yesterday was really good, the idea of food forever sounded even better. And it led to a probing question. And it resulted in an unexpected answer.

Then they said to Him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

(John 6:28-29 ESV)

They needed to do the cost/benefit analysis. They were willing to cross the sea in order to get more of the bread and fish, what would they need to do in order to get some forever food? And the work required, said Jesus, the deed needed, the effort to be put forth, the business needing to be occupied with, was to believe.

That’s it? Just believe? Yup! That’s it.

And, as I chew on it, though we may not think of believing as work in the classic sense, I’m realizing it’s a full-time job.

Believing in the Son of Man isn’t a once-and-done deal. Sure, we may have once believed and received eternal life, but think about how much we are called on to continue to “walk by faith, and not by sight” (2Cor. 5:7) as we make our way home.

When we feel like we’ve stalled and stagnated, that we are no longer growing in Christ, we need to work at believing that it really was God who began a good work in us and that He really will bring it to completion (Php. 1:6). When we seem to be in a constant battle with the same old temptation(s) and wonder, “What’s the use?” we need to remind ourselves that there really is no temptation we’re up against that “is not common to man” and that God is, in fact, faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our ability (1Cor. 10:13). And then, when we do get tripped up in sin and falter and fall for the umpteenth time, we need to labor at believing that if we confess our sin . . . AGAIN . . . that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin . . . AGAIN . . . and that the blood shed on the cross really is sufficient to cleanse us from all unrighteousness . . . AGAIN (1John 1:9).

And the “work” list goes on. Believing that, somehow, His strength really will be made manifest in our weakness (2Cor. 12:9). That pursuit of this world really doesn’t yield any lasting benefit, but that investing now in the kingdom of heaven really is laying up treasure in heaven (Lk. 18:22, 1Tim. 6:17-19). That all things really do work together for God’s good purposes (Rom. 8:28).

“This is the work of God, that you believe . . .

Reminded this morning that faith is the enduring food of eternal life.

And so, says Jesus, work to believe. And that’s gonna be a full-time job.

Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Grace Thing

Those who have known grace should show grace. I buy that. Those whose sins have been forgiven because of the finished work of the cross should forgive the sins of others. Makes sense to me. Those who have been blessed should bless. Ok, I’m in. Those for whom Christ suffered unjustly should be willing to suffer unjustly, as well. Um . . . let me think about that one a bit.

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

(1Peter2:19-20 ESV)

“A gracious thing,” Peter calls it. A charis quality. Enduring suffering and sorrows which have come upon you through no fault of your own. Doing good and yet not being treated very good. That, says Peter, is a grace thing in the sight of God.

As I think about it, there is really so much about “the call” that I’m good with signing up for. Called out of darkness. Called into light. Called to be set apart as saints. Called to be holy. Called to be a messenger of good news. Called to be adopted as a full heir in God’s family. Called to receive an inheritance in heaven. Who’s up for that call? Who’s ready to drink abundantly from that fountain of grace? This guy!

But called to suffer? And that, unjustly? Not as intuitive as to how that’s a grace thing.

What makes it a grace thing, I think, is because it’s done “mindful of God.”

Those Peter wrote to were suffering because they were Christians. They were on the run for their faith. And while going into exile might have gotten them out of the frying pan for a season, they were still in the midst of a growing fire . . . and the flames were only going to increase–for some, literally! Because they had responded to God’s grace and goodness, they were now the subjects of the enemy’s hate and harassment.

But to endure such unfair circumstance, when mindful of God, is a grace thing. To trust in the provision of the Great Provider in the midst of trial is commendable before the Creator. To remain faithful to Him who is always faithful, is pleasing to the Father. To hang in there, even when it hurts, because you really believe that He will never leave or forsake, nor will He let you be tried beyond your ability to endure, is, in and of itself, a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Savior.

Not sure the grace thing becomes an easier thing when mindful of the Lord, but it does display His strength in our weakness. It evidences the reality of mercies that are new every morning. It’s a reminder that greater is He that is in us than those who are against us in the world.

It really is a grace thing.

By His grace. For His glory.

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God’s People

Never been a nomad, always had a place to hang my hat, a fixed address to go home to every night. Can’t really say I understand what it’s like to be an exile, a stranger in a foreign land–not even if you count my move to the U.S. (not that strange a land . . . most times) from Canada 15 years ago. But I’m thinking that for those Peter was writing to, being “strangers and sojourners” (YLT) in an increasingly hostile environment might have been enough to fill one’s plate.

But instead of Peter spurring on these weary and targeted travelers with gentle encouragements to keep on keep on sojourning, and to hang in there through each day’s pilgrimage, he instead lays on them a list of commands to obey.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

(1Peter 2:11-14, 17 ESV)

Not enough that they would have to wander around in some strange world with all its strange customs, but they were to keep in check any desires to embrace that culture in order to satisfy their sensual desires or perceived physical needs. Not enough to endure the hostility of those with a drastically different worldview, but they were to accept the challenge of living in such a way that, while they might be opposed, there’d be no grounds to be accused. When it came to the crazy big kahuna in Rome who was increasingly targeting them for persecution, they weren’t told to do everything they could to oppose him, but instead be subject to him. And to honor his people. While they committed to actively loving one another.

That’s a lot to take on!

Like I said, you’d think it’d be enough just trying to be a sojourner and an exile without having to say, “No” to the flesh, “Watch me” to the world, and “I yield” to the government.

So how come Peter adds these commands to obey onto a journey that’s already pretty demanding to embrace?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

They were more than just pilgrims in a foreign land. More than just wanderers trying to find the next place to wander to. More than just a nomadic band with no flag to pitch and nowhere to pitch it. Though once they were not a people, now they were God’s people.

And that’s what I’m chewing on this morning, our identity as God’s people.

Called out of darkness. Translated into light. Given heavenly citizenship, but for now left to travel in a world not our home, we are God’s people. A chosen race. A royal priesthood. His very own, blood-bought possession. That’s who we are. So that’s how we should act.

Our circumstance doesn’t define us. The prevailing culture around us can’t label us. The darkness no longer has any claim on us. Rather, we are God’s people.

Thus, says Peter, by God’s enabling, live like it. By God’s power, be who you are. For God’s kingdom, be ambassadors during your sometimes barren wandering.

Lot of things I don’t know, but this I do know, I’m a child of the King. A living stone in His spiritual house. A member of His holy priesthood.

I am God’s people.

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Hour is Now Here

They persecuted Him because He was healing on the Sabbath (John 5:16). But they were seeking all the more to kill Him because He was making Himself equal with God (5:18). And, let there be no doubt, that He did.

Jesus was clear. They weren’t misunderstanding Him . . .

. . . whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise . . . (5:19)

. . . as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will . . . (5:21)

. . . the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. (5:27)

. . . that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father . . . (5:23)

And I’m in wonder this morning as I think of their rejection in light of my belief.

They sought to kill Him, I long to worship Him. The wanted to string Him up, my inclination is to go facedown. They sought an end to His audacious claims, I long to hear His voice. They were bent on doing what had to be done to get rid of Him, I’m moved to cry, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come!”

How come? How come those religious elite of that day and this church-going guy of this day are so different? And it’s not so much, how come they aren’t more like me? No, I wonder at how come I’m not more like them and didn’t follow in their footsteps?

For the first third of my life, I was more like them. Rejecting the claims. Despising the Christ. Driven by self interest.  Condescending towards those who pursued heaven’s call.

So how come I’m reading John 5 this morning in awe of the Son of Man, the One in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9), and not instead seething at the claims of some wannabe son of God? How come?

Because the hour is now here.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” ~ Jesus

(John 5:25 ESV)

Once blind, now I see. Once deaf to heaven’s call, now given ears to hear. Once an enemy of the King, now claimed not only as His servant, but as a joint heir. So much so that He is not ashamed to call me brother and friend. Once His name used in vain, now His name no sweeter name. And all this and more because, though I was once dead in trespass and sin, now I have been made alive in Christ. And that, because the hour is now here.

The hour of redemption. The hour of restoration. The hour of regeneration. The hour of resurrection.

No way I’m sitting here this morning, thinking what I’m thinking, worshiping who I’m worshiping, unless the Father had determined to give me life through the Son by the Spirit. Because no one says, “Jesus is Lord,” except in the Spirit (1Cor. 12:3). And because flesh and blood cannot reveal that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God–only the Father who is in heaven is able to do that (Matt. 16:16-17).

A reminder that the hour is now here. And that this is eternal life.

And a reason to worship.

Only by His grace.

To Him be all the glory.

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