Do It Together!

Paul wrote because some form of deceptive teaching was threatening to destabilize their heavenly calling. While what was being laid down had the “appearance of wisdom in promoting self made religion,” to pick it up provided no help whatsoever “in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” So Paul wrote to remind them that their new life was to be realized not through impotent practices, but through a new power.

The power that came by way of relationship with Jesus, the preeminent One. The Lord of creation having also become the Lord of re-creation through His finished work of redemption. The power that was found through the reconciling work of the cross. A power received by faith. A power which imparted the fullness of deity. A power able to make those who were once dead in their trespasses alive together with Christ. The power to forgive sins. The power which imputed righteousness.

And in and through this power, Paul exhorts these saints at Colossae to shed what was “earthly.” To put off the “old self” and to put on the “new self.”

And here’s what grabbed me this morning, Paul knew of no other way to do that than to do it together!

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. . . . you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. . . . seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. . . .

Put on then, as Gods chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

(Colossians 3:5-14 ESV)

Is it too much to assert that putting on the new self can only fully happen as we are fully active in new community? That the church is our training ground for putting on the character of Christ? That only as we live in close family union do we really learn how to put off the old self and put on the new?

I read this passage and I ask myself, when’s the last time I forgave someone in my fellowship? When’s the last time I bore with a brother, or put up with a sister, as I sought to put on the love and compassion of Christ?

Instead, our propensity today in the church is that when the going get’s tough with others, well then, “Tough! I’ll get going . . . and find myself another group of believers to not enter fully into community with.”

Not to be hard on the church, but, if we are honest, if we are all learning by God’s grace to put to death what is earthly in us, shouldn’t we expect that at times it may be hard in the church? That while God’s sanctifying work isn’t finished in me yet, it’s also not done in my brothers and sisters? And, when you get a bunch of works-in-progress trying to work it out together, shouldn’t you expect friction every so often?

But it’s that very friction which becomes the field of play for putting on the new self, the self who is in Christ, and has the mind of Christ, and the power to exhibit the compassion and love of Christ. The love which “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

How we need to see ourselves as part of a family which God has called us to so that we might grow in Christ, and not just a bunch of consumers, engaging in church as long as our needs are being met and it doesn’t get too hard.

Face it, putting to the death the old self is gonna hurt. And it’s gonna hurt as we do it together. Oh, but the reward when, together, we find the power to put on the new self. And together, as God’s chosen ones, we start seeing the compassion and kindness of Christ oozing out of us. When, together, the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us is manifest in kindness, patience, and the supernatural enabling to bear with one another. When, together, we extend, and we experience, the forgiveness that was extended to us, and experienced by us, when Christ said of us, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” When, together, we put on divine love and know in practice the unity of Spirit which Christ has promised.

So let’s do it . . . together!

Because of God’s grace. By God’s grace. And for God’s glory.

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Blemish or Blessing?

To be honest, I cringe every time I come across that name. There’s a part of me that wishes that it wasn’t mentioned at all. And there’s another part of me that wonders at God’s divine purposes in recording it forever.

This morning, I came across that name in 1Chronicles. It was found in the section that followed the uninspired title in my Bible which reads, “David’s Mighty Men.”

David’s been anointed king after Saul’s death. David has moved into Jerusalem after defeating the Jebusites and taking their city. And then, the inspired record makes sure to remind us that he didn’t do it alone. That accompanying him were his “mighty men.” Those who came to David at Ziklag, when he was but a fugitive. With no fame or glory to be had in those days, they joined themselves to David, the son of promise.

Warriors ready to do battle, “they were bowmen and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand” (1Chron. 12:2). They were not afraid to mix it up and they were intensely loyal to David.

And, of those mighty men, thirty were the crème de la crème . . . the best of the best . . . the elite of the elite . . . the mightiest of the mighty.

Thus, it’s only fitting that they should be remembered, that their names should be recorded. And in the middle of this heaven-appointed honor role, you come across that name. Get ready to cringe . . .

. . . Joel the brother of Nathan, Mibhar the son of Hagri, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, Uriah the Hittite, Zabad the son of Ahlai, . . .

(1Chronicles 11:38-41 ESV)

Uriah the Hittite. Ugh! Did we have to bring him up again?

You know, Uriah, as in Uriah the husband of Bathsheba. The same Bathsheba David brought to his bedroom while Uriah was out fighting on behalf of his king. The same king who got his loyal servant’s wife pregnant and tried to cover it up, first through trickery and then through treachery. The same loyal servant  who was one of David’s elite. One of the mightiest of the mighty men, Uriah.  The murdered man, Uriah.

Not the king’s finest moment.

And, for those of us who want to view David as somewhat of a hero, it’s something we’d just as soon not be reminded of. After all, this is David the giant killer. David the one chosen by God to rule Israel because he was a man after God’s own heart (1Samuel 13:14).

Protected by God while on Saul’s most wanted list. Vindicated by God through his ascension to the throne. Exalted by God through the promise that through his lineage, Messiah would come. So why be reminded of this blemish on such a legacy?

Because, for God to fulfill His purposes through David’s life, David, like all men brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5), would also have to be forgiven for his trespass and treachery. He would have to be graced by God, having no merit of his own from which to lay claim to the throne. Eternal provision made such that, for every act that might disqualify him–even the vilest of acts–atonement might be made so that reconciliation and restoration might be possible. So that God’s purposes and promises might be fulfilled.

The stain on David’s record, that name, a reminder of the salvation that was wrought at the cross. That blemish pointing again to the blessing of the shed blood of Christ, able to cleanse from all sin.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

(Psalm 32:1-2 ESV)

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Disarmed and Not Dangerous

We talk about spiritual warfare and, to be sure, we wrestle not against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places align themselves against the people of God as we seek to proclaim the good news of the word of God. Thus, we are to stand fast and arm ourselves fully for the battle as our opposition seeks to derail the advancement of the kingdom of God.

But I wonder if, too often, we are drawn into skirmishes with the enemy in which he has no real ammunition. Into battles where we duck and take cover trying to avoid bullets fired from guns only capable of shooting blanks. Rather than our enemy engaging in hand-to-hand combat (which he always loses because greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1Jn. 4:4)), he goes undercover, engaging in guerilla warfare, seeking to immobilize us subliminally. The roaring lion (1Pet. 5:8) takes a less overt approach and, instead, as the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), subtlety seeks to get inside our heads.

And so, he preys on our less than perfect walk. He digs up every time we’ve ever tripped up. He gets us to focus on our performance and whispers one of his twisting questions into our ears, “Is God really pleased?” He accentuates our failure and quietly mocks us, “And you call yourself a follower?” He tries to convince us how bad we are so that we’ll retreat to, and stay in, our bunkers. “Who are you?” he hisses.

But, like I said, he’s got nothing. He’s shooting at us with a squirt gun. He’s waving around a rubber sword. His accusations are all talk with no real power.

That’s what Paul reminds me of this morning as I read in Colossians.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.

(Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

The rules and authorities marshaled against us? Disarmed and not dangerous.

We believe that as born again believers we were once dead and now are alive in Christ. But that’s only true if God really has forgiven us all our trespasses. It’s only possible if the blood of Christ really is sufficient to cleanse us from all unrighteousness–past, present, and future. If the work of the cross really is finished, and really has atoned for all our sin. And if that’s true, then there really is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). And so, the accuser has nothing!

The debt we owed for the wages of sin has been canceled. “Paid in full” written over every sin which so easily besets us and nailed to the cross, openly and publicly declaring to the heavenly realm, Jesus paid it all!

And thus, our enemies, at least when it comes to their accusations, are disarmed. Divested of any prosecutory power. Not because we are without sin, but because Jesus was, and we are in Him. Not because we are perfect, but because the Son of God is, and we have been wrapped in His righteousness. To be sure we fail, though we seek not to. And we falter, though we try to walk in a manner that’s worthy. But He is also faithful, and if we confess our sins He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).

So accuse away, deceiver. You’re firing a Nerf gun. You’re swinging a rubber sword. For you have been disarmed and are not dangerous. For by grace I have been saved, and by grace I am always fully accepted and well beloved, because I am in Christ.

To be sure, there are battles to be fought. But whether or not I am loved by God, or trying to second guess whether or not He’s pleased with me, that’s not one of them.

“As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love.”

~ Jesus (John 15:9 ESV)

The Deceiver has been disarmed–by God’s grace. The Accuser is no longer dangerous–for God’s glory.

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

(Romans 8:37 ESV)

Amen?

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A Team Sport

The goal is lofty. The way to get there though, is within our grasp.

Paul writes to the Colossians in order to correct the error which was creeping into their midst and destabilizing their faith. He had already been praying for these believers–that they would know the will of Christ “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” (1:9-10). And now, through his letter, he wants to encourage them.

And, as a I read in Colossians 2 this morning, Paul puts before them his great desire for them, and, in essence, says the best way to achieve it is together.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of Gods mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

(Colossians 2:1-3 ESV)

Imagine that conversation:

What do you want to do with your life?

Oh, I don’t know, maybe to be in touch with everything there is to know of God (MSG). To have complete confidence that I understand Gods mysterious plan, which is Christ Himself (NLT).

How’s that for a personal mission statement? To reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery? Pretty massive goal. But Paul says you don’t need to look far–it’s found in Christ.

If the heavens declare the glory of God, Christ reveals the essence of God. It’s how God has spoken to His creation in these last days (Heb. 1:2-3). Christ being the shining reflection of God’s glory and the exact expression of God’s being. Jesus Himself said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).

So the target is set and the way is identified. So how do we best get there? Paul says it’s a team sport, happening as God’s people are “knit together in love.”

Sure, Paul talks about the athlete who runs the race, pressing on for the prize, and the boxer who avoids beating the air (1Cor. 9:24-27). But the race isn’t an individual sprint, it’s a team marathon. And though the boxer might have to step into the ring alone, it would be foolish for him to think he can do so, and go more than a couple of rounds, without people in his corner. And so, though we may aspire to Paul’s goal that we reach the riches of full assurance, we need to recognize that it happens best as we do so knit together in love.

Shame on those in the body of Christ who say we don’t need the body of Christ. That somehow, we don’t need the family of God to fully know the Son of God.

God’s designed it such that we can reach all the riches of full assurance if we press on together. The Head of the Church has gifted the Church with those who can equip the saints for the work of the ministry for the building up of the Church–“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” It’s as we truth together in love that we grow up and reach for the riches. Each part doing it’s part so that every part grows. The body “building itself up in love” (Eph. 4:11-16).

The prize is priceless and the race is worth running. But it’s a team sport.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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Fuel for Faithfulness

Perhaps what’s as inspiring about the apostle Paul as anything else is his unwavering sense of call and purpose. Maybe that’s what encounters with the risen Christ on a road to Damascus can do to a guy. Whether it was escaping the Jews in a basket elevator at the beginning of his ministry (Acts 9:25), or writing from a Roman prison towards the end of his ministry, Paul was clear on the stewardship the Lord had given him, “to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:25-27).

If ever there was a guy who knew what it was to keep on keepin’ on, it was Paul. In times of triumph and in times of trouble he faithfully proclaimed the gospel, that people might be born again into relationship with God as their Father. And, whether he himself was experiencing a season of abundance or a season of need, when it might have been just as easy to move on, he stuck around, faithfully teaching the necessities of maturing in Christ which came only through following Christ together as family.

And here’s what grabbed me this morning as I’m reading in Colossians, the apostle’s fuel for faithfulness.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.

(Colossians 1:28-29 ESV)

Peterson puts it this way: “That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.”

Paul toiled. He labored. With wearisome effort, often to the point of exhaustion, he sought to do what he believed God had called him to do.

He struggled as part of his stewardship. Often he agonized against great opposition to announce the greater opportunity found in the the gospel Repeatedly, he entered the fray in order to contend for God’s people.

And where did the strength come from that allowed him to awake every day and get back in the battle? What was the fuel for such faithfulness? It was the superhuman, trinitarian power only God the Father could provide by God the Son who lived in Paul through the God the Spirit. Fuel available today to the faithful.

I can so easily forget that.

Sure, I can say that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”, but so often I’m not consciously drawing on the eternal power of the “Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). I can so easily plop down in my chair at the end of day, feeling defeated and out of gas, failing to appropriate by faith the divine energy graced to me as part of the gift of salvation. I can so easily become discouraged at the weight I feel for the stewardship I believe God has given me, forgetting that His power really is made perfect through my weakness (2Cor. 12:9), and that I really can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Php. 4:13).

I just need to enter the struggle with His energy that He powerfully works within me.

Not by your might, Pete, nor is it by your power, but only by My Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

(Zechariah 4:6 PLT)

I know that. I just need to remember that. And believe that. And appropriate that. By His enabling, I need to avail myself of His fuel as I seek to serve Him faithfully.

It’s by His grace. It’s for His glory.

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On Our Side

It’s another song of David. And though we don’t know the exact circumstance behind this song’s “inspiration,” we do know the outcome–they escaped. Israel dodged the bullet. The people of God were able to slip away left while their enemies looked right. They were delivered.

They managed to evade the flood. To elude the torrent. To escape the raging waters.

And I’m reminded, that though I might like to write the story a different way, the people of God don’t get a pass from floods, torrents, and raging waters. That enemies do arise. That troubles still occur. That trials are inevitable. That being precious children of God doesn’t mean we get a bye on life’s assaults. That even though we are on the winning side and the victory has been secured, the battle is yet to be won. Life still happens . . .

But I’m also reminded that, as those redeemed, reconciled, and received into God’s family, we don’t do life alone. We’re not left to face the struggles by ourselves. Our resources are not limited to what we are able to muster up. Our power to endure is not limited to whatever strength we might have. Instead, we have an ally. One who draws alongside. One who intervenes. One who provides deliverance and the way of escape. In fact, sings the songwriter, it is God Himself who is on our side.

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side–let Israel now say–if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters. Blessed be the LORD . . .

(Psalm 124:1-6a ESV)

Sure I’d like to avoid the trials, testings, and troubles. Let me program my own GPS and I’ll stay out of the valleys. But that’s not how it works. Jesus prepared His disciples for that reality,

“In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33a ESV)

But with the preparation came the promise,

“But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b ESV)

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side–let the people of God now say–if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, where would we be?

Our enemies afford the opportunity for us to see our Deliverer in action. Our temptations allow us to experience His strength. Our trials, to know His power. Our troubles, to be infused with all-sufficient grace. And “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

And so, we have the material to write our own song. The first-hand experience to declare ourselves, He is on our side!

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

(Psalm 124:8 ESV)

Blessed be the LORD!

For His grace. For His glory.

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Unworthy!

The problem with privilege is that the longer it lasts the more likely we are to view it as an entitlement. Set someone up in 5-star, luxury accommodations and, the longer it lasts, the more the awe factor tends to wane. What began with excitement can soon become the everyday ho-hum reality of expectation. The God who wired us, and then saw that “wiring” frayed and frazzled because of sin, knew this could be the case. Here’s what he says, through Moses, to the Israelites before they move into their new digs, the promised land:

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His rules and His statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . . Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.'”

(Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17 ESV)

The gift becomes a given. The new becomes the normal. The promise eventually morphs into the presumed.

I was reminded of this as I read this morning in Luke’s gospel (7:1-10). Jesus travels to Capernaum and a centurion hear’s about it. But his interest isn’t in some official, Roman authority capacity. Instead, it’s because the centurion has a dear member of his household staff who is near to death and he believes this Jesus, whose reputation has preceded Him, can do something about it.

This Roman leader of a 100 fine-tuned, fighting men really is a remarkable character. First, this tough guy seems to care about his household servants, so much so that he’s willing to step out in faith on behalf of one who is deathly ill. Second, this soldier charged with maintaining Roman rule over the Jews has, in fact, become a fan of the people of God, having built them a synagogue. So highly is he regarded by those he rules over, that a delegation of Jewish elders willingly and passionately goes to Jesus and pleads for this man’s request that Jesus heal his servant.

Gotta like this guy. Whatever good comes to him, or to his household, you can’t help but think he deserves.

But here’s the deal. When the centurion hears, that in response to the Jewish elders’ petition, Jesus is heading to his home, he sends out another delegation of his friends to tell Jesus that it isn’t necessary that He come. That he believes Jesus’ authority and power is such that He need only say the word and the servant will be healed.

What faith! Even Jesus remarks, “I tell you the truth, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

And what grabs my attention is that the centurion himself never actually goes and talks to Jesus. That he first sends some Jewish elders who know his good deeds. Then, he sends some of his closest friends who know his heart.

How come? Because he’s a big shot and can send whoever wherever to do whatever? Nope, that’s not it.

When [Jesus] was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to You. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

(Luke 7:6-7 ESV)

The Roman commander refused to enter into the presence of Jesus not because he thought he was too good for the rebel rabbi, but because he knew he was unworthy to even fall at the feet of One who Himself embodied creation’s power. He was unworthy to even untie the shoelaces of One who could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the lame to walk, and raise the dead from the grave. Unworthy to approach God in flesh. Insufficient to presume any favor should be extended to him, or anyone else, because of his reputation. Unfit to even seek a blessing, much less receive one.

And as I sit and chew on this man’s words, this child of God, having been graced with adoption papers some 40 years ago, is reminded that he too is unworthy.

Unworthy to approach God, much less be invited within the curtain to abide with Him. Unworthy to even be acknowledged by the Son of God, much less to be called His friend. Unworthy to bring any offering before His throne which might be deemed pleasing by a holy, holy, holy God, much less to have heaven’s best freely given as a sacrifice for my sin–to have the Lamb of God determine to be my redemption.

Unworthy of the wooing call of the Spirit which ushered me out of darkness and into marvelous light. Unworthy of the blessings that I have known. Unworthy of the inheritance which awaits.

O, might such privilege never become common place. Keep me Lord, from allowing Your mercies, which are new everyday, to become an expectation. Guard my heart from the blessing ever becoming boring or a burden.

O’ that grace might ever be new. That His glory might always be proclaimed.

Amen?

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