Abraham Believed God!

-In The Midst Of A Faith Crisis!

When God makes an entrance into Abraham’s life, He calls him to leave his home & go to a new land where He promised to make him into a great nation. That presented a problem, because, Sarah—his wife—had been unable to conceive (see Genesis 12). The rest of Abraham’s “story” is just one crisis of belief after another—but, this is what God uses to grow him spiritually! Abraham presents us with a Biblical picture of a sanctified life; and, how God achieves it. This is how God works in the life of everyone who comes to Him by faith!

-Justified By Faith!

The scripture tells us that Abraham was “justified” by his faith.  “Abraham believed God,” His story, in Genesis, says, “and, God CREDITED it to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Genesis 15:6).  And, the rest of his life presents a study, in SANCTIFICATION, as he is progressively set free from the power of sin. Isn’t that the hardest part of the Christian life? Growing in our “sanctification”? I mean JUSTIFICATION is really quite painless. It’s just applying the truth of the Gospel and accepting God’s pardon for sin, right? And, GLORIFICATION? I mean, yea, you have to DIE to get it! But, the actual process of BEING GLORIFIED, like Jesus, sounds awesome! But, SANCTIFICATION? That can be quite painful as God turns up the heat, on our lives, in order to bring our sins to the surface where they can be dealt with by His Spirit!

-A Picture Of A Sanctified Life!

So, let’s talk about how Abraham is a picture of the sanctified life.  Genesis ch. 12 begins with these words: “The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” But, Abraham never saw that promise, of God, fulfilled in his lifetime! The writer of Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise” (Heb.11:8,9). That phrase, “…he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise…” reminds us that this world is not ours to claim! We’re “aliens” here (1 Peter 2:11).

-Where Do You Claim Citizenship?

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi—“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).  Like Abraham, we need to confess that we’re “…foreigners and temporary residents on earth” (Heb. 11:13). We can’t hold onto this life too tightly if we hope to grow spiritually! Jesus told us to let go of this life; and, to die to self every day as we wait for the promise of our GLORIFICATION—to be completed in the “Land of Promise.”  It’s interesting that Abraham purchased some of the land—God promised him—for his burial (Gen. 25). It was his act of faith that he believed God would come through on His promise! Let us follow his great example!

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What Are Your Attachments?

-Do You Identify With Jesus?

My sinful life was the OLD me! But, that’s no longer who I am. Sin has no power to rule over me anymore than it had power over Jesus. In His resurrection, Jesus left the tomb! And, so should we! We’re no longer “dead” if we’re “in Christ.” We’ve been made “new”; or, ALIVE in Him. We’re no longer a dweller among the tombs! Do you know who you are? Do you identify with Jesus? Is He your Lord & Master as well as your Savior? The Apostle Paul says, “…if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God” Colossians 3:1. “Seek what is above,” he says! That’s an imperative! He’s commanding the Colossian believers to be SEEKERS of something—this has everything to do with your “heart” or your “affections.”

-To What Are You Attached To Here?

Your ability to live, in your identity, in Christ—and, to defeat sin—has to do with your “ATTACHMENTS”! What are you ATTACHED to here? Where are you focused? If your heart & your affections & your attachments are in this world, you won’t be very effective purging sin from your life. Your spiritual growth & sanctification will be stunted; and, the weeds, of SIN, will grow out of control in your life. Look at Paul’s words again: “…if (or SINCE) you’ve been raised with the MESSIAH, SEEK WHAT is ABOVE, where the MESSIAH is…” Set your heart & your affections on Jesus! He’s the TREASURE! None of the created stuff, that so easily turn into idols, will last—one day it’ll all burn up & pass away!

-What Spurs Us Toward Growth?

Your spiritual growth has a direct correlation to how highly & how often you think of God; and, how little you think of yourself! “Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth,” Paul says in the next verse (Col. 3:2). Your spiritual growth & sanctification depends on what you “…set your minds…” Your ability to be killing the weeds, of sin, is dependent on your thought life—the things you dwell on; and, think about. To mature spiritually, you have to see everything against the backdrop of ETERNITY; not, this mortal world. We can no longer think like we did when we were still “dead in sin”; when, we lived like this world was the only thing that mattered! He specifically tells us not to set our mind on EARTH!

-Where Is Your Citizenship?

It’s so easy to get swept up in the nationalism & the politics & the drama of our nation! It’s so easy to “set our mind” & our conversation on those things, isn’t it? But, that’s not who we are! We can no longer self-identify as an “American Christian”—that moniker says we are an “American” 1st and a “Christian” 2nd. NO! “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote the Church of Philippi. The Apostle Peter agreed! He called life, on planet earth, a “temporary residence.” Don’t make country an IDOL! We belong to HEAVEN—we’re heaven’s AMBASSADORS! As God’s ambassadors, our sole purpose for remaining on this planet is to “reconcile” the lost with the Father!

What Fruit Does Your Life Produce?

-Your Happiness Depends On It!

Your happiness is contingent on the kind of “fruit” that your life produces! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In vs. 1-2 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” Don’t be surprised that God wants you to be HAPPY! But, He qualifies what it means to be “HAPPY”! It’s not the “happiness”, of this world, that’s generally tangled up in sinful conduct; and, while it may provide momentary pleasure, leaves you empty and facing lingering painful consequences! The happiness that results from delighting “…in the Lord’s instruction…” leaves no “bad aftertaste”; and, culminates in a fruitful life that is eternal in duration!

-Every Life Bears Fruit!

In v.3, the writer says that the person who rejects the advice of the world & delights in God’s Word & meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Every life bears fruit! Your life bears fruit! My life bears fruit! The Psalmist points to 2 different kinds of people who live their lives in 2 different ways; and, who bear 2 totally different types of fruit. The Apostle Paul uses similar language, in his letter to the Church of Galatia, when he says that the life lived in Christ produces the “fruit of the Spirit” like “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control”; but, the fruit produced by “the flesh” is “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” (Galatians 5) Choose wisely who you listen to!

-Contrasting “World Views”!

The writer, of this Psalm, concludes, in v.5-6, with the FINAL END of the contrasting “world views”—“… the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel. In fact, the way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, a Day of Judgment is coming, the writer says!

-A Day Of Reckoning!

There is coming a day of reckoning; when, those who took their advice & counsel from God’s Word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the throne of God, in eternal HAPPINESS! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge, of all the earth, who will give them exactly what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord promises to watch over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! Are these the things you delight in? If not, you need help! You need to pray for Holy Spirit help; and, you need to make yourself accountable to someone; or, a group, who will encourage you! Only in the Truth, of God’s Word, will you find real, genuine, eternal HAPPINESS; and, a relationship with God!

 

Choosing Between Joy & Happy!

-Does God Want You To Be Happy?

Would it surprise you if I told you that God is concerned with your happiness? I know of believers who debate over how “spiritual” it is to pursue happiness! “JOY” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with; not, “HAPPINESS” (Galatians 5:22ff).  To them, “joy” sounds more spiritual; and, is based on the eternal! “Happiness” seems like it’s dependent on circumstances; like, it’s fleeting! It comes and goes!

-God, The Contrarian!

But, the psalmist—who was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write Psalms 1—seems to play the contrarian! He starts out, “How HAPPY is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction…” It seems like we don’t need to choose between “joy” and “happiness”! Perhaps both are Biblically permissible when the “object”, of each, is also Biblically permissible! Life, in Christ, offers us BOTH “joy” and “happiness.”

-There’s A Contingency!

But, there is a caveat—genuine happiness, in life, is contingent on some things! And, that’s where this idea—that “happiness” is dependent on circumstances—comes from. But, the psalmist offers a different slant. It’s not so much that happiness is fleeting—that it “comes and goes”—as much as it is that our walk with God is inconsistent! Our text indicates that the more consistent we are in adhering to the psalmist’s “counsel”, the HAPPIER our life will be! That, in fact, only a believer, who is walking consistently with Christ, is even capable of experiencing true “joy” and “happiness.”

-Where Do You Look For Advice!

Look at this:  first, your happiness is contingent on WHERE you get your advice! I think it’s significant that the writer doesn’t say, “Don’t be WICKED; don’t SIN; don’t MOCK.” It seems that the contrast , he wants to draw on, is our receiving advice from one source vs. our receiving advice from another! We’re shaped by the advice we accept; so, take great care, he says, that you’re not getting advice from sinners! That word “advice” is referring to persuasive words or ideas that someone shares with the goal of getting you to go in the direction that they recommend! Or, to change your thinking in such a way that your behavior is altered; and, the very course of your life is modified! So, don’t take the advice of sinners!

-There’s A Progression!

On the basis of the advice you receive & accept, your ACTIONS are affected; and, finally your CHARACTER is changed! So, turn your ears away from the advice of the wicked—whether that’s friends, people, books, music, TV, video games, or websites! Choose wisely who you listen to because your “happiness” depends on it! The writer, of Scripture, is saying that your life will only be “happy” (Or, “blessed” or “fulfilled” some of your translations say!) when you turn a deaf ear to the advice of the wicked! And, who, does he say, are the WICKED? Anyone & everyone on the path of sin! Those who live a lifestyle of disobedience to God’s Word! Those who mock anyone who desires to obey it! Don’t be fooled by them!

 

Christianity’s Image Problem!

-It Seemed Boring!

It seemed to me that Christianity had an image problem, back in the 70’s, when I came to faith as a Junior High Boy. Here’s what I mean—if you decided to trust Jesus, as your Savior, you’d get heaven when your life ended HERE; but, the rest of your life HERE would be boring and blasé. But, for me, the “tradeoff” certainly seemed worth it; so, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I’ll take the 80 years of blasé; but, eternity in heaven vs. 80 years of fun & happiness; but, eternity in hell at the end! But, that didn’t “sell” real well with my friends! I had a difficult time convincing them that the tradeoff was worth it.

-Enduring The Christian Life!

I think many believers still suffer with some sever misconceptions about the “Christian life”, don’t you? It’s been my observation that many believers just ENDURE the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & happiness they think the world enjoys. In their hearts, they’re earthly hedonists! Like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to this erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because…. Well, we get heaven at the END!

-The Most Happiness Possible!

But, there’s a great text of Scripture that debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is a boring life. In fact, what this Psalm says is quite the opposite. The writer sets the record straight—we don’t just ENDURE the Christian life, putting in our time here, until we get to heaven & hangout with Jesus for ever and ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His Word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible! This is a message that the Church desperately needs! You need this message! I need this message! Happiness & prosperity, in this life & the next, only follows the God-centered life. Here’s how I’d summarize the Psalmist’s big idea—We overcome the pleasures of the world by taking greater pleasure in the Word of God! A significant part of your spiritual growth involves the things in which you find pleasure & happiness! Don’t be surprised that God is concerned with your happiness!

-Here’s A Happy Man!

Listen to what He says: “1How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalm 1) For some believers, it’s a debate over “JOY” & “HAPPINESS”! JOY is a fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with! Not HAPPINESS! But, read that text again—it makes me HAPPY!

 

God Makes You New (Part II)

-He Doesn’t Condemn You Anymore!

One of the most powerful Scriptures for a believer to hold onto is this:  “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  God no longer condemns you if you’ve placed faith, for your salvation, in Jesus’ work on the cross! So, we need to quit condemning ourselves! When you mess up & sin, CONFESS it—that means you AGREE with God that what you did was sin! (1 John 1:8-10) But, after you confess it, thank Him for forgiveness; and, get back into fellowship with Him!

-You’re Part Of The Family!

God has adopted you into His family; and, no one is going to overpower Him and rip you away! You belong to Him! That’s your “identity”—it’s WHO you are! Until you live by faith, knowing who you are in Christ, you will struggle to experience spiritual growth! Unlike “JUSTIFICATION”—which is an instantaneous judicious act of pardon by God; and, a passing from death to life—”SANCTIFICATION” is a process that God begins IN YOU the moment you’ve been JUSTIFIED! God frees us from the power of sin as He SANCTIFIES us! The Apostle Paul, in Romans, speaks of our sin as DOMINATING us BEFORE “JUSTIFICATION”—i.e. we were chained to sin; and, we couldn’t help but sin! But, at the moment of our “JUSTIFICATION”, the Holy Spirit indwells us; and, empowers us in a battle to “mortify”—or, “put to death”—the deeds of our flesh; or, the “old man” Paul calls it!

-We’re Saved! And, Being Saved!

So, at “JUSTIFICATION” we WERE saved; and, “regenerated” or made alive! In our “SANCTIFICATION” we are BEING saved! Don’t be concerned by that! It’s a good thing! Theologically, we mean that God’s “SANCTIFICATION” work, in us, is PROGRESSIVE & ACTIVE! The Holy Spirit is not passive about purging sin from our lives! He’s aggressive! In the Spirit, we now have the power or the capacity to overcome sin; and, at the same time, a growing DESIRE to be rid of it! That is one of my greatest PASSIONS—to BEAT SIN! If you have no desire to overcome sin, your “salvation” is in question! Perhaps you’ve been deceived! It’s in the “SANCTIFICATION” process that you are progressively becoming MORE like Jesus; and, LESS like you! It’s a work that only God can do in you!

-Trying Harder Doesn’t Work!

Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical for believers to try hard, do good & FAIL. That didn’t work; so, try HARDER, do BETTER & FAIL again! Until they stop trying so hard; and, just give in and FAKE IT. Can you relate to that? I know I can!  Listen, God’s “SANCTIFICATION” process tells us to take off the masks & quit pretending we’ve reached perfection! We’re all broken! We all need to be made complete in Christ! So, make yourselves accountable to each other to strengthen the Spirit’s effort to crucify your flesh! And, finally one day we will all become who we already are “positionally” in Christ—we’ll be “GLORIFIED”; and, set FREE from the very PRESENCE of sin! We’ll be like Jesus, Amen! No more corruption! No more sin!

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!