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!

How Do We Fight Sin?

-It’s About Your Thought Life!

The Apostle Paul paints a picture, of what spiritual growth looks like, in his letter to the Church of Colosse. He tells these young believers:  “…if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” Colossians 3:1-4. Let’s think about the implications of Paul’s words—he seems to be saying that a successful fight against sin is won in the “thought life”, right? The battle against the “weeds” of sin is fought in your mind; which, means that it’s either “won” or “lost” in the mind!

-Who Or What Are You Thinking About?

I believe Paul is teaching us a principle that spiritual growth always relates to how highly & how often we THINK of God; and, conversely, how infrequently we think of ourselves! Using farming terminology, meditating on God & His Word is like spraying ROUNDUP on the weeds of sin in your life; and, dwelling on your self is like fertilizing those weeds! Part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to empower us to root sin out of our life; while, living for ourselves is the main cause for sin to thrive in our lives! So, let’s talk about how God’s Spirit supports our work to root out the weeds of sin.

-Your Identity Is Hid With Christ!

Paul reminds the Church of Colosse that their “identity” is in Christ! So, any believer who hopes to be successful in the battle against sin, has to know who they are! See your position in Christ—“…so, IF you have been raised with Christ…” he says in v.1. Your spiritual growth & victory over sin doesn’t begin with YOU, it starts with JESUS! If you know Him as your Savior, you need to figure out that you’ve been raised with Him—Paul is pointing to the bodily resurrection of Christ the 3rd day after His crucifixion; and, he’s telling the believers in Colosse, “…you’ve been RAISED with Him….” You DIED with Him in v.3; and, “…your life is HIDDEN with the Messiah in God.” You DIED with Him! And, you’ve been RAISED with Him! Though you were “…dead in trespasses & sins…” you’ve been made ALIVE, in Him, because Jesus rose from the dead & is ALIVE!

-Know Your Position In Christ!

In one sense, Paul says that our salvation—our place in heaven—is already SEALED! It’s a DONE DEAL! In the mind of God, He’s already raised us up and seated us in the heavens. “But God,” Paul writes the Church of Ephesus, “who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens” Ephesians 2:4-6. We take hold of our identity when we begin, with the Spirit’s help, to kill the weeds of sin in our life; or, to “mortify” the deeds of the flesh. My sinful life was the “old” me; but, that’s no longer who I am! I’m set free from the power of sin!

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 I)

-You Need To Know This Stuff!

If you’re a believer, in Jesus Christ, you’re no longer the OLD you! You’ve become—and, you are becoming— a NEW you; a work that God promises to finish once our lives end here! I love how the Amplified Bible renders 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].” Throughout his writings, the Apostle Paul breaks down our salvation into 3 parts; and, understanding this is VITAL to your spiritual growth & to your spiritual sanity!

-3 Big Theological Words!

He uses 3 big theological words—our “JUSTIFICATION”; our “SANCTIFICATION”; and, our “GLORIFICATION.” Now, don’t start snoring on me! Give me a chance to help you understand. You need this; because, it’s all about your “identity” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you ever struggle in your faith, it’s because you don’t understand how your faith works—your “JUSTIFICATION” is all about the “WAS” of your salvation; your “SANCTIFICATION” is all about the “IS” of your faith right now; and, your “GLORIFICATION” is all about the “IS TO COME” part of your salvation! Paul explains it like this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14— “But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

-Write This Down In Your Bible!

In your Bible, write down “JUSTIFICATION” next to “…belief in the truth…”  At the moment you believed, in Christ, you were JUSTIFIED by God; and, set free from the “PENALTY” of sin—ALL of it! As far as God is concerned, it’s just as if you’d never sinned because Jesus already paid the price for ALL the sin of ALL humanity for ALL time when He died, as a substitutionary atonement, on the cross! I’ve known believers who struggle with that truth—they believe all their sin, up to their salvation, was forgiven; but, they think they have to keep asking for forgiveness of future sins!

-How Far Is The East From The West?

But, that’s faulty thinking; because, ALL of our sin was “FUTURE” sin when Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago! When God saves us, He tells us that He’s removed our sin “…as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12). He says He “…buries them in the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19); and, my favorite is that He “…chooses to remember our sins no more” (Heb 10:17). ALL our sins—past, present & future—are GONE! That’s what it means to be JUSTIFIED! Satan doesn’t want you to know that! He wants you to grovel in your sin & your inadequacies! Every time you stumble & fall he wants to accuse you; but, don’t listen to his lies! God no longer condemns you—Romans 8:1. (Next Week: Part II)

 

Handling Conflict In The Church!

-Tolerance Advocates Not Very Tolerant!

It amazes me how quickly the advocates of “tolerance” sound off & run off everyone who disagrees with them. Not very tolerant, are they? The Apostle Paul tells the Church of Rome to knock off that kind of behavior. He says that God intends to grow you spiritually as you learn to willingly put up with one another—“Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom. 15:2). We don’t join a faith community to please ourselves! The purpose, for becoming a church member, is to please our neighbor “…for his good, to build him up.” Or, to “edify” if you prefer to use the theological term!

-Be Other’s Focused!

It’s a matter of focus—our interaction, in the body, should be “other’s focused”, not “self-focused.” Like Jesus, we’re here to serve others; not, to be served! Only when we put up with each other; and, bear with the weaknesses of others, will God use us to help construct the spiritual lives of others! It’s having the mindset of a “discipler”—someone who helps others grow as a disciple of Jesus. There’s no better motivator than Jesus Himself. God will give us grace to put up with each other; and, to build up each other, as we look up to Jesus for our motivation!

-Fix Our Eyes On Jesus!

As we fix our eyes on Christ, we remember that He did not come to please Himself; but, He made Himself a servant (See Philippians 2:5-11).  Paul said:  “For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me” (Rom. 15:3).  He’s quoting Psalm 69:9 and referring to Jesus. He embraced the insults of mean-spirited, hateful people; and, on the cross He bore the reproach that we should have bore!

-How Jesus Loved!

We love like Jesus loved when we willingly endure each other’s “heat-of-the-moment” hasty words; and, rather than returning evil for evil, we seek to resolve the conflict & make peace! We extend grace! So, look again at the progression of Paul’s words in Romans 15—if we’re going to be strong enough, in our faith, to “put up” with weak or prickly people (v.1); and, “build them up” (v.2) when we’re tempted to smack them, we have to “look up” to Jesus (v.3); and, “grow up” in our faith (v.4).  We won’t get that kind of counsel from the world!

-Understand The Scriptures!

Paul tells the Church of Rome that we can only have that Christ-like mindset as we understand the Scriptures—or, those things which were “written in the past” (v.4). It’s only through the “instruction” and “encouragement” of the Word, he says, that we have any hope of enduring those difficult relationships in life. And, we will never “grow up” in our faith if we run away from every uncomfortable or difficult relationship in our faith community. We need to remain faithful to one another as a testimony to those outside the Church. In a band there are all kinds of different instruments & a variety of musicians playing them. But, bring them all together under the direction of a capable conductor & they can produce beautiful music together. That beautifully illustrates the Church when Jesus is doing the conducting!

 

God Uses Us To Grow Each Other!

-It’s A Spiritual Obligation!

God intends that the church of Christ would do the work of Christ! But, NOT in the strength of our flesh! Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, to indwell us, when He completed His work on the cross & returned to the Father after His resurrection! He indwells us in order to empower us as God’s ambassadors; so, that He might reconcile the spiritually dead with the Savior; and, to disciple them into the faith! Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, showed the Church of Rome what that looks like:  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.  For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice” (Romans 15:1-6).

-Are You Helping Each Other?

I can’t really think of a better summary statement for that Scripture than something like this—never look down on anyone else unless you are reaching down to help them up! Paul’s charge, here, is to humble yourselves & to defer to the needs of others in the body; and, he uses Jesus as THE example! No one has ever humbled Himself more than Jesus! So, here’s the bottom line: God intends to use us—as local church faith communities—to help produce spiritual growth & maturity in the rest of the body! So, when we’re disinterested or disengaged, from one another, we actually become a hindrance to the spiritual work—in others—that Jesus intends to do through us. To begin with, the process is really just as simple as willingly putting up with each other— “…bear with the weaknesses of those without strength…” (v.1) In other words, we’re not just here to please ourselves!

-Be Tolerant Of Each Other!

If we can’t tolerate the different personalities; or, the different stages of spiritual growth that we’re all at; then, we’re not useable for God’s purposes. Paul’s use of the terms “strong” & “weak” is relative—I am “strong” in comparison to my 4 grandchildren; but, I am “weak” in comparison to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, right? So it is spiritually! We can all find someone, in our faith community, who is stronger than we are spiritually; and, someone else who is weaker. Notice, when considering that, that Paul doesn’t command the weak to “SHAPE UP”; but, he does command the strong to “PUT UP.” To “BEAR” with the weaknesses of others means “to endure patiently; to indulge.” We need Holy Spirit help to be longsuffering & patient with each other!  That’s how God intends to grow YOU & those He expects you to tolerate!