Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

A Favored People!

-The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling!

We are a favored people to live in the age of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers. We should be incredibly thankful that we live in a day when the fullness of God’s Triune nature has been revealed; and, because the Spirit is God’s Gift to us, we can have a deeper & fuller relationship with God than did our brothers & sisters who loved God during Old Testament times. It was back in the 1st chapter, v.32, of John’s Gospel when John the Baptizer testified: “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him (Jesus).” Jesus also had many things to say, about the Spirit, in His conversation with Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” John 3:5.

-The Spirit Gives Life!

In John, ch.6, Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing ….” But, there’s a major shift in the way that Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit when you turn the page of Scripture to John, chapter 14. God, the Father, seems the most prominent in His Old Testament work with Israel. God, the Son, takes the spotlight in the New Testament as He comes to make atonement for the sin of mankind. But, in some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples, as He prepares to return to the Father after the cross, He elevates the Holy Spirit to front & center by His work in us! The Holy Spirit is truly God’s gift to us!

-It Was More Profitable!

And, though difficult for His disciples to understand at the time, Jesus told them that it was more profitable, for them, that He would return to the Father so the Holy Spirit could come to indwell them. It was more profitable because Jesus, in His human body, could only be in 1 place at a time; and, have an influence limited to a few people at a time. But, the Spirit would be available to minister to every believer in every place in the world at any time! And, from Jesus’ words, in John chapter 14, we come to understand that the Holy Spirit is a Person just like Jesus is a Person.

-He’s Not A Mystical Force!

There are many misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. He’s not some mystical force like Star Wars; nor, is He an impersonal power that God offers to Jesus’ followers. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God; that, just like Jesus, He is a being with a mind, emotions & will. When Jesus says, “…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16), He uses the word “allos” (ἄλλος) which is a descriptive word that means: “another of the same kind.” In other words, Jesus is saying that “…the Holy Spirit will be a counselor/helper just like Me.” During Jesus’ ministry with His disciples, He had guided them; He had guarded them, and He had been their Teacher.

-God: The Holy Spirit!

Now, after His death & resurrection, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to do the same thing for them that Jesus had done when He was present. In Acts, chapter 5, after Ananias had lied about the amount of money he had received from the sale of a piece of property, Peter asked him:  “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” So, he lied, Peter said, to the Holy Spirit, right? And, in the very next verse, he says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” He used the Holy Spirit interchangeably with God. So, he lied to the Holy Spirit, who is God, Peter said. That makes Him a person; because you can’t lie to an impersonal force. Then, Jesus finishes His statement to the disciples:  “I will ask the Father,” He says, “and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16). In other words, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit will never be taken from us! God, the Father, has given us the Holy Spirit to enjoy forever!

Our Savior Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Christ’s Humility!

The humility of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is apparent in the cloth the shepherds found Him wrapped in after His birth. Luke records that they would, “…find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger.”  There’s significance to the swaddling cloths that can easily be overlooked at first glance.  But, those cloths foreshadowed Jesus’ death. According to the Mishnah, which is the collection of the Jewish oral traditions, these cloths were used to wrap the lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs. As soon as the lamb was born, they’d wrap them with these cloths or bands to keep them from injury; because the lamb could have no blemishes or broken bones.

-He Was Wrapped In Burial Cloths!

And, it’s interesting that the same type of cloths was also used for burial cloths; and, the manger, used for cattle, was typically a cave; though, caves were also used as tombs to bury the dead. Someone put it like this:  “On the first day of Jesus’ earthly life He was wrapped up like a Passover lamb and laid in a cave, and on the day of His death He would be wrapped in the same type of cloth and laid in a cave” (Robby Gallaty). Our great God is humble! To the Church of Philippi, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus; and, said, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross” Philippians 2:8.

-Jesus Christ’s Humanity!

But, the Bible affirms not only the humility of Jesus; but, the humanity of Jesus. And, what makes Jesus’ humanity unique from the humanity of every other person who’s walked this earth is His “incarnation.” The “incarnation” is just a big, theological term that means Jesus “took on human flesh”; or, the act of being made flesh! So, why is that significant? For Jesus to be our Savior, He had to live the life of a perfect, sinless man to die as a substitute in our place. The Gospel writers are methodical in pointing out that Jesus was a human baby planted in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.

-The Holy Spirit Will Come Upon You!

Luke wrote that Mary had a conversation with an angel; and, when she asked how she could become pregnant when she had never been intimate with a man, “The angel replied to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). So, Jesus was a real human baby born to a real human mother; without a human father. The Gospel writers bear that out!  Jesus had all the typical needs of a human man. He slept. He ate food. Luke says He perspired (ch. 22:43-44). He bled; and, He died like a man. He also showed the human emotions of joy & sorrow & anger. Luke also records that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature (as a man), and in favor with God and with people” (2:52).

-Our Great High Priest!

The N.T. book of Hebrews calls Him our High Priest; and, says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).  He shared in all the human weaknesses of the flesh without sinning; so, that He could be the sacrifice that God required for the remission of our sins. But, the Bible also affirms the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was God! The divine nature of Jesus was joined with His human nature; so, He became the God-Man. He didn’t come out and say, “Hi, I’m Jesus & I’m God, and here are 10 reasons why!” But, it’s clear each & every time when the Jewish religious leaders understood Jesus to be making that claim! They called it blasphemy & picked up stones to stone Him! He fulfilled all the O.T. prophecies; which, one mathematician calculated to be 1 chance out of 13 trillion. If it’s true, God visited our planet! Do you know Him?

You Reap What You Sow!

-God Honors Those Who Honor Him!

The life of obedience, to God’s word, really is the best life! It’s a happy life! God honors you when you honor His word! He blesses you! The Prophet Hosea said that sinful disobedience, to God, is like sowing the wind; and, when you sow the wind, you reap a whirlwind! It’s that “reap what you sow” principle! For the last several posts, we’ve been looking at the 10 Commandments & the rest of God’s Law in the book of Exodus! In Exodus 11, God tells Israel, His people: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today.”  There’s that “reap and sow” principle again!

-We Need A Mediator!

If you sow “OBEDIENCE” you’ll reap a “BLESSING”! But, sow “DISOBEDIENCE” and you reap a “CURSE.” It’s because of our proclivity to sin, that God’s law reveals our need for an “intercessor.” God gave Israel the Levitical priesthood. Only the priests could enter the tabernacle & the Holy of Holies; and, then only once a year! And, when they entered, they were required to bring an animal blood sacrifice. The priests were also responsible to wear special clothing & had to be washed in a special ceremonial fashion. The point was that God is HOLY! And, we are NOT HOLY! We need a go-between! A mediator! And, the entire sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ— the LAMB who was slain! “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself—a ransom for all” 1 Tim 2:5,6.  We cannot make it to God on our own! We need Jesus to be our mediator!

-Sin’s Consequence=Death!

Even in the Old Testament, God’s Law required the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice to cover our sin! In a very graphic way, the Law depicts God’s requirement for the blood of an innocent sacrifice to atone for the sins of the guilty! That burning carcass, on the altar, was a vivid reminder that the consequence, of our sin, is DEATH! God chose to accept the sacrifice of a spotless lamb as representative of the One who was to be the ultimate sacrifice—Jesus, God’s only Son! When we say that Israel’s sacrifice, of a lamb, was “efficacious”, we mean it was “capable of having the desired result! It was effective!” God said a substitutionary atonement was effective in curbing His righteous judgment! It appeased Him! But, only because it was a Gospel picture of Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Was Always God’s Plan!

Every lamb offered, on the altar, was a foreshadowing of God’s own Lamb—His own Son—who would be offered as the ultimate sacrifice to take away ALL SIN FOREVER! And, all the furniture, in Israel’s Tabernacle, pointed to Jesus. The Lampstand pointed to Jesus, who was the light of the world! The showbread pointed to Jesus, who was the bread of life! Jesus was always God’s plan. It wasn’t because the Law of Moses failed; and, God was forced to come up with a “Plan B.” No, the law finds it’s ultimate fulfillment in the Gospel, the good news about Jesus! Paul makes this point crystal clear for us: “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” Galatians 3:24. The law acts as our guardian, to deliver us to Jesus! We’re justified, not through the law; but, by Jesus’ sacrifice!

 

Love Is An Action!

-Love Is A Verb!

Someone said it like this:  “Love is a verb! Without action, it is merely a word.” Jesus embodied that love from the beginning, of his life, to the very end when He died a substitutionary death, on the cross, to pay the price for the sin of the world! No one ever loved like Jesus loved! “No one has greater love than this,” He said, “that someone would lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13.  Jesus was the friend of sinners! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to people— that we might serve them like He did!

-Too Heavenly Minded!

There’s an old saying that, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they’re of no earthly good.” We’ll serve the people, of planet earth like Jesus served, when we love like Jesus loved! Genuine love is way more than words, like, “I love you, brother!” It’s about action! It’s about deeds and service! “Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action” 1 John 3:18.  You can tell people you love them; but, it’s more effective when you show them! In the famous passage of Scripture, where Jesus washes His disciple’s feet, the chapter begins with these words: “Now by the time of supper, the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Him.  Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God” John 13:2-3.  Jesus knew what His purpose was for coming to this earth He had created! He also knew where He was going— ”…back to God.” So, He knew His destiny. He could live His entire life “pre-occupied” with loving & serving mankind!

-Pre-Occupied With Love & Service!

If we know Jesus, as Savior, we also know our destiny! We’re destined to live forever WITH HIM! “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told those who followed Him, “that where I am you will be also” (John 14:2-3).  It would seem, from Scripture, that He’s doing that right now! From the time He ascended, back to the Father, He has been preparing a place for us to live with Him. If we truly believe that is our destiny, it will change our lives! We can serve others with the secure knowledge that Jesus has taken care of our future! That’s why Paul challenged the Church of Rome to, “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice… it’s your reasonable service” Romans 12:1. We’ll serve like Jesus served when we embrace our destiny!

-It’s Reasonable To Serve!

It only makes sense to serve, Paul says. It’s reasonable to give your life away in sacrificial ministry. Jesus served with reckless, radical abandon because He knew His destiny! We can serve in the same radical way! We know that Jesus will take care of us today; and, He’ll take care of our future! “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Luke 12:32-34.  Don’t live your life in anxiety! Love! Serve! Minister to others! Your future is secure in Christ!

 

God’s Glory Over Our Sanctification!

-It Begins At Our Salvation!

Eternal salvation begins for us the moment we are “justified”! Though we are born “…dead in trespasses & sins…” we are made alive through Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, on the cross, on our behalf! And, because the sinless One paid the price for sin—that sinners should have paid—God is LEGALLY “just” to pass over our sin and grant us salvation. That’s why we say we are “justified.” Here’s a great way to remember what it means to be “justified”— “Just as If I’d never sinned!” Next, after God justifies us, He moves into our “house” & He begins to “clean house”; or, to “sanctify” us by the power of His indwelling Spirit.

-Sin Loses It’s Power!

Sin no longer has power over us! By God’s power, sin can be defeated! This is what it means to be “sanctified.” And, God is glorified in our “sanctification” also! He grows us spiritually! He matures us in our faith! Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote, in his letter, to the Church of Ephesus:  “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory” Ephesians 1:11-12. In Christ we’ve obtained an inheritance! It’s an inheritance that has been predestined to us; but, we don’t have it yet!

-Receiving Our Inheritance!

Now, someone has to die before an inheritance can be received, right? Usually, someone else dies & we receive an inheritance as a result! In regard to our eternal inheritance, in heaven, however, WE have to die to obtain it, don’t we? So, Paul seems to be referring to this time—RIGHT NOW—the time in between our salvation & the time we will inherit it! When Daniel was taken captive, by the Babylonians, they intended to break him from his faith in Yahweh, in part, by a diet that was offered in sacrifice to their Babylonian gods.  “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” Daniel 1:8. In other words, Daniel was “sanctified” or “set apart” for God as he faced this decision! And, God is glorified as we grow in our sanctification because He’s doing the work in us! We submit to His work! But our spiritual growth is His work!

-Work Out Your Salvation!

There’s an incredibly interesting scripture related, to this subject, in Philippians chapter 2. I’d encourage you to memorize it; or, at least remember where it’s found: “Work out your own salvation,” Paul tells the Church of Philippi, “with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” Philippians 2:12-13. There’s no mistaking that God commands us to “work out your own salvation.” That’s an imperative! We are commanded to grow, in our salvation; or, to be sanctified! But, God actually does the work! He “enables” us & gives us the “desire” to grow in our faith! The flesh cannot produce a sanctified life! It appears, that our brokenness and depravity is so thorough that we can’t even muster the “desire” to grow up spiritually! God gets the glory for our sanctification! All of it!

 

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!