Salvation

Tuesday Devotional: Amos 5

 

Amos 5:18 bible

18 Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.

 

Judgment is swift and final.  In court, the gavel falls, in one fell swoop the verdict is announced and the sentencing established.  No more arguments.  No more pleas.  No more discussion.  Final.

This is not an easy teaching and only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we understand the justification for judgment and eternal sentencing.  We often cannot fathom a judgment so unfair and cruel.  However, that tells us not that God’s judgment is unfair and cruel but that we also cannot fathom God’s holiness and our sinfulness.  If I only eat sweets from birth, I will never understand how sweet “sweet” actually is until someone introduces me to salt for the first time.  The judgment of God will come, but many even at that time will not believe and will not turn from their sin to submit themselves to a holy and good Abba father.  All will be judged and many will fall on the side of the guilty.  The world has never seen a judgment like the one that awaits it.  Our minds cannot imagine it and it is by the grace of God that it has only been revealed to us in small doses, for the reality of what will transpire would be too much for us to bear.  It is also by the grace of God that we look around us today and see that the day of God’s judgment has not yet fallen on this world.

It is tempting to view Christianity through the same lens of escapism that often accompanies other religions, philosophies or worldviews.  Christianity does not consist of waiting patiently and righteously until the last day.  The Christian abiding in Jesus Christ will live every day consumed by two thoughts.  Am I loving God with all my heart, soul and mind?  Am I loving my neighbor as myself?  In other words, am I doing everything I can to love God and make my election and calling sure?  Am I doing everything I can to proclaim to the world through my words and deeds that Jesus is the only way through the impending cauldron of judgment?

It will truly be a glorious sight to see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven.  However, His return ushers in the time of death, grief, suffering and sorrow that even Heaven was perfectly silent for 30 minutes at the opening of the seventh seal.  We have been given the charge to save the lost, heal the sick, free captives and preach good news to the brokenhearted through our devotion to Jesus Christ.  God does not desire that any should perish; neither should we.  The non-believers in our midst are our brothers and sisters in creation.  They are loved dearly by our Father and we are to show them the way of Jesus, saving them from eternal damnation.  There will be a day of no more second chances.  This will be a dreadful day.  As children of God we should never wish this day upon anyone nor refuse to save as many as we possibly can from it.  Justice for the wicked will be just and God’s creation will be made new.  However, we must understand that His justice is often more far-reaching than we imagine.  His judgment will fall upon every person and “good” will not be good enough.  There is only Jesus on that day.

 

 

Tuesday Devotional: Isaiah 16

bible3Hide the fugitives,
    do not betray the refugees.
Let the Moabite fugitives stay with you;
    be their shelter from the destroyer.”

So I weep, as Jazer weeps,
    for the vines of Sibmah.
Heshbon and Elealeh,
    I drench you with tears!
The shouts of joy over your ripened fruit
    and over your harvests have been stilled.
Isaiah 16:3-4, 9

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 
James 1:17

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

God’s character does not evolve and change like ours.  God’s character does not learn and grow like ours.  The character of God was not underdeveloped in the Old Testament and fully developed in the New Testament.  God has never changed and never will.  This pertains to His grace and mercy as it does to every aspect of His character.  God has always sought to preserve life and to bless the children He created.  God has never sought the destruction and suffering of any people.  When we observe the punishment and discipline of people or nations in the Bible the question is not, “Why is God so angry?”  The more pertinent question is, “Why did the people ignore God’s commands and do that which they knew they should not?”

The Bible is filled with God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness even predating the human life of Jesus Christ.  Grace and mercy are God as much His power and sovereignty are.  Sadly, as God’s mercy predated the life of Jesus, so did the sinfulness of man.  If a child is told not to steal and then goes ahead and steals, would our first question be, “Why is the child receiving discipline?” or, “Why did the child commit the crime?”  For most of us it would be the latter.  We complain that God seems quick to judge, but we say this as we show ourselves to be even quicker to judge than He is.

In the same way that Jesus’ commands seek to free us from our slavery to sin, God has always sought to free us from the sin of Adam.  God is aware that a life dictated and controlled by sin not only separates us from Him but will harm, enslave, and ultimately kill us.  Why would we choose death over life?  When the alternative has been explained, the warning given and the way out of death into life provided, why do we choose death over life?  Before we criticize God for disciplining we should better criticize our stubbornness to the point of death.

If God declares His desire to save you, why not be saved?  If God declares that your life of suffering and pain grieves Him, why not believe that His desire is for your life rather than your ultimate demise?  We must come to faith in Jesus Christ to have life, but we must never deceive ourselves into believing that with Jesus Christ came the first sign of God’s desire for grace, mercy and life.  God has always loved and has always recognized our need for Him in order to live.  Allow yourself to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and allow Jesus to reunite you with the Father who has always sought your eternal salvation.

 

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Chronicles 7

bibleRead 2 Chronicles 7:11-22

14If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Can we lose the gift of Jesus Christ?

YES.

Jesus Christ is not a gift you receive, store for a later date and then use to your advantage.  To view him in this way is to receive without understanding, store the gift without valuing it and use it without respect.

How do we lose the gift of Jesus Christ?

We lose the gift of Jesus Christ if we stop practicing the following disciplines in regards to our sinful nature. Daily we must:

  • Openly identify with name of Jesus Christ
  • Humble ourselves to His authority and commands
  • Pray
  • Seek the face and presence of God in our life
  • TURN FROM SIN

We cannot be ashamed to be called Christians.  We cannot be embarrassed by our association with and nature in Jesus Christ.  This central reality of the Christian life should be our strength.  Being an ambassador of Christ is not just a burden we are meant to carry.  Representing Christ is to be His light in the world.  It is an honor and a privilege to be called a Christian and to hide our identity is to reject the gift.

When we receive the gift of Jesus Christ we no longer possess any authority in our lives.  Naturally there are times when our sin fights viciously to draw us away from the presence of the Lord.  This command is not a command of perfection.  However, it is a daily decision we must all make.  We must all decide if we will use this day to serve our own interests, or His.  We must decide if today we will follow His commands or our own.  To receive the gift of Jesus we cannot claim authority in our lives or wisdom in the steps we ought to take.  Jesus is the final authority, and the Gospel to which we dedicate our lives is His.

Faith in Jesus is a relationship, and like all good relationships, conversation plays a central role.  The fruitfulness of a relationship corresponds with level of communication between the parties involved.  How can we claim to love Jesus or to receive His forgiveness and mercy and at the same time be totally disinterested and apathetic about our intimate dialogue with Him? We cannot. Prayer is not asking for things or saying sorry for things we’ve done.  Prayer is a practice in faith.  In praying we believe that we are talking with the God of Creation and that He takes interest in what we have to say.  Prayer is a powerful gesture to God that we believe Him, we miss Him, and that above all else we need Him.

The gift of Jesus IS Jesus.  The gift of Jesus is not merely rescue from our problems, peace from our strife or joy amidst the misery.  The gift of Jesus is the fact that we no longer have to search for happiness or contentment in anything else.  We no longer have to try and fail to satisfy our own hearts.  The gift of Jesus is the fact that in Jesus we have the answer that our hearts have sought to find from the moment we were born.  Therefore, if we understand the gift of Jesus and resist or even resent the presence of Jesus in our lives as our King and Savior, we are continuing to rely on the gifts that Jesus replaces, and we continue to search for satisfaction that, apart from Jesus, is nowhere to be found.

If you are carrying a box that requires you to carry it with two hands and a person asks you to carry another box, both the same size, both requiring you to carry it with two hands, you’ll have to make one of two choices.  You can either drop the first box and pick up the new box, or you can refuse to carry the new box and continue carrying the box you were carrying at first.  In the same way we have to face our sinful desires and temptations in relation to the gift of Jesus Christ.  The gift of Jesus Christ is the second box.  To receive it we HAVE to put the other box down.  Where do we get the idea that we can carry both? In order to be a recipient of the grace and promises of Jesus Christ we have to lay our lives down, pick the up the cross and follow our Lord.

 

Water Baptism: the Personal Baptism

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on water baptism.  For the rest of the series, go here.

baptism

source

This week we’ll be thinking about how the coming of Jesus altered baptism to become personal when he submitted to John’s baptism in the Gospel. Three aspects of water help us to understand significance of Jesus’ baptism for us in the gospel narrative: water removes what is corruptrefills what is empty, and revitalizes what is dead.

After addressing the Global Baptism in the Flood of Noah and the National Baptism in the Red Sea of Moses, we finally arrive at the baptism most pertinent to the Christian’s life. If the first baptism taught us the destructive powers of sin and the second baptism taught us the oppressive powers of sin, the final baptism teaches us about the deception of sin. However, it also teaches us the abounding glory to be found in the final baptism in the name of Jesus Christ and what that means for the individual.

Removes what is corrupt

In the final baptism, we find Jesus entering the Jordan River in Palestine to be baptized by his relative, John the Baptist. While there is an entirely different discussion about what the purpose of the baptism was for Jesus himself, this section will focus much more on what his baptism means for the individual believer.

The baptism of Jesus came to a world convinced of its self-righteousness. The greatest enemy to God’s righteousness is the self-perceived righteousness of man. While the corruption of the human heart in the time of Noah and Moses were physically apparent and offensive, the world in our present time has mastered the art of concealing sin, harboring it in the heart and mind without the danger of publicly displaying its destruction, thus avoiding direct conviction or condemnation. The corruption of sin in our present age is corruption masked with righteousness. At times, like air, it is impossible to grab ahold of. However, while the corruption of the human heart can be effectively hidden from those around us, it is glaringly obvious to us in our heart of hearts.

While we can acknowledge and at times hate the sin in our own hearts, we hide beneath layers and layers of deception, the effect of which is to feel the potency of sin less and less. It becomes a matter of turning the volume on the stereo up louder and louder until the crying of the cat in the street can no longer be heard. In the hands of sin, these speakers can get loud and they continuously play songs that sing our own praises and righteousness, until after a while, we know every word to our own song and hear nothing else. However, in the Word of God, with a sincere search for truth in the Word, the figurative speakers begin to malfunction, and all that can be heard is that dreadful cat outside. In other words, in the presence of a holy and righteous Jesus Christ, our sin and its corruption is magnified and amplified to a point where we are crying for rescue from its presence and power. In the presence of Jesus one cannot even begin to feel righteous or clean. In the presence of Jesus, one feels nothing but disgust and offense at the sight of one’s own sin.

The beauty of the baptism of Jesus Christ is that while the other baptisms were not final and were not revealed as the washing of sin directly, the baptism of Jesus presents us with the hope and promise that upon being baptized by the water, its cleansing power can finally end our helpless struggle with sin and give us a new birth in the spirit of Christ, with a daily invitation to become a new creation by the spirit of God residing in our hearts, not the spirit of sin. In the final baptism, the cleansing power of the water is most effective in cleansing the corruption of sin from our hearts and most powerful in what it reveals after the corruption has been washed away.

Refills what is empty

Not only does sin convince us that righteousness reigns in our lives, sin also has the power to deceive us by convincing us that what we strive for in this material world is actually satisfying the internal void that we so desperately try to fill. Away from the presence of God, sin convinces us that a job, a relationship, or money fill the void left empty by the Fall. As the deception of righteousness convinces us only partway, leaving us to privately question the extent of sin’s corruption, the deception of satisfaction inflates what we use to fill ourselves, exaggerating the pleasure we feel upon filling it. However, in the presence of the Word of God, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that all our efforts to fill ourselves are unsuccessful, and more importantly, that they always will be without the presence of God. In the presence of God we are painfully aware that the strife and toil felt by this “chasing the wind” leaves our hearts as empty as they were when we made our first deposits into the gloomy abyss. Thus, upon the realization that the void remains empty and that sin only pretends to fill it at the expense of our energy, pain and sorrow, we then have the option to engage in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the water baptism of Jesus in the River of Life.

Upon receiving the baptism from Jesus Christ, one experiences a fullness of life and a fullness of spirit that has until that point been unparalleled. The realness of the baptism of Jesus Christ suddenly exposes all of the things that we had previously been convinced were solid, but were simply illusions all along. For the first time, we experience life as it was intended to be lived. While we continue to battle sin until the end of life on Earth, the revelation of the kingdom of God and all of its glory as a result of the baptism of Christ remains alive and ablaze in the heart of the believer, daily supplying encouragement, hope and power to live a life designed by the creator God. The baptism of Jesus Christ also fills the believer with a new way of living in this world.

Where previously we possessed only the meager powers of the sinner’s heart to obtain what Eden programmed us to desire, the baptism of Jesus Christ gives us a new way and a new formula for experiencing the life we were designed for. The Gospel of Jesus and his words replace the false hopes, promises and truths we were taught by the world, and lead us into a life of righteousness that can and will be attained in his power and for his glory. For the first time, the void begins to fill and our cup overflows.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:5-6

Revitalizes what is dead

A life born in sin, untouched by the healing power of Jesus Christ, is destined to die in sin. Without the revitalizing power of Jesus Christ and his Gospel there is no hope beyond the limits we see daily in this earthly life. The tragedy is that without a willingness to look beyond the delusional perception of our own power to rescue ourselves and fill our own lives, the fantasy of finding true meaning and satisfaction in this life, on our own, will never seem ludicrous. In fact, for many people, this is a very real, very achievable and very reasonable thing to chase. But the truth is without the intervening power of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, the life believed salvageable by the individual will continue on the destructive path predicted by the Word of God. Apart from Jesus we are caught in a cycle of temporary successes and victories: they give us temporary hope for more in the face of failures and suffering that tend to destroy hope. Apart from Jesus we have only dreams and visions of a life worth living, life filled with true joy, true peace and true strength.

We seek to find this life in our family. We seek it in our jobs. We seek it in ourselves. All the while, we are still as dead and lifeless as we were when we decided to chase this fantasy. But Jesus offers us true life. In total submission to him, just as a body submits to the immersing power of water, we are finally made clean and prepared for the life he originally intended for us. Then, and only then, can we truly live. Jesus Christ has defeated sin and death on the cross. Baptized in him, we are resurrected from death and are given life propelled by the hope of living eternally with the creator and author of life.

Water Baptism: the National Baptism

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on water baptism.  For the rest of the series, go here.

baptism

source

This week we’ll be thinking about global baptism as represented through the Exodus from Egypt and the passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea. Three aspects of water help us to understand its significance in the gospel narrative: water removes what is corruptrefills what is empty, and revitalizes what is dead.

In our second example of Biblical baptism, the persistent corruption of sin permeates not simply the world from a general perspective, but a specific nation, oppressing that nation through the direct, physical oppression of another. After a long recovery from and continued struggle with sin as described in the pages of Genesis through the Patriarchs of Israel, the Jewish people found themselves not simply warring against sin at a personal level but actually becoming enslaved by sin, embodied by the Egyptians and their oppressive regime of power and self-worship.

The story in itself is an awful chapter in Jewish history, where political and social oppression enslaved the Jewish people at the hands of the Egyptians. For us, the story represents the destructive, corrupting, enslaving power of sin, and in turn, the need for a water baptism from God in which the qualities present in the Flood were in effect once more.

Removes what is corrupt

The word “slavery” is for most synonymous with “corrupt.” In order to enslave another, or to justify slavery, one must possess a corrupt character. While much can be said and written about the corrupt nature of Egyptian Pharaoh worship or the social practices of ancient Egypt, in the presence of slavery there is little need to pile up reasons to make the argument that the Jewish people were firmly entrenched within a corrupt world. The slavery forced upon the Jewish people was heartless and cruel. The Jewish people were used for whatever muscle power they possessed and then discarded as easily as a used light bulb. To the Egyptians, the Jewish people were alive simply for the use of their bodies, aside from which they served no other purpose. In a similar way that slavery in the United States of America used and discarded millions of African Americans for their strength, so were the Jewish people used for the lavish building projects for which Egypt is now so famous.

Before the rise of Moses, the outlook of the Jewish people was completely hopeless. They felt helpless to affect change in their social and political status. They also felt abandoned and distant from the God of their forefathers and thus felt hopeless spiritually. The desire for freedom was alive in the hearts of the Israelites but the attainment of that freedom seemed impossibly out of reach, and thus useless to ponder. From this place of hopelessness and helplessness, God decided to bring forth Moses as his mediator and tool to bring about the salvation of Israel from the grip of Egypt. As detailed in the Book of Exodus, Moses confronted Pharaoh with the power and words of God and took the Israelites out of Egypt to the shores of the Red Sea.

At this moment, the Jewish people had seen the world beyond their slavery, revealing hope in a new life and a new creation as a nation. However, the threat of Egypt still remained and hopes of freedom began to waver as the Israelites saw the Pharaoh’s chariots swiftly approaching. There was hope, but there was also fear. What was needed was a conclusive cleansing of that corruption embodied by the Egyptians, and that cleansing came in the form of the miraculous Red Sea crossing. As the Israelites stepped onto the opposite shore of the Red Sea, the walls of water held in place for the purpose of rescuing the Jewish nation were let loose and the waters crashed violently onto the Egyptians. The Red Sea miracle ended the Egyptian threat of political and social oppression and revealed a clean beginning for the Jewish people to take hold of and fill with the glory and righteousness of the living God.

Refills what is empty

Just as the corrupt world of Noah’s day was in need of a Flood to complete cleansing from the destruction of sin at that time, upon being rescued from the hands of Egypt the Jewish people needed to fill what was at that time simply empty after years of slavery and years of silence in their relationship with God. After the high-octane drama of Exodus, the books that follow pale in comparison in regards to action and become progressively more tiresome with rules, restrictions and innocuous detail that cause many to abandon their “Read the Bible in One Year” plan.

While the steady stream of laws and contractual language can be a daunting burden to the drama-hungry reader, from the perspective of the Red Sea miracle as a baptism that Removes, Refills and Revitalizes, the shift in content becomes increasingly clear. At the point of liberation, the Jewish people had no central government, no central social structure, no central legal system and no direction. What they did have were miles and miles of open desert with little food and supplies to start new. What they needed was a miracle. But what they needed was essentially anything. From that point of nothingness, God established his authority as lawmaker, king and God, filling the void left by the Egyptian enslavement and the desolation of their nation through political and social oppression. For most people, especially in the modern West, it is assumed that there are laws in existence and authorities in place that can and will protect their freedoms, and that those authorities are involved in a system of checks and balances for the people. These laws and regulations that provide the freedom and liberty most of us are blessed to have are made up of thousands and thousands of lines of legal jargon that only a select group of lawyers and legislators are even aware of or understand. Like the fine print of a contract, which is there for a reason but overlooked by most people, the stage in the baptism of the Jewish nation following the physical liberation through the Red Sea miracle is where God filled that which was previously empty in the Jewish nation due to their enslavement. They had literally nothing. God gave them everything. With precision and accuracy, God gave the Jewish people no room to hold on to bad habits and removed the defense of ignorance concerning future transgressions. God gave them new life and gave them a new life in which to live.

Revitalizes what is dead

The final point arguing the need for baptism in the case of Israel is probably the easiest to make. In slavery, the Jewish people were literally dying due to abuse, with no life to live of their own with little reason to live it. Thus, if a person survived a day, that individual might question why they were kept alive, and if death would graciously accept them upon the following sunrise. Just as a person is spiritually dead in sin as a result of the fall, the Jewish people were literally alive in death as they were oppressed closer and closer to their ultimate death with each passing day. Without the baptism of the Red Sea, the Jewish people had no nation. The Jewish people were not a people. The Jewish people were destined to disappear, forgotten by the world, left to return to dust in unmarked graves for future generations to forget. Without the baptism of the Red Sea, there is no baptism of Jesus and there is no Christianity.

The story of the Jewish people’s oppression and enslavement, leading to their ultimate liberation and baptism in the Red Sea, comes to us today as a warning against the personal enslavement of sin and the oppressive power that it has on our lives, regardless of how unjust we view the oppression to be and no matter how hard we try to break the bond of our own imprisonment. What we learn from the Red Sea baptism is that it took God to intervene and save Israel, and it took God to rebuild what was being permanently erased. What we learn from the Red Sea baptism is also that God has given us not only a warning of sin in the Egyptian oppression but has also given us an invitation to liberation by the healing water of Jesus Christ and his permanent liberation from sin in his new covenant for a new life: alive in the spirit of God, destined for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Tuesday Devotional: 3 John

Read 3 Johnbible

There is a powerful unity among those who profess faith in Jesus Christ.  Followers of Jesus find a home in knowing that each and every person is walking on the same path that starts at the cross and ends in his kingdom.  However, at the cross we do not just find a team, but the life of Jesus Christ alone sacrificed for the entire world. We find a Lord and Savior who unites his church through faith in him, but we are also given the power and commandment to take his Holy Spirit out into the world so that they too can find him.  At the foot of the cross we do find a family of believers and a body to become a part of.  However, this family ought never confine or prevent us from reaching into the world of those yet to be grafted in.  Our mission is to find our home with Christ through the fellowship of believers, yet be fully aware of our necessity to go forth into the world in order to bring others back home.  Each and every person must be brought into this faith in Jesus Christ.

Regardless of the point in a person’s life at which they met the Lord and submitted to the work of the cross, in each testimony is a point where they did not have faith in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the one thing that all of us share is that at one point we were all strangers to Christ, even though he knew us from the beginning.  Every testimony begins with our separation from Christ as a result of our sin.  Thus, as we come into faith in Jesus Christ, we can never adopt a tone of the privileged preaching to the under-privileged.  At the foot of the cross we all receive grace, we all receive mercy and we all receive forgiveness.

This is the gospel that must be taken to the furthest corners of the world and unleashed in healing.  For those overwhelmed and transformed by that experience at the cross there is only one truth. Jesus Christ is the Lord.  Our place in his presence is leveled at the foot of the cross upon which he gave his life for us.  In his presence there are only two groups: reunited children and children yet to be reunited.  Either way, both groups consist of children of the same heavenly Father who desires all of them be brought back home.  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we find our family, only family because we share a common Father.  In this Father we find our new life, our new way and the new brothers and sisters, unified because we have all been lost but are now found.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Peter 1

bibleRead 2 Peter 1:3-11

Projects usually have an estimated time of completion, and ultimately are completed.  A destination has an estimated time of arrival, and can ultimately be reached.   The transformation of an individual from sinful indifference toward Jesus Christ to a life forgiven and overcome by his spirit is neither a job that we work to complete nor a destination at which we arrive in this lifetime.  The process of spiritual transformation that occurs in a person through the work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing.  It never ends as long as life remains.  It is not gained by striving, and we do not enjoy the completed work in this life.  We are often unaware of the process of this work, although we continue to participate in throughout our lives.  The complexity of taking a sinful heart of man and recreating the holy heart of Jesus Christ in a person takes persistence, trust and time.  While there is nothing that we can offer God in the actual rewiring of our heart into one compatible with his, we are not absent or excluded from the process.  On the contrary, we are essential in this radical transformation.

Our role is not to produce the change.  Our role is to present the opportunity for change.  Our role is to give the Holy Spirit every opportunity to work out our salvation and rework the tendencies and desires of our heart.  In this role we cannot afford to be complacent or inattentive.  We must never assume that the work has been done.  We must never lose the heightened awareness of potential opportunities for change.  We must never assume that the destination has been reached.  If we ever find ourselves believing these lies we can be sure that we have effectively brought our transformation to a complete stop.  As we change and grow into the life of Jesus Christ we must not waste time trying to calculate the progress made or the progress to be made.  As we are transformed we must be aware of only one thing: that our work is not done and we are not there yet.

So, until then, until we breathe our last, our goal each and every day is to seek out opportunities for the Holy Spirit to reveal more of the spirit of Christ in us.  This search for opportunity will contradict our opinions, our plans and our preferences.  It will press us in ways that we are not used to being pressed.  However, in these moments where our heart and character are pushed into discomfort, the spirit of Christ will be able to reveal itself and prove the promises of Christ that we all can change, and we will all be made like him.  A disciple’s heart is never satisfied, content with ground already travelled.  A disciple’s heart is daily hungry for more. More intimacy with the life of Christ. More transformation in his image.  To a disciple, the challenges of this world prove the transformation of our hearts in the way we hunger for everything other than what the world has to offer us.  As we race to close the distance between us and the life and spirit of Jesus Christ, we will become completely unaware of our surroundings and our progress.  We will forget the course.  We will forget the race.  We will forget the clock.  We will run further than we thought we could and longer than we had planned to run. We will arrive without realizing that we have.  The race will be a fading memory to, at the end, being with him forever without ever having to run again.

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Peter 1

Read 1 Peter 1:13-25bible

Nothing about the new life in Christ is realistic.  Everything about it pushes the standard limitations we place on what is possible.  Approaching the word of God and how it applies in this world is completely unrealistic from the reality established by the world we have been raised by.  Everything about the new life in Christ calls us to expect what our world teaches us to never expect.  The world leads us to believe that certain things are not to be expected, that certain things are out of the range of possibility, and certain things simply cannot be.  The concept of genuine selfless love for another is clouded by our belief that the limits of our human hearts can neither handle nor be expected to exhibit such unrealistic love.  The concept of complete abandonment to an authority that has the power to permanently change us from paralyzing insecurity to confidence and contentment is not realistically possible. We are wary of anything that might tempt us out of the real world and into a mere fantasy state.

There is no synchronicity between the new life in Christ and the life we were born into in this world.  The two lives are in a state of constant contradiction.  The more one is overcome by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the more one begins to perceive oneself as a “stranger” in this world.  A stranger that has a home somewhere else, but is nonetheless in this world with a job to do.  That job is not to reproduce or replicate the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others.  That job is to simply bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our own life.  One cannot simply share the expectations of the Gospel with another and expect that those expectations be received, followed and cherished.  Rather, they are completely unrealistic and should receive an adverse reaction.  If one is listening and understanding the implications of the words of the Gospel, these words are not liberating.  To begin with, they are crushing by the magnitude of what they expect from us.  They are unrealistic and impossible.  They should not be taken seriously— if the words are the only witness.

However, witnessing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in the life of another suddenly opens the door of possibility.  The real-time power of the spirit of Christ in man is the only witness that can effectively lead a person from utter desperation in the face of the Gospel’s expectations to complete satisfaction and hope.  We are not meant to read the words of God as one reads literature.  Literature is from man and for man and thus will be received by man as man would naturally receive it.  The words of God are from God, for man. They will shake us, press us and ultimately change us.  Our expectations when standing in the presence of God must only be to expect something entirely different from ourselves.  However, what we should expect to find is beyond our reality and supernaturally good.

Tuesday Devotional: Hebrews 2

Read Hebrews 2:5-18bible

Man was not created to be alone.  There are far reaching implications of this truth, both for good and bad.  Even times of joy may be followed by emptiness when what is being enjoyed or experienced cannot be shared with someone else.  Similarly, in times of trouble make us desperate when what we suffer cannot be shared with another person who can understand or empathize.  God has not given us the luxury to look him in the face and tell him, “You don’t understand.  You don’t know!”  In times of suffering, our desire to be rescued from our pain is sometimes matched by our desire to be isolated in our suffering, to feel an odd sense of superiority in being the only one who can understand what is happening and what we are feeling.  When we indulge in our suffering, knowing that no one can understand our suffering allows us to avoid healing and rescue, leaving us self-obsessed in our pain, which belongs only to us, and self-satisfied in knowing that only we can understand ourselves.

But God has not allowed us the luxury of wallowing in our misery and claiming exclusive right to our suffering.  The beauty and glory of God being truly Emmanuel is that, despite his majesty and authority, in order to bridge the gap between his creation and himself, he lowered himself so that man would never have be able to claim a sense of advantage or authority over him.  It was in his submission to man’s authority, the authority of the life and death of man, that he sought to firmly establish his everlasting authority over it.  It was in his submission, in lowering himself physically to wash the feet of sinful man, that he ultimately brought all of his creation under his own feet.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is absolutely nothing that we can claim to possess that Christ has not already possessed.  There is nothing that we can claim to have experienced that he has not already experienced to a much higher degree than we have.  There remains nothing that can separate us from the life and love of Jesus Christ. 

This truth was not established to remove our excuses.  This truth was established so that in times of joy and in times of suffering we would always know that the God that presides and reigns over all of creation is a God who is with us, in everything. He gives us permanent and everlasting fellowship in both our joy and suffering.  He suffered, not so that we would never have to, but so that we could come to the realization that this world we live in has been overcome by his suffering and salvation, and we can live in this world being slowly transformed into a new creation, with hope in the life to come.  God does not demand that we come to him and exemplify his perfection.  God came to us.  He came to us taking the form of man, bearing man’s sin and imperfections, so that we could need nothing else except for the truth of himself and his Gospel.

Tuesday Devotional: Colossians 1

Read Colossians 1:1-15bible

We live in a world of abundant and overpowering distractions.  Take a moment to count how many different voices are calling out to you to do, to see, to go, to buy, etc.  Sadly, the God of all creation has a tendency to blend too easily into this crowd of voices.  We are busy beings, trying to do as many things as we possibly can every day, week, month and year.  Found within this busyness is, for many, a Sunday morning church service.  Within this service is a language so grand and powerful that for an hour we forget the limitations of this world and our spirits are infused with a hopeful confidence that seems strong enough to do just about anything.  Within that church we speak of God as the creator of the heavens and the earth.  Within that church we speak of God as the first and the last and the beginning and the end.  Within that church we speak of Jesus Christ as the redeemer who pays our debts and gives us rebirth.

This tone and these words are not normal.  We often don’t use them outside of the church walls.  In our daily lives we display an insultingly lackadaisical approach to the presence of that tone or the meaning of those words.  Do we really understand what it means to say that he was the beginning and will be the end?  Do we really understand what it means to profess faith and submit to the creator of the heavens and the earth? Do we really understand what it means when we bear the name of Christ? Are we truly identifying ourselves with the cross where Christ became the ransom for our sins?  The truth of the Gospel is extreme. It is unreasonable and illogical to react to it in any other way.  The reaction to the Gospel has to be extreme. Hearing its claims must move us to fall to our knees in complete submission.  If we profess faith in the Gospel yet live in a way not far removed from the life that preceded the encounter with the Gospel, we have misunderstood that Gospel.  If we profess faith in the God of the Bible and are yet convinced of our own power, or yet in control of the direction and course of our lives, we have misunderstood the Gospel.  If we profess faith in the cross of Christ and continue to strive for perfection, to attain salvation through our personal record, we do not understand the Gospel. 

The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims concerning the nature of the living God.  This God does not need us for anything, nor does he have to listen to our opinions at all.  However, he continues to use us, bless us, and listen to us because he loves us.  The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims about the life and sacrifice of Christ.  The message of the Cross does not give us new guidelines to improve our lives or free passes to find peace with the daily sins that plague us.  The message of the Cross is that faith in the sacrifice of Jesus creates a being different from the old, that can never go back.  There is always movement with the cross of Christ, but just as Christ carried his cross forward and never back, forward motion into deeper union with Christ is the only acceptable outcome of our faith.  The Gospel is not just another idea, voice or message amongst the thousands of messages we receive on a daily basis.  It is THE message.  It is THE good news.  To understand it for exactly what it claims requires us to broaden our scale of measurement to a point so big that at a certain point we disappear, and only Christ remains