THANKSGIVING NEVER GETS OLD (Thanksgiving Weekend, 2021)

We need to accept that God is truly good, he truly loves us, and he really does have our eternal best interests in mind. Giving thanks to God accomplishes that in a powerful way. Thanksgiving moves the promises of God from our heads into our hearts. (A reprise of a sermon from a few years ago)

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Thanksgiving 2021

GIVING THANKS – 2021

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  (Col 4:2, HCSB)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:4-8 HSCB)

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7 NIV)

Literally hundreds of times, the Bible exhorts Christians to be thankful. As we look at the small sample of such verses above, it is clear that Christians are supposed to be people who live with an attitude of continual thankfulness toward God. I want to talk about why it is so important, what it means be give thanks continually, and how to implement it.

WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT

The older I get, the more I am inclined to believe that thankfulness is a key part in receiving the grace and love and joy that are offered to us through Jesus Christ. When we thank God, we are, in a way, reaching out and receiving what we thank him for. We are agreeing with what the Bible says about his graciousness and love toward us; we affirming something true about the nature of God. We are saying, “Yes, I have received your love and grace,” and as we declare that to be true, it somehow becomes more real to us.

In order to find Joy in God, we need to see Him as an ally, not an adversary. If we see him as something or someone that stands in our way, we cannot receive grace from him.

We need to accept that God is truly good, he truly loves us, and he really does have our eternal best interests in mind. Giving thanks to God accomplishes that in a powerful way.

When we thank him, we acknowledge that He knows more than we do about what is best for us. Thanksgiving opens the door to trusting God, even when we don’t understand. When we thank him, we begin to pay attention to the multitude of good things he has already given. When we thank him, our soul slowly begins to align with God’s purposes and plans.

Thanksgiving moves the promises of God from our heads into our hearts.

 WHAT IT MEANS TO GIVE THANKS

Many people feel that it is hard to be thankful unless you have a lot to be thankful for. I believe that is a very misleading idea. The American holiday and tradition of Thanksgiving originates from Christian spiritual roots. In addition, that tradition was born in the middle of deep hardship.

The “original thanksgiving” took place in the New England settlement of Pilgrims during the sixteen-hundreds. It is true that at the time they celebrated, they had a good harvest. But they had just gone through an incredibly difficult year in which large numbers of the Pilgrims had perished from disease and malnutrition. From a simple cataloging of bad events versus good, they had much more to be upset about than to be thankful for. Yet they held a three day feast, thanking God for his blessings.

The first national day of thanksgiving was proclaimed by the brand-new American government in 1777. It is true, at the time many people were elated by the American victory over the British at Saratoga. But also at the time of the proclamation, the British still occupied the capital city of the new country (which was Philadelphia at that point) and also held New York City and several significant southern cities. The war was far from over, and times were still quite desperate, and yet they called for a national day of prayer, thankfulness, and repentance toward God.

Considering this history, perhaps it is appropriate that Thanksgiving became an official national holiday during the middle of the Civil War. Once again, the war was far from over, and many desperate times and terrible battles were both behind and ahead. Yet President Lincoln wrote of the many blessings that persisted in spite of war, and said:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

It isn’t my intention to give a history lesson. But I want to point out explicitly that the early Americans seemed eager and able to thank God, even in the middle of significant hardship. In fact, the American Thanksgiving tradition arose more from hardship and war than from peace and prosperity. Even more, I want to point out that this idea of thanking God at all times, even in difficult circumstances, is a biblical practice. Job chapter one records a series of calamities that befall Job, a righteous man. At the end of it all, this is what he did:

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;

may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Psalm 69 was written by someone who felt he was “poor and in pain.” His appropriate response was to thank the Lord:

But as for me — poor and in pain — let Your salvation protect me, God. I will praise God’s name with song and exalt Him with thanksgiving.  (Ps 69:29-30, HCSB)

Paul says, “Good, bad, normal, it doesn’t matter. Give thanks all the time.”

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  (Col 4:2, HCSB)

When we give thanks in all things – especially in hard things – the love of God begins to take root deeply in our hearts.

Thankfulness also leads to peace and contentment. Philippians 4:5-7 teaches that thankful prayer is an antidote to worry:

Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Phil 4:5-7, HCSB)

Yes, it is good and proper to ask God for what we need, and to share our burdens with him. It is also important to thank him as we offer up those prayers. Through turning our burdens over with thankfulness, we experience the peace of God, which is beyond understanding. The fact that it is beyond understanding means that sometimes we will experience peace when our circumstances suggest that we shouldn’t be able to do so. It is thankfulness, at least in part, which leads to this sort of peace in all circumstances.

Many of you know of my own struggle with chronic pain. I hate the pain. I hate what it is doing to my body. But I have learned to be truly, genuinely thankful to God in the midst of it – not ignoring it. I feel closer to God today than ever before.

So giving thanks does not mean that everything is just the way we want it. Giving thanks is an expression of trust in a God who is beyond human understanding.

HOW TO LIVE A LIFE OF THANKFULNESS

I want to hasten to say that I am no expert on thankfulness. Many of you are probably better at it than I. What follows are merely suggestions from one who is still learning to live in thankfulness. I have found that thankfulness (and the benefits of peace, grace and faith which come with it) can be encouraged by some self-discipline. Sometimes, it is helpful to just make myself start thanking God. I don’t like mornings, and I’m not usually very happy until after mid-morning. But, stepping into the shower grumpy and irritated, I can begin by thanking the Lord for running hot water, and then soap, and then a towel. I can thank him that I have my own bathroom. That reminds me that I have my own house to live in, and it is plenty for my whole family. I can go on, and thank the Lord for warm, clean socks, and the existence of coffee, and then for my wife and children. You see how it goes: once we get started, there are an endless stream of things to thank the Lord for. I think one thing that is Biblically appropriate is to frequently thank Jesus for his sacrifice for us, and for his promise of eternal life to us.

When you read the Bible, or a devotional, stop and thank the Lord for what you are reading. Pay attention to anything that jumps out at you, and thank him. Even if the Bible passage is describing something difficult, you could pray something like: “Lord thank you that you are with me in all the difficulties and hardships that I face. Thank you that this passage shows me that it is normal for us to face hard times, even when we follow you.”

Thank the Lord today, and this week, and every day. Let him encourage thankfulness in your heart!

 

1 PETER #5: THE KEY TO THE BIBLE: JESUS CHRIST

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To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 5

1 Peter #5. 1 Peter 1:10-12

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:10-12

Our next section might feel like just a little transition between main points, and in some ways, it is. Even so, I believe the Holy Spirit can use these verses to strengthen our faith. Peter has been talking about the wonderful promises that are ours in salvation, promises that are so glorious and wonderful that even suffering on earth is nothing in comparison to what is coming to those who receive that salvation. Peter now briefly mentions something of the history of those promises. In short, Peter is telling his readers something about the Bible. We can learn several important things here.

First, remember that at that point in time, the only Bible that they had was the part that we Christians call the Old Testament. Peter was a Jew, and in the Jewish thinking of those days, there were two main parts to the Bible/Old Testament: “the Law,” which was the first five books, written by Moses; and “the Prophets,” which is, essentially, everything else. It also helps to know that though the first five books are indeed called “the Law,” Moses himself (who wrote those books), was also considered to be a prophet. So when Peter talks about “the prophets,” he doesn’t just mean Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and so on. He means every single book of the Old Testament.

Peter tells us something very important about the Old Testament: it is ultimately all about Jesus Christ. Peter makes it clear that the prophets themselves did not entirely understand this – they wondered about what God was inspiring them to write – as he says in verse 10, they questioned what it was all about. Even so, Peter says it was the Spirit of Christ in them who inspired them to write, and what he inspired them to write was ultimately all about Christ, and the suffering, grace and glory of the salvation that he won for us, even though the writers did not understand that at the time.

Elsewhere, the New Testament affirms this. After his resurrection, Jesus walked with his disciples one time, but prevented them from recognizing him, initially. He gave them the same lesson about the Old Testament scriptures:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, italic formatting added for emphasis)

Notice here, again, the idea that “the prophets,” begins with Moses, and includes all of the rest of the scriptures. So, even the Old Testament scriptures are about Jesus. Jesus made this same point about the bible, more than once. Talking to the Pharisees who rejected him, he said:

The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.  (John 5:37-39, HCSB)

The Old Testament speaks about Jesus in some more or less direct ways. What I mean is, there are texts that were understood to be predictions about the coming Messiah for centuries before Jesus was born. When he was born into humanity, through Mary, his life fulfilled those prophetic utterances. We know that the last Old Testament book to be written was finished about 450 years before Jesus was born. The Greek translation of the Old Testament appeared 250 years before the time of Jesus.

Let me give you a  brief, faith-building taste of those fulfilled prophecies. According to various places in the Old Testament, the Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of King David, and born in Bethlehem. But though he was to be born in Bethlehem, he was also supposed to be from the region of Galilee – which is far north of Bethlehem. Yet also, he was supposed to have come from Egypt. In addition, noblemen from the East were supposed to bring him gifts.

Jesus, of course, was born in Bethlehem. Some time later, the Magi from the East came, bringing gifts. Within two years, his parents fled with him to Egypt. Before he was twelve, they returned from Egypt and moved permanently to Nazareth, which is in Galilee. Jesus himself, if he was merely human, had no control over fulfilling these prophecies – no baby gets to choose the place of its birth, or where it is raised. Those are either gigantic lucky coincidences, or they are fulfilled prophecies.

Just a few more. The Old Testament predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin, that he be innocent, yet suffer for the sins of the guilty, that people would gamble for his clothing. It says he would be pierced in his side with a weapon. Again, Jesus had no way of arranging these things, if he was merely human. All of the evidence shows us that the New Testament developed so rapidly, that it isn’t possible to imagine that centuries later the church made up stories about someone who wasn’t real, and made him to fit the prophecies. That idea is based upon the fiction novel, The DaVinci Code, and it is indeed fiction. Also, Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies in ways that Jews at the time had not expected.

There are over three-hundred Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus (and in no one else). If you want a simple, easy taste, read Isaiah chapter 53, and ask yourself what it says about Jesus. Then recognize that it was written about seven hundred years before Jesus was born.

In 1963, Mathematician Peter Stoner published a book called Science Speaks. He used the science of probability to calculate how likely it was that one person would fulfil just eight of the three hundred prophecies about the Messiah. Remember, all eight (to say nothing of all 300) have to be fulfilled in the same person. His calculations were reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation, and found to be correct mathematically. He found that the chance that one person would fulfill just those eight particular prophecies about the messiah was 1 in 1017. That’s 1, followed by 17 zeros. As an illustration, if you had that many silver dollars, you could cover an area the size of Texas (that’s larger than either France, or Spain) two feet thick with silver dollars. Paint one more silver dollar red, drop it in and mix it with all the rest, and have a blind man randomly travel to somewhere in Texas, and plunge his hand into the silver dollars and pick one. The likelihood that he comes out with the one red silver dollar is the same as the likelihood that Jesus was not predicted by those eight Old Testament prophecies. When you throw in the other 292 prophecies, there is virtually no chance that Jesus fulfilled them by accident. What a treasure we have, to know that God planned it all!

Even when we aren’t talking about predictions of the Messiah, the Old Testament reveals Jesus to us, and helps us understand what it means to live as his follower. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to talk about this same way of seeing the Old Testament:

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

I think the words of Jesus that we read earlier can be understood this way, also. When we realize this, we find that Peter and the others have given us the key to getting the most from the Old Testament. Yes, there are complex historical and cultural situations in it. Yes, we should seek to understand culture, and context and history. But the bottom line is, it is all about Jesus, and all we really need, when we read the Old Testament, is to let it teach us something about Jesus, or about what it means to follow him. So, when your read your Bible, ask these sorts of questions:

  • What does this passage show me about Jesus?
  • Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like?
  • Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)?

In addition to directly revealing Jesus to us, the Bible explains things about God, human nature, and what life is like, and could be like, for people who follow Jesus. So we should also ask some questions like this:

  • What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character?
  • What does it show me about sin?
  • What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace?
  • What does it say about human beings?
  • What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others?

If you want to get more out of your Bible, I know of no better way than to ask questions like these, and, actually any other type of significant question that occurs to you. If we don’t ask questions, we don’t learn much. If you know of anyone who really knows not only a lot about what the Bible says, but also a lot about what it means, and how to apply it, that kind of wisdom almost certainly came about from asking questions, including hard questions, about various parts of the Bible.

As a practical exercise, let’s use this wonderful gift that Peter has given us to tackle a difficult text in the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy chapter 20. We’re doing this just as an example of what it means to recognize that the prophets of old were actually writing about Jesus. Moses was speaking to the people of Israel about wars. He instructed them that when they fought with people who were not in their homeland, they were to first try peace, and then ask for a surrender, and then, if battle was necessary, they were to show mercy once they had conquered the enemy city. Next, he talks about the wars they must fight with people occupying the promised land:

15 “But these instructions apply only to distant towns, not to the towns of the nations in the land you will enter. 16 In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. 17 You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 20:15-18, NLT

This sounds horrible and brutal, right? There certainly are issues here to think about with regard to the history of Israel. However, for Christians, we know that this passage is not about fighting Hittites, Amorites and all the other “– ites.” We know that this passage is about Jesus. It tells us something about Him, or about how we should or shouldn’t behave as we follow him. It might tell us about sin, or salvation or human relationship. So, let’s ask our questions:

Where is Jesus? I don’t know about you, but the only place I see Him directly is in the name “the Lord.” So it seems to be Jesus who is talking to us through this passage. He is giving instructions, teaching us.

Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like? Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)? Easy. No, and no. Maybe another time I’ll come back to this text, and see something about these questions, that I hadn’t seen before, but not this time.

What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character? Ahh. Here we go. It shows me that God’s holiness is very serious. It is a deadly serious thing to contradict his holiness, which is what sin does. His holiness is extreme, and calls for an extreme response to avoid unholiness.

What does it show me about sin? Sin is deadly serious. It requires death. Idolatry (having something in your life that is more important or valuable to you than God) is the problem in the text. We Christians still sometimes make things more important than God, so it is speaking to that tendency. This passage shows me that it is so important to have Jesus first, that I need to eliminate anything that might get in the way.

What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace? If God’s holiness is so serious, and idolatry is so bad, that in those days it required the death of every living thing, then I am in serious trouble. I am lost without God’s grace. I need a savior to save me from my sin, my laziness and my tendency to value things more than God. Oh! Now we see Jesus. I need a savior. I need Jesus!

What does it say about human beings? Human beings cannot do what is necessary to be holy. Again, we need a savior!

What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others? I think we can use this question to put it all together. Whatever the text may have been about in the past, today, it is about Jesus, and what it means to follow him. So first, it leads me to repent of my own sin, my own tendency to let other things become more important in my life than God. Idolatry is nothing to mess around with. It leads me to my desperate need for Jesus to save me, to provide forgiveness, mercy and grace.

It also shows me something else. The people of Israel were supposed to take radically extreme action to avoid idolatry and sin. Their relationship with God was so important that they literally had to kill anything that might lead them astray. Today, because the text is about Jesus, we know it is not about hurting other people. But we should make implacable, unrelenting war on anything in our lives that tends to lead us astray from Jesus. I should show my own sin no mercy. I should be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Jesus is first in my life, now and always. If something threatens that, I need to eliminate it. Again, I am talking not about other people, but my own attitudes and actions. It is true, there may be a time when I need to back off from a relationship with a person that is damaging my faith in Jesus, but we do that sort of thing in accordance with the rest of the bible, which tells us it must be done graciously and with patience and love for the other person.

Now that we see this about Jesus and following him, we can find many other verses that teach this very thing:

29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30, NLT)
37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39, NLT)
4 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14, NLT)

So this little transitional verse in 1 Peter helps us understand the entire Bible!

A final thing. Peter mentions that people came and preached to his readers, and that their preaching was inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. No preacher is equal to the Bible. All of us make mistakes, whereas God provided the Bible as a foundation for all time, so that no generation can be led astray if they know the scriptures. But Peter shows us that the Holy Spirit also uses preachers who deliver the Biblical message to specific people, at specific places and times. The work of a preacher is not to add to the Bible, but to help us unwrap God’s Word to us in a way that helps us see how it is relevant to our lives here and now.

Peter’s main point is that God has gone out of his way to make sure that we heard His Word. We can count on it. We should delight in it, and learn from it.

Imagine the song “Silent Night.” Like many Christmas songs, it has been arranged in many different ways, and played by many different groups and performing artists. Think of it being played instrumentally, by an orchestra. You’ve probably heard it that way. Now, imagine how it sounds sung by a full choir, with no instruments at all. It’s the same song. The same music is being conveyed, and yet, it sounds very different. Now, hear a twangy, country-western singer singing Silent Night, maybe featuring a pedal-steel. Next, try to imagine someone singing it as a kind of operatic solo. Picture it done to swing-rhythm. Now imagine it as “muzak” or “elevator music,” played at the mall. Think of a rendition of the song by a 1940’s “big band.” Hear it done by Reggae artists.

All of these are the same song, conveying the same “musical message.” And yet each style and performance conveys that same “musical message” in a very different way. We can appreciate some of those ways better than others, but it all goes back to the same composer, the same basic set of notes, the same lyrics.

This is kind of how the Bible is. Sometimes, God conveyed his message about Jesus through the life of an old man, or a young princess. Sometimes, he sent it through laws that helped people at that time understand him better. At other times, God’s message came through prophets, or teachers, or letter writers, kings, or musicians. Sometimes, it is hard to recognize as the same message, because three-thousand year-old laws require more work to understand than clearly written letters from more than a thousand years later. But the messages about God, human beings and relationships are consistent throughout the Bible. As with Silent Night, though the “performances” are widely varied, the basic underlying message is the same. Different musicians may play the music, different instruments may create it, but at the same time, the music is, and always was, the product of the original composer.

Take joy and delight in reading the Bible and finding Jesus everywhere!

1 Peter #3: A BETTER HOPE

When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. There is nothing on earth that we cannot lose. But we cannot lose our eternal inheritance in Jesus Christ.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 3

1 Peter #3. 1 Peter 1:3-5.

Peter gives us a great example when he begins by praising God. Our salvation is a gift that we can often take for granted. But Peter reminds us that God’s grace to us is not automatic. God did not have to treat us with mercy and grace. What he has done for us is astounding, even more so because not a person in the world has ever deserved any of it. All of what comes to us is according to God’s mercy. It is not by justice, not by us earning it, not by us paying for it, not by another human getting it for us. God’s mercy alone gives us the incredible gift of salvation. Mercy is never deserved. We don’t deserve anything from God other than death and hell. But in spite of what we deserve, he forgives us, and instead showers his gifts on us.

It may be puzzling to some that he blesses “The God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this is phrase that packs a lot of punch in just a few words. Remember, Peter has already mentioned the Trinity: The Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, the Son. Here in one short sentence, we have the Trinity once again. Peter is obviously blessing God the Father,  who chose us to be in Jesus, and knew ahead of time what would take place. He also blesses “our Lord Jesus.” To call Jesus “Lord” is to call him God. In the Old Testament times, the ancient name for God was “Yahweh.” But instead of saying “Yahweh,” the Jews said “the Lord.” So calling Jesus “Lord” is like calling him “Yahweh.” Finally, Jesus is not only Lord, he is also “Christ.” Christ means “anointed one,” or, to put it more clearly, “one especially filled with the Holy Spirit.” So we have here Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this one short phrase.

In God’s mercy, he has caused us to be born again. In Greek it says literally: “according to his great mercy, he has regenerated us.” (Regenerated is often translated “given us new birth” or something similar). To generate something is to cause it to be. So, God caused us to be physically, but he has also regenerated us – caused to be all over again, in a new way.

Think abut a computer game. In a computer game, you are alive outside the game. You enter the world of the game through your game character, sometimes called your “avatar.” When your character/avatar dies in the game, it regenerates and comes back into the game at the last point in which you were saved. This gives us a helpful way to think about spiritual regeneration.

In some ways, game regeneration is almost the opposite real spiritual regeneration. Imagine that we are players who have existed only inside the game. We aren’t outside the world, sitting at a console, playing a game. Instead, we have only ever been inside the game. The game is our whole world. We have no perspective outside of it.

Now, when God regenerates us, it is like he gives us a life outside of the game. Instead of a player who is alive in the real world, stepping into the world of the game, and being regenerated inside the game, we begin inside the game, and God now regenerates us out into the real world. We are still in the game, but now we are also outside, sitting at a gaming console. We are no longer confined to the game. If we die in the game, we still have our life outside of it.

Our regeneration takes place in the real, eternal world, not the temporary world of the game, which is the only world we have known up until now. Now, our life inside the game – what we have always called “real life” – is not our only life, and it is not our most true life. Before, when we died, we died. But now, when we die, our “avatar” – that is, our body of flesh – is dead. We don’t get a do-over. But since we now have life outside the game, when we die here, it’s like shutting down the game, and participating in real life. What happens “in the game” is important, because here, in this life, God uses us to show his glory. But what happens outside the game is ultimately more important, because that is where our real life is waiting for us.

Obviously this regeneration is not (yet) a physical one. However, it will eventually result in a new physical body

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, NLT)

In the meantime, however, we have already been born again, in spirit. The Greek verb for “regenerated,” is in a special type of past tense form. This shows us that this has already happened. Being born again is not something that will happen to us in the future. It is not something that is still in process. It has already taken place. In addition, while it is a done deal, our regeneration has ongoing consequences.

There are many types of things that happened in the past, which, however, have ongoing consequences. Picture a wedding that took place ten years ago. The wedding is in the past. It happened; it’s a done deal. But the fact that the wedding happened in the past has a profound and ongoing effect today upon the two people who got married. Once you have a wedding, you are fully married. Yet, as you grow with your spouse, that marriage changes and deepens and affects you more deeply. It affects every day of your life, though some days the effect seems greater, and other days, less.

So it is with being born again. Because God regenerated us once, in the past, we are still  regenerated (born again) today. The fact of our being born again continues to play out in our lives. We are growing more and more fully into everything that it means to regenerated. Some days we see the effect more clearly, other days we question how much being born again has changed our life in the body. But it would be a mistake to think that we are only partially born again. Just as you can’t be “partially married,” so you can’t be partially born again.

Some days you may feel like you are doing well in your marriage. Other days you may feel like a lousy husband, or neglectful wife. Your feelings about how things are going do not change the fact that you are married. You can be a better or worse husband or wife, but you can’t get divorced without knowing it. So too, your feelings about how well you are manifesting the new life of Jesus do not determine whether or not you are born again. You might be a better or worse Christian on any given day, but you are born again because of God’s merciful choice, not your own performance. You aren’t more born again when you feel holy, and you aren’t less born again when you feel like a sinner.

Again, it may help to keep in mind that this regeneration takes place in our Spirit. Our bodies have not been born again, that’s obvious. But the rebirth of our spirit can now influence our soul, and then our mind, and then affect how we live in these mortal bodies into the Lord gives us new bodies that are also regenerated.

This becomes clear as Peter goes on. Our rebirth is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is connected to the eternal life-force of Jesus, a life that has proven itself to be indestructible (Hebrews 7:16). Because we have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus, because we are born in again in the eternal spirit, we have a new kind of inheritance. This our life “outside the game,” a life which has already begun, but one which we cannot fully enter until we are done with the game.

Inheritance is a good way to picture all of the wonderful things we have through Jesus Christ. An inheritance is something that belongs to you. It is yours. And yet, you cannot fully receive all of your inheritance until there is a death. So it is with us. Our inheritance in Jesus belongs to us. It is certainly and assuredly ours. But we cannot step into the fullness of that inheritance until a death happens. In our case, it is two deaths: first, the death of Jesus Christ obtained the inheritance for us, and second, we wait for the death of our flesh, which is corrupted by sin, and keeps us from fully experiencing all that Jesus has given us.

Peter tells us that our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Imperishable means that it cannot be destroyed, it cannot decay or degrade. This isn’t  a stock portfolio that might lose some of its value. It is not  a warehouse full of goods that could burn or be destroyed in a flood. Even cash can lose some of its value through inflation. However, this inheritance will be there for us, guaranteed. There is nothing to be had on earth that we could not possibly lose at some point. In fact, age and death determine that we will lose all earthly things. But we cannot lose this gift, this inheritance held for us by God. It is the only thing we cannot lose.

Second, it  is undefiled. That is, it can’t be spoiled or corrupted. Sometimes, we are capable of spoiling a good thing for ourselves. At other times, someone else might ruin a perfect moment for us. However it occurs, something that once seemed so beautiful and perfect can often become crass, crude, or even just ordinary and no longer interesting or exciting. This will not happen to our inheritance in Jesus. It cannot happen. That is one reason we need new bodies before we can enter the New Creation. We need to be incorruptible, because the New Creation will not be corrupted. Jesus has already made us incorruptible in our regenerated spirits. He will make us that way in soul and body as well. Another aspect of incorruptible is this: There is nothing on earth that we can desire fully, heart and soul, without somehow making it into an idol, and therefore spoiling it. We might love our children so much that it consumes us, and in loving them more than God, we corrupt the beauty of parental love. We may desire marriage so much that it becomes more important than God, and thus we corrupt something that might otherwise be good. But in the New Creation, we can embrace our desires with no reservation. Nothing will spoil it. We can desire our incorruptible inheritance with our whole hearts. It won’t be spoiled, or made into an idol.

Finally, our inheritance will never fade away. We can’t use it so much that it wears out, because it will never wear out. It’s not like a favorite piece of clothing that slowly fades over time as you wash it, or that stops feeling new by the fourth time you wear it. The joy of newness that we will experience on the first day in the New Creation will never wear out. Every day will feel like the first day. Every time we see some beautiful scenery in the New Creation, it will be as delightful as it was the very first time. Every conversation we have with an old friend will feel like the first time we talked that way. Nothing will ever feel “old.” Nothing will ever lessen in delight, or lose its luster, even if we indulge that exact delight every day for a thousand years. It doesn’t become worn out with use or repetition.

This amazing inheritance, says Peter, is kept in heaven for us. The word “kept” indicates a kind of watchfulness, a guarding. It’s in the bank. Nothing will happen to it. It’s safe for us.

We too are being guarded, by God’s power, through faith. The word “guarded” or “protected” (verse 5) here is the word for military garrison. It is as if God has deployed a cohort of warriors to surround you and protect you. It would be appropriate here to think about both God’s power in general, and also his power in deploying angels to protect us.

The phrase “through faith” shows us our own one small part in all of this: we must trust the words of scripture. This is what God says. It is ours as we trust it to be true. We take hold of it through trust. Thanksgiving, of course, is a terrific way to make it tangible to our own souls and minds. Finally, this inheritance, as we know, will be full revealed and fully ours when we die. Our present mortal bodies are perishable. They do decay, they are corrupt, and every joy, every beauty that we can experience in these bodies ultimately fades and comes to nothing. That is why we cannot receive the inheritance until the last times, the moment when God lets the old creation self-destruct, and brings in the New Creation, and gives us new, incorruptible bodies which will have the capacity to receive and enjoy our amazing inheritance.

This is our hope. I love that Peter begins the letter with this. He is writing to people who are experiencing many trials and struggles – the very next verse explains that. When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. So, knowing that his readers are faced with deep struggles and bitter disappointment, Peter reminds them of a hope that will never disappoint, never let them down.

Too often, I look for hope in this life. I’m reminded of a quote by the late Christian teacher, Larry Crabb:

“I’m troubled by how unquestioningly we live out our determination to make this life work. All our hopes for happiness are bound up in it. It’s as if we believe this is the only world we ever plan to inhabit.”

Larry Crabb

 But everything I could hope for in this life will let me down at some point. Peter reminds me that one of the first tasks of faith is to set my hope upon the inheritance that cannot be destroyed, that never spoils, never loses its newness and wonderfulness, an inheritance that is kept specifically for me, even as I am guarded by faith.

What about you?

1 Peter #1: A LETTER FOR HARD TIMES

Photo by Davi Pimentel on Pexels.com

This time we look at the history and setting surrounding the New Testament book of 1 Peter.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 1

1 Peter #1. Introduction

We are starting a new series, today, on the first letter of Peter. I am not utterly against doing topical sermon series’, but I’d like to encourage you to think a little differently about that. As we look at First Peter, the text will introduce a number of different topics. When we do things like that, then I am not deciding which topics to preach about. Instead, the text of the Bible tells us which topics to consider. So, this is a topical series, in a sense. It is just that the bible itself will determine the topics.

Peter wrote only two letters that have survived. We will be looking at the first of these. I’ll take this opportunity to give a reminder about how the New Testament came to be. In addition to the New Testament, we have some of the writings of Christians who lived immediately after the time of the apostles, as well as writings of later Christians, down through the centuries. All of the books of the New Testament are mentioned, referenced and/or quoted from the time of the very earliest writings of Christians. So, for example, the first generation of Christians after the apostles mention 1 Peter, and quote from it. Of course, later generations do as well.

About two hundred and fifty years after the time of the apostles, when Christianity became legal in the Roman empire, a large body of leaders, representing most Christians in the world at that time, gathered together. Among other things, they compared notes about which writings were clearly from the apostles (or others who knew Jesus, like Luke and Mark). To be included in the “canon” (later called the Bible) a document had to have evidence that it was considered genuine since that first generation of Christians, as evidenced by early Christian writings. In addition, it had to be recognized by virtually all Christians in the world at that time as having been used by churches for the previous two-hundred and fifty years. So, if a book was only used, for example, in Alexandria, Egypt, but nowhere else in the world, it would not have been considered a true part of the New Testament. Or, if one group claimed a book was written by an apostle, but no other Christian traditions had a record of it, it was not included.

It is quite clear that very early on, all Christians were aware of 1 Peter, and considered it to be genuine, and were using it to encourage one another in following Jesus. In other words, it is a genuine part of the New Testament, as are all of the books in our modern Bibles.

As is true of many of the books of the New Testament, we have a very good idea of exactly when and where Peter wrote this letter. At the end of the letter, at 5:13, Peter writes:

13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. (1 Peter 5:13, ESV)

“Babylon,” is almost certainly a code-name for Rome. Well before the birth of Jesus, the literal Babylon in Mesopotamia was in ruins. The majority of those living within its ancient walls were goats and their herders. There is no evidence that Peter or Mark ever went there, and there would be no reason for them to do so, seeing as there were almost no people remaining there. However, in the Roman Empire, persecution was beginning to become more and more of a reality, as the words of this letter will show us. Probably less than a year after Peter wrote, the Emperor Nero instigated a vicious persecution against Christians in Rome, in which Peter himself was killed. I’m sure Peter could tell that things were getting more and more dangerous. If his letter was intercepted by the government, it would have been disastrous if he explicitly mentioned a Christian church in Rome. So, Peter uses the word “Babylon,” which Christians would have understood to mean “a great city that is opposed to the people of God;” or, in other words: Rome. “She, who is likewise chosen” means, of course, the church. So, to make it plain, Peter means: “The church in Rome sends you greetings.” In keeping with the dangerous times, he mentions only two personal names, Mark, and Silvanus. To name others would be too risky.

Mark is also known as John-Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, and sometime companion of Paul. Most scholars believe that he spent several years also with the apostle Peter. He wrote the gospel of Mark.

Mark would have been quite young when Jesus was crucified – possibly a teenager – but he was probably one of those in the larger group of Jesus’ followers; some people think he was the young man who ran away naked at the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52).  In any case, one of the house churches in Jerusalem met at his mother’s home (Acts 12:12), and he would have known Peter for most of his life. Much of Mark’s gospel is likely based upon the stories and teachings of Jesus that Mark learned from Peter.

I mention Mark, because his presence with Peter in Rome helps us set the date for 1 Peter. Mark was in Rome with Paul when Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. If Peter had been there then, Paul surely would have mentioned it. So Peter cannot have been in Rome, nor written his letter before Paul wrote those letters, which would have been AD 62 at the latest. I would guess that Paul left Rome in 62, traveled in Asia minor, and then returned to Rome, probably at about the same time Peter arrived there, either late AD 63 or early in 64. After a brief reunion, Paul traveled on to Spain, while Peter stayed in Rome, along with Mark and Silvanus (also called Silas). Peter wrote his first letter after Paul left, or he, for his part, surely would have mentioned Paul’s presence with him. A few months later, Peter wrote his second letter.

In any case, we know that in July of 64, the city of Rome burned, and the emperor Nero used that as an excuse to start a horrifying persecution of Christians. He blamed Christians for the fire, and it is possible that he executed some Christians by burning them alive in his palace gardens as human torches. Whether or not that last is true, he most certainly sought to kill Christians and destroy the church. At some point during Nero’s persecution, Peter was found and executed. Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down, though I have my doubts about how that actually works. There is no doubt, however, that Peter perished in Nero’s persecution. Many people think that Paul returned to Rome during this time, and was also killed by Nero.

Peter addresses his letter to Christians in a number of different Roman provinces (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia). All of these are found in modern-day Turkey, and cover the northern three-quarters of that country. Some commentators think that Peter was writing mainly to Jewish Christians, but the text of the letter makes it clear that he was writing to both Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians. In fact, it is likely that the Gentile believers outnumbered the Jewish believers in those areas.

The Christians in those areas were living in uncertain times. Christianity was already getting noticed by the Roman authorities, and the emperor Nero was increasingly unfriendly to it. The rest of the empire took their cue from the emperor. Although the recipients of the letter were probably not persecuted as brutally as the church in Rome (until about thirty years later), it was clear that Christians were not welcome in the general culture of the world at the time. In addition, Peter was writing to people who were experiencing struggles and difficulties of all different types, including things that didn’t have much to do with persecution. In short, 1 Peter is a book written to Christians who were facing hard times. As such, I think its message is very encouraging to us today.

For the rest of this sermon I want you to read the entire book of 1 Peter in one sitting. It isn’t long. Or listen to it, as I read it on the recording above, here at clearbible.blog. I think it is often helpful to start a book by reading the whole thing at once, so we can see how one part flows into another. Without further ado, let’s do it.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #11: REST FOR YOUR SOUL

Jesus invites us to take on his yoke. What he means is that he is inviting us to take on only his burden, and to do so with his own strength. To accept this and find the rest for our souls that He promises, we must first drop our own load – our ideas and expectations and demands about what we think we need to be happy and to be “OK.” We might think we need a certain amount of money to be OK. We might think we need to live in a certain place in order to be happy. We need to have this kind of relationship, or that kind of car. That’s the stuff we need to drop. If we try to add Jesus on top of all that, it will feel like a burden.

But Jesus invites us to drop it all. It’s the only way to find rest for your souls. Instead of trying to make sure we have everything we think we need, we trust Jesus to supply all that we need. When we allow him to live through us, so that we have no agenda other than “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” we find his yoke is easy. We find rest for our souls.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 11

LIVING CRUCIFIED #11. Matthew 11:28-30

If Jesus is really going to live his life through us, it can’t be only on Sunday mornings. It can’t be just when you have your quiet time with God each day. It can’t be only Sunday mornings, plus quiet times and small group meetings. It can’t be only after work. It can’t be only on weekends or mission trips.

You see, in America especially, we tend to have our own goals and ambitions, and we try to wedge God into our life as one piece of a very full pie. We’d be quite happy to let Jesus have more of us, but we just don’t have the time. Our plates our full. Our time and energy is used up. Then we come along and read something like this:

28 “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, HCSB)

We think, “That sounds great, but frankly, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels following Jesus just adds to all the hard work I’m doing.”

But we’re forgetting two things. First, we are forgetting that Jesus has already done it all. He has forgiven us. He has made us holy. He is the one who wants to live through us. We don’t have to make it happen. We don’t have to make ourselves holy. We simply need to respond to Jesus in faith.

Sometimes we come across passages in the bible that tell us how to behave. Like this one:

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:17-29, ESV)

 We might think, “That sounds like hard burden, not rest for my soul.” But we sometimes read too quickly, and miss where it says, “put off the old self…and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and  put on your new self, created after the likeness of God.” So this is something that happens as our mind is renewed. That happens through faith, and through frequently putting the scriptures into our minds. But our new self has been created, not by us, but by God. So, maybe, when we read those verses we could pray something like this: “Holy Spirit, thank you for showing me what the life of Jesus looks like as he lives through me. Please help me to step aside so that you can manifest your life in me and through me, for your glory. Renew my mind, and keep creating my new self.”

When we find ourselves in a situation where we want to do one thing, but we know Jesus wants to do something else, we can pray: “Lord, thank you that you are the one living my life. I can’t do what you want. My flesh doesn’t want me to do it. My flesh is not strong enough, or good enough, to do it. But I surrender to you, and I ask you to work in me anyway. I have no power to stop myself from doing wrong, no power to do what is right. But I give you permission to do the right thing through me right now.”

That prayer might sound too simple. But the Lord answers it. I have had times when I wanted to sin. I knew what I wanted to do was wrong. But I felt I had no power to stop myself. I prayed a prayer like the ones I just shared (above). And somehow, I just ended up doing what the Lord wanted, and not the sin I had intended to do. It didn’t feel dramatic, except that somehow, I ended up doing the right thing. You see, we really can trust him to live through us, if we only give him permission to do so. So these things don’t need to be burden. We simply ask Jesus to live holy lives through us, and then let him.

Second, we are forgetting that when Jesus invites us to rest in Him, we have to drop our own agenda in order to do so. Imagine you are carrying a sixty pound backpack. Then you come to Jesus, and he says, “Take my burden upon you; it is easy and light.” Jesus points to his backpack, which weighs fifteen pounds. You think “That doesn’t feel easy. Now instead of sixty pounds, I’ll be carrying seventy-five pounds.”

You grab his pack and sling it on top of yours. Now your heavy burden feels almost intolerable. But Jesus laughs, and pokes you in the ribs. “You’re not listening,” he says. “Drop your load. All of it. Carry only my fifteen pound pack. Everything you’ll ever need is in there.”

And that uncovers the real issue. It’s hard to believe that Jesus could give us everything we’ll ever need with only a fifteen pound backpack. Does it have our favorite food? What about the television? What about the clothes I like? And so on. But the only way to find out is to trust Jesus, and drop our own pack.

What I am calling our own backpack is all of our ideas and expectations and demands about what we think we need to be happy and to be “OK.” We might think we need a certain amount of money to be OK. We might think we need to live in a certain place in order to be happy. We need to have this kind of relationship, or that kind of car. That’s the stuff we need to drop. If we try to add Jesus on top of all that, it will feel like a burden. But Jesus invites us to drop it all. It’s the only way to find rest for your souls. Instead of trying to make sure we have everything we think we need, we trust Jesus to supply all that we need. When we allow him to live through us, so that we have no agenda other than “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” we find his yoke is easy. We find rest for our souls.

This is what we’ve talking about with this sermon series. Life is not found in our circumstances. There is no life in having everything we want. There is no life in denying ourselves everything we want. The only true life comes from the realm of the spirit. It is found in Jesus alone. When we have Jesus, we have the life. As a discipline to help us find the true life that Jesus offers, we put God after the but. We live by faith, trusting the words of the bible that tell us we have been thoroughly separated from sin and the law, and we have been born again into God’s kingdom, even if we don’t look like it, or feel like it. We now live only for God’s glory, and find that the burden of doing so is light, since it is Jesus who lives through us.

We started to talk about this last time, but let’s continue to consider what it looks like to drop our own agenda, and take up the easy, restful yoke of Jesus. What is like to have all of life be about the glory of God through us? First, for many of us, the change is mostly internal. Externally, we might still do most of the same things. We will still go to work, and come home, and eat with our families, and go fishing on the weekends, and so on.

The change comes in the way we go about these things, an also in the why we go about them.

Let’s start with the change in the “why.” When we realize that all of life is about letting Jesus live through us so that God is glorified, it reorients us. Going to work is no longer primarily about making money and creating a secure financial future for ourselves. Instead, going to work is an opportunity for Jesus to be there with your co-workers – through you. You aren’t working to advance your career; you are working to let Jesus advance His agenda in your workplace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Bible does says that, apart from unavoidable exceptions, people should arrange to make sure that they support themselves and their families financially (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 5:8). By the way, this could involve mothers staying at home with kids while husbands work to support them all, so stay-at-home-moms have no reason to feel bad at all. In fact, that too, can often be a calling which brings glory to God. If you are a family breadwinner, it also brings glory to God that you do honest work for which you are paid. Even so, the point of working is not to create security for yourselves, but primarily to be about whatever business God has you in, so that he can use you there. The reason you work is now so that God can show his glory through you.

As far as the way we live for God’s glory at work, God might show his glory through you in the calm presence that your co-workers feel from you. He might do that in conversations you have with coworkers. He might do that just by having your do work excellently, so that it becomes part of his glory. Others will notice how you work, and if you let Jesus work through you as he wants to, it will have an impact on them. Again this comes as you lean on him in trust, and let your mind be renewed by the Bible.

This is true also of leisure time. We aren’t supposed to stop having any kind of relaxing time, and just serve God directly at church with every spare minute. Instead, every minute of every day is in service to God, no matter what we are doing, and that includes the time we spend relaxing.

Let me give an example. I love to fish. Years ago, I used to fish at least once a week during warm weather, often all day; sometimes I fished even more than that. One day, I realized what we are talking about here, that all of life is about God’s glory, and I understood that something needed to change. It wasn’t that I needed to stop fishing. But I needed to let God use the time I spent fishing. So, I did two things. First, I became open to inviting others along with me as a I fished. Then, if God wanted, he could us to encourage one-another as we fished. We were still fishing, and catching fish was the primary goal. But the time now belonged to God, and so when someone else was with me, there was an opportunity there for us to encourage one another in following Jesus. Usually that happened very organically and naturally, around the activity of fishing. Sometimes, it was just building relationships, and we had no conversations that were especially spiritual. But either way, the time belonged to Jesus, to use as he wanted.

Second, when I was fishing alone, I also used that time to pray, and to deliberately let the Lord refresh my soul. Again, I was definitely out there to fish. But I was also there – even by myself – to be used for God’s glory, and part of that involves Him pouring his life into me. For me, time alone is very helpful for that sort of thing.

So, for you, maybe it is golf. Don’t stop golfing. But surrender your golf time to the Lord. He may call you to golf (or fish) a little bit less. (At this stage of my life, he has me fishing less than I used to.) He may, or may not, call you to golf less. But he wants to use the time you are on the course to bring Him glory. The same could be true of crafting, or watching and talking about movies, or sewing, or getting together with friends to hang out.

All of life now belongs to Jesus. Sometimes, our priorities are out of line. We may need to spend less time and work, and more time with certain people that God has put in our lives. Or, maybe the opposite. I have noticed as life goes on that Jesus frequently wants to make adjustments in how I spend my time.

Even ordinary things like grocery shopping, are there for the Lord to use. Sometimes, I ask a cashier how I can pray for her. Others time I pray silently, without talking about it. Many times, the Lord uses my time at Walmart to reveal my mean-spirited heart to myself, and bring me to repentance for the way I look at some people. Going to Walmart can build real Christian character if you take on the yoke of Jesus.

One thing that may help us to remember to let Jesus live through us is to say a quick prayer whenever you transition between activities. For instance, maybe you are wrapping up work for the day. You could say, “OK Lord, thanks for living through my work today. Please now live through the time I’m going to spend with my family.” (Or “the time I’m going to spend fishing, or shopping, or whatever…”).

Another thing about the yoke of Jesus. I think most Americans probably try to do far too much. We have so many opportunities, and most of them are truly good. But sometimes “good” is the enemy of “best.” For a lot of Americans, I think Jesus wants to invest more deeply in fewer things, rather than trying to be a part of every opportunity that crosses our paths. Especially when our kids are young, we often enroll them in band, sports, dance club, chess club, music club… I don’t even know all of the options. But often this means that our kids never have unstructured time, and never have alone time. If you don’t have those kinds of time as you grow up, you end up having a hard time being alone, and a hard time thinking deeply about things, and hard time structuring your own life, and all of those are important to following Jesus. Leave some time for Jesus to work with nothing particular going on. Give God space to work.

I was working on this part of the sermon late at night. I took a break and went into the kitchen where I was all set to make some toast, upon which I was going to put Nutella chocolate spread. I was thinking about Jesus living my life, through me, and how it is supposed to happen even in ordinary things, like making lunch, or a snack. And then, I felt quite clearly that he was telling me something like this: “I don’t want to put that Nutella toast into this body of ours at this time.” This is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about: Being willing for Jesus to direct us and live through us, even in ordinary things. I didn’t hear a voice or anything, but I knew what Jesus wanted. That’s how the guiding of the spirit works. So, I put the bread away. I must admit, if I hadn’t been preaching on this, I might not have done that.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a preacher.

However, I don’t want you to miss a point here. I have been trying to control my late-night snacking, without much success. But, simply giving Jesus permission to decide what goes into my/His body somehow made it easier to not have the toast. I’m not trying to stop myself from eating delicious, rich, chocolate coated, toasted, home-made, crusty white bread. I’m giving Jesus permission to live through me, and that includes him deciding that my body won’t have that right now. I’m not gritting my teeth with will-power. I’m surrendering, and letting Jesus say “no,” since I don’t have the strength to say “no” on my own.

 I think he’s OK with a little watermelon soon, though, so that’s nice.

Also, as you noticed, along with making it easy to eat healthier, he gave me a perfect example of how everyday life looks with the yoke of Jesus. So, he even made my sermon easier. That’s because, as he says, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. It’s a piece of cake (or, maybe, watermelon).

Why don’t you try it right now? (Not the watermelon, or the cake. The lifestyle of living crucified.) As the psalmist says:

​​​​Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! ​​​​​​​Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, ​​​​​​​for those who fear him have no lack! ​​​ (Ps 34:8-9, ESV)

LIVING CRUCIFIED #9: THE GLORY OF GOD

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The most wonderful thing in all of existence is God. He is the most beautiful, wonderful, joyful, exciting, heart-pumping, loving thing in all the universe. When we talk about God’s glory, we mean displaying all this wonderfulness of God to the rest of existence. Nothing is better in any way than God and his glory. God designed it so that we are bound up with his own glory. When the best thing in the universe happens – God’s glory is revealed – that blesses us also. It didn’t have to be that way, but God made it that way.

We were literally made to display part of the glory of God.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 9

Living Crucified #9. God’s Glory.

Romans 9:21-24; Ephesians 2:4-7; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-11; Luke 8:16-17

Some of you may be wondering: what exactly is this sermon series about? I mean the title, “Living Crucified” sounds nice and pleasant and all, but what does it really mean? What’s the point here? In other words, some of you may want the “big picture” concerning this series.

This week I want to back out to a bird’s-eye view. Here’s the really big picture: God is the ultimate good. He is the most glorious, wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, powerful, delightful, honorable, pure, excellent being in all of existence. Because there is nothing better than God, not in any possible way, the best possible thing in the universe is God’s own glory. By “God’s glory,” I mean “displaying the wonderfulness of God.”

If you ask the question: “What is the best possible thing that could happen in this moment?” the answer is always: “For the glory of God to be revealed.” When we share the joy of love with another human being, that is part of the glory of God being revealed. When a doctor, using the capacities and opportunities given to her by God, saves a life, the glory of God is being revealed. When we hear beautiful music, see beautiful scenery, or read wonderful writing, the joy and goodness of those experiences are part of the wonderfulness of God being displayed. Even the sins that entice us tempt us because they are corrupt counterfeits of God’s glory. If we could truly see sin for what it is, we wouldn’t be interested. But we fall for it because it seems like shortcut to the experience of something wonderful – a shortcut to the glory of God. So the glory of God is always the best thing that could happen in any given situation.

Now, here is the amazing thing. God decided to make us – human beings – part of his glory. Our existence, and the way he relates to us, is designed to display his wonderfulness to the universe. However, we need to know that He didn’t have to do it that way. He could just have easily had made us so that destroying us would display his glory. Instead, he made it so that when he is good to us, it accomplishes the purpose of showing his glory. Paul makes this exact point in Romans 9: 21-24.

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. (Romans 9:21-24, NLT)

Understand what this means: God made it so that when the best possible thing in the universe happens (his glory), it results in good things for us, too.

Let me offer a few analogies to help us understand. Imagine there is an incredibly talented architect. He is as creative as Picasso, and as talented as Michelangelo. He is as detailed and knowledgeable as any engineer, and as practical as a mother on a limited budget. His buildings create a sense of wonder and surprise. They are beautiful, but also very useful and functional. If he wanted, he could work for giant, rich corporations to create stunning corporate headquarters for wealthy CEOs to show off. He could even create buildings that were simply sheer works of art, to be admired by generations to come. Instead, this architect devotes his entire career to creating beautiful, functional housing for people with limited incomes. His work shows off his amazing talent, but he chooses to “show off” in a way that benefits others, especially others who stand in great need. That’s a little bit like God. God could have chosen to show his glory in a way that had nothing to do with human beings. But he chose to show his glory in a way that benefits us.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7, NLT)

God saved us – and we contributed nothing toward that salvation. And one reason God did it is so that he can point to us as examples of his grace and kindness – that is, as part of his glory.

Picture a brilliant musician and composer. His understanding of music is deeper than Bach’s. His creativity greater than all of the music producers in the world put together. His music is stunningly beautiful, moving the heart and delighting the mind. He could make millions upon millions as a recording artist. He could show off his skill by recording each part himself. Instead, he writes symphonies that involve every musical instrument known to humanity, and he uses other musicians to play each part. So, when his music is performed, every instrument is involved in demonstrating the glory of this composer, and many different musicians get to be a part of it. So those other musicians get to participate in the glory of that talented composer.

Another one would be that of a stained glass window, or a tile mosaic. Each piece of glass or tile shows one small part of a bigger picture. Each one is interesting in itself, but their main use is to display the larger picture that the artist wants to convey. In the case of the stained glass, the light of the sun comes through each piece in a slightly different way, and they all combine to give one, beautiful and coherent picture.

So God chose to make human beings part of the displaying of his glory.

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:6-11, ESV)

God desires to manifest his glory through our mortal flesh, yes, even through the lives that we live in these flawed bodies. Remember, we have talked about the two realms? There is one realm that is unseen, eternal and spiritual. There is another realm – the realm in which we live our daily lives. This realm is made up of things that can be seen; things that are physical, and temporary. The things that are true in that eternal realm are more powerful than our feelings and experiences in the physical, temporary realm, because they will outlast the physical. We are to draw life from the unseen realm, and set our minds on it, and focus on it.

However, it would be a big mistake to say that everything in the physical realm is bad, or useless, or meaningless. Because the fact is this: God has chosen to display his glory, not just in the eternal, unseen realm,  but also in the physical, seen, temporary realm. That means that this world, including our temporary, physical experiences have meaning and importance. The temporary realm is a platform to display the wonderfulness of God, and that makes it significant indeed. So, our physical actions and choices are important.

We have seen in several places that one way that God shows his glory through us is by saving us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But there is more to it than that. He created each human being to show off his glory in unique ways. When we are crucified with Christ, we are raised to a new life, and the purpose of the new life is to display some unique piece of God’s glory. Since God is infinite, there will never be too many humans to do this. The Holy Spirit tells us that God prepared in advance the ways he wants to use us to show his glory:

For we are his craftsmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of works that are good, which God designed and appointed ahead of time, so that we should spend our lives in doing them. (Ephesians 2:10, my “expanded” translation)

So, for example, part of the way God shows his glory through me is through the teaching of the Bible. It may even be that one unique aspect of God’s glory that shines through me is the analogies he gives me to help us understand things like this. Years ago, a visitor to the church came up to me after hearing me preach, and said, “You’re really good at this.” I don’t know if he realized it or not, but what he was seeing was not me, but the glory of God coming through me, as it was designed to be.

God does not use me to display his glory through building things, or fixing engines. But he does show his glory that way through people whom I know. I just got a text from a friend who fixed the alternator on his boat engine. I didn’t even know boats had alternators! But when my friend applies his skill, and fixes something to the best of the ability that God gave him, it shows a piece of God’s glory. I have a couple other friends who build their own houses, or do other things related to physical craftsmanship. I find myself in awe of them. But, whether I always recognize it or not, what really impresses me is God’s glory shining when they walk in the good works that God designed for them ahead of time. It isn’t really about them, no matter how skilled they are. It is about the glory of God which comes through them.

If music was the NFL, I might be good enough to be a backup offensive lineman (for non-football fans, this is a backup to the least “skilled” position; sort of the bread and butter players). But I know people who are good enough to be the star quarterbacks. The fact that they aren’t actual music celebrities, does not take away one bit from the fact that the glory of God shines through them when they do music. The point is not that we are all famous for our gifts. The point is that we let God’s glory shine through us whenever, and however, we have the chance.

I think that quite often, we lose track of the fact that this is God’s primary purpose. This is what he is up to. And that means, it doesn’t really matter how many other human beings see it, here and now. In the end, God will make it all contribute to his own glory.

Several years ago our church was not yet doing house-church. We were in transition, and sometimes our Sunday morning attendance was rather small. One Sunday, the weather was bad and it was a holiday weekend, and I found myself preaching to just my own family, plus about four other people.

As I was preaching, I was also praying. I said: “Lord, what’s the point here? Do you really want me to do this for so few people?”

His response, spoken into my heart was this: “How would you feel if you were preaching to an audience of one – that is, just one person, but that one person was the president of the United States?

I thought: “It would be an honor, Lord.”

“What about if you are preaching to an audience of one, and that person is Me, Lord of the Universe?”

“Really, Lord?”

“Really. I want to hear this sermon you are preaching. Now stay focused and keep going. I’m listening, and I like what I hear.”

It was a kind of stunning moment. I serve at the pleasure of the Ruler of the Universe. If he wants me to preach to the birds, like St. Francis, then that should surely be good enough for me. I preach not for myself, not even for you who might be reading this, but for my King. If I rely on him as I do it, He will look after how it brings glory to Himself. It may be that at the end, the things we do in obscurity will be showed to the whole universe. Jesus seems to say as much on several occasions:

16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 17 For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. (Luke 8:16-17, NLT) (See also Luke 12:2-9; Matthew 10:26)
22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. (Mark 4:22, NIV)
So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Timothy 5:25, ESV)

Even if only God knows about it, it will contribute to his glory. So, if you are a builder, build for the glory of God, and don’t worry who else will know or see what you have built. If you are an artist, do your art for the Audience of One, and trust Him to look after how it will be part of his glory. Same for you musicians, you craftsmen, even you who delight in sports, or stamp collecting. There was a time in my life, working on my Master’s of Divinity degree, when I realized that all I had really done was go to school. But I believe that being the best student you can be is also something that can bring glory to God. Everyone has some way to let God’s glory shine through.

Quite literally, this is what we were made for.

Next week, I’ll start talking about how we go about this in a practical way, and draw some more connections with other things we’ve been learning so far.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #5: YOU’RE DEAD!

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What we believe determines how we act. If we want to change our behavior, we must start with changing what we believe, what we trust. The scripture calls us to believe that when we receive Jesus, not only did he die for our sins, but he also immersed us into his own crucifixion, so that in a spiritual sense, we were crucified with Christ. This means we are now dead to sin, and alive to God. I know it doesn’t feel that way, but we need to put God’s word after the “but.” Read on to learn more.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 5

LIVING CRUCIFIED #5: LIVING DEAD

As a teacher of God’s word, I am usually aiming toward one primary goal: that is, to strengthen and encourage your faith. That may seem fairly obvious, but I want you to think about it a moment. Why is faith so important? Isn’t faith kind of esoteric, and “out there?” Isn’t it, after all, not very practical? I disagree.

Almost everything we think and do proceeds from what we believe. When I buy groceries, I have faith that the food meets some quality standards: that it is not poisoned, and it is not going to make me sick. Based upon that faith, I take action – I buy the food, cook it, and eat it. When I eat, I am living out my faith. The same is true of the water I drink. Every time I drive, I am living out my faith. I do not really understand how my car works, but I have faith that it does, and that faith leads me to the action of driving my car. I don’t really know how the internet works, but I have faith that it does, and that faith leads me to post these messages.

Even most things that we think of as objectively proven, we take on faith. For instance, nuclear fission (the process used to create nuclear energy, including nuclear bombs). I have not personally verified the nuclear fission reaction through my own calculations. I have not stood by and watched while it has been demonstrated to me. I believe (that is, I have faith) that other people have done the science, and actually observed the results. But even though some people have actually verified nuclear fission, most of us take it on faith. We haven’t actually verified for ourselves. This is even true of historical events in which we all believe. I believe that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. But I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it happen. I bet no one reading this actually saw it with their own eyes. While we think of such things as established, objective facts, we actually only “know” these things by faith.

We human beings could not exist if we only acted when we knew for certain everything that is involved in our actions. We couldn’t eat, or drink without faith. We couldn’t do business, use machinery or technology. We couldn’t engage in meaningful relationships without faith.

I want to point out two things about this. First, faith is indispensable. We operate on faith of some sort every single day; we simply couldn’t live without it. Second, because we live our lives based upon faith, our lives are profoundly affected by what we believe.

Some of you know the story of the “four minute mile.” For the first hundred years of keeping records of human races, no one was able to run a mile in less than four minutes. It was widely believed that this was the limit of human ability. Then, in May of 1953, Roger Bannister came close. He began to believe he could do it. A year later, Bannister did, in fact, run a mile in less than four minutes. Now, everyone believed that humans could a run mile in less than four minutes. Once Bannister proved it could be done, everything changed. Bannister’s record was broken only 46 days later. Within the next decade, five more people ran a sub-four-minute mile. Sixty years later, almost 900 people had done it.

Now you could probably make a case for nutrition and a more sports-oriented culture to explain some of this. But I personally believe that the biggest difference between the first hundred years of records, and the last sixty, is that now people believe it can be done.

Your belief affects how you act, what you attempt, and what you achieve.This is indisputably true about our physical lives, our life in the realm of the seen, temporary reality. Just take the weather as an example. If you believe that a storm is coming, you will take shelter. If you believe it will rain, you carry an umbrella. If you believe it will be nice, you’ll go fishing (at least, any sane person would 😊). What you believe determines how you act.

 When it comes to the unseen, eternal, spiritual reality, faith is even more powerful. However, sometimes we have not learned this lesson, or we forget it. So often, when we are trying to follow Jesus, and live as is right for people who belong to Him, we begin by trying to change our behavior. We want to be more Christ-like, and so we make a big effort to behave better. It takes a lot of energy and self-discipline. We work hard to try and be more kind and loving. We try to remember to control how we speak to and about others. We try to make ourselves stop sinning.

Now, when we do this, I believe our intentions are good. But it often doesn’t work out very well. Even those who do seem to succeed in making themselves more Christ-like through sheer will-power eventually become proud and legalistic, and then they are no longer Christ-like again.

The Bible does teach us that Christians ought to behave in certain ways, and refrain from other behaviors. But so many Christians do not realize how this change in behavior is actually supposed to come about. In fact, I would guess that most Christians do not understand the process that changes a loud-mouthed braggart into a humble, loving servant; or a lustful person who wants to have sex with virtually anyone, to someone who joyfully submits to God’s design for sexuality.

Here’s the secret: It begins with faith. If you want to change your behavior, the only way to really do it is to change what you believe. (Of course, it is not supposed to be secret.)

If you want to begin to live as Jesus wants you live, let’s start not with living, but dying. Here’s the first belief to accept: You are dead to sin. According to scripture, when you receive Jesus, you are crucified with him, and that “co-crucifixion” broke your connection to sin:

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7, ESV)
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death..  (Rom 6:2-4 ESV)
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4)
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6)
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. (Gal 2:19-20, ESV)
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations (Col 2:20, ESV)
The saying is trustworthy, for: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​If we have died with him, we will also live with him; ​​​ (2 Tim 2:11, ESV)
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness (1 Pet 2:24, HCSB)
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:14-17, ESV)

According to the bible, Jesus was crucified for your sins. But there’s more. We were also crucified, with Christ. In Jesus Christ, you have died in such a way that the connection between you and sin is broken. Paul says we are dead to the law. Think about it. There are no laws for dead people. A dead person is beyond the law. Imagine you committed a horrible crime, and you were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now, once you die, your sentence is over. They bury you in the prison graveyard, and you are done.  Once you are dead, the law can require nothing more from you. Paul says “You are released from the law. You died to what held you captive.”

In the same way, we are dead to sin: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We need  to go forward from this point believing that in Jesus Christ, we have died to sin, and to the law that keeps us on the hook for sins we commit. The connection between us and sin, us and the law is so thoroughly broken, it is like trying to get a dead person to keep serving a prison sentence. It’s over. It’s a fish and  the concept of liberty. There is no connection.

I spent years trying hard to make myself behave better. I thought my old self was still alive. I thought I still had some deep internal connection to sin. And so I kept trying to reform myself, and always failing  Finally, I saw that God doesn’t try to reform the old Tom. Instead, he killed him, along with Jesus on the cross. In Jesus, the new Tom – at least the spirit of the new Tom – has already been raised. And there is no connection between that new Tom and sin. When I began to really believe that – that I am truly dead to sin – I began to sin less.

Do you believe that your old self is dead and buried with Christ through his death? Do you believe that you are dead to sin? Do believe that you are no longer enslaved to sin? Do you believe that the old has passed away and the new has come? Do you count yourself dead to sin but alive to Jesus? The New Testament clearly calls you to believe all of these things. Only when you believe them will your behavior begin to change. Only when you trust them will you begin to experience the freedom and joy that we have in Jesus.

This is the moment when the other messages in this series begin to come together. First (lesson 1) this is for those who have repented from their sin, and turned to Jesus toward Jesus alone for hope and salvation. It is not about everyone, but specifically about those who have done that. Next, we remember the two aspects of reality: the eternal, spiritual reality (“above the line,” or, “outside the book”) and the physical, temporary, seen reality, (“below the line,” or “inside the story of the book”). This business of being crucified with Christ is clearly not in the seen, physical, temporary reality. My physical body did not hang on a cross. My body was not whipped, nor beaten, nor stabbed. So, in order to understand this, we start by recognizing that we are talking about eternal, unseen, spiritual truth.

Next, we remember where to find life, and how to practice receiving that life. In this case, we would say something like this: “I don’t feel like I have been crucified. I don’t feel like I am dead to sin, or free from sin. BUT the bible says this is true. I will choose to believe that what the bible says is bigger, and more important than my own experience. I will look for life in eternal, spiritual things, not in physical things that will pass away. Therefore, I will believe what the scripture says.”

Think about it like this: If you believe that you are basically just a sinner, barely saved by God’s grace, you will act like a sinner. If you think you are half-sinner, half-Christian, you will sin half the time (at least). But if you believe that God has made you holy in your inmost being, you will begin to act holy. You act according to what you believe.

You might be tempted to say: “I don’t believe that I am dead to sin, because I still act like a sinner.” I challenge you to turn this around to reflect spiritual reality. Here’s the truth, according to the bible: “I still act like a sinner because I don’t believe I am dead to sin.”

Remember this is talking about the spiritual realm, the realm that will never pass away. The spiritual, unseen realm is greater than the “physical realm” in which we eat, drink and sleep. So the bible clearly teaches that in the most essential part of you, the part of you that will never die (your spirit) you are dead to sin, and alive to Christ. In the deepest part of your being, you died to sin. In that place, there is no connection between you and sin.

I want to give you an example of “the deepest part of you,” or the “essence of you” not being a sinner:

Suppose you come over to our house for  a meal. You volunteer to help my wife, Kari, get things ready in the kitchen. While working, you slip on some blueberries that someone had dropped on the floor, and failed to clean up. You almost fall, but catch yourself in time. You say something light and fun, like, “Whoops! I almost got clobbered by those blueberries!”

Kari turns to you and snaps: “I’m sure you keep your own kitchen perfect and sparkling clean, and no one ever drops food on the floor in your house. I don’t need any more help, thank you. Why don’t you go in the other room for a while.”

Is it possible that Kari could behave like that? Of course, it could happen. But if you described that situation to me, or someone else who knows her well, we would say something like this: “I’m sorry that happened to you. But I want you to know, that’s not what she’s really like at all. She must have been having a bad day, because that’s just not Kari.”

And it’s true. Kari could behave like that once in a while. But that’s really not what she’s like at all. She’s not perfect, but she is almost never sins like that – being sarcastic or mean. It’s really not “her” to be like that. It is out of character, when you think about who she really is.

This is the situation with us, now that we are dead to sin. We might still sin, and I’ll talk about that more in the coming weeks. But the essence of who we are is dead to sin. Therefore when we sin, we can say: Obviously, that happened. But that’s just not “me” anymore. It doesn’t reflect my real character, the deepest part of my being.

We need to believe that when God says we died with Christ, we really did die.

I killed a snake one time. I blew it in half with a shotgun. The snake was dead, there was absolutely no question about that. There was a the head, with a little piece of neck, and there was the body, completely separate. But the mouth kept opening and closing like it was trying to bite something. The body twisted and coiled and uncoiled for ten or fifteen minutes afterward.

All that twisting and coiling and movement looked like life – but it wasn’t life. It was merely the death throes. If I was a really dumb veterinarian, I could have wasted time and energy treating the dead snake that acted like it was alive. But there was no life there.

Our old person can sometimes act as if it is still alive. We still get the impulses and signals that seem to show that our old self is alive and well. But this is nothing but death throes. There is no life there. If we work to try and kill it again, or try and reform it, we are wasting time and energy in a futile exercise.

Paul says, “don’t gratify the flesh.” Our old body is rotting in the prison graveyard. We don’t have to follow the prison rules any more. We don’t have to try and make up for the laws we broke before. Satan is the one who comes to you and says: “see all the twisting and turning and activity? You have a sinful nature and it is alive and well.” But the Bible never says anywhere that our old self got un-crucified. It never says that it is possible to be only partly-crucified with Christ. It never suggests that the old nature got resurrected. It is a lie of the devil. He’s trying to get you to live as if you are still alive, back in the prison of your sinful self.

Here’s the thing: he can’t put you back in prison. But if you don’t believe what God says – if you don’t put God’s word after the but – the devil and your flesh can trick you into living as if you were still in prison.

Now, I will talk next week more about this struggle with the devil and the flesh, and how it all fits together. But for this week I am calling you to faith. I am asking you to believe that what God says is really true:

In Christ, you have already died. In Christ you are not sinful. You are not divided into good and evil. You are holy and blameless and without reproach.

Yes sin in your flesh is still writhing around in its death throes. But it is already dead. Pay it no mind. Instead fix your eyes on Jesus, put your focus on the unseen and eternal truth – your old self is dead and your true self is alive in perfection with Jesus.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #4: HEAVENLY BUTS

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We tend to say things like: “Today was OK, but I think tomorrow is going to be really hard.” What we really think of as most important, or most powerful, we but after that ‘but.’ Leah was a saint who had a very difficult life. People considered her ugly. Her husband didn’t love her, and it didn’t seem like that would ever change. But (!) she learned to put God’s love after the but. We too, can find incredible life and grace by learning to put eternal truth after the ‘buts’ in our life.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 4

LIVING CRUCIFIED #4

Genesis 29:16-35

In order to really grab hold of the riches that we have in Jesus Christ, we need to start talking about your buts. We all have buts in life. (All right, insert whatever joke you like here, and then move on). What I mean is, we all say things like this:

Things are going well now, but who knows what will happen in the future?

I know God promises to take care of me, but things aren’t going well right now.

Generally, I have a good marriage, but sometimes he drives me crazy.

I would love to read my bible more, but I just don’t have the time.

I know God has forgiven me, but I still sin, and I don’t always feel forgiven.

There is something I have noticed – we give the most power, the most credibility, to what we put after the but. What we say after the but is what we think is the dominant thing about our reality. The first thing may be some kind of factor, but what we put after the but is more or less the final word on the subject.

What we need to learn, is to put what God says after the but.  You might say, we need “heavenly buts.” [Sorry if that term brought you’re here on an different kind of internet search, but since you’re here, why not keep reading?] Putting God’s word after the but is an act of will, but before that even, it is an act of faith. Much of what we are talking about in this sermon series will not make sense until you agree, as an act of faith, to put God’s Word after the but.

I want us to look at the life of someone in the Bible who learned to do this. She is one of the least known, least talked-about heroines of faith in the Bible. Her name is Leah. Leah was the  daughter of a man named Laban. Her story picks up in Genesis chapter 29. One day their cousin Jacob, whom they had never met, came from a far country. Jacob ended up working for his uncle Laban (Leah’s father). Laban asked Jacob how he should be paid for his work. At this point, the scripture says something about the two young women:

17 Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. (Genesis 29:17, ESV)

We don’t know exactly what it means when it says Leah had “weak eyes.” It seems to be a somewhat unique expression. It might even mean she was hard to look at, sort of the opposite of “she’s easy on the eyes.” In any case, we are given a comparison so that the point is very clear: Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Whatever Leah was, it was not beautiful. Did you notice the “but” there? What a powerful but! “My sister has a beautiful face and figure, but I have weak eyes.” It was probably one of the dominant “buts” in Leah’s life.

This isn’t a fairy tale, or a animated show about ogres. Jacob fell in love with the beautiful one, not the ugly one. That’s generally the way the world works. So, he told his uncle he would work for seven years as a dowry in order to marry Rachel, (the beautiful sister) and Laban agreed. 

Only, when the time came, Laban tricked Jacob.  Brides in those days were heavily veiled, and the wedding took place at night – and there was no electricity. And (let’s be honest) there was drinking.  So Laban gave his older daughter, Leah, in marriage to Jacob, and Jacob didn’t find out until the light of the next morning. Jacob was understandably angry and disappointed. Laban, the father of the women, made some excuse about how there was a custom that the older daughter had to be married first, before a younger sister could get married. Then he said:

27 “But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.”
28 So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. (Genesis 29:26-28, NLT)

Now, think about this. Suppose Laban was not lying about the custom. What did this imply? That no one else had wanted to marry Leah. She was so unattractive that her father had to trick someone into marrying her. Obviously, her father did not expect that anyone ever would ask to marry her. Leah almost certainly knew all of this. It says she was ugly, not stupid. So she had to live with that knowledge. Not only that, but she got to be the bride for only one week before her husband married her beautiful sister, the one he had always wanted in the first place.

Naturally, Jacob favored Rachel. He loved her, not Leah. Leah’s only consolation was that she had children fairly easily, while Rachel went for a long time with none. When Leah’s first son (Reuben) was born, she said, “The Lord has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now (Genesis 29:32).” Notice that her focus was on her unhappy situation, and she hopes the fact that she bore him the first child will change it. Applying this to the concepts we have been talking about, Leah was focused on things “below the line,” in the seen, temporary realm.

When her second son (Simeon) came along she said, “The Lord heard I was unloved, and gave me this son also (Genesis 29:33).” Still, her dominant reality is that Jacob doesn’t love her. After her third son was born, she was still focused on her struggles, saying, “at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons (Genesis 29:34).”

Now we know that it takes nine months to make a baby. There was no birth control in those days, but in general, when a woman is breastfeeding, that sometimes helps prevent pregnancy. Back in those days, children were probably breastfed pretty consistently for at least a year. So it is reasonable to assume at least two years between each child. When you throw in the fact that Jacob had another wife, and everything that was involved in the family dynamics, it may have been more like three years, or even more between children. So Leah went at least six years, and maybe as long as ten or twelve, while the dominant fact in her life was that her husband did not love her.

But (notice the but) by the time her fourth son arrives, something has changed.  There is no evidence that Jacob ever changed his attitude very much toward her.  Reasonably, at least eight years might have passed by this point, perhaps as many as twelve or even more.  Say, a decade; ten long years of realizing her marriage will never be what she dreamed it might be.  But listen to what she says when this fourth son, Judah, is born: “This time, I will praise the Lord (29:35).”

Leah is no longer fixated on what she lacks in her life.  She isn’t trying to get Jacob to change anymore.  She isn’t focused on the seen, temporary world, the “below the line” reality. Instead, her focus is on the Lord, and his love and favor for her.  Her struggle had been with God and with her husband.  But when she gave birth to Judah, she has given up the fight – in a positive way.  Her troubles have led her to a place where she looks to God to meet her needs, and can receive his love and mercy with joy and thankfulness.  I’m sure that Leah still struggled.  I think it is only reasonable to assume that emotionally, her situation never changed much. Certainly, the Bible never records that Jacob changed his attitude toward her. But she came to the point where the dominant thing in her life was not her struggle, or her unfilled needs, but rather, God’s awesome love for her.

Genesis 29:31 says that when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb. In other words, the Lord was the one who gave Leah these children; and even more, he gave them to her because he saw that her husband did not love her. Now, at first, her response was basically this: “Good! This child will change my situation. This child will make my husband love me.” But think about it. God gave the children to Leah, not as tools to coerce Jacob’s love – the Lord gave Leah children because the Lord loved her. He was showing her that regardless of what Jacob thought of her, He loved her. She was not unloved. At first she missed the point. She was still putting Jacob’s lack of love after the but. Finally however, she got it. When Judah was born, she praised the Lord. She finally saw that these children would not make her loved – they showed her that she was already loved.

Sometimes when we pray, God changes our situation, and makes it better.  Sometimes, he leaves us in the same circumstances. When he does that, his desire is that our lives can be so filled with him, that the negative aspects of our situation pale in comparison.  When Kari and I first started dating, I was in a job situation that I didn’t like, living in a city I didn’t care for, with few real friends nearby.  I remember sitting in a meeting at work, filled with joy.  I wasn’t joyful because I was in the meeting. I wasn’t joyful because I liked where I was living, or because I was making much money, or that I liked my work. None of those things were true. But I was joyful because I knew that wherever I was, whatever I was doing, Kari loved me.

Now, I don’t mean to be negative, but the kind of joy that came when I first knew that Kari loved me, does not sustain me in the same way thirty years later. We still love each other. It is still an enormous thing in my life that Kari loves me. But no human being has the power to fill you with joy consistently for a long period of time. Only God’s love is that strong. His love can change everything without changing one bit of our circumstances.

I think that was the kind of place Leah finally reached. Jacob still didn’t love her. He probably never would. But God did, and the fact that God loved her was more important than the fact that her husband did not.

This is the key to “Living after the But.” Remember, whatever you put after “but” is the dominant reality to you.  For many years, Leah probably said something like this: “I know God loves me, but my husband does not. I’m just a third wheel.”  Finally, after the birth of Judah, she started thinking this way: “I know Jacob never wanted to marry me.  He may never love me the way I want him to. But God loves me and cares for me.”  The only thing that really changed for Leah is which thing she put after the “But.”  However, I think it transformed everything for her.

Now, I want to make sure you do hear this correctly. I’m not trying to create a rule for you to follow. “I must always put the correct thing after the but.” Instead this is an invitation for you to dive into God’s grace. There is an everlasting well of the water of life, a cool, clear, beautiful spring of love, joy, beauty and strength. One very helpful way to access that deep well of grace is to put the promises of God after the but. Again, not a rule, but an invitation, a door by which we can access what God is offering us.

Now, I want the Holy Spirit to make this practical for you. What have you been putting after the but? Has your dominant reality been what God says? Or have you given more power and credence to your circumstances, or how you feel, or what your mind tells you logically? Take a moment to think about it. Let the Lord bring to mind what you have reversed right now.

I am not saying that your struggles aren’t real. I am not saying that you aren’t dealing with things that are truly bad, or difficult or wrong. But I am saying that God’s Word is more true, more powerful. It is an act of faith to believe it.

Your dominant reality might be very negative, and very powerful. Leah spent her whole life thinking, “but I’m ugly.” Long years of marriage only added, “and I’m unwanted, and I’ll never get the chance to be with someone who does want me.” That’s powerful stuff.  And it was all true. She never was loved by her husband or anyone else in that way.

 But…BUT – there was another thing that was true. It was true that she was made in the image of God. It was true that God loved her. It was true that God wanted her. She let God’s love become her dominant reality. She let his word be the final word.

So pause for a moment. Think about your own life. What are your struggles? What is bothering you? What is stealing your peace, joy, or love? Now, put the promises of God after the but:

“I’m so upset that my child has gone this direction….but______”

“I feel so anxious and lonely, but _____”

“I want to follow God, and yet I constantly fail, but ______”

“I am so upset about something, but ____”

You get the idea. We need to learn to believe that what God says is more real than what we think or feel. And so, we need to learn what God says. Try reading some of the verses below. Believe that these promises are for you, that God himself loves you!

Zephaniah 3:16-18; Isaiah 43:1-5; Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 6:31-34; Romans 8:1-39; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-21; Ephesians 1:1-14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 4:6-8.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #2: WE LIVE IN TWO WORLDS

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The Christian life can be disheartening and frustrating sometimes. We seem to keep making the same mistakes, and going through the same cycle over and over again. The promises of the bible don’t seem to apply to us all the time. Sometimes, the problem might be that we don’t recognize the way in which the promises of God apply to us. The Bible teaches things about reality and human nature that are very important to understand, if we want to grasp the promises within it.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 2

I’m pulling an audible. For reasons which shall eventually be clear, I am renaming this series: Living Crucified.

PLEASE BOOKMARK THIS POST SO THAT YOU CAN REFER BACK TO THE DIAGRAMS LATER.

Last time we talked about the very beginning of following Jesus: turning away from self, and from sin, along with turning toward God in faith. We recognize that we are cut off from God, and God is the source of all truth, beauty, joy, goodness and life. We admit that we often – maybe even usually – turn away from God, when given the chance. We are committed to satisfying ourselves. All of this is leading us toward self-destruction, loneliness, hatred and isolation – that is separation from God and all that we truly need. When we try to do better, it doesn’t last. We continually fail. We can’t be good enough to remain anywhere near the Holiness of God’s presence. His holiness is so powerful, we would be destroyed by it. Even if we could come into holiness without changing, we would spoil it.

Into this mess steps Jesus. He calls all people to repent. Repenting means we turn away from sin and self, and turn toward God. We give our hearts over to God. We recognize that there is no hope within ourselves, and we place our trust in Jesus alone to make us worthy to be in the presence of God. We trust in him alone to cleanse us from sin, and connect us to the truth, beauty, joy, goodness and life that we need and crave.

So far, so good. Usually, when we first become Christians, there is a period of time when everything is wonderful and good. We feel free, and light. We are overwhelmed with gratitude toward God, and that overflows into how we treat other people. We think “this is it!”

But sooner or later, we seem to lose our way again. We find that the old person we used to be is still hanging around, just waiting for a chance to  take over once more. We start slipping a little, sinning again, living for ourselves. We feel bad, and promise to get it together again, but it keeps happening. We get frustrated with ourselves. But we know that what we believe is the truth. We know that God is real, and good, and we believe that everything we truly desire is to be found in Him, and Him alone. Although we often forget even that when we see something else we think we want.

And so, as time goes on, we think. “Wow. It’s really hard to be Christian. I’m not very good at it.” We cling to our hope that it is Jesus, not our own efforts, who makes us able to be in God’s good presence. But we sort of settle for the idea that we aren’t ever going to get much closer to God until we die. We kind of make peace with the fact that we sin all the time, and we live with a low grade of guilt and shame.

Now, if you read the New Testament, it doesn’t seem like the Christian life is supposed to be so…underwhelming.  Whole shelves of books have been dedicated to help people like us pull it together. Some of them are quite helpful. Somehow though, we can’t seem to make the improvements permanent or consistent. Then, we come across a bible verse like this one:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

It’s tempting to sort of throw up our hands and say, “Whatever.” It certainly doesn’t seem like we are new creations. It certainly doesn’t seem like the old is really gone.

I sometimes think we get hung up because we don’t understand the way the New Testament views reality in general, or human nature in particular. This next part may seem dry to you, but it is really important. I truly believe understanding the following ideas can be of tremendous practical help in living life the way God intends for us. So please consider giving this a bit of concentration and effort. THIS IS FOUNDATINAL, IMPORTANT STUFF.

Let’s start with reality in general. The Bible assumes that there are two parts to reality: The Eternal Reality, and the Temporary Reality.

18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18, HCSB)

I have italicized four words above. First, there is a reality that is seen. What Paul means by that is that we can interact with that kind of reality by seeing, feeling, tasting, touching and so on. This is what most of us think about when we think about “reality,” or the “real world,” or perhaps: “the physical world.”

There is another reality that is unseen. We don’t interact with this reality through our eyes, or sense of smell, or anything like that. We can’t measure it, or deal with it scientifically. But it is there. It is part of reality. We might call this spiritual reality, or eternal reality. Almost all of the human race, for almost all of history, has accepted the existence of spiritual reality. Most people have experienced things that they know are more than just physical.

Our verse above tells us that the seen realm (you might call it “the physical world”) is temporary. In other words, it has a beginning and an end.  On the other hand, the unseen realm is eternal. It lasts forever.

Both the seen and unseen are important. We live in both types of reality as the same time. However, Paul tells us the we Christians should focus on the unseen realm, because it is eternal, and therefore greater.

I want to offer two analogies to help us think about these things. First, imagine a line. Above the line is the unseen, eternal reality, or realm.  Because this realm is eternal, it is more powerful. It is, you might say, “ultimate reality.” In the unseen realm things are what they are. Appearance and reality are exactly the same In the unseen realm, God exists in all the fullness of his power and glory. This is one reason God reveals himself to Moses as “I AM.” He is exactly what he is. Nothing can affect him or change him. He continually is.

Below the line is the seen realm, what we might think of as the physical world, or the temporary world. Here, things are changing. Things are not always as they seem to be. We have needs and struggles. Some days are terrific. Some days are awful. Most are somewhere in between.

Now here’s an amazing fact. We know that we live below the line, obviously. But even now, if you trust Jesus, a part of you already lives above the line.

Now all of this is just an illustration. The truth is, the eternal, unseen reality is all around us at every moment. There is no line in the sky, or anywhere else. But it is helpful to understand that there are two different aspects to reality, and the line helps us understand their relationship.

Here’s the other analogy. Imagine a book: a fiction novel; that is, a story. The story has a beginning, middle and end. Inside the book, the characters move from the beginning through the middle, toward the end. But the entire book – the story, with all its characters and events – is contained within the covers of the book. There is also a reality “outside the book.” Someone outside the book could go back to the beginning to re-read a part of it. Or, they could go to the end to see how it turns out.

A character inside the book may live through a storm. That’s part of the story they are in. The storm is terrifying and dangerous. Yet, outside the book, the events within the book have no power. A storm inside the story may threaten the lives of the characters, but it does not physically affect a reader who is outside the book.

The book (everything within the two covers) is the seen realm, the temporary realm. But outside the book is an entirely different, and much greater, reality. This is the unseen, the eternal realm. We human beings are inside the book, moving forward through the story. We can travel in only one direction – forward. We experience all that is going on in this story. And yet, in some amazing and wonderful way, we also have a connection to existence “outside the book.” A part of us is outside, in that eternal realm.

How could it be that we are in “both places at the same time,” so to speak? It is because of the way God made human beings. According to the Bible, There are three essential parts to a human being: body, soul and spirit. Here are a few verses that talk about them all at the same time:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12, ESV. “Joints and marrow” refer to a physical body)

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of your Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

There are many more verses that talk about spirit without mentioning body, or soul without talking about spirit, and so on. But it is clear that the New Testament views humans as having those three parts: Body, Soul, & Spirit.

We all know what a body is. It has arms and legs and so on. In our bodies we do and say things. When we behave in any way, it is our body that is living out that behavior. Our bodies live entirely “below the line,” or “inside the book.” It is also very important to know the biblical word “flesh.” Flesh means: “your body, under the influence of sin.”

We also have a soul. The Greek word in the New Testament for “soul” is “psuche” from which we get our English word: “psyche.” Your soul is your personality, your emotions, your thoughts and decisions. The soul is, in a sense, the part of you that feels like you.

The third part of a human being is the Spirit. The New Testament word for Spirit is a lot like the word for breath. The spirit is the part of the human that interacts directly with the unseen, eternal realm.

Now, what has all that this got to do with us living in both the seen, temporary, world, and the unseen, eternal reality? Here’s another diagram that might help:

Our bodies live entirely in the seen, temporary reality. Our body cannot see or understand the eternal, unseen, spiritual realm. On the other hand, our Spirit lives entirely in that unseen, eternal reality. Our soul is in the middle: partly in the physical temporary reality, partly in the spiritual, eternal reality. The soul connects the body to the spirit. You might say it is the go-between. Your soul (“the essential you”) is connected to your body. It is also connected to your spirit. It is the “interface” between the seen and unseen, the temporary and the eternal, the purely physical and the purely spiritual.

Now, let’s return to the first problematic verse I shared:

7 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

Knowing what we know now, let’s think about this. Could I accurately say, at this moment, that the entire me – body, soul and spirit – is a new creation? Could I say truthfully, that the whole of the old me – body, soul and spirit – has passed away?

I think not. In the first place, my body is obviously not a new creation. In fact, it gets older every day. So this promise cannot be for my body – at least, not yet. But Paul talks like this is a done deal. Let’s keep going. What about my soul? Is my soul an entirely new creation? Has the old soul with its sinful desires and passions entirely passed away? I’m sorry to say that I don’t think so. But maybe sometimes it seems partly true of my soul.

Now we can see the truth: this promise is made today for my spirit. I do believe that one day – when I step into the new creation with body, soul and spirit, then all of me will be entirely new. My soul will be cleansed and purged from all the sinful influence of my flesh (flesh= my body influenced by sin). My flesh will be destroyed, and I will be given a new body with no sin in it at all. But right now, even before all that, I am already a new creation in my spirit.

Let’s look at the whole of the passage in which our verse is found:

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

That’s what we’re after. We’ve received forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We want to live in a new way, not for ourselves anymore. But how? Paul goes on:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17, ESV)

How do we start? By regarding no one according to the flesh. Remember, “the flesh” is our body under the influence of sin. We don’t regard our salvation as a salvation of that flesh. We don’t regard our new creation as happening in that flesh. We look at it a new way. How? By looking at the spirit! Our spirits live “above the line,” in eternity. In that eternal reality, in ultimate reality, our spirits are already new creations. A part of us is already perfect, whole, entirely holy and able to receive all the goodness, joy, love, beauty and truth of God’s presence.

So we don’t keep trying to find life here in our flesh. We don’t keep looking for life in the world that we see around us, the physical world. Instead, we look to ultimate reality, spiritual reality, for newness of life.

OK. So far so good. The promise is true and right. We really are new creations. The old really has passed away. But how to we begin to get that spirit-life into the life we live every day in the world that we see?

I’m so glad you asked. We will begin to answer that question next time.

PLEASE BOOKMARK OR PRINT THIS POST SO THAT YOU CAN REFER BACK TO THE DIAGRAMS.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #1: THE PATH TO JOY BEGINS WITH BAD NEWS.

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The beginning of the Christian life is turning away from sin and toward God (this is called “repentance”). Sometimes we fail to receive the wonder and joy of God’s grace because we have not actually repented. We are called to despair of our own efforts to make ourselves (or the world) better, and turn to God alone for hope and salvation. Only then can we be changed. When we do that, and only then, we can begin to receive the stunning riches of God’s grace given to us in Jesus Christ. This is the gate, through which we all must walk, the lifeboat that is our only hope of being saved from drowning.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 1

During the past year or so, I have noticed that many people in our house-churches seem to be struggling with a deep tension in the life of following Jesus. We are told that everything is by God’s grace. And yet we are told that we shouldn’t sin. We are told that we are new creatures, created in Christ Jesus – and yet we still act like the old creatures, frequently sinning and failing.

The tension that this creates is actually very important. We need to pay attention to it, because it will lead us to some wonderful, amazing truths that will affect every area of our lives.

Our new sermon series is about all that.

As we revisit the riches of the gospel, you may (or may not) recognize some ideas, stories and concepts that I introduced more than ten years ago now, in the sermon series: Living Life in Reverse. Those truths are powerful and practical. I think it is worth revisiting them. So, in a way, this is an updated and expanded version of the original “Living Life in Reverse.” If you want a series title, we could try: “Living Life in Reverse – Again.”

When I did the series the first time, there were a few things which I left out. So, I want to start with very beginning of the Christian life, which is, repentance and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.

It has been on my mind lately that Christians, in the 21st century Western world, have a very different way of reaching people for Jesus than the Christians of the New Testament. We typically reach out to non-believers with the following basic message:

“God loves you, so much. He really wants you to experience his grace and joy. He is the missing piece of your life. He heals your brokenness and forgives your failures. Come and experience his love.”

Now, that message is good, but it is only half the message that was preached by most Christians throughout history. Here’s the way Jesus himself preached. He taught his disciples to do the same.

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17, ESV)

14 Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15, ESV)

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47, ESV)

30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31, ESV)

20 I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20-21, ESV)

In the verses above, I have italicized the word repentance so you see my point more quickly. You do see it, right? Repentance is an essential part of the gospel. It is the beginning, and it is necessary if we are to receive the gospel.

You see, I believe many people think the gospel is essentially just: “God loves you.” And they hear this, and look up, and think, “Oh, that’s cool. How sweet of him.” And then they go back to whatever they were doing.

Maybe some churches put it a little more forcefully. “God loves you. But if you want to benefit from this love, you need to walk down in front here, say a prayer, and then get baptized.” This is a bit more inconvenient, so not as many people respond positively. And yet, after all, it’s just something you need to do, like going to the DMV, or paying taxes. So, a lot of people take the time out of their lives to go to church for a while, take the deep breath, and then do the God-transaction. Then, they can get back to their lives. Maybe they think it’s like joining a political party. They are now “registered Christians.”

Think about it for a moment. “God loves you,” is not that big of a deal until and unless you feel in need of that love. Scripture tells us that we are desperately in need of his love and mercy. Without the love and grace of God you are utterly lost. You are already dead, spiritually. You are in the process of dying physically; every second brings you closer to the moment of your death. And your soul (where “you” are) is slowly withering, utterly committed to self above all. Even when you do “unselfish” things, it is to benefit your own sense of self-esteem. At the same time, we find ways to justify so many of our selfish desires and actions. (By the way, if I just made you mad with all that, think about why). Yes, your soul, too, is on a long slow decline to eternal frustration and self-hatred.

This is the beginning of the gospel: you are dead in your sins, slave to self, and the things that tempt you, manipulated by spiritual forces of evil, though you don’t realize it. You are infected with a deadly disease that is gradually destroying every part of you. The Bible calls that disease “sin,” and it really means “all that is in conflict with the character of God.”

The human race, in all recorded history, has improved technologically, but not much morally. Thousands of years ago, human beings were greedy, cheating each other, lying, hurting one another, oppressing the weak, and engaging in bloody wars and violence. Isn’t it good that we’re so much better now? Oh, wait. Never mind. Just read a few news sites, and you’ll be convinced that there is something deeply flawed and wrong with humanity in general. The same thing that is wrong with humanity is also wrong with you and me.

Now, a lot of people look at themselves, and think “Gee, I don’t think I’m that bad. I’ve never stolen anything, for instance.” The bible asks: But have you ever been greedy? Ever wanted something that wasn’t yours to want? You see, there is a problem in your heart, your soul.

We might say, “Well, I’ve never committed adultery.” But have you ever imagined it? Have you ever wanted to? You see, there is a problem in your heart, your soul.

“I’ve never lied.” But have you ever gossiped? Ever said hurtful words, or malicious things? Ever been hurtfully sarcastic? You see, there is a problem in your heart, your soul.

If you have the courage to be honest with yourself, you know that within you is a deep well of awful muck, of self-centeredness and arrogance and the desire to have what you want, no matter the consequences.

The beauty, truth and goodness we experience in this world are echoes of the profound presence of God

Now, let’s put this together. Everything that is good, awe-inspiring, encouraging, beautiful, glorious, true and loving originates with God. Some things may come directly from God, like a sense of his love, or the words of scripture. Other things may be several generations “removed” from their origin in God, like, for instance, beautiful music, or a lovely painting, or awe-inspiring landscape, but it all begins with him. The beauty, truth and goodness we experience in this world are echoes of the profound presence of God. Even people who do not know him are affected by him nonetheless, and anyone at all might be used, even unknowingly, to reflect a small piece of God to the world.

But God is so profoundly good, so holy, and so completely powerful, that his very presence destroys anything that is not perfectly good. Bring the tiniest bit of sin into the presence of God, and it is destroyed.

When you combine pure sodium with water, the result is a spectacularly violent reaction. Google it sometime, and watch the video results. There is a similar reaction when sin comes into the presence of God. Sin cannot exist in God’s presence. It is violently destroyed.

18 Then Moses said, “Please, let me see Your glory.”
19 He said, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But He answered, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” 21 The LORD said, “Here is a place near Me. You are to stand on the rock, 22 and when My glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23, HCSB)

God was pleased with Moses, and very gracious to him. But he could not allow Moses to “see his face,” which means, in that culture, to be fully in his presence. Later on, when Moses was reminding the people of their first encounter with God on Mount Sinai, he said this:

4 And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? 27 Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’
28 “And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. (Deuteronomy 5:24-28, ESV)

The people did not see God’s face, but they were close enough to him to be terrified that his holiness would destroy them. And God said, “That’s right. No one can come too close.”

Now, if God is the source of all goodness, truth and beauty, and if the presence of God destroys all that is not perfectly aligned with God’s character, and we are infected with sin (the antithesis of God’s character) we have a problem. If we come into God’s presence we will be annihilated. If we don’t come to him, eventually, we will be further and further separated from all truth, beauty, joy and goodness. We will end up gnawing away at our own souls, bitter, withered, pathetic, hating ourselves, but utterly alone. Complete separation from God is sometimes called “hell,” and that is where we are all headed, and there is nothing we can do about it. Our efforts to stop the slide into self-destruction are pathetic, and in fact, they end up being nothing more than additional manifestations of our twisted and flawed natures.

This is the starting point. Until we face this reality, we have not begun. Until we recognize this reality, there is no hope for us.

You might say, “But Tom, I thought you just said there was no hope anyway. You said an essential thing to recognize is we cannot do anything about it.”

I did, and it is. There is no hope from within humanity in general, or from your friends and family. There is no hope from within your own corrupted body or soul. No hope from your dead spirit.

That is why Jesus entered the world. When he came, he said two things. First: Repent! That means recognizing the truth I just told about our own sin and the pointlessness of our own efforts. To repent means to earnestly desire to turn away from sin, and toward God. It means also that we genuinely give up on the idea that we can help ourselves. We have no hope within ourselves, but we turn toward God in our need, recognizing our own helplessness and hopelessness. In a way, we cannot even do this on our own. The Spirit of God has to empower us to repent. That’s why I’m giving this message: to allow you to hear the Word, and through the Holy Spirit, believe it and repent.

The second part of what Jesus said was: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” In some ways, he was being a little bit coy, since he hadn’t yet completed his mission. But after he had died and risen, he gave his apostles the full message. Peter put it like this:

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2:38-40, ESV)

Being baptized does mean the physical act, but the literal meaning of the word is immersed. We are to be immersed in Christ. Baptism also means you are leaving one realm, and entering a new one. You are leaving behind the world, the devil and your sinful flesh, and entering the kingdom of God. Paul described it in terms of repentance toward God (that is, turning away from sin, and self, and toward God) and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21, quoted earlier).

You might wonder, “But if I am a sinner, and God’s presence destroys sin, how does this help?” That’s a great question. In some ways, the answer takes a lifetime to unpack, but here’s the short version:

God’s intention is to destroy all sin. In doing that, it will be necessary to destroy all sinners, also. So he chose to find a way to make sinners into “not sinners.” He sent Jesus into the world to combine his God-nature with human-nature. Jesus was perfect, because of his God-nature. Because of his human-nature, he became an appropriate vessel to do the job. All sin was placed upon Jesus (which could be done, because of his human nature), and destroyed by his suffering on earth, death on the cross, and descent into hell. Only Jesus, with his eternal God-nature, could survive this. So now, all sin – even the sins of those who lived before Jesus, and sins yet to be committed – has now been punished, and paid for:

1 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (Romans 3:21-28, NLT)

The way to take hold of this forgiveness, this cleansing of sin, is through faith in Jesus Christ. We trust him, and what he has done. And we entrust our entire lives into his care. We immerse ourselves in Jesus, and in his kingdom. Those who reject this are, in essence, saying, “No, we want to continue to sin.” Or, if not: “We believe we can get our salvation some other way.” Those who reject Jesus, who do not trust in him, have rejected the only lifeboat in the ocean. They would be welcome on board, but if they want to wait for some other boat they like better, they will drown.

 But faith turns away from sin, receives what God has done, and entrusts all of life into the hands of God through Jesus Christ. When we do that, God makes our spirit, which was dead to him because of sin, come alive. Through the spirit, he pours grace, love, truth, beauty, goodness and joy into our souls.

This is the starting gate. Everyone must enter through this gate, or remain separated from God forever. Jesus put it like this:

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

If you have never done so, I invite you to believe God’s Word. Repent of your sins, turning away from them, and to God. Entrust your entire life to Jesus. Come alive to God in the spiritual realm.

Now, I am sure that many of you who follow this blog have already entered through this gate. But if you have, you understand how important it is that everyone recognizes these truths, repents, and enters through Jesus.

I myself am using this message to renew my repentance from sins. It can become easy, once we have trusted Jesus and received the grace of God, to forget the deadly and awful nature of sin. Let this message remind you to never make peace with sin. Let it also remind you of the incredible truth, love, joy, beauty and goodness of God, and remind you that all of that is available to us through Jesus Christ.

Let the Spirit keep speaking to you now!