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Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Christian has Two Natures!




A Christian has Two Natures!

 

One of the greatest Christians who ever lived, wrote these words:  “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do: no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law:  but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner because of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”  (Romans 7:14b-19, 21-25) 

 

Have you guessed who wrote these words?  It was Paul –Saint Paul - one of the most dedicated Christian missionaries in history!  Paul sounds pretty messed up, doesn’t he?  In his inner being he delights in God’s laws; but in his body – something there inside of him keeps wanting to sin!  Wanting to sin and waging war against the part of him that wants to obey God!  Two natures inside Paul, each pulling him in opposite directions?  He’s got a problem, doesn’t he? 

 

But guess what?  We have that problem too!  The Bible tells us that we humans are all born with a nature that will sin.  (Romans 3:23, 5:12-14)  And Scripture tells us that we gain a new nature (in addition to the old one) when we believe in Jesus as Lord.  (John 3:6,7: 2 Peter 1:4)  So all Christians have the same problem that Paul was fussing about!  Where two natures are in the same place but each pulling in opposite directions, there will be war.  In Galatians 5:17-18 Paul writes: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”  Talk about a split personality!

 

Some folks have believed that a true Christian will not sin anymore.  But Scripture denies that over and over.  1 John 1:8 declares: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  If we are honest with ourselves we know that we sin.  And all we have to do is look around us to see that our fellow Christians sin too!  So many of us backslide!  It can be very discouraging!

 

Then other Christians seem to think that if they keep enough rules that they will avoid sinning.  But even if we were able to obey every rule and look perfect on the outside, our lusts and desires will not follow along perfectly.  Scripture tells us that the only way we Christians with our two natures can win this battle is to walk in the Spirit – in other words we must allow the Spirit to lead us.  

 

Galatians 5:16 says:  “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature….”   And Romans 8:13b says: “…if you are led by the Spirit you will put to death the sins of the sinful nature,…”  Some of the acts of the sinful nature (body)  are sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, etc. (Gal.4:19)  And the acts (fruit) of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Gal.4:22-23)

 

In those last verses we are told to “put to death the urges of our sinful nature.”  Scripture teaches that the old sin nature is not destroyed while we are still alive here on earth.  (But in heaven we will finally be free of it and we will no longer sin!)  Scripture says:  “Likewise reckon yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 6:11)  It is difficult to feed both natures at the same time.  So we are to give our energies (feed) to our new nature in the Spirit and neglect or starve out the sin nature.   

 

You may be asking, ‘How do you “recon yourself dead” when your ego is put down by insults or slights and you want to strike back?  And how do you “play dead” to wanting something that isn’t yours or desiring something that you know is wrong?

 

 Our baptism symbolizes or means a real death which we undergo in following Christ..  Going under the water depicts our becoming dead to sin and coming up out of the water represents our new birth to righteousness.  We will need to say “no” to sin.  Draw a line in the sand. Decide that there are places we will never go, things we will never touch and emotions we will never play with.  Of course the Spirit will help us in this battle. 

 

David loved God with all his heart and Scripture says that he was deeply beloved of God.  But David fell into some very nasty sins when he was the king of Israel.  (of course all sins are nasty)  We can read this story in 2 Samuel 11. King David already had many wives and concubines but one night while he was out on the palace roof top sipping his wine and taking in the view he happened to see a naked young woman on a nearby rooftop taking a bath.  The woman’s name was Bathsheba and she was gorgeous to look at.  David thought Bathsheba looked sexy so he ordered her over to the palace and had sex with her even though he knew that she was the wife of one of the leaders in his army.  And David’s army (and Bathsheba’s husband) were away fighting when David committed adultery with Bathsheba.    

 

 When Bathsheba became pregnant with David’s baby, David tried to fix things so they would look proper and right.  Since Bathsheba’s husband had been away fighting when she had become pregnant, everyone would know that he could not be the father of the baby.  David was nervous so he ordered one of his army generals to put Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband up in front of the fighting men where most of the hand to hand combat would take place and where he most likely would be killed.  And then David ordered the army to pull back and not protect Uriah right when the enemies moved in for the kill.. When Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband died in battle, David moved in quickly and took Bathsheba to be his wife (one of his many wives!)  He figured that he had covered his tracks and he could continue going about his business as usual!  He deserved to have beautiful women surrounding him and as the king he needed to keep up appearances!

 

But not so fast!  David could fool other people but he couldn’t fool God.  God sent a prophet named Nathan to David to confront him of his sins – the sins of greed and murder and adultery.  And with tears and fasting David admitted his sins and begged God to forgive and pleaded with God not to take the Holy Spirit away from him.  God forgave David of his sins but the prophet told David that there would be consequences to his sin. Because of his sins the baby that would be born to him and Bathsheba would die shortly after birth and his family would have problems in the future. 

 

In this Bible story, David’s sin did not cause him to lose his salvation, or his standing as a child of God.  David was sorry for sinning and God forgave him.  Salvation is a free gift without works (Ephesians 2:8, 9) But David’s sins affected his relationship with God.  And there were consequences here on earth for his sins. When we follow our sinful nature our sins will have consequences and can keep us from the joy and victory that are ours in Christ. But salvation is ours because of Christ’s sacrifice.

 

Just like David, we are in a spiritual war when it comes to the way we live our lives and walk our Christian walk.  Even though we love God, our sin nature can get us into big trouble.  We must be ever watchful and walk by faith and not by sight.  Pray and read the Bible.  Make no provision for the sinful nature.  We are soldiers in a battle, but the fight will not be long!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, August 24, 2013

What Does Being "Born Again" Mean?




 

What Does Being “Born Again” Mean?

 

 

One night Nicodemus sneaks outside looking for Jesus.  Nicodemus is a Pharisee –a Jewish religious leader and he wants to talk to Jesus since he believes that Jesus has come from God.  All of Jesus’ many miracles and healings have caused Nicodemus to believe this.  Nicodemus wants to know how to be close to God so when he finds Jesus and asks how he can find God, Jesus answers Nicodemus this way: “  A person cannot see (enter) the kingdom of God unless he/she is ‘born again’.”  (John 3:3) 

 

Nicodemus is astounded at Jesus’ words!  “Can an adult enter his mother’s womb again to be born?” he asks Jesus.  And Jesus answers him: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  … The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3; 5,6,8)   

 

“How can these things be?”  Nicodemus asks. (John 3:9)  What is Jesus talking about?  Nicodemus is totally confused now.  He just wanted a simple straight forward answer from Jesus.   Just tell me what I need to do to be part of Gods’ kingdom and I will do it. – Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3.”  But Jesus goes on insisting that a person needs to be born again by the Spirit to enter God’s kingdom!

 

 And that the Spirit is like the wind and no one knows where the wind comes from or where it goes.  And so it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit!  We can’t imagine all  that God does to bring us into His kingdom. God want to draw every single one of us back to Himself and He is out constantly looking for ways to bring His lost sheep home..  What does all this mean?   Nicodemus is still shaking his head!

 

Nicodemus seems to think that entering God’s kingdom is our job and we humans need a formula or maybe better instructions as to how to work our way there.  Have we worked hard enough?  Are we good enough?  But Jesus seems to be telling Nicodemus that no person can be a part of God’s kingdom by his/her own good deeds or work. . Without the Holy Spirit doing His work- the mysterious work of giving the person a new spiritual life, the person will not be able to enter the kingdom on his own.  And Jesus emphasizes that the Spirit is like the wind and everyone who has been born again into God’s kingdom has been brought in by this mysterious Spirit that we can’t even track or follow.   

 

If we had been standing there with Nicodemus that night, would we be as confused as he was?  Is Jesus muddying the waters with this ‘born again’ talk and saying that we can’t reach salvation on our own, but this mysterious Spirit has to give us new birth!  (John 3:5)  And we don’t even have a tight control on the Holy Spirit since He is like the wind?!  Nicodemus is uncomfortable.  He likes to be in control.   

 

Jesus keeps on talking with Nicodemus.  “No one has even gone into heaven except the One who came from heaven – the Son of Man.”  Jesus tells him.   (John 3:13)  Is Jesus saying that we can’t find heaven on our own?  Heaven is a spiritual place– and we need to be born of the Spirit to fit into His heavenly spiritual kingdom.  We had to be born of flesh and blood to be part of this earthly kingdom.  If God lit our light and gave us birth into this earthly kingdom, can we trust Him to give us a second birth into His heavenly kingdom too if we want that?

 

Jesus seems to be telling Nicodemus that we may decide to follow Christ and we may open our heart to God, but along with our part there is an unseen action on the part of the Spirit in our entering God’s kingdom that we cannot see or explain.  Let’s follow the story of a woman who believed in Jesus – was “born again” and afterwards her life was changed drastically.  Let’s look in on her conversion experience and listen to her story of being “born again.”   

 

Joseph Bentz in his book, God in Pursuit  tells the story of how Mary Beard came to Christ.  Today this woman is an active Christian.  Mary’s mother was a Christian but her childhood was miserable because her father was mean and abusive toward her.  By the time Mary reached her twenties she had become an angry rebellious young woman.  She stumbled into a life of crime that landed her on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.  Mary shoplifted, stole cash from the Mafia, robbed banks and cracked safes and helped her husband try to make an escape from jail.  Finally at age twenty eight she herself was sentenced to twenty-one years in prison for the crimes of armed robbery and grand larceny.  

 

Mary hit a low point when she was put behind bars.  She began attending church services on Sunday mornings and weekly Bible studies on Tuesday afternoons just to escape the boredom of being in her prison cell.  She determined to be as difficult as possible at her Tuesday Bible studies and mess up the church services as much as she could.  Mary had never liked church or Bible study when she was younger. But Mary was depressed and anxious now that she was behind bars.  Her insecurities seemed to be leading her to be more willing to come to God.     

 

One day after she had attended a Tuesday Bible study Mary returned to her cell and picked up a Gideon Bible and began looking through it.  For the first time in her life she was feeling guilty and remorseful for all the crimes she had committed and the rebellious life that she had been living.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit was speaking to her heart, because Mary was finally wondering how she could change her life.  . 

 

Flipping through the pages of the Gideon Bible she landed on Ezekiel 36:26-27. And then these words jumped out at her: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you:  and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.” 

 

The words of this verse lit up in her soul and came to life as if filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Mary knew that God was speaking directly to her through this Scripture verse and this was a turning point for her.  She realized that God was the one doing the action.  It was not up to her to make herself good enough.  She did not have to do anything but show up and say yes and receive.  God would empower her to do what He wanted her to do.  She knelt down in her prison cell and prayed and asked the Lord to give her the new heart that the verse talked about and make her a new person – whatever He wanted her to be. 

 

Mary tells that she felt a tremendous peace come over her there in her cell and she knew that she belonged to Jesus Christ.  Her rebellious spirit disappeared and her life changed.   God indeed gave her a new heart – a heart that loved other people and loved Him..

 

  While Mary was in prison she watched as her fellow prisoners would often worry about their children – the children that they had had to leave behind when they were sentenced  to prison.  At Christmastime these inmates would grieve and cry because they couldn’t be home with their babies.  Home to put up a tree and give their little ones love and gifts and toys. 

 

When Mary got out of prison she began a Christian ministry –she founded “Angel Tree,” –a ministry where thousands of people now have the opportunity to pick an “angel” or the child of a parent in prison or a parent who cannot afford gifts.  Others can give Christmas to a little one who would not have a Christmas otherwise.  Mary is actively serving her Lord through this organization “Angel Tree” and through her church.  She is a changed person – a “born again” person.

 

Jesus had more to say to Nicodemus that night long ago.  Nicodemus still did not understand the Way to salvation.  Jesus continued: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. (John 3:15)  Nicodemus knew the story from Scripture and from Jewish history. He knew of how Moses had held a carved statue of a snake up high on a pole for all of the Israelites to see. 

 

Long ago the Israelites had been traveling in the desert with Moses when problems arose. Poisonous snakes were there in the desert biting and the people who were bitten were dying.  Moses had cryed to God about the problem and God had answered and promised that if Moses would hold high the carved image of a snake for all to see that the people who were bitten would only have to look at the carved snake to be healed and saved from dying.  And Scripture records that that is exactly what happened.  Hundreds of the Israelites who were dying from these venomous snake bites were made well again by just looking at the carved snake held high for them to see. 

 

And Jesus was telling Nicodemus that similar to a bitten and dying person looking at Moses’ carved snake and being saved back then  that now looking to God’s Son can save a person – . save the one who looks to Jesus from spiritual death by giving them a new birth in Christ.   

 

It’s just that simple Jesus told Nicodemus.  Just look and live.  When we look – (and see) Jesus for who He is - the Son of God and our Savior, then the miracle of saving is done for us.  And Jesus continued explaining salvation to the amazed Nicodemus with these words:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16)  Our job is to open our hearts and look – and see Jesus as Son of God and our Savior and His job is to save.  It’s just that simple. 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jesus is Lord!




Jesus is Lord!

 

Epaphras had given his heart to Jesus when Paul came to his town preaching and healing!  Epaphras lived in Ephesus and sometime around 65 A.D. Paul spent three years in Ephesus spreading the word that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and Savior. Signs and wonders accompanied Paul’s preaching and many people through the power of the Holy Spirit were healed of diseases and physical problems. And along with Epaphras a large number of Ephesians who heard Paul’s preaching accepted Jesus as their Savior and formed a Christian church in Ephesus.      

 

The town of Colosse was near Ephesus and today the ruins of both these ancient towns can be found in modern Turkey.  The Bible tells us that Epaphras traveled from Ephesus to Colosse and shared his new Christian faith with the people there and many of the Colossians (people living in Colosse) gave their hearts to Jesus and formed a Christian church there.  These were exciting times.

 

 Everywhere Paul went on his missionary journeys people were believing in Christ and coming together and starting churches. And these new churches were changing life around them but also causing disruption.  The new believers were loving and taking care of one another and giving to the poor.  But also they had stopped worshipping and sacrificing before the village idols which often caused the townspeople to become angry.  The parents and grandparents of these first Christians had brought them up to worship idols so when they confessed Jesus they had to make a break with the religion of their families and their people.  Following Jesus often carried with it a heavy price.  And often these brave new converts were thrown out of their families and some were imprisoned and killed. 

 

These new believers who heard Paul’s message were the first Gentiles (non-Jews)  to carry the torch of the Christian faith.  These first Christians did not have a copy of the Bible or any church tradition to follow.  But God did not leave them to walk the Christian walk on their own.  The Holy Spirit guided them with a strong hand and with signs and wonders and healings and miracles in their gatherings!  And the Lord spoke to these new believers through visions and prophecies and the word of wisdom and knowledge.

 

  Paul had taught these new Christians to “confess” their faith in Jesus Christ.  And these early Christians first learned their new Christian faith by their “confessions.”  “Jesus is Lord” was the church’s very first and earliest confession.  When a believer confessed that Jesus is Lord (God) and Savior then others would know that she/he was a Christian.  Confessing that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God and Savior and also the center and circumference of all that exists was the test of authentic Christianity for the early church.    

 

If Jesus were not the Son of God and instead just a great man - maybe even a super-star- then He would not be able to save and redeem us from sin.  In His sovereignty (being Son of God) lies His sufficiency (His being able to save us from our sin).  If we throw out who He is (Son of God and Savior) then we throw out what He can do (save us).  And thus we throw out our Christian faith!

 

The new believers who lived in Colosse were meeting together and growing in their Christian faith when several false teachers arrived and started trying to mess up their faith in Jesus as Lord.  These false teachers were probably learned men who had studied religion abroad.  They stroked their beards and laughed at the new believers in Colosse.  And then they began to ask questions and make fun of their faith in Jesus as Lord!

 

“You don’t really believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, do you?  You really believe that a virgin could get pregnant?  Ha ha!  Are you that dumb? Ha ha ha!”  “You say that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead?  You believe that? Ha ha! You folks have never gone to the big city -  studied Greek philosophy!  You’re all backward –unsophisticated – uneducated!  Educated people would never believe in Jesus being God!  You believers in Jesus need to get educated – go to seminary -    ha ha ha!”  “You believe that Jesus is the only Way.  If you were mature you would realize that one religion is as good as the other.  You immature folk need to grow up!  Ha ha ha!”

 

Soon the new believers in Colosse were confused and wondering if these so called educated religious scholars were correct and maybe Jesus wasn’t Lord and Son of God after all. Maybe they were “backwards and immature” for believing their Christian faith.

 

Epaphras had brought these people to Jesus and now he was worried about them.  These false teachers were trying to mess up his new converts.  Epaphras was so concerned that he traveled to Jerusalem to find Paul and beg Paul to help.  And when Paul heard that the Colossian believers were being laughed at for believing that Jesus is Lord he became very upset.  And this is how the book of Colossians in the Bible came to be written.  Paul wrote a letter to the Colossian believers holding up Jesus Christ as being the Son of God and Savior and telling them that “in all things Christ must have the preeminence.”  (Colossians 1:18b)

 

Paul prays for these new believers in Colosse.  He prays that they might be comforted and strengthened and given spiritual understanding and love.  And then in his letter  he begs them to not listen to the false teachers.  “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”  (Colossians 2:8)

 

And then Paul holds up Jesus Christ in his letter to the confused Colossian church.  And not just the Colossians but these inspired words as part of Holy Scripture are also written for us. Christians down through the ages have been strengthened and comforted spiritually by God’s Word spoken through Paul concerning our Savior, Jesus Christ being God.  Let’s listen: 

 

“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.  He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him (Jesus) all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He (Jesus) is before all things, and in Him all things consist.  And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He (Jesus) may have the preeminence.”  (Colossians 1:13-18)

 

Paul continued:.  “For it pleased the Father that in Him (Jesus) all the fullness should dwell and by Him (Jesus) to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.  God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  (Colossians 2:19-20,27) 

 

And Paul writes more.  “For in Him (Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily: and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.  As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”  (Colossians 2:9,6) 

 

Paul is telling the confused new believers in Colosse that Jesus Christ is the visible image of God (Col.1:15) and through Him all things are created (1:16).  He is declaring that Jesus is the Sustainer (1:17) and the Head of the church (1:18) Paul states that Jesus reconciles us through His death (1:21, 22) and that He lives in us as our hope of glory (1:27).  He goes on to say that Jesus is the source of all the treasures (2:23) and that we are alive in Him (2:11-13) and that He pleases the Father (1:19:20)

 

Just as false teachers attacked the new believers in Colosse back in 65 A.D. and laughed that they believed that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior, we will be attacked today by false teachers insisting that Jesus is not God but just another great teacher.  Today there are church leaders and authors who write “Christian?” books  proclaiming that Jesus is just a great man and not God the Son.  And there are educated church people who will laugh at the Bible and say that only uneducated people can believe it.  These scoffers arrogantly dismiss centuries of scholarship by the Evangelicals and the Catholics proving the authenticity and historicity of the Bible.  Not to mention the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies which have already been fulfilled.

 

We have a costly faith and we need to be watchful and vigilant and protect our precious faith in Christ.  Protect our faith from the slings of false doctrine and the arrows of doubt that will inevitably be aimed at it. 

 

There are things that we can do to grow in our faith and keep it strong. Protect it from these dangerous germs - these false doctrines!  We can stand firm.  Pray. Study the Bible and have an answer for why you believe.  Be part of a church of loving people who also believe that Jesus is Son of God and Savior.  Join a church that believes that the Bible is the Word of God.  Paul wrote to the Colossians that “Christ in you is the hope of glory.”  Those words are for you and me too.  Let Christ live in your life, love Him, talk with Him and obey His Word.  And make that first confession that those early Christians made your confession too and never let it go.  Always hold it high in your life – “Jesus is Lord!” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Your Life is Hidden in Christ!




Your Life is Hidden in Christ!

 

 

Paul traveled many hundreds of miles on his missionary journeys walking from town to town in places which are now modern day Turkey and Italy and Greece.  The date was around 62 A.D. to 85 A.D. and Paul boldly told anyone who would listen that Jesus Christ died for their sins.  That Jesus had risen and had conquered death and that if they would repent of their sins and believe in Him, He would conquer death for them also.

 

 It was (and is) a radical holy message of amazing good news and everywhere people back then who heard Paul’s message fell on their knees and believed in Jesus and were changed into new people and filled with the Holy Spirit!  The Holy Spirit moved with great power in these groups where Paul preached.  Signs and wonders accompanied Paul’s preaching.  The sick were healed and the lame walked as people gave their lives to Jesus.  This was something completely new!  The introduction of Christianity changed the landscape of Southern Europe and of course this Holy Spirit fire soon spread all over Europe and then around much of the world!    -   

 

In 63 A.D. through the power of the Holy Spirit, thousands were believing in Jesus and new churches were springing up in nearly every town that Paul visited.  These were exciting times as the Christian Church – the body of Christ – was just being born in Europe.  Everywhere enthusiastic new believers were being filled with the Spirit’s power and coming together and loving one another and sharing with each other and often speaking in tongues.  And the Bible records that healings and miracles were commonplace in these groups.

 

Sometimes we wonder why today we often do not experience the many miracles and healings that these early Christians did.  But these people who first believed Paul’s gospel message lived in a different time than we do. They were the very first people in their land to believe - the very first Christians.  Today when we come to Christ we have Christian people who have gone before us to lead the way - the established Christian church to fall back on and we can read the Bible – Gods’ Word.  But these people in 63 A.D. had no Bible – only Paul’s words to believe and they had never heard of a Christian church before.  These first Christians (with the Holy Spirit’s guidance) had to blaze the trail for us.  And the Holy Spirit was there to lead them forward with love and power and signs and healings.    

 

These very first believers in Jesus experienced severe opposition often from family and friends who did not believe in Christ and they paid a terrible price for their new faith. There were altars in temples with idols to gods and goddesses erected in nearly every town that Paul visited.  And these new Christians who believed Paul’s message had to stop worshipping at their familiar hometown altars and give all of their worship to God alone.  Of course this caused many of them to be thrown in prison and even killed.  Worshipping idols was big business in ancient times. There were businesses that lost money when these new Christians quit buying their idols or bringing their sacrifices to the town gods and goddesses.

 

 

The people in Colosse – the Colossians – had come to know Christ through one of the men who had become a Christian through Paul’s preaching when he was preaching in the nearby town of Ephesus.  Our Christian faith is marvelously contagious and Paul was overjoyed that one of his converts spread the good news to the people who lived in Colosse.  A house church sprang up in Colosse which was located in what is now present day Turkey.

 

Paul loved the new believers that made up the church in Colosse – loved them like a good father loves his children.  He felt like he was their “spiritual” father since thousands of people had become Christians because of his missionary journeys. He prayed for them and wrote them letters (the book of Colossians).  He knew that as new baby Christians the Colossians would face many spiritual dangers and he worried that they might forget their new faith in Jesus Christ and fall away into one of many heresies.

 

And there were many heresies lurking around in ancient times just like there are today.   Satan was always nearby trying to water down the precious faith that had been given to the new Christian converts.  Or confuse the new believers in Jesus with other messages that sounded good but weren’t quite “Christian.”  And alas Satan is here today hoping to mess us up and if possible take away the joy we have in our salvation.  The early Christians had to constantly be on guard to protect their costly faith from the many heresies being spread by false teachers.  And we today have to be constantly on guard against false teachers too!

 

It would seem that one of the temptations that the new believers in Colosse were facing was the temptation of legalism – or the temptation to believe that a person needed to do a lot of extra “things” in order to gain Gods’ approval.  False teachers were telling these new baby Christians – these Colossians - that Jesus Christ and His atonement wasn’t  really enough to save them – that along with believing in Christ they had to add some man made rules in order to please God!  We have churches today telling us this same lie!  Paul got very upset with this heresy and he writes a long letter to the Colossians reminding them that Jesus Christ is everything that they need – everything - and Paul would tell us the same thing!       

 

 Paul writes these words to the Colossians.   “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)   “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to religious festivals, etc.  These are a shadow of the things that are to come: but the reality is found in Christ.  Do not let anyone who delights in false humility or the worship of angels take you away from Christ.”  (Colossians 2:18) 

 

Paul wanted these new believers in Colosse to reject any rules that aim to cleanse the spirit by means of humanly contrived regulations.  They were to realize that they were in Christ and were no longer subject to human wisdom or works, but were only subject to God.  False teachers tried to teach these new Christians to worship angels and Paul knew that the Bible teaches that we are not to worship angels but to give our worship only to God.   And Jesus Christ is God the Son.      

 

Paul wanted the Colossians to know that on the cross of Christ their debt of sin was cancelled and the powers holding them captive have been defeated.  That they don’t need to eat special food or drink special drinks or observe special days in order to please God.  The believer is “free in Christ”.  On Calvary (Jesus’ death) the believer died with Christ to this world and so we must not live as though this world or its ordinances still have a claim upon us.   

 

Paul tells the Colossians (and us) that the believer in Christ has not only died but also has “risen with Christ”.  The believer has been given a new nature and lives “in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6)   Our new nature is hidden with Christ and its’ beauty will be revealed when we get to heaven.  The believers’ old sinful nature is still with her/him until death but the believer in Christ should ignore his old sinful nature and live in the new nature – live in the Spirit. In other words the believer should live her/his life trusting Christ and following Him. 

 

Here is how Paul tells the Colossians how to live.  And this lesson is for us too.  “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.  Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry….also anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old nature and have put on your new nature….Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love… Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Colossians 3: 1-9, 12-15a, 16a, 17b)

 

Let’s face it, we like rules and regulations .  If we could all just be given three or four rules to follow or rituals to perform in order to be part of Gods’ kingdom we would most likely work to do these things.  We like to be in control!  Doing good deeds is simple and straight forward and makes us feel proud of ourselves.  Makes us feel like we are earning our own way and maybe we are better than others.  But Paul (and the Bible) says “No! No! No!  We don’t earn our own way.  Jesus Christ does it for us. ”     

 

Paul told the new believers in Colosse, and the Bible tells us that we have two natures.  The nature we were born with and our new nature we are given when we believe.  The nature we were born with – our earthly nature is selfish and we are not to give in to it.  Since it was put to death at the cross we are to consider it dead, since it is.  And our new nature –the one that loves God – the part of us that is “hidden in Christ”, - we are to “put it on” – encourage it, walk in it, enjoy it! 

 

It sounds a little confusing doesn’t it?  But it is really very simple.  We just trust and obey. Trust and obey!  Without trust in God it doesn’t work!  The Bible promises that the Holy Spirit will be there to help us – open doors for us – guide us.  Jesus is there to lead us and all we have to do is follow.  And there is peace and joy scattered along the way.

 

When a caterpillar starts to build a cocoon something is pushing him along and an instinct is driving him forward. A caterpillar doesn’t think his life through on his own.   He doesn’t fight against the urge to die. He just follows the path God gave him.  He moves ahead as he is nudged and builds his own coffin (cocoon) and then sleeps – or almost dies –he curls up and dies through the long cold winter.  He most likely doesn’t know that when he dies to his old caterpillar self, he will later be raised anew as a butterfly that can fly.  He doesn’t know that hidden away is a pattern for his new life as a beautiful butterfly –He must first die to his old life before he is resurrected into the new.   Resurrected to spread his wings a new and glorious creature.

 

Perhaps our life and the caterpillars’ have some similarities.  If we believe in Jesus Scripture says that His Spirit will lead us.  Guide us along.  But we need to trust and follow!  Unlike the caterpillar we can argue with God!  We are told, “Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:” (Colossians 3:5)   So when our ego is hurt by a slight or insult we don’t need to hold so tightly to this life since we are on our way to another life – a better one.

 

 Scripture goes on to say: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  (Colossians 3:2-3)   Like the caterpillar, all we have ever known is this life.  – this worm like life.  We can not even imagine our future!  But it will be glorious and it is “hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

 

 And this is the way Scripture describes this future life of ours that is now hidden in Christ – this pattern of our future selves that we cannot begin to imagine!   But this is how we will appear on that Day!   “Listen, I tell you a mystery.  We will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.  In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead in Christ will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed!”  (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)  Here’s another description in the Bible.  “Now we are children of God, and what we will become has not yet been made known.  But we know that when He (Jesus) appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  (1 John 3:2)  And also this: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory!”  (Colossians 3:4)  It doesn’t get any better than that! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Friday, August 2, 2013



The Upside-Down World

 

 

When we decide to follow Jesus we may not know what we are signing up for or where He will be leading us!  We may think that life will be “business as usual”, but we will have to think again!  Because Jesus is full of surprises and if we belong to Him He will want us to leave our world behind and be a part of His world – an upside-down world!

 

 He has amazing places to take us but in order to go there with Him we will have to be willing to let go of some things.  Things?  What kind of things you ask?  Well, things like money!  Scripture says that “We cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)  Not that money isn’t important but it should be in second place – or third or tenth place to our allegiance to God.  God wants to be first in our lives.

 

 And then our self respect.  Surely we should not ever be expected to let go of that!  But then Scripture says: “When you are hit on one cheek to turn the other cheek.” (Matthew 5:39)  Does that make sense or not?  It’s an upside down world we have been born again into and we have to leave a lot behind to fit into it. The Holy Spirit is there to help us but sometimes it is a stretch!

 

The Bible tells us that during His time on earth Jesus was tempted by Satan.  One of these temptations occurred when Satan offered Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him.  Let’s read it in the Bible. “The devil took Jesus up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And Satan said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’  Then Jesus said to Satan, ‘Away with you, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”  (Matthew 4:8-10)

 

Jesus turns His back on the worldly power that Satan is offering Him and insists that all of His worship will always be only for God no matter what.  Jesus rejects the glitter and the fame and the power that this world has to offer – the worldly power that is influenced by Satan: He rejects all of it for another world or kingdom that is not of this world. (John 18:36)  

 

We also may be tempted with the same temptation that Satan tempted Jesus with, - the temptation to compromise and give just a little to Satan in order to grasp some of that worldly power and importance that appeals so much to our egos.   

 

We are used to living in this cursed and fallen world – a world where might is right, and a world where we worship our rock stars and our football heroes and our sexy movie stars!  A world where we all compete and show off and some win and some lose.  There will always be the losers in our world.  And in our world the losers fall by the wayside.

 

Some people don’t make it in this world!  Some starve because they have no money for food and some become sick and die because they can’t afford health care.  Some feel left out because they are too poor or too insecure or too old.  And some have been rejected by society because of their race or their low social status or because they don’t fit in. The orphan and the foreigner and the lame and the deformed- they may feel left out and forgotten in all the bustle of life.  

 

But we are too busy to pay much attention to these nobodies.  In every city they are there - the people who don’t make it – the lost and the least – the demented people-and the people on drugs:  the forgotten people – and the invisible people. In our world we don’t even see these folk.  We walk right by them and if we think about them at all we wonder how they could have thrown away so much of life.  Why don’t they just get a job or fix their teeth or wash their clothes?  Why aren’t they like us?

 

 But in Jesus’ upside down world things will be different.  The folks who missed out in this world will be given first place over there.  They may not be important in our world, but they are very important in Gods’ world – the upside down world we are called to be a part of.

 

 Jesus tells the story of the shepherd with one hundred sheep.  He counts his sheep and finds that one sheep is missing.  Upset he leaves the ninety-nine and rushes out looking for his one lost sheep.  He searches all night and finally finds his little missing sheep.  And he is so jubilant that he throws a party inviting all of his friends to celebrate with him because he has found his sheep that was lost.  In heaven - the upside-down world – lost people (sheep) are important and no one will be left behind!

 

In Jesus’ new world these people who were last in this world will be first. (Matthew 10:16)  Scripture tells about the end of the age when Jesus Christ will come in all His glory with the angels and gather every person who has ever lived on this earth before Him for judgment.  He will separate the group as a shepherd divides his sheep from his goats.  And the sheep He will set on His right hand and the goats on the left.  And we will all be judged by how we treated these people who didn’t make it – these forgotten people. 

 

This is what Jesus the Judge says to the sheep on His right hand.    “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave Me food: I was thirsty and you gave Me drink.  I was a stranger and you took Me in.  Naked and you clothed Me.  I was sick and you visited Me.  I was in prison and you came to Me.  Then the righteous will answer Him saying, ‘Lord when did we see You hungry and feed You.  Or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe You?’ … And the King will answer and say to them.  In as much as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)  

 

Then Jesus the Judge will usher the sheep into His kingdom because they cared about the least and the lost while they were on earth.  But Jesus will condemn the goats on his left side because they didn’t care for the troubled people on earth but perhaps they took advantage of them.

 

Scripture says that believers must become like little children in order to enter God’s kingdom.  (Matthew 18:1-5)  One time when Jesus was on a hillside teaching, his disciples ordered the mothers with little children to stay away from Him.  (Matthew 19:13)  Perhaps they thought that Jesus was too important to be distracted by noisy children.  But Jesus stopped them and insisted that the mothers and children come to Him and then He blessed the children.  (Matthew 19:13-15)  The Bible holds up little children as examples for us to follow perhaps because children are trusting and humble and they have no social status.  And like little children we are to be humble and trust God, our Father.  

 

You may think that it may be difficult to become like “little children” but Jesus Himself sets the example for us to follow.  He becomes “the least of these” – the littlest one when He is mocked and beaten and crucified.  Treated as a criminal and a threat to the powers of this world –the Roman empire- Jesus is nonviolent and when He is arrested He tells his disciple to put down his sword. (Matthew 26:52-53) 

 

Jesus endured the shame of the cross. And He calls us to follow Him and take up our cross. (Matthew 16:24)  He calls us to give up our selfish pride and egotistical privilege and become humble like little children.  And He calls us to search for His lost sheep, and care for the powerless among us and to follow Him into His new upside-down world where no one will be left behind.  

 

 

Some of these ideas were taken from Reta Halteman Finger’s article “Jesus and the Top Secret Empire”  in Sojourner’s Magazine , August issue 2013.