Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Privilege of Walking with God



Walking God's Highway
"Walking with God" is one of those curious expressions which occurs repetitively in scripture. This expression describes a special relationship with God, one that God delights to honor. The first time it appears is in Genesis 5:24, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him."So special was Enoch's "walking" that he bypassed death and went directly to heaven. 

Next we hear about Noah's walking. God has decided to destroy the earth, but Noah has found favor in the Lord. How did Noah find favor with God? “Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9).  

Later, God instructed Abraham to walk with him.  “Walk before me, and be blameless" (Genesis 17:1). 

Last, in his letter to the church at Ephesus Paul exhorted them to "Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us" (Ephesians 5:2). 

These texts speak of the many blessings that follow those who "walk with God." Immortality, favor with God, blamelessness, and Christlikeness, to name a few. If this is true, every sincere Christian should know what it means to "walk with God"and be found practicing it. 

What it doesn't mean to walk with God is obvious. It doesn't mean perfection. Neither Enoch, Noah, or Abraham were perfect. In fact, in the case of Noah and Abraham, scripture graphically describes their many imperfections. Yet the Bible tells us that they "walked with God." 

Walking also implies the absence of running. It does not produce sweat. It does not require inordinate exertion. 

Last, walking is not an activity for the spiritually elite. Not everyone can run, but just about everyone can walk. I have a 75 year old friend that frequently goes on 10 and 15 mile hikes through the countryside. Even the aged and feeble can "walk." 

So, what does walking with God mean? First, it means faith in the gospel. "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death" (Heb. 11:5). Hebrews changes the metaphor from "walking" to "faith." That is because they are synonyms. Faith implies a relationship. The sinner trusts God. He banks his life on God's goodness. He accesses God's goodness by meditating on the gospel. Walking means trusting God through good times and bad times. 

Second, walking with God is communal. It is not done solo. He walks with us, and we walk with him. He holds our hand. We communicate. A lady friend walks with a group of ladies several times a week. What do they do? They talk non-stop. Does this describe your walk? Do you sometimes go for a day or more without talking to God? This is not "walking." Walking is about relationship. God speaks through his word and circumstances. We respond with worship, intercession, and fellowship. Walking is communal. We do it with God. 

Third, "walking" implies a journey. You are with God, but together you are going somewhere. You do not determine the destination. You are walking with God. He is going somewhere and you are following. You are on God's agenda, not your own. To walk with God you must get on his highway. "A highway shall be there. It shall be called the highway of holiness" (Isa. 35:8). Access is only by a   narrow gate. "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gates is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt. 7:13-14). 

Last, walking is a matter of slow, steady, perseverance toward the destination. It requires exertion, perseverance, and the expenditure of calories. It produces weariness. It necessitates rest, food, and drink. Are you feeding on God's word? Are you drinking from the River of God's Delights? Are you getting appropriate rest? Most importantly, have you determined to persevere. Only those who persevere to the end will be saved. It is not a sprint. It is a walk. It is a life long journey. 

Blessed are those who know what it means to "walk with God." 






  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Christian Is as Christian Does!

ONCE I ASKED A Christian acquaintance about the spiritual condition of a professing Christian that we both knew. She responded scornfully, "Christian is as Christian does." In other words, "I can't measure him by his profession. The quality and authenticity of his Christianity is a function of what he does, not what he says."

It was a profound response, and one that has stuck with me. Although this woman was not a theologian, she was on to something. She understood that true faith is a "conviction" (Heb 11:1), and that "conviction" always drives behavior. Because this is true, you cannot separate what a person really believes from what they do. If a friend calls to tell me that a tornado is heading for my house, and I believe him, I will run for the basement.

This was Jesus point in Matthew 7:15-20. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."

Where are we professing faith that is not producing change? Could it be that our real problem is that we don't really believe? We believe abstractly, in our heads, but there is little or no "conviction."


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Division that Unites!

Jewish & Muslim Boys Coexisting
Because God made us in his image and likeness we long for unity. Intense, unbroken unity is the ambience of heaven.

The world seeks unity by removing differences, be de-emphasizing doctrine and truth, and by overlooking moral transgression. We call this religious pluralism. The "Just Coexist" bumper sticker sums it up.

God is also interested in unity. In fact heaven is a place of infinite and permanent unity. It is the dwelling place of God who is so united that Three become One. However, God always divides before he unifies.

Jesus divided Israel. The Jewish people were divided down the middle in their response to him. Because the religious authorities got the upper hand, they crucified him.

In the same way Paul warned us  that, before it unifies,  the gospel always divides those who hear it. In other words, the gospel must divide before it can produce the sweet unity that fragrances heaven. Here is Paul's experience.


For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).  People reacted to Paul's message one of two ways. It either smelled like a rotting corpse or the most fragrant of flowers. There was no middle ground. 

In the same way, the gospel divides families. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth," warned Jesus. "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me(Matthew 10:34–37). 

The gospel divides churches. The gospel divided the Jewish Synagogues in both Paul's and Jesus' day. When Paul proclaimed the resurrection to the Jewish Sanhedrin a riot broke out.

The unity that the gospel brings is the sweetest unity that one can experience. However, it will only be this way to the degree that we first let it do its dividing work.  No one divides over the message that Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The division occurs over the Bad News––the humbling truths that wound our pride––the reality of eternal conscious torment for those who do not believe, the horrors of God's wrath, the exclusivity of Christ, the sinfulness of man, the impossibility of earning God's favor, the penal substitutionary atonement, etc. 

There is a tragedy in the church. We divide, but it is over everything but these ragged gospel contours. We divide over the timing of baptism, the form of church government, eschatology, etc. This should break our hearts. It breaks Gods. It testifies. We don't get the gospel! 

Why does this matter? First, don't be naive. Expect division. Be willing to put up with it. It is a necessary precedent to the sweet unity shared by those mutually humbled by the gospel.

Second, communicate the gospel that divides. Expect it to divide. Delight in the divisions, for without them there is no true unity. Our church preaches the full-orbed gospel regularly. It has two affects. First, it drives away the religious. They get angry and leave. Second, it draws those in whom the Holy Spirit is genuinely working. They come and rejoice, and the unity we share together the gospel only amplifies. As a people, Grace Christian Fellowship, is truly blessed.

This is what we mean by the division that divides. It divides flesh from Spirit. It divides faith from unbelief. It separates the proud from the humble. It separates the church from the world. But for the spiritual, who let the gospel mold, shape, and humble them, there is a glorious and delicious unity, the unity enjoyed by the angels and saints in heaven.

This unity is a downpayment on the World to Come!


Behold God's Love!


They Mocked Him
MANY CHRISTIANS COMPLAIN that they do not feel God's personal love. That is usually because they do not understand their sin, and what it deserves. 

For example, Wisdom, a personification of the Son of God in Proverbs, tells us... Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm...(Proverbs 1:24–27). 

  
In other words, those who refuse to listen to God, to obey him deserve to be ridiculed, mocked, and laughed at. This is a good description of Hell, and it is just. Anyone that refuses to listen to God has exalted themselves to a position of personal deity. He or she has made themselves Lord of their own lives. They  are kings in their own kingdoms. No one is going to tell them what to do––especially God. Could anything be more laughable? 

God is just. Before God can fellowship with us our rebellion must be atoned for. It must receive what it deserves. The sin of autonomy, self rule, the unwillingness to obey God, must receive justice. That is what happened the night before Jesus death. Representing each Believer, Jesus went before the Roman soldiers to receive the ridicule and mocking that each of us deserve. To satisfy divine justice, he took it in our place. 

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him" (Mark 15:16–20). 

The soldiers mocked Jesus for claiming to be King of the Jews. This claim was a great sin against Caesar's authority. But Jesus was King of the Jews. He was also King of the Universe. As such he took the mocking and laughing that we deserve in order to reveal to us what his authority is really like. It uses its power and majesty for the good of its subjects. God's love is our happiness at his expense. The only man who submitted to authority perfectly, bore the mocking and ridicule our rebellion deserves!  The just suffered for the unjust. The One the angels joyfully worship stooped to take the derision that we deserve. 

In Paul's words, this is love that "surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:19). We come into contact with it through the knowledge of our sin and what it deserves. 

Sometimes we feel this love. Sometimes we don't. But it is always there. It never leaves or forsakes us. Meditate on it. Revel in it. Enjoy it. Preach it to yourself day and night.  For truly, "God is love!" 

Friday, January 11, 2013

J.R.R. Tolkien, the Man Behind the Success!

The movie, the Hobbit, is currently in the theaters. All of this brings to mind a great little book entitled, J.R.R. Tolkien, the Man Behind the Hobbit. This book is a collection of short essays on Tolkien, the man, his thought, his marriage, and his career. Although Roman Catholic you will be amazed at how deeply his Christian worldview permeated all of his writings. In this book you will learn about his youth and upbringing, his courtship and marriage to the love of his life, his deep and abiding friendship with C.S. Lewis, how he influenced Lewis' conversion to Christianity, his abhorrence of the fame that his books eventually brought, and his firm insistence that  his books never be made into movies. (Isn't that interesting?) I found it a delightful read. It gave me an entirely new appreciation for Tolkien's literary works. You can buy a copy for your Kindle at Amazon.com, or you can buy a hard paper copy there as well. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Fire that flavors us with Salt!


WE EXPERIENCE SUFFERING in diverse ways. It can come as financial want, sickness, death, relational stress, or persecution. Suffering is a great common denominator the unites human beings.

Jesus suffered more than any person that has lived. On his way to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise from the dead, Jesus made this important statement.   "For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (Mark 9:47-50). 

This is unusual. What did Jesus mean, "Everyone will be salted with fire?" 
It is important to note that he said it in the context of his own determination to suffer, die and rise from the dead. By contrast, suffering was not part of his disciples plan. In their mind following the Messiah was about victory, conquest, fame, and glory. But for Jesus it was about suffering. 

Being Messiah meant their happiness at his expense. 

Why the imagery of "salt" and "fire?" First, salt adds taste to food. It makes bland food interesting. It spices things up. For those of us in the West this is hard to appreciate. We have an abundance of salt at very cheap prices. It has not always been this way. Try to imagine food without it. The Lewis and Clark expedition went for many months subsisting on Elk, Venison, and Buffalo without salt. It was a monotonous diet. When they finally reached the mouth of the Columbia River, such was their passion for salt that they spent weeks boiling sea-water in order to obtain some salt for use on their homeward journey. Salt is the spice that makes a difference. 

In the same way, when Jesus said "everyone will be salted with fire"he was thinking of the "fire" of suffering and how it adds flavor to our moral and spiritual character. It makes us fruitful, flavorful, and interesting to God and man. Even Jesus, who was sinless, in his humanity was made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). The fire of suffering adds salt to our lives. This is why the Bible's makes such positive statements about suffering. Note the exuberant expectation with which God's word approaches the subject of suffering. Why? Suffering makes us salty. 

   (Matthew 5:10–12) "10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

(Romans 5:3) "3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance."

(Romans 8:17–18) We are "17 heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

2 Corinthians 4:17) "17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."

"Count it all joy my brothers when you face various trials..."(James 1:2). 

Are you counting it all joy? The heart that complains, or wallows in self-pity, does not get seasoned with salt. God only salts those who rejoice by faith in the midst of their God-sent trials, sufferings, and difficulties. 

Sometimes this is difficult, in fact, humanly speaking,  almost impossible. However, if we count it all joy, if we are willing to let suffering produce its intended fruit, then we "will have salt in ourselves," and "we will be at peace with each other." Blessed are those who have been "salted with fire,"  who have been measured, sifted, and flavored by God's heaven-sent trials. 






Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Best Movies of 2012

Many Believers complain about a dearth of good movies. Well, Christianity Today just published their take on the most redeeming films of 2012. If you are looking for thought provoking films, compatible with a Christian worldview, you will find this list intriguing. You can find it here.

Enjoy!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Russel Moore on Adoption

Russel Moore and Family
In last week's sermon I talked about the gift of adoption. Adoption is a fruit of belief in the gospel. At his Son's infinite expense, God adopts us into his family. I also asked our congregation to consider adoption as a valid response to the gospel. Over forty percent of live births in North America are to unwed mothers. Many children need to be adopted by stable two-parent families. In addition, there are many opportunities for overseas adoptions.

I also recommended Russel Moore's book, Adopted For Life. For those interested in learning more  Christianity Today just posted an interview with Dr. Moore on the subject of adoption. You can find it here. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

David Livingstone, Mission and Empire

Ian Murray's book, The Puritan Hope, references David Livingstone's (1813-73) passion for Christ and his missionary zeal. I first read it thirty years ago. At the time I knew nothing about Livingstone except that Stanley found in the heart of Africa and identified him with the greeting, "Dr. Livingstone I presume?" Nevertheless, I determined to someday find a good bio and read it.

Book on Livingstone
I just found and read David Livingstone, Mission and Empire by Andrew Ross. I highly recommend this book to any and all interested in missions, exploration, and or the continent of Africa.

I was surprised by how lately Africa was explored and how recently influenced by Western Culture. Livingstone died in 1872. His greatest work of exploration occurred before and during the American Civil War. Prior to that time and even two decades later, the interior of Africa was still almost completely unknown to the Western World.

In addition, I was surprised by Livingstone the man. Usually portrayed as an explorer and cartographer, Livingstone didn't see himself that way. He was a missionary. He was on a mission from God to explore and open central Africa to the hordes of missionaries that he hoped and trusted would eventually follow. His was a deep and fervent piety. For example, the author mentions that in one particular year Livingstone read the Bible four times. He preached the gospel to most of the villages he entered. In 1852, at the age of 39, in the midst of great trial and hardship, he made this  journal entry.

"O Jesus, fill me with thy love now. and I beseech thee, accept me, and use me a little for thy glory. I will place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of Christ. If anything will advance the interests of that kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping of it I shall most promote the glory of Him to who I owe all my hopes in time and eternity."

His relationships were complicated. Livingstone had an unusual and authentic rapport with African people who deeply loved and admired him. On the other hand he was alternately loved and rejected by the British people. In addition, his family always played second fiddle to his ambitions.

This is an important biography about a complicated man. The book had two drawbacks. First, it lacked excellent and effective maps. In a bio of a major African explorer this is no small slight.

Second, the author spent little time describing the geography through which Livingstone travelled. All in all I still recommend this book to any interested in the history of 19th century missions or the history of Africa.