Seeking God Successfully (Part Three)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Our response to the Lord’s invitation starts from the heart—our inner person, the seat of personality. It starts from our mind, emotions and will responding jointly to God’s gracious call. God wants our hearts above all. Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life (Proverbs 4:23 NET). But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over (Romans 6:17 CSB). Though outward obedience to God is good, it means nothing unless the heart is also seeking God. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’” (Matthew 15:7-9 NIV). Here are some characteristics of true spirituality, as we seek God from the heart. It is:

  • Focused on Christ
  • Rooted in redeeming grace
  • Flowing out to love to God and people
  • Living by faith
  • Expressing joy and hope
  • Growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord

We cannot explore these matters now. But we must also understand that true spirituality comes from the heart. It is not something that happens because of external pressure. Some people are “fine” spiritually as long as someone else is applying pressure on them. Friendship can have many positive benefits. There is a proper place for this in true spirituality. See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-13 NIV). And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25 CSB). However, there is something terribly wrong if the motivating power to seek God is outside one’s heart rather than inside it. Such a religion would show the lack of a new heart and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who motivates us according to Christ and the gospel. So then, our response starts from the heart, not as the efficient cause, which is Christ, but as the place where seeking God begins. God speaks to our heart and our hearts reply to him.

The response communicates with God: My heart says to you…. “David saw God in all his commandments” (Sibbes). He did not bring God’s communication down to the level of bare “book talk”. Instead, he saw the word as it truly is, as God speaking to us now in written form. The Scripture often declares, This is what the Lord says…. In other words we must lay hold of God’s continuing communication with us through the words, and this means that we must respond to God personally when we hear his voice in the Scriptures. “God and Father, you are speaking to me, and I would speak with you.” So then, we should take the opportunity the Bible presents to us when we read it to respond to God’s communication to us by communicating with him, the living God! This is what some mean by praying the Scriptures back to the Lord. Read a passage, and then use it as the framework of your communication to God.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Two)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

We have heard God’s call to seek him. Next, let’s think about our response to God’s invitation.

Above all, let us realize that this is a personal invitation to a personal relationship. Seek my face. The living, Holy One wants to meet us up close. He doesn’t hold us at arm’s length. I have an injured shoulder that hinders me occasionally in giving or receiving hugs. Once, someone told me that my hug seemed awkward or reluctant, but that wasn’t the case at all. It simply felt physically uncomfortable at that moment. God has no such limitations. He, through his grace and love in Christ, is always able to invite us to draw very near. Seek my face.

God invites us to seek him, not the rituals of religion. This is where so many go astray from personal contact with God himself. Here is one way this happens. In the law or old covenant, God commanded Israel the way in which they could live in the presence of God and worship him at the tabernacle/temple. God set up laws of ritual cleanliness, prescribed sacrifices, which were administered through priests, as necessary to approach him. The religions of the ungodly in their worship of false gods also had religious rituals. But the true God ended all such things in Christ at his cross. Now true worship is to approach God the Father through the Son on the basis of his once for all finished sacrifice by the Spirit. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18 NIV). Jesus made it clear that the new covenant era was different from the age of the law covenant. Jesus told her, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24 CSB).

It is important to draw near to God through Christ and his finished work alone. We do not have prescribed rituals, because the Lord Jesus himself is our access to the Father. We do need the works of the law, because we live in the power of the Spirit. When we read the word, we hear the written voice of God in our personal nearness with him. Reading the Scriptures is not the means to gain God’s acceptance for a personal relationship. Instead, when we read, we simply listen to him in a state of nearness. The same is true of prayer, which is the believer’s communication with God. We speak with the living God as his dearly loved children, because he has brought us near in Christ (1 Peter 3:18). We meditate on God’s written word, because we have heard his voice and delight to ponder his word to us, as a husband or wife reflects on the words of their beloved. We eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper, not to receive grace, but because we remember the Lord in whom we already have grace. We sing in services, not as a means to gain God’s ear, but because he delights in the united voices of his children, as we declare his greatness to each other.

Therefore, live joyfully in your nearness to the God of glory. When you meet with your brothers and sisters in the Father’s family, delight in the blessing of shared grace. “We are here together with God the Father—set free, adopted, accepted, and eternally loved!”

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part One)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

In this verse we see God’s command and David’s obedience. God provides David with a warrant to seek God and David responds by accepting the offer. The first three words are not in the original text, but are added by the translators to make clear that God was inviting David to seek his face. The lack of the words should not surprise us. Close personal relationships are emotional, even when they flow deep beneath the surface, and so they can be abrupt. The sudden call from God to seek his face is thus very natural.

Let’s focus on God’s call to us.

In these words God is revealing to us that he wants to disclose himself to humans. In God’s word, we see written the certainty of his desire. David as God’s prophet tells us of this. God is reaching out from the glorious splendor of his majesty to draw near to his weak creatures. Here is a source of happiness, that God would have a close (face-to-face) relationship with people that he created. From this we ought to gain a better understanding of what true religion is. It is much more than the performance of ritual—any ritual and especially empty ritual. True Christianity is intensely personal. God calls to people he made to dare and approach the Holy One as one would approach a friend or lover. Yes, we must approach him as he directs in his word, but that is not the present point. Instead, it is God graciously calling, and a human simply trusting that call to dare to communicate with God.

Why would God want to call us to him? Mere creatures, particularly sinful creatures, can never add anything to all-sufficient Glory. No, it is because in his holiness (set-apartness) he is loving and good, and he wants to share his glory and goodness and love with us. So we hear these words, “Seek my face.” Notice also that God takes the initiative in relating to us. By nature we do not seek God (Romans 3:11). In fact, we wander from him and suppress his revelation. We fail to invest time to draw near to him. We get caught up in lesser things to our own loss. But God still graciously calls us to draw near to him (cf. James 4:8).

What we must understand is that God wants us to know him and to approach him personally. Some people who are great in the eyes of the world hold themselves back from common people. But God, the greatest of all, want us to be with him—forever. This is one of the goals of the plan of God (Revelation 21:3). Everything that God wants us to do by means of evangelism and worship and discipleship and service and prayer and fellowship tends toward this greater purpose; namely, to have a people close to his face. In the same way, every sin opposes that goal and seeks to ruin it.

Therefore, we must realize that if at any time we are not enjoying the sweetness of being near to God, the problem lies with us, and not with the God who loves us and calls us to participate in a close personal relationship with him. This can be hard for us to accept, since we tend to act like Adam in the Garden, when he blamed God for giving Eve to him. In our sin we want to blame God and to excuse ourselves. But our minds must be controlled by the Scriptures.

God has chosen to communicate his desire for a personal relationship with people. This is not some hidden fact, disclosed only to some discerning theologians. It is plainly stated in this text and many texts. Think of all the calls that come from God or Christ in the Bible. Consider God’s desire to fellowship with his people through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9). Before the creation Father, Son and Holy Spirit were fully satisfied in their united glory as God. But because God is good, he willed to make his goodness known (Romans 9:23-24), not because he had to but because he wanted to. As light naturally enlightens a room, so the goodness of God naturally reaches out to those who need his goodness. What of those who do not want God’s goodness? Their wickedness does not discredit God’s goodness (Romans 3:1-8), and they fulfill another purpose (Romans 9:22).

Since we are God’s people and have experienced his goodness in a close way, we should sense our responsibility to let others know of his goodness (Psalm 34:8). God has called us to a place and time to be a co-communicator of his desire for personal fellowship. As we experience God’s goodness, we become better communicators of God’s desire to share his goodness with people that he has made. We thus have a happy message. In addition we show forth God’s desire when we freely want to tell others of God’s goodness and when we seek to spread this knowledge far. When a fire is great it burns far; when love is great it extends and communicates itself far and wide.

Grace and peace, David

Love in Practice (Part Two)

1 John 3:16-18

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).

When we learn the truth and begin to practice it, we learn the obligation to love one another sacrificially (3:16b). Instead of using the worldly language of unconditional love, it is more accurate to use biblical ideas and to say sacrificial love. God teaches us that genuine love requires us to give ourselves sacrificially for the good of others.

Notice that the apostle uses the language of “ought”. He is not merely giving good advice, like “you ought to buy this brand of gasoline to keep your fuel injectors clean.” The word John selected conveys the sense of obligation or debt (cf. Matthew 18:28, 30, 34). This is a constant obligation—present tense. Whenever we encounter others in need, we have a responsibility to do what we can to help them. Remember the parable of the “Good Samaritan” that Jesus used to teach the meaning of a neighbor in need.

We have not reached a proper understanding of love until we actually give sacrificially for the good of others. You will never express love in a relationship simply by talking about it. Anyone can say “I love you.” It is another matter to do disagreeable tasks for the benefit of someone else. You will know what love means when you have given yourself for someone else. Obviously this concept is not too popular today. It requires us to put others first and to risk personal discomfort. Someone might say, “I don’t feel like doing that!” I used to respond, “You don’t have to feel like it; just do it!” However, I find that somehow dissatisfying and not really measuring up to Christ’s example. Instead, stop and count the cost, but as you do that, factor in the truth of his love for you, and let his love rule your emotions. Never allow emotions that are unregulated by redeeming grace to have a greater authority in your heart than Christ’s example and God’s word.

How is loved proved or demonstrated (3:17-18)? John answers by illustrating with a scenario that shows the absence of love (3:17). Observe the reality test: if someone is capable of meeting a need. God is not asking you to step beyond what he has equipped you to do. But that is not the problem envisioned here! Too often we try to find a way out of simple obedience by raising objections that do not in fact apply to us or the situation.

John is talking about a person who has sufficient means to help, but closes their affections. The Greek word translated pity here means the seat of the emotions, including love, sympathy, pity and compassion. Observe the conclusion: then how does God’s love remain in such a person? God’s love changes how we act toward others!

So then, John says that love requires agreement between words and actions (3:18). He urges us to close the gap between our profession (words) and our practice (actions). Genuine love, like true faith, produces works. In fact, love produces works that are difficult and strenuous to perform. As Paul wrote, We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3 CSB, my emphasis).

One of the most difficult works we are required to perform is to evaluate a situation to determine what is Biblical, what is merely my preference, and what I must choose to do for the benefit of others! This can cause a seemingly mature saint to crumple. Or it might help you stretch your faith and grow! Consider 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Love for one another is indispensable in the church (Ephesians 4:29-5:2). We may not hold back from reaching out to meet the social and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means that every child of God must always communicate with the rest of the Father’s family in a loving manner.

Grace and peace, David

Love in Practice (Part One)

1 John 3:16-18

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).

Our mission is to turn people from the pursuit of sinful desires to be fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. As we seek to fulfill this mission, we will necessarily be involved in closing the gap between correct teaching and correct living. We must not say, “We know the truth,” unless we are diligent in the practice of truth. For example, there is something drastically wrong with the person that says, “We stand for God’s law!” and yet fails to love his or her professed brother in Christ, because isn’t love for one another Christ’s new commandment? And if a person will not obey the Son of God when he commands his people to love one another, isn’t he or she “a wicked antinomian” (as some pompous legalists like to accuse others)?

In order for us to function in a Biblical manner, we must join correct teaching and correct living. We must never allow an option (“Choose truth or love!”) In addition, we should not expect that correct teaching automatically produces a changed way of life. The Spirit of God must make the truth alive with power in the heart.

The Holy Spirit begins with practical definition of love (3:16a). A Christian knows that true knowledge begins with the reality of God, the counsel of his word, and the surpassing glory of his works in creation and salvation. So we say, a proper understanding of love requires knowledge of Christ’s atoning work.

The Bible always starts with the holiness of God. Apart from that truth we lack any reference point to understand why the death of Jesus Christ could ever be any kind of a demonstration of God’s love. However, once we now that God’s own holy character requires him to oppose what is sinful and evil, then we can begin to comprehend the reason that the cross of Christ is the most amazing proof of love the universe has ever seen. If you do not start with God’s holiness, was Christ’s death…

  • The act of a martyr?
  • A zealous but overdone example?
  • A senseless display of cruelty?

If you start with God’s holiness, then Christ’s death was…

The only way for sinners to be right with God!

We must remember this as we think about our friends and neighbors who are strangers to God’s saving love. It is too easy for them to bring up something like a devastating earthquake in some part of the world and then ask, “How can you say that God is love? If God is love, why does he permit such suffering?” Instead, the Bible begins with the facts of God’s holiness and human rebelliousness and then says, “You can see the love of God in the death of Jesus, the Son of God, for rebellious people.” This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:9-11 NIV). Now obviously, you cannot be blunt and tactless when you raise this point, because that would not be love. But the point must be gently and kindly made.

You can quickly get yourself in deep spiritual difficulty if you do not begin with the cross. Suppose you measure God’s love by nice, pleasant things you have. But what if you lose those things? Has God stopped loving you? The only way out is to repent of your error and turn back to the truth. There’s only one way out of a dead end street, which we have a lot of in my area. You must turn around!

Christ’s love for us is the revealed standard of love. Since Christ’s death on the cross, we have a completed revelation of what it means to love. Now, we are to love as he loved us. I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35 CSB). Because of all that we have in and through the Lord Christ, we are to imitate his love. In this way redemptive grace both sets the parameters of and energizes love.

We must lay hold of the truth that we are to love one another at all times with the same kind of love that Christ loves us.

Grace and peace, David

Serving Christ in the Hard Places

Matthew 25:31-40

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:37-40 CSB).

God’s people can be found in hard situations. The Lord Jesus mentions some of these. His brothers and sisters can be hungry, thirsty, alienated, lacking adequate clothing, ill, and imprisoned. The life of faith does not equal a life of ease. We thank our God and Father for every provision that comes to us by his mercy. But there are often times when we must walk before him and feel some of the anguish of now living in a world cursed because of human sin. And we must walk with others in their difficult circumstances. God leads his people through places and times that are unpleasant. Some of these are due to their sins, while others come upon them because of the sins of others, or simply because we must live in a world that waits for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:18-21). Regardless of the reason, Christ’s people must be ready to serve him in these hard places.

One of our friends was in prison. After the usual time of adjustment required by the officials, we could visit him. But he first had to put us on his list of ten visitors, and then we had to receive clearance before we were able to visit. Yes, he could only have ten people visit him, and the other eight on his list were family members, some of whom lived far away. We were glad to visit him month after month to encourage him.

However, what of the other brothers and sisters in Christ who loved and cared for our friend? They could not visit him. What could they do? Yesterday, our friend, now out of prison, visited us. He brought with him a box filled with cards and letters that he had received while in prison. Some were written by Sharon, who is a much better letter writer than I am. But in the box were many notes written by friends at our church and by our friends from around the country. We rejoiced greatly to see how many brothers and sisters in the Lord had written to him during those trying and lonely years. They couldn’t visit, but they did what they could (cf. Mark 14:8).

The believers in Philippi helped Paul in a similar way when he was in prison. They couldn’t go, but they could and did send one of their number to help Paul. Consider the joy and appreciation in Paul’s thanks to them. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God (Philippians 4:14-18 ESV).

When our brothers and sisters in Christ are in need, we ought to be alert and concerned about the hard place they are in. A long illness is complicated by loneliness and weakness that affect the person’s spirit. Some people simply need friends, because their family has cast them off. Others need physical and financial help, for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter. Some struggle with repairs needed on their car or house. Often people won’t make their needs known, and they suffer in silence and struggle spiritually. This is why we must share our lives with each other. We must draw near to others and allow others to get close to us (this is a two-way street!), so that we will be ready to help, strengthen, and encourage one another.

Our dear friends did this for our dear friend, while he was imprisoned. Again, how we rejoiced to see all those cards and letters! Now, let us look for ways to help others, because when we serve those in need, we are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

A Holy Relationship

Leviticus 19:2

Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (CSB).

In fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham (read Genesis 15), the Lord God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to Mt. Sinai. There he formed them into a nation that was to be holy (Exodus 19:4-6) or set apart to the Lord. Everything about their way of life from that great event onward was to be marked by consecration to the Lord. They were not to live like the other nations. Peter succinctly described the way of life of the nations in 1 Peter 4:3. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry (NIV).  Pagans here is more accurately translated as the nations. A pagan way of life is simply the way of life of the people of the world. God ordered a new way of life for the people of Israel, and he defined this by particular commands. This required a revolution in their thinking and how they lived. Everyone else lived according to their sinful self and its pleasure seeking. But at Sinai God instructed them to live according to his pleasures and character. They were chosen to reflect the glory of God.

To say this was not easy is a massive understatement. It was impossible—apart from the grace of God by the Holy Spirit.

If you and I have followed the Messiah for several years or were brought up in a Christian home, it is to forget how people that are not set apart to the Lord live. When God instructed Israel to be a consecrated people, it was a radically new way of life. For this reason, the Lord needed to instruct them in detail. In Leviticus 18, the instruction was primarily about sexual relationships. In Leviticus 19, the Lord instructed them about other matters. In some kinds of systematic theology, it is popular to divide God’s law into moral, ceremonial, and civil categories. Leviticus 19 shows that it a hopeless task. All are simply the instruction of the law covenant to the people who had to live under it.

Instead of doing that, let’s observe three things that are essential for the way of life of the Lord’s people.

  • We are to be holy or set apart, because the Lord our God is holy or set apart. What is he set apart to? He has consecrated himself to his glory, the fame of his name, the righteousness of his character. By grace, we are to be like the Lord.
  • God urges us to live his way, because he is the Lord. He himself is the starting point for how we evaluate what to live. For Israel under the law covenant, this involved behavior that was basically an avoidance (“do not”) of what the nations did. Some of these matters related only to their life as a nation, producing a distinctive appearance to their persons and their worship, economy, and so forth. Every Saturday and festival day, everyone could tell the difference. But all was to be done because he is the Lord.
  • The Lord requires us to live in love. Here is the Second Greatest Command (Leviticus 19:18). An examination of each of these commands will show that they are either a demonstration of love to God, love for people, or both.

In the same way in the new covenant, our way of life starts from the reality of what God is. In Colossians 1:15-20, the apostle set for the glory of Christ. In the remainder of the letter, he applied that to how Christ’s people ought to live. Let’s think more often about how the identity of the Lord should transform our lives.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Four)

Psalm 18:7-19

The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry (18:7 NIV).

In this psalm, David taught his people to sing with him about God’s deliverance of him, so that they might have confidence that God would bring full deliverance one day through the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah. He previously declared the desperate situation he was in. Next, he pointed out in marvelous poetic pictures God acting to rescue him.

We gain our identity from big events in our lives. In birth, we enter this world and a family. That family gives us our name and forms our basic ideas, expectations, habits, and morals. It can take our God-given personality and either nurture it or twist it. When a man and a woman join in marriage, they give what they are to each other, and they form a new family identity, which in turn will nurture the new partners or twist them.

God gives us a new identity when he saves us and makes us part of our people. Our new identity comes from the event of redemption. God intends it to form us increasingly into his image, as we walk with each other in newness of life. Sadly, what we learn and experience with others in a local fellowship of believers can distort us from what our likeness to God ought to be. If you’re with people that are greedy or angry or judgmental or shallow, you will be influenced by their attitudes and behavior. In this new covenant age, the redemptive event is what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross and his resurrection. We ought to be gospel formed people. Our identity then influences how we think and act: You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 CSB). Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1 NIV). The truth of the gospel sets the direction of our way of life.

In the old covenant, the event of redemption was the exodus from Egypt, including the crossing of the Red Sea and the receiving of the law covenant at Sinai. Much of what we hear about the old covenant people Israel in the Prophets and the Writings flows from the exodus. It gave them their identity. They were a physically redeemed people. Why did I go into this matter? It matters because David wrote about his deliverance from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul (see the heading of this psalm) through the “lenses” of the exodus. He used the language of the crossing of the sea and the giving of the law to talk about how the Lord rescued him.

We can speak of poetic language and metaphors, but this is more than that. It is personal and redemptive. David understood that the God of the exodus and Sinai was the Lord who delivered him. It was the God who redeemed his people from their enemy Egypt who delivered David from his enemies.

In our next post on this psalm, we want to look at the imagery that David used from the exodus and Sinai. But at this point, let us examine ourselves. Do we consciously think of ourselves as redeemed people? Does the truth of the gospel events permeate our world and life view? Do we act as people set free by Christ? We have a lot to glory in. Let us move forward with the joy of redeemed people. But the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:9b-10 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

Consistency

Colossians 1:29

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (NIV).

My wife and I each have a car, which we need to get to the places God has called us to go. This is hardly an amazing fact, but the cars have different keys. My key will not start hers and vice versa. I carry both sets of keys on one ring, and this provides a time for contemplation, since when I’m in my car, I have a push button start. Her car requires the insertion of the key into the ignition switch. Since I drive my car more often, it is easy to reach for the button rather than inserting the key when I’m in her car. Habit is a good gift from God, but it doesn’t replace thinking.

We live in a world in which we are taught from infancy to do things for ourselves and to be self-reliant. This also is good, because Sharon and I expected our children to tie their own shoes, as soon as possible. But self-reliance can easily become twisted by sin to become reliance on ourselves, instead of trust in God. There is a “fine line” where this happens. You cannot draw it on a map or describe it in a book. We might talk about this a long time in a small group and not reach a definite conclusion. Life is not lived by acting in conformity with manuals for behavior. But that is not the topic of this post. Instead, it concerns more simply serving the Lord consistent with his glorious person.

It is far too easy to carry the “keys” of worldly self-reliance into service for the Lord. Programs, the performance of “worship teams”, form of “church government”, rituals, buildings, training for ministry leaders, and so on occupy center stage in the conversations and planning meetings of local churches. “If we would do what that successful church does, then we would enjoy the same success” is a widespread attitude, regardless of how it is nuanced. I am not arguing for untrained leaders, dirty and uncomfortable buildings, and woeful music. However, I am addressing an attitude that is far too pervasive and dominant.

Our Lord invested time in training the apostles for the work he called them to do. He gave instructions on how to do it. But part of his instruction concerned the need to rely on him for spiritual power. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5 NIV). We all need to return to “Christ-reliance”. We all need to… excuse me while I use a ‘four-letter-word’… We need to pray.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul provides examples of prayer to that church. He began that short letter with along section on thanksgiving and prayer (1:3-14). He asked for prayer (4:2-4). He pointed out how the founder of their church wrestled in prayer for them (4:12). What does prayer have to do with all this?

Prayer is a believer’s conversation with his or her God. We come as his adult children, friends, and coworkers. We acknowledge to accomplish spiritual good that we require his almighty power. We want to serve the Lord with all the energy Christ so powerfully works. There is simply no other way that we can accomplish anything of spiritual and eternal value. It brings great joy to see the Lord at work in the lives of many people. When a person begins to live according to Christ (cf. Col 2:8 ESV), it is an artwork of spiritual beauty. Godly ideas, attitudes, words, and actions flow out from him or her, as the Spirit forms Christ in them. This is what we long for, but it is beyond our ability. Only the power of God can produce godliness.

We must pray.

Grace and peace, David

Building a Supernatural Focus

Recently, in our local assembly, we heard a message from 2 Kings 6 about the presence of God with his people. The idea was to live with an awareness of the supernatural during this year. God is with us, and we ought to act consistent with that reality. A couple days later, I was asked to lead our small group study. Usually, there are questions connected with the Sunday message. But since there were none, I developed what followers. Look at each of the points below as “feeder streams” into the large stream of our comprehension of the presence of Almighty God with us.

Since we have faith in the true and living God, the people of God ought to look at life from the perspective of living in the presence of the Almighty, Sovereign Lord. Christ with us by the Spirit is one of the core realities of being a member of the new covenant people. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). God is with us (Hebrews 13:5)!

How can we build a supernatural outlook more consistently into our way of life?

  • Set our minds on heavenly matters. This is the idea of Paul’s “heavenly thesis statement”. Since, then, 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 died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 NIV). Add to this the spiritual investment advice that Jesus gave us (Matthew 6:19-21).
  • Invest time in prayer with our Father in heaven. Unlike the worldly-minded person that “spends time”, children of the heavenly Father ought to invest time. We should be in a continual conversation with our God. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2)
  • Live in the awareness that true Christianity is supernatural. It only happens as God is at work in us. Every part of the walk of faith requires God’s all-powerful activity in us. God made us alive when we were totally helpless, spiritually dead.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV). To experience God’s love in Christ requires the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV). Since we encounter spiritual opposition, we must rely on the Lord’s amazing power. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10 NASB)
  • Develop a walk in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV; cf. Galatians 5:15-26; John 15:5). Our way of life is joined to an ongoing experience of Jesus Christ as Lord. He is the one who rules over everything for our benefit. We live in his kingdom (Colossians 1:13). As we connect with him, his presence and power change us. If we lose connection, we lose the ability to grow and flourish.
  • Read the Bible as it is, a book through which God acts powerfully. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). When we read the Bible, we must remember that it is the very word of God, the voice of the Lord God speaking to us. This word is used by the Spirit to change and to transform us (Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23).
  • Remember that we live in relationship with God, who is supernatural. Our fellowship or sharing of life is a vital connection with the living God. What we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3 CSB; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
  • Expect God to work in our lives and in our local assemblies. Listen to the apostle Paul describe his way of ministry. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:29 NIV). It all happened as Christ worked in and through him. This is the way ahead for our churches (Acts 2:47; 4:31; 9:31; Romans 15:13; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 5:5-7). We don’t need more or better programs, buildings, and church staff. We do need the presence and power of the Lord Christ acting in us.

So then, let’s take each of these and build them into our daily outlook and way of life. Taken together, they will help us build a supernatural focus this year.

Grace and peace, David