Friday, November 30, 2012

Words fail me...

Since “In the beginning…” and “Let there be…”
Man has been grasping for, and trying to wrap his mind around eternity.
Since His life filled our lungs we’ve been searching our minds
Reaching for words, to try and define
The beauty we see, the love that we need.

Words are so insufficient for a God beyond our comprehension
Praise and glory to a God that condescended.
He was revealed to us as the Word, in shadows and pictures
Still we were blinded by sin and misguided wishes.
But the beauty of the story is that He knew our condition.

Word became flesh and dwelt among men.
He lived to die and he lived to live.
He lived in righteousness, he died for sin.
To the right hand of the Father, it was for him to ascend.
So that we might join him, a beautiful bride he’s been given.
Who has the words for a God with such wisdom?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sin and Love

 Philosophers have measur'd mountains,
Fathom'd the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk'd with a staff to heav'n, and traced fountains:
     But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.
                         ~George Herbert, The Agony

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Masterpiece of God

This week I have been blogging last week's sermon unpacking Ephesians 2:6-10. Here is the previous post, simply follow the links to read more.

By the grace of God, we as the Church, we as the redeemed people of God have become something new. What have we become?
Of course 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that we are new creations, but I’m thinking of something else here. Though of course since 2 Corinthians 5:17 is true, this is certainly true.

Ephesians 2:10 says that we are his ‘workmanship’…

The word there translated as ‘workmanship’ is the greek word 'poiema', and it is where we get the word ‘poem’ from. There are some things so beautiful in life, that the only way we can find to express that beauty is in the form of a poem or song…When I first met my wife, I was so captivated by her beauty, the only way I could think to capture my love for her in words, was to put it in the form of poetry. I know I'm not alone in this. How many songs on the radio revolve around love?

But, even the word ‘poem’ falls short. This word 'poiema', could have been used for any type of work of art in the ancient world. So the best translation of the word is actually ‘masterpiece’. So, essentially what Ephesians 2:10 is telling us is that we are the masterpiece of God…

What an amazing thought this is…Look at all of the beauty in the world. Look at the stars, the sun, the moon…a shooting star, a sunrise, a sunset…think of beautiful flowers or trees…just simply the beauty of how our universe is put together, and is ordered…think of the beauty of life in general…the animals…think of the birth of a newborn baby…all of these things are truly beautiful…

But, none of these things are referred to as the masterpiece of God…Not even humanity in general, created in the image of God, is referred to the masterpiece of God.

What is being referred to here, is that new creation I was talking about. What is being referred to here, is redeemed humanity. Those of us who have been made new in Christ, those of us who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ…those are the ones Paul is here referring to as the ‘masterpiece’ of God…

Is that not mind blowing? When God sees us, he sees a beautiful work of art…But, as any beautiful work of art should do, not only are we to marvel at the art, we should marvel at the artist…that is even more true as it relates to us and God.Amen?

Again though, our call, is to put God’s power, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s work through Christ, on display…And through faith…that’s what we do…And Paul even tells us how we are to do that here in Ephesians 2:10…

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…FOR GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED BEFOREHAND THAT WE SHOULD WALK IN THEM.”

We put God’s power, mercy, grace, on display not just when we arrive in the sweet by and by and God puts his hands on his hips and points at us and says, "See what I’ve done?!?!"

Certainly, throughout eternity, when all things have  been made as they should be, when Christ has retrieved his bride, and been united with his bride…we as the church will be seen as beautiful…as I said, the host of heaven…will be dazzled by our beauty…but, as Paul told us in Ephesians 1:23, and as I talked about last time I preached…even now…we as the church are to be putting the power of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, the glory of God, on full display…Even now, we as the church are to be the physical presence of Christ on the earth.

We do this…not just with our words…not just by simply being…but, also by our works.

Paul makes plain here, that as the workmanship of God, as the ‘masterpiece’ of God, as the redeemed people of God…we will do good works.

Now, we’ve been talking a lot about how our salvation is all about grace, and is not about our works. Let me be clear…I’m not back tracking here…Everything in our Christian lives, everything we have, everything we receive, is certainly a result of God’s grace…even our faith…

But our faith in God…legitimate, true faith in God, WILL evidence itself with good works. It’s what faith does…

Isn’t that essentially what Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 when he gives us his list of the ‘fruits of the Spirit’? Good works happen in the life of the Christian because the Spirit lives within, and works through the Christian. God’s spirit works through a transformed heart…So when our heart is transformed by the grace of God, good works follow…It’s simply what happens…it’s simply what faith does…

Good works are the result of faith…God works are the result of salvation…Our salvation is evidenced, by the good works that we do…

Sadly, some people think that we do good works for salvation, or to make our salvation possible, or to remained saved…but that is not the case, and far from what Scripture teaches…We do good works because we are saved, not because we are trying to be saved…We do good works because we have experienced the grace of God in our lives…and it is only his grace that enables us to do these good works.

Blaise Pascal said this, “Grace is indeed required to turn a man into a saint; and he who doubts this doesn’t know what either a man or a saint is.”…

If you don’t understand that you need the grace of God, in order to do good…then you obviously don’t understand what it is to be a man…you don’t understand how sin has touched every part of your being…you can do no good apart from God and his grace…A saint is simply one who has been made right by God…one isn’t a saint because of the things they’ve done…they are a saint because of what God has done…

Martin Luther said…”Justification is by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone…”
Simply put, if you have been justified by God…it will be known by the works that you do. It isn’t the works you do that make you justified, obviously, your justification is a result of God’s grace…but God’s grace will be made obvious by how you live your life, and your works…

God’s power is seen in the lives of Christians, as we live Godly lives…As we work in the workplace, as we parent, as we represent Christ to our spouses, as we are obedient to our own parents…as we have Godly friendships…as we love each other here in the church…as we live lives that look different to the rest of the world…

That is who we are called to be…that is what God has made us to do. As Christ’s physical expression on earth, and by the grace of God, that is what we will do…And may God receive the glory, for whatever Godliness, and beauty we display…For it is only by his grace and mercy that it is possible.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So that no one may boast...

Yesterday, we finished up our post reflecting on the fact that it is through the church that God has chosen to put the immeasurable riches of his grace on display, and the fact that all of this is completely a work of God. You can read that post here

Today we will explore why it is that everything in the life of the Christian is a result of God's grace, and why it is that we can take zero credit for the things God has done, and the things that God is doing in and through us as Christians.

So let's start by looking at Ephesians 2:8-9:

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast…”

Everything we will receive, everything we have received, is simply a gift of God. Everything is a result of grace, even our faith. Why?" So that no one may boast." The Apostle Paul makes clear, our salvation…our life in Christ…is completely a gift of God.

“…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Isn’t Romans 6:23 pretty clear?

We can’t take credit for anything. We can’t boast about anything. Well, we can certainly boast on Christ, but individually we have nothing to boast about. Everything we receive is a complete act of grace on the part of God.

As I've said many times, everything is ultimately about the glory of God. Everything is to point to God’s glory. God is about God’s glory. If there were anything in our Christian lives that we could take credit for, then it wouldn’t all be about God’s glory would it? If there were some part of our faith that we could point to and say, "Look, see what I did there", then God would cease to get all of the glory. This isn’t how God operates.

God does not share his glory...

We can partake of the glory of God, we can radiate the glory of God, we can breathe in the glory of God, but we cannot receive the glory that only God is deserving of. Understanding this is essential to the living out of our faith, and even in us analyzing our faith, and seeing where we are in our lives of faith.

Look with me if you would to Luke 18:9-14

"He(Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

If we could take credit for any part of our faith, or of our standing with God, or of our righteousness(and we have been made righteous in Christ), or of whatever Godliness we may have, or display in our lives…We would.  And many people do. But, this is completely contrary to the truths of Scripture, and how we are told faith works in the Bible.

But even here, in Luke, you see plainly, Jesus is telling us that our righteousness is not in ourselves, or in anything that we can do or will do. Our righteousness comes when we realize that we have no righteousness in ourselves. The one who was justified by God was the man who humbled himself and simply cried out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”…This is a prayer we should all pray often by the way…

I think we see the same thing in the Beatitudes…

In Matthew 5:3 Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”

We receive the kingdom of heaven, when we realize that we are poor in spirit. When we realize that we have nothing within ourselves that warrants salvation, or nothing we can offer God to make ourselves worthy of salvation...That’s when we cry out to God, and then, thanks to his immeasurable grace…he saves us.

And then, we become the grace of God on display that I talked about yesterday. By the grace of God, we become something new.

Friday we'll look at Ephesians 2:10 and see what it is that we've become, and what the implications of this beautiful truth are. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Church: The Ultimate Trophy Wife

Yesterday, I posted about how God has made us alive, and seated us with Christ in the heavenly places(Ephesians 2:6). You can read that post here. Today we are going to be looking at why God has done that.

Ephesians 2:7 tells us why we have been made alive and seated in the heavenly places with Christ.

So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus…”

We as Christians are examples of the grace of God. In us, the redeemed people of God, the immeasurable riches of God’s grace will be on full display. Now, even now, we are certainly a picture of God’s grace. Seeing our sin, seeing where we’ve come from, knowing who we used to be, and knowing that in Christ we’ve been made new…knowing that in Christ, we’ve been given new life…even now, we are a picture of his grace…

But, in the coming ages, once things are indeed made as they should be...once Christ makes all things right, we as Christians, we as the Church, we as the bride of Christ will be proof positive of the immeasurable grace of God.

I know the term trophy wife has a very negative connotation, but I think in eternity, when all things are redeemed, even this term can be redeemed, and we as the church will be the ultimate trophy wife. We will be a shining example of the kindness and the grace of God. The heavenly host will be dazzled by our beauty…

But, here’s the kicker. As beautiful as we will be…even as beautiful as we are now in the eyes of God the Father(because when he sees us, he sees Christ)…our beauty doesn’t come from ourselves…And because of this fact, we won’t be the ones receiving the praise. Our beauty comes from Christ. Because our beauty comes solely from Christ, God will be the one receiving the praise and God will be receiving the glory. 

So, it is through the church, the Bride of Christ, that God has chosen to put the immeasurable riches of his grace on display. Now in part, one day in full. And all of this comes through Christ. All of this is grace...

Tomorrow we shall explore why this is all a work of grace, and why we can't take credit for what God is doing in and through us, his Church.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Faith & Imagination

At the age of 34 I read a lot more children's books and watch more children's television and movies than I ever did as a child. This certainly has something to do with the fact that I have five children, but even more than that, I love these stories more than I ever have. I love these fictional characters and worlds, the wonder within that they inspire, and even the lessons that they are still teaching me.

Yesterday I read a quote over at the blog of Trevin Wax regarding the mind of C.S. Lewis. You can click the link for the full quote, but the main idea of the writer was that above all, C.S. Lewis had a mind that was willing to be enchanted. In the comments of the blog one commenter posted that, "Perhaps C.S.Lewis wanted to stimulate our imaginations so that we could begin to understand the possibilities of a better world than this?"

All of this got me thinking...What is the relationship between imagination and faith? Is there one?

I tend to think there is, but where the two meet, I'm not sure. Is this partially what Jesus was speaking of when he told us that we must 'receive the Kingdom of God like a child...'? Could it be that one of the key components of our faith is our imaginations? Could it be that one of the greatest things for our faith is to understand that we don't have God all figured out, therefore we read about him, and imagine what he must be like...dreaming and longing for the day when things that we can scarcely imagine will actually happen? When one day, the things we dream of will become a reality? Perhaps our imaginations and dreams won't even hold a candle to the reality of what is, and what will be.

Most people tend to think that a healthy imagination is best left to our childhood...But what if, nothing is more important to our lives as adults, and our lives as children of God, than that we never cease to use our imagination? What if allowing our imagination to grow as our faith grows is the most important thing of all? What if the point of faith, is to mold our imaginations to a reality that is better than anything we could have ever imagined?

Seated with him in the heavenly places...

Below is a portion from the sermon I preached this week…I’ve been encouraged to blog my message, so I will break it up into a series of posts this week. I pray you will be edified by the Word of God.

God has ‘raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places…in Christ Jesus…’(Ephesians 2:6)

When God the Son took on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, one of the most beautiful aspects of the incarnation, is the fact that God the Son, was choosing to identify with his people. In ways, and honestly in a way, that is a bit of mystery to us…Jesus took on our identity, and gave his people his identity. I think that’s why we see Jesus telling us to ‘abide in him…’ and that he will ‘abide in us’ throughout the New Testament. I think that’s what we see happening in the baptism of Jesus…I think that’s what we see happening as Jesus is lead into the wilderness…And I think (at least in part)that’s what Paul is getting at in Romans 6:3-8:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

I also think this is what Paul is getting at when he tells us that our life is ‘hidden with Christ in God”…in Colossians 3:3, and in verse 4 of Colossians 3, Paul says, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

So, Jesus, when he came to earth, he was identifying himself with his people.

Let me try and do a better job of explaining what I mean here…When Christ walked the earth, he lived the sinless life that we could not live. Christ, was perfectly righteous in the sight of God the Father, because we couldn’t be. When Christ went to the cross, he suffered the punishment for the sins of his people…and because of this…his people didn’t have to bear the punishment for their own sin…Christ did what we could not and what we cannot…And the beauty of it is…that because of Christ’s righteousness, because of his sinless life and obedience…because of Christ’s identifying with us, his people…we’ve been credited with this life and obedience.

When Christ went to the cross, he took on our sins…So all of our sin, was transferred to Christ. In a very real sense, our old selves died with Christ on the cross. Our sinfulness, our sins, died with Christ on the cross…

I think that’s what we see very plainly in the Romans 6 passage I quoted just a bit ago. And because our sin, our old selves, died with Christ on the cross…when Christ was made alive…when Christ was resurrected…we too were resurrected. When Christ was made alive, we were made alive…
And now, that’s what we see Paul getting at here in Ephesians 2:6…Our identity now as Christians is tied up in Christ. When Jesus was raised up and seated in the heavenly places…that’s where we as Christians, that’s where the church , the people of God are.

So, where were we? We were dead in our sins(Ephesians 2:1-3)…But now, our sins have been crucified with Christ on the cross…Our old selves are dead…Now, as Christ has been raised up, so too…we as Christians have been raised up. We’ve been seated with Christ Jesus in the heavenly places…

At one time our identities were wrapped up in the world…we chased after worldly pleasures…we followed after the spirit of the world…even after Satan himself…yet now…we are in Christ…we’ve been made new in Christ…we’ve been given a completely new identity.

Praise be to God for that…Amen?