Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Week Seven - Comps

“For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, And ye are complete in him.” 
Colossians 2:9, 10
The saints in Colossae were battling with philosophies and traditions that were getting in the way of their full understanding of what it now meant to be in Christ.  False teachers had come in saying that they needed to observe things like circumcision, holy days, and dietary laws bringing the people back into the bondage of the old law. 
Paul takes time to point out that these things are only shadows of the truth.  They hold no place in Christ.  Christ had completed all of these requirements by nailing them to the cross and triumphing over them.  His call to the believers was to grow forward, to walk in him rooted and built up, abounding with thanksgiving. (v. 6)
Then, we read this wonderful statement in verses 9 and 10 confirming that Christ is the embodiment of God.  There is no lack in him, no need of ordinances, extra spiritual laws, or works.  He is all in all.  The book of Revelation states several times that He is the one who “was and is and is to come”.  He is eternal.  He is complete.  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  He is everything.  He completes himself – truly, He is completion and fullness.
That is a wonderful fact, but it is not the end of the truth.  As we enter into a relationship with Christ through salvation, we, too, are made complete.  We are completed in him.  Taking hold of this truth will set us free from the need to observe manmade ordinances.  It will erase philosophies and traditions.  In Him we have it all.  There is no longer anything that can control us or capture us outside of Christ and the love of God.
When I took hold of this truth it gave me joy.  No longer did I have to worry about doing enough to be loved by God.  No longer did I have to strive to get everything right.  I was in Him and that made me complete.  Everything I needed to live a Christian life, to follow the Lord in obedience, to enjoy the life God had given me, was found there.  I was safe.  I was loved.  I was complete.
Have you made the step into the understanding of the completeness of Christ and what that means for you?  Do you struggle to observe all sorts of “do’s and don’ts” in your Christian life?  Ask yourself - Do they bring you joy and completeness, or do they bring you back into bondage?

 “…that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
 Colossians 4:13
What is the will of God for my life?  This question has been asked so many times.  The interesting thing is that there is no real need to ask that question!  The will of God is clearly defined in Scripture.  God’s will is that you be saved from condemnation.  (II Peter 3:9)  He wills that you have a thankful attitude in all things.  (I Thessalonians 5:18)  He wills that you are an obedient citizen.  (I Peter 2:13-15)  He wills that you grow in sanctification.  (I Thessalonians 4:3-7)  These are but a few. Studying Scripture reveals more and more of the will of God for our lives. 
He has not hidden His will.  It is his desire that we discover it through the Word and that we stand complete in it – that we fulfill it by obeying and applying Scriptural truth to our lives.
God’s will, however, is different than God’s plan. The question we should be asking is, “What is God’s plan for my life?”  Interestingly enough, if we are living in and growing in God’s revealed will found in His Word, the plan for our lives will automatically begin to unfold.  Outside of being in God’s will you will never truly find the plan of God for your life.  They are that tightly bound together.
Further, if you are occupied with learning to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God as you grow in your knowledge of the Scripture and in your application thereof, His plan for your life is actually being fulfilled because it is His will that we follow Him.  Obeying Scripture creates that obedience and moves us along in His will and into His plan.
Are you struggling with finding God’s plan for your life?  Can you see that simple obedience creates the door?  Are you obeying the basic teaching of Scripture so that God can move in your life?  Obedience is the key!

“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
 II Corinthians 10:12
This is such a stern warning.  We are all guilty of the action of comparing ourselves to others.  Yet rarely do we make ourselves lower than others.  Most usually we create a feeling of justification and pride as we compare assets.
This can be such a subtle thing as deeming your dress sense better than another, or, your car better, your house better, your children better, etc.  You might not even recognize that you are comparing.  But this is the way of the sin of pride.  It is self-approving.
This subtle competition pervades not only our assets, but also, sadly, our ministries.  We look at those with large ministries and deem them worldly or compromising.  Conversely, we look at those with smaller ministries and deem them as slothful or possibly sinful.  Either way it is not wise.  We are not called to judge each other in this manner. 
God is the one who builds up and tears down.  He is the one who chooses our path.  In verse 18 of II Corinthians 10 Paul brings it down to this conclusion, “For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.”  In other words, comparing ourselves with others and then commending that we have something to brag about is not godly approval.  The Lord will be the one that gives the commendations, and that is a while coming.
We need to be more interested in our personal standing before the Lord.  I John 2:28 gives this admonition, “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”
Ever been guilty of thinking you are better than someone else?  Ever spoken words to tear someone else down to make you look better?  If you stood before the Lord today, what would be His answer to these questions?

“From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Ephesians 4:16
It doesn’t take a medical doctor to know that the physical body is a miracle of science – creative science.  Every part of the body works together to allow growth and preservation.  Millions of cells are meshed together and flow through miles and miles of pipework delivering the nutrients necessary to sustain a healthy body.  The body is so designed that it can heal itself and works to fight off any foreign bodies that threaten its existence.
Such is the description here of the body of Christ – the church.  This living organism, the Bride of Christ, is also a miracle.  It is a miracle of spiritual science – a part of God’s plan for the ages.  He so designed the church that every necessary element is present inside each local congregation.  The members are “compacted”, meaning, “knit together”, so as to create growth and preservation.  Working together, they supply life and sustenance to the body.  By following Scripture, this spiritual body is healed and protected.
This idea of the body of believers being fitly joined together and compacted is amazing.  Think about it.  Your particular church family has been chosen by God to function as a spiritual body.  Each member has a particular role to perform.  Each one is a functioning cog.  Each one brings something to the body that none other can.  Then, as each member is fitted in and knitted together, the church stays active and alive.
Sometimes we might wonder why God places certain cogs in our congregation.  Or, we might wonder where we personally fit into the body, but we can be sure that God knows what he is doing.  Our role is to find our function and fulfill it with love.
Do you know your place in your church body?  Are you knitted together? Are you fulfilling your role in love so that the church can grow and be healthy?  Or, are you hindering the health of your church body?

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge…”
Ephesians 3:17-19
The word, comprehend, means to grasp, to seize, or take hold of. To comprehend a matter requires that we study it out.  It demands that we take time to decipher meanings and look for applications and examples.  Taking hold of a concept is more than merely repeating it, but truly understanding all sides of the issue.  Here we are challenged to do the same with love, the breadth, length, depth, and height, and more specifically, the love of Christ.
Songwriters have put it, “Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me away from you…” the truth of this verse goes much deeper.  The love of Christ is not about our seeking Him, but rather, His definition of His love for us. 
Christ came to seek and to save those who are lost.  This is His action of love.  But His action is not what we are called upon to comprehend.  The truth we are striving to grasp or seize is the fact of His immense love. 
His is a love that stands true for all time; a love that is wide enough to encompass all and deep enough to withstand all.  It is a love that endures throughout eternity and a love that reaches to the sin sick soul.  It is a love that never fails.  It is a love that is founded in truth and forgiveness.  It is also a love that will act in truth and honest judgment.  It is a love in which we can rest and find security.
His love surpasses our knowledge. We do not have the width required to encompass all or the depth to withstand all.  We are limited, but He is not.  The fact is - there is no one whom He does not love.
God loves me, and you – unconditionally.  If I did not read my Bible today, God would still love me.  If I failed to pray, God would still love me.  If I stayed in bed in sorrow all day, God would still love me.  If I lost my temper and said unkind words, God would still love me.  Living in the truth of unconditional love gives me solid ground and strong roots.
The love of Christ so constrains us – it compels us, urges us on, and causes devotion.  Being rooted and grounded in this love enables us to comprehend just enough of this love in order to share it with others.  We will never exhaust His love or truly understand its full richness.  Thankfully, however, we can be receivers of this love and enjoy all of its benefits.
Do you know the depth of the love of God for you?  Do you express this type of love to others?  Are you secure – rooted and grounded - in the love of God specifically for you?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Week Six - Come

“…and this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.”  Zechariah 6:15  

God has a plan for the ages and it will all come to pass, meaning it will happen.  Inside the sovereignty of God everything is set, yet when we look at this verse, we see that our obedience plays a role in how things work out.  The balance between God’s absolute management and our free will has produced many a discussion, but two things remain certain, time will move forward according to God’s plan and my obedience is His will for me inside that plan.
When I come to conundrums like this in God’s Word I go back to God’s explanation in Deuteronomy 29:29.  The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
God has revealed enough of His Word to keep me occupied. He has everything else under control.  I need to concern myself, then, with obeying what I do understand.
Another approach to take is that of acceptance.  Whatever I am facing today will pass.  It will not be forever.  Poor finances come and go.  Hurts and disappointments come and go.  Life has ebb and tide.  I can rest when I understand that I am not stuck, but going with God’s flow.
However, even in those times, I have a responsibility to diligently obey.  It isn’t a time to let go of all I have learned, but rather, a time to hone my skills – to ride the waves.  They will eventually take me to shore.
Are you wondering where life is taking you?  Do you trust the sovereignty of God?  Can you rest in knowing, as much as in not knowing?  Whatever you are facing today, realize that it is just for a portion of time…it has come and it will go.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden….”  Matthew 11:28
Oh, how we all enjoy a holiday, a time to sit on the beach, or drop in that fishing line, or go camping. Whatever is your favorite form of relaxation, you take it expecting to be revived.  The thoughts and plans of a holiday can carry you through the heavy times at work as you daydream about the happy time ahead.
And then the holiday arrives!  You frantically make sure everything at home is sorted, all the bills are paid, the pets are cared for, the bags are packed, the plane tickets, passports, hotels, etc. are all in the right places, then you rush out the door heading toward this awesome place.
Once you arrive you fill the time with as much fun as you can pack in.  After all, you only get one holiday a year and you want to make the most of it.  At the end of the week you throw all the dirty laundry back into the bag, scour the room to make sure you don’t leave anything behind, collect back up the passports and tickets and make a mad dash to travel back home.  You arrive exhausted and with a mountain of laundry and post waiting for you.  “What a great holiday,” you exclaim, and then you begin thinking about holiday for next year.
However, there is another alternative.  You can be on perpetual holiday.  Jesus’ offer of refreshment is readily available at every moment.  His, “come unto me” is not limited to one week per year.  Literally, when you feel the weight of work and life weighing you down, you can turn to him for rest and strength.  All it requires is for you to recognize He is there and to bring those burdens and heavy situations to Him in prayer.  Ten minutes alone with the Lord can do for you more than a week on the beach could ever accomplish, and cost you must less in funds and effort!
Do you know the secret of coming to the Lord in times of heaviness and weariness?  His strength can carry you through and give you the rest you need.  There is no limit to the times you can come.  Come hourly.  Come daily.  Just come!

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him that heareth say, Come.  And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”  Revelation 22:17  
The book of Revelation uses variations of the word “come” sixty one times.  In Rev 1:1 it is used as “come to pass”. In several other verses it is used as “overcometh”. In this last chapter of the Bible it is used three times as a warning that Christ will be coming quickly (vs. 7,, 12, 20).  But here in 22:17, along with 6:3,5,7 and 21:9, it is used as an invitation.  Come – come and see, come and join in.
Just like the invitation from Matthew 11:28, the Lord Himself is inviting all to come.  Here in Revelation 22:17 the invitation is to partake of the water of life and it comes from the Spirit, the bride, and those that hear the Word. 
Wiersbe says, “While we wait for the soon return of the Lord, “the Spirit of God, through the church (the bride), calls for Jesus to come; for the bride wants to meet her Bridegroom and enter into her home.  But believers ought also to invite lost sinners to trust Christ and drink the water of life.  Indeed, when the church lives in expectancy of Christ’s return, such an attitude provokes ministry and evangelism as well as purity of heart.”
It is interesting to note that from Genesis, where he came looking for Adam and Eve, all the way to this final few verses of God’s Word God is calling out to man – “come”.
It tells me that we need to be always issuing this invitation to the lost around us.  We know the end of the story, but we also know the heart of the story – God is not willing that any should perish.
Are you offering the invitation?  Have you received the invitation?

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord:  though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”  Isaiah 1:18  
Come.  NOW.  Don’t wait.  This is an urgent invitation.  Israel’s sin was full.  Judgment was coming.  Yet, the Lord graciously offered another opportunity to sort things out.  He was still willing to grant forgiveness if they would repent.
Repentance was the key, but I love the way the Lord opens the way with a place of welcome.  “Come now, and let us reason together”, he says.  He isn’t standing over them with a big stick, but standing before them with open arms.  He is inviting them to the table for discussion.  They will not be able to reason away their sin, but God isn’t afraid to give them ground upon which they can enter into dialogue with him.
This is a good example for us in witnessing.  Approaching the lost man with a big stick does not make the gospel inviting.  His doom is sure, but we must give him ground to enter the dialogue.  He must have a place where he can hear and see the gracious willingness of God for his salvation.  To reason together is to use the Scripture to bring light.  It is to make space for the Holy Spirit to penetrate the soul and bring the knowledge of sin and usher in conviction.
Romans 2:4 says the “goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance”.  Man’s sin is a fact; no amount of reasoning can take that away. But sin is not a drawing card; sin separates.  Goodness, reasoning, kindness, welcoming; these are drawing cards.  The Lord says to the sinner, “Come.”
Is that the voice your lost family and friends hear coming from you?  Do you seek to show them the love of God or the judgment of God? Are you offering them space for dialogue or shutting them down?

“…thy kingdom come…”  Matthew 6:10
It is a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, but one reiterated throughout the generations.  “Thy kingdom come” is truly a prayer with the future in mind.  We know from Scripture that the kingdom of God is not on this earth right now. That blessed hope, that soul’s desire for the His kingdom, has been the prayer of the saints.  In the book of Revelation we see the prayers of the saints used as incense and finally answered as the deceiver of this world is cast down and judged.  Then, the kingdom of our God is totally established.
But, what about today?  As we pray, “thy kingdom come”, can it only be used as a prayer toward the future?  While this is the real intent of the phrase, I think we can use it also as a personal challenge.  As we dwell upon His kingdom and what it will be like, we can evaluate our own hearts. 
Tiegreen sees it this way, “What is Jesus like?....He prefers forgiveness over condemnation; He is merciful to those in all sorts of pain; He hates hypocrisy and loves humility; He welcomes those who are honest about who they are and honest about who He is; He does amazing works and encourages His followers to do the same; and He loves the Word of God.”
God’s kingdom is about all of these things and more.  As you meditate on what His kingdom will contain and then look to measure your life by Christ’s example it challenges your motivations, your reactions, and your service.

Ask yourself. Does my Christian life exemplify God’s Kingdom?  What do I need to alter in order to better conform to His kingdom and the example of Jesus?  Am I truly ready for His kingdom to come?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Week Five - Cast

 “Why art thou cast down, o my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me?  Hope thou in god: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” 
Psalm 42:5
This verse has uplifted me through so many times in my life.  I have learned to ask myself this very question when I notice emotions overtaking me.  “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”  Why am I feeling low?  Why am I feeling like I have been cast aside?  It can come with some surprising answers.
Sometimes the answer is exhaustion.  I’ve overdone and my spirit is lagging due to need for rest and refreshment.  Another time it is hunger.  I have not eaten enough or eaten properly and I am paying the price.  Another answer can be worry.  I have started focusing on the problems instead of the solutions.  Whatever the answer is, I have found that if I will ask the question, God will show me the source.  Then I can deal with it wisely and scripturally.
Sometimes the answer is that I have lost hope.  Then I have to go on to the second part of the verse – “Hope thou in God”.  My hopes should not lie in my abilities or my plans, nor should they be swayed by my emotions or physical state.  They should be grounded in Him who is able to do the impossible, and able to carry me through.  It takes me on to Hebrews 10:35 & 36,  Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.  For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” 
Stay faithful.  Stay the path.  In time God will revive the cast down spirit and restore hope.  Draw close and place your confidence in Him alone.  Meanwhile, continue doing the will of God.  Continue looking to Him in hope and with praise.  Obedience in this area brings reward.
Why are you cast down?  Is the source physical or emotional?  Have you taken time to ask the Lord?  Are you dealing with it wisely and scripturally or allowing it to have control?  Lost hope?  Hope is found in Him.  Draw closer and let Him show you His strength and love.  Cast yourself upon Him…He will catch you!

“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” 
I Peter 5:7
This casting literally means to throw over your shoulder without concern.  It makes for an interesting thought.  I imagine it as walking down the pathway of life and as each care or worry comes along simply picking it up and tossing it over my shoulder.  Like some superhero, nothing deviates me from my intended goal.
That might sound funny, but that is really what the verse is telling us to do.  But it is not just carelessness that allows us to take such action with our cares and woes; it is because we know that we have One higher who will take care of these concerns.  Not only that, but he cares so much about us that he will deal with anything that gets in our way of following him.
I remember when this verse came alive to me.  I had found myself bound by all sorts of worries.  They were dragging me down.  I took time to study out the meaning of casting and decided to try this shoulder tossing skill.  Each time a worry would come my way, I quoted I Peter 5:7 and then took my hand, picked up the worry, and symbolically tossed it over my shoulder. 
Some worries had to be thrown several times because they were die-hards.  But they finally got the messages and stayed behind me!  Some of them needed a more drastic response.  So I imagined a tall fence with God on the other side.  Those I tossed over the fence for God to deal with.  It worked.  After a while my worries knew that I would not entertain them longer than it took for me to pick them up and toss them aside.
The real secret is knowing and believing that God cares for you more than anything else.  He knows all your heartaches.  They are not insignificant to him.  However, he knows that he is bigger than any concern and able to deal with everything that comes your way.  No problem is too big for him.  No worry worries him.  He loves you and wants to be your superhero.
Bound up in worry and care?  Try a new tactic – do the shoulder toss!

“Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.”
Psalm 71:9
I was so very fortunate as to have known not only both sets of my grandparents, but also, one set of great-grandparents. I was in my early teens when they passed away.  Being around elderly was a part of my life and I have wonderful memories of them.  My grandparents lived well into their eighties and nineties and were a precious part of our family.  As they grew older, age staked it’s claim and we all saw the changes.  Yet, that did not hinder the joy we shared as family.  Because their minds were still bright and active, we could continue to create memories and enjoy their company.
The Psalmist is asking the Lord that he might not be neglected in his declining years. When life is continued, but the strength is failing, it creates a feeling of vulnerability.  Many elderly have the fear of being cast aside and forgotten.  But the Psalmist had reason to hope and be comfortably assured that God would not desert him.  Matthew Henry states, “He is a Master that is not wont to cast off old servants.”
Scripture teaches that physical aging need not necessarily be seen as a negative thing.  Proverbs 16:31 says, “The hoary (gray) head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.  In 20:29 it says, “…the beauty of old men is the gray head.”  And in Psalm 71:18 the Psalmist goes on to reveal that even in his old age, he still had a goal.  Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.”
Growing older happens to everyone.  My grandmother jokingly, yet seriously, instructed me not to do it.  But she never told me how!  As I watched them age gracefully I saw the example of people who maintained their dignity, took care of their own lives for as long a physically possible, and who continued to look forward in faith primarily to their Saviour, but also to their family for the support necessary.
Getting older?  You might not think so, but truly we age every day.  God will not cast us off.  He does not discard or retire his servants.  Every day is a gift to be used for him.  As in every stage of life the demands vary.  Use each stage for His glory and be found in the way of righteousness until the final step!
“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.” 
Proverbs 22:10
According to Proverbs 6:19, one of the major offenses to the Lord is sowing discord among the brethren.  This scornful person takes pride in arguing and verbally abusing others.  He is set on creating the worst in every situation and despises and injures all that come his way.  For him it is a game.  He thinks it exciting to create havoc in the group. Be it at work, with the family, or at church, he keeps things stirred up.  Check out Proverbs 1:22, “…scorners delight in their scorning…”
The biblical mandate is to remove this person.  We see that in Matthew 18 as a process inside the church, and it is also demonstrated in Genesis 21:9-13 as Ishmael was cast out of the home when he mocked Isaac.  It is a painful process, but it is necessary.  If the scorner is allowed to remain, his poison will penetrate.  Like a bad apple, he will cause his rot to pass throughout the unit until it is destroyed.
Sadly, often the trouble we face as due to the fact that scorners have not been dealt with.  They are allowed to continue unchecked.  For whatever reason they hold a certain power which others are hesitant to challenge.  No doubt they will not go quietly, but go they must for the benefit of the whole. 
It takes great wisdom and spiritual strength to cast out a scorner, but the benefits outweigh the cost.  The process gives wisdom to the simple, (Proverbs 21:11), it removes strife, (Proverbs 22:10), and it makes a warning for those who might be tempted to choose this path, (Proverbs 19:25).
The question is – are you a scorner?  Do you find joy in bringing contention?  Better be serious about repenting and making a change here. 
Are you dealing with a scorner?  Be strong.  Stand in truth.  Follow biblical mandates.  Seek wise counsel.

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”  Ecclesiastes 11:1
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus instructed the hearers about alms giving telling them, “…let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”.  He is saying that they should give without fanfare or acknowledgement.  Just give.  In Luke 6:38 he says to “Give, and it shall be given unto you…” and then there is the basis of II Corinthians 9:6, “he that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly…” 
Casting your bread upon the waters is another of these verses teaching us to give.  To give not looking for reward, but knowing the promise of God is upon giving and He will reward in His time and in His way.  You can never give without God rewarding.  Even in the small things, He will take note and give return.
I grew up on a farm, but most of the jobs I did were weeding, picking up rocks, cleaning stalls and stuff like that.  When I got married my grandparents decided it was time I learned how to plant vegetables.  They would tell me about which ones to plants beside each other and which ones not to plant close together.  How deep to make the furrows and how to tend the plants as they grew.  I wasn’t that interested because I was young and I now lived in town.  People in town didn’t worry about such things, I thought.  But I dutifully tried to follow my grandparent’s instruction and had a little vegetable patch out back.
One day my grandmother brought some chickpea seeds (garbanzo beans, some call them).  She went out and showed me where to sow them and how to do it and then she went home.  I was out back doing as she instructed and after about six feet of bean planting I got bored.  I wasn’t crazy on these beans anyway, so I tossed the remainder of the seeds to the far untilled corner of the garden.  I was done with those beans.
My garden did quite well that year.  I managed to keep everything alive and even had things to can for the winter – another lesson from the grandparents!  But, imagine my surprise when my grandmother asked me why there were chickpeas growing back by the fence!  I never imagined they would take root.  After all, I had just tossed them back there carelessly and forgotten about them!  They came back to catch me out!
This taught me that we sow negative and positive.  Whatever we cast into life has a consequence.  By sowing obedience to my grandparent’s instruction, I reaped a good vegetable harvest.  By sowing disobedience, I reaped embarrassment.  Either way, it comes back!  Be careful what you are casting into your life!