Set Apart.

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:16-19 ESV

John 17:1-26

As followers of Christ, we don’t belong here – on earth, that is. Yes, we have been required by God to remain here and He has assigned us a task to perform until He calls us home or His Son returns, whichever comes first. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, telling others about the good news concerning Jesus Christ and His desire to restore men to a right relationship with God the Father. But our very presence and our God-given assignment do not sit well with the world in which we live. In fact, Jesus said the world hates us, just as it hated Him. They prefer darkness over the light. They are not particularly open to the message of the Gospel. And because the world is under the influence of Satan, the prince of this world, it is an atmosphere filled with lies, because Satan is the father of lies. Deception and deceit are common place. Falsehood masquerades as truth. And we are tasked with living within this less-than-friendly environment as salt and light, sharing the truth regarding Jesus Christ and salvation.

So Jesus, knowing that things would not be easy for us, asked His Father to set us apart in the truth, the truth as found in the Word of God. In the Scriptures, we have a big picture portrait of what is really going on in the world. We have a sin problem. It has been that way from the beginning. Well, almost from the beginning. Adam and Eve were created by God and placed in a perfect environment, free from sin, disease, and death. But because they had free will, they were capable of either loving God and serving Him faithfully or rejecting Him and deciding instead to serve themselves. They chose the latter. Rather than accept God’s authority and trust His will for them, they decided that they knew best. Rather than worship God, they listened to the lies of the enemy and decided to be like God. God had told them the truth regarding the one tree of the garden from which they could not eat. But Satan got them to doubt God’s word. He tempted them to question God’s authority. And they sinned. From that point forward, sin has had a dramatic impact on the lives of men. Sin separated man from God, creating an unsurpassable barrier through which man could not pass. Access to God was denied. Fellowship with God was broken. And the penalty for sin was death, both physical and spiritual, including eternal separation from God.

But God stepped in and provided a solution to man’s sin problem: His Son. Sin came with a price tag. The penalty for man’s rebellion against God was death. Either man must die or come up with a way to do the impossible and live a sinless life. Man couldn’t live up to God’s standard of perfection. Sin became unavoidable and, as a result, death was inevitable. But God sent His Son to pay the penalty for man’s sin. He became the means by which men might be restored to a right relationship with God. His death, because He was sinless, satisfied the righteous demands of a holy God. And all those who believe in Him as their Savior receive forgiveness of sin and freedom from condemnation – forever. But there’s still a sin problem. Because we have been left in this world, we find ourselves surrounded by sin, and we still find ourselves susceptible to our own sin natures. The lies of the enemy resound in our ears every day. He attacks us relentlessly. He seeks to destroy us. So Jesus prayed that we would be set apart in the truth. The truth of God’s love. The truth of our forgiveness. The truth of the reality of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The truth of our redemption. The truth of our new nature and our capacity to sin less. The truth of our future glorification. The truth is, we need to be set apart each and every day to the amazing truth of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Jesus died so that we might live. He gave His life so that we might never fear death again. The world would have us doubt all of that. The enemy would have us question everything we have been promised by God. Which is why we need to be set apart in the truth. We must immerse ourselves in the confidence-building, strength-producing, soul-fortifying truth of God’s Word. It tells us of the reality of sin. It reminds us of the impossibility of ever living righteously on our own. It teaches us of the holiness of God and the rebellion of man. It graciously reveals to us the wonderful solution God provided in His Son. It encourages us to place our trust in Christ’s righteousness and not our own. It provides us with the exciting news that holiness is not only possible, but normal for all those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior. It is the truth that sets us apart. It is the truth that sets us free. It is the truth as found in Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.

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Reordered Priorities.

Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

What is it you really need? When you go to God in prayer, what is it that you typically ask Him for? Obviously, it is perfectly okay to make requests of God. In fact, we are encouraged to do so in Scripture. Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ESV). John makes a similar statement when he writes, “we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him” ( 1 John 3:22 ESV). Of course, John adds an important caveat that we tend to overlook. He makes it clear that the answers to our prayers are tied to God’s will. He qualifies the promise of answered prayer with an acknowledgement that it hinges on our understanding of and relationship with God – “whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22 ESV). A little later on in his letter, John makes this relationship between our knowledge of God and our answered prayers even more clear. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus provided His disciples (and us) with His model prayer, He purposely began it with an acknowledgment of God’s holiness, sovereignty, and kingship. He is God, but He is also our Father. Because He is our King and our adopted Father, our desire should be for His righteous rule and reign in all things, including our lives. We should desire what He desires. We should want what He wants. His rule should directly impact our requests. His will should alter our wants. If we truly believe He is righteous, holy, just and fully in control as our King and loving Father, we will trust Him to provide for and protect us. Which is why Jesus transitions His prayer from asking that God’s will be done to a humble request for daily bread. It is well within God’s will to ask for our daily needs. But sometimes we confuse wants with needs. We get our will confused with His. But Jesus would have us remember that God’s will is always best. God always wants what is best for us. And when we start to think that the things of this world are what really bring us joy, peace, fulfillment and contentment, we miss the point. Which is why Paul told Timothy, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). Paul spoke from experience. He had learned to trust God for his needs. He had learned the secret of contentment. “for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT).

When we begin our prayers with an acknowledgment of God’s holiness, a self-reminder of our adoption as His children, an expression of desire for His kingdom and will to be done, our requests become much simpler. They become more focused on the essentials and less consumed with the peripheral issues of life. We will tend to ask God for what we need, not what we want. We will find ourselves praying for His will to be done, rather than our own. We will increasingly learn to trust God to give us exactly what we need, when we need it. So that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). But we will always be tempted to redefine what “food and clothing” means. Quality and quantity tend to become the measuring tools by which we define our needs. How much food? What brand of clothes? Does it include eating out three to four days a week? Just what does our “daily bread” cover? Is a house included? If so, in what neighborhood? What about cars? Income? Retirement account? Savings? It is not that any of those things are wrong. The issue is contentment and a confidence in God’s will. It is trusting Him to provide us with what we really need. It is a willful concession to His divine sovereignty over our lives. Because He is our all-powerful God and our all-loving Father, we can trust Him. We can ask Him for anything, but He will ultimately give us what we need. And the more we get to know Him, the more our prayers will line up with His will and our requests will reflect His desires for us. We will want what He wants. We will desire what He does. And we will be content.

As Right As Reign.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

What do you want more than anything in the world? What is it you dream about, worry about, obsess about, or think you just can’t live without? A good way to tell what is it we really want and desire is to take inventory of our prayers. You can tell a lot about a person by examining the kinds of things they ask God for or by simply figuring out what it is that motivates them to pray in the first place. Sometimes it is a tragedy or some kind of trouble that gets us on our knees. We find ourselves in a place of difficulty and suddenly we find the time and the motivation to take our problem to God. What we want is peace. We want deliverance from our trouble. We want God to do something to get things back to “normal,” whatever that is. There are other times when our desires are even more transparent. We come to God asking for good health, protection for our children, peace in the world, direction for life, healing for a friend, a promotion, a better marriage, or even the motivation to grow spiritually. But in Jesus’ model prayer, He would have us remember that there is something far more important than all of these things. In fact, it is essential to understanding where everything else fits in on the priority scale of life. Remember, Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” He wants us to use His prayer as an outline for making our requests made known to God, and one of the first things He encourages us to do is to ask for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done – “on earth as it is in heaven.” So before we begin making our will made known to God, we should desire that His will be done – in the world and in our lives.

The kingdom of God. The will of God. These two things have to do with rule and reign, power and authority, sovereignty and dominion. As the people of God, we should desire these things. We should want them more than anything else. Why? Because His kingdom is righteous, good, loving, just, and holy. In the same way, His will is perfect, good, righteous, holy and just. We should want what God wants. We should desire that God rule and reign in us and over us. Paul tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). Life in this world has polluted our minds, causing us to desire those things that, in the end, lead us away from God, not to Him. We need our minds renewed, our desires refocused – on God and His will. Later on in this same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV). In other words, we are not to get wrapped up in and obsessed with the things of this world. Instead, we are to have a kingdom mindset. We are to see our lives as part of the greater kingdom of God. And when we find ourselves too wrapped up in the things of this world, worrying about what we’re going to eat or wear, Jesus gives us the antidote: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). We are to make the rule and reign of God our highest priority. We are to desire His righteousness, His will, His dominion over all things – including our very lives. Paul reminds us, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17 ESV). In his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he told them to “live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).

When we come to God in prayer, we should do so with a desire to see His righteous reign lived out in us. We should want His will more than anything else. Our will takes a backseat to His, our kingdom is annexed by His, His rule reigns supreme – on this earth just like it does in heaven. Wanting the will of God is a game-changer. It impacts everything else. It should change the way we pray. It should alter our expectations and dramatically influence our petitions. When we want His rule and reign to be supreme, we will be able to focus on seeking His righteousness rather than worrying about all the stuff that sidetracks us and distracts us from what really matters. God’s will is always good and acceptable and perfect. Why would we ever want anything else?

Your Kingdom Come.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus gave His disciples an example of the kind of prayer they were to pray. It was to be done in humility, not for the praise of men. It was to be done privately, with an awareness that God was the primary focus. It was to be direct and to the point, not accompanied by an over-abundance of words or cleverly worded language. Prayer is not our attempt to tell God something He does not know. Jesus told His disciples, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). When we pray, we are not bringing God up to speed on all that has happened in our lives over the last 24 hours. He already knows. We aren’t even informing Him of our needs. He knows those as well. So why pray? Because He has given us the privilege of coming into His presence. Because He is our loving Father and we should long to have a relationship with Him. To some degree, prayer is less about sharing information than it is about sharing our hearts. God wants to hear from us, and we should want to hear from Him. We should desire to know His heart and get His perspective on all that is happening in our lives. Prayer should be a two-way dialogue that includes both talking and listening. We are not there to tell God what to do. He is not some kind of cosmic genie who is obligated to grant us our wishes. He is the God of the universe and the creator of all things. He is sovereign, so He knows what is best and He knows what He is doing. Prayer is our opportunity to come before Him and realign our perspective, to refocus our attention on what really matters, and yes, share our personal cares and concerns.

But Jesus would have us remember something extremely important. It seems that this realignment of our perspective is essential to prayer. Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV), and the second example He provided us was “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). When coming before our heavenly Father, we are to do so with a focus on His kingdom, not our own. The tendency is for us to try and use prayer as a form of leverage to get what we want from God. We bring our well-thought-out lists of requests, expecting Him to answer every one of them according to our wishes and on our timeline. But Jesus would encourage us to come before God with a desire to see His kingdom come, His will be done. If nothing else, this conveys an attitude of worshipful submission to and trust in God’s wisdom, love, and power. Obviously, this does not mean we can’t bring our requests to God. Paul strongly encourages us to do so. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5-6 ESV). We can and should share our requests with God, but always with an attitude of humble submission to His will. We are welcome to share with Him our needs and desires, but we should do so with an expectation that He will do what is best, because He knows best. When the apostle Paul prayed for others, his desire was that they would know the will of God – “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 ESV). There is no doubt that we spend a great deal of our lives devoid of an understanding of God’s will. We don’t know what He is doing. We can’t see what is happening behind the scenes. We have a limited perspective and are driven to conclusions by our immediate circumstances. We are also prone to focus on temporal solutions to perceived problems. If we are sick, we pray for healing. If we are in financial straits, we pray for a solution. If we’re out of work, we pray for a job. But what is God’s will in all of this. Why would we pray for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done? Because at the end of the day, there is something far greater going on than our individual lives and our tiny, temporary personal kingdoms. When we pray, “Your will be done,” we are acknowledging to God that we desire His will over our own. We are letting Him know that we trust His plans and submit our own to Him. So if what we ask for does not come in the form we requested or in the timing we desired, we don’t panic or get angry, we rest in His will. Martin Luther put it this way: “Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this your divine will is crucifying our will” (Martin Luther, Personal Prayer Book, pg 33). There is a certain sense in which prayer is where we come to grips with God’s will. We bring our desires, requests, needs and aspirations to Him, but we walk away with a greater desire to see His will lived out in our lives. To pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done is to acknowledge or deep dependence upon Him. It is to desire His rule and reign to be evidenced in our own lives. It is to long for His will to be accomplished through our lives. When you begin your prayers that way, it will dramatically alter the manner in which you bring your requests to Him. You will hold them up to Him with loose hands. You will cling to them lightly, knowing that His will is best, and should He choose to say, “No” to your request, it is for a very good reason. And you will be okay with that.

Praying Like Jesus.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” – Matthew 6:9

The Lord’s Prayer. Most of us are familiar with. Many of us can easily quote it. Some may even use it as kind of a stand-in or substitute for their own prayers. But how many of us actually use it in the way Jesus probably intended it – as a model for prayer? In the Gospel of Matthew, we have recorded what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. Chapters 5-7 contain a series of teachings from the lips of Jesus that cover everything from the Beatitudes to the Golden Rule. As He sat on the mountainside, Jesus taught on a wide range of topics, dealing with anger, divorce, lust, fasting, love of enemies, judging others, and living as salt and light. This was radical stuff. And the controversial nature of what Jesus had to say did not escape his audience. Matthew records: “And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV).

In a lot of ways, Jesus was the antithesis of the scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders of His day. In fact, He would constantly expose them as hypocrites, accusing them of having exterior conformity, but lacking true hearts for God. So much of what He said was a direct attack on the legalistic and outwardly moralistic example of these so-called religious leaders. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was upping the ante. He was revealing that the Kingdom of God was about much more that outward adherence to a set of rules or some form of behavior modification. It was about heart change – something that men were incapable of on their own. The Lord’s Prayer lies smack dab in the middle of His sermon, tucked in with some rather harsh words regarding the hypocritical, self-centered motivation of so much of what the religious elite did in the name of spirituality. He exposed their prayer lives as little more than a poorly veiled attempt to get noticed by others. They were looking for recognition from men. They prayed to impress others, rather than to get to know God. So Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” And then He gave them a short, succinct example of what a selfless, God-centered, humble prayer looks like. And He did not provide this as a prayer to be prayed by rote. It was never meant to be a substitute for our own personal prayers. But it does give us a wonderful outline around which we can customize our conversations with our heavenly Father.

Jesus starts out His prayer with a focus of the Father. He sets the tone for prayer by reminding us that we are entering into the presence of our heavenly Father – a staggering reality that was made possible by His death, burial and resurrection. It is because Jesus gave His life that we have been made right with God. His death atoned for our sins. His sinless life made Him the perfect sacrifice – allowing Him to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. And as a result, we are now God’s children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Paul takes it a step further. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs” (Romans 8:17 NLT). “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). So when we come to God in prayer, we must come to grips with the astounding realization that we are God’s children. He loves us. He desires to be with us. But Jesus seems to want us to understand that we must never forget that while God is our Father, He resides in heaven. There is a stark differentiation between God and man. He is spiritual in nature. He exists elsewhere, outside of time and space. He is divine and we are human. He is the great creator God of the universe. Which should make our position as His children that much more remarkable to us. We are children of God! And that designation is not shared by all mankind. While all men have been created by Him, only those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin can claim the unique designation as sons and daughters of God. John writes in his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV). So when we come to God in prayer, we must remember that He is God. Yes, He is our Father, but that intimacy should always be tempered with respect and recognition of His majesty and glory. We should also recall that our entrance into His presence is a privilege, not a right. We enter by virtue of the blood of Christ, not our own self-worth or any intrinsic value. We have been adopted by God. That should blow us away. We can come freely, gladly, boldly, expectantly, but it should always be reverently, with a unwavering recognition of God’s holiness. But we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

The Incarnation.

It has been interesting to see some of the responses to my recent posts concerning the book of First John. Much of what John was dealing with in his letter head to do with heresies entering the early Church. As Christianity spread, so did the variety and numbers of different interpretations of the gospel. The book of First John is a pastoral letter addressed to believers and designed to both warn and encourage them. His intention was to provide them with assurance concerning their beliefs in Christ. Throughout the letter John used the phrase, “by this we know.” He wanted them to know, without a shadow of doubt, that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. But He was much more than just a human savior, an earthly deliverer who would provide them with victory over their earthly enemies. He came to be their Savior from sin and their means for enjoying a right relationship with God. For generations, the Jews had believed that the Mosaic Law was the key to achieving a right relationship with God. Human effort had been the accepted means by which men could find favor with God. The sacrificial system, given by God, was used by men to have their sins cleansed and forgiven. The very fact that the sacrificial system existed was proof that men were incapable of keeping God’s commands. Paul writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21 ESV). The law revealed man’s sin, but could do nothing to remove it. The law simply exposed man’s inability to meet God’s holy standards. Which is why God provided a Savior.

But it is at that point that so many continue to stumble today. I have received comments from some who refuse to accept the deity of Christ. They argue that Jesus was nothing more than a man, created by God. This is not a new view. John battled the same errant belief in his day. One of the comments I received stated, “‘And the Word was made flesh’ talks about the Word or the Speaking which became a reality, namely a man of flesh and blood, who after his resurrection proved to his disciples that he was not a Spirit (though God is Spirit) and told them so.” It is subtle, but what he is saying is that Jesus was nothing more than a man into whom the Word or Spirit of God entered. He was flesh and blood. But the disturbing point about this teaching is that it rejects the deity of Christ. For John, the deity of Christ was a non-negotiable ingredient to the gospel. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was not speaking of some disembodied Spirit or force, but of Jesus Christ Himself. He was from the beginning. He was the eternal life. As John states in his gospel, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2-3 ESV).

There are those today who still reject the deity of Christ. They refuse to accept Him as God. This was the same problem Jesus ran into during His earthly ministry. On one occasion, as Jesus was walking through the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews demand to know if He is the Messiah. Jesus makes a simple, but direct comment: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). And the immediate response of the Jews was to pick up stones and kill Him. Why? They provided the answer. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV). The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ claim to be God. He was not just claiming to be a man who had the Spirit of God within Him. He and God the Father were one. It is Jesus’ deity, miraculously blended with His humanity, that made Him a fitting sacrifice for the sins of man. To believe anything else is to believe another gospel. If we believe that we can simply emulate the life of Christ and share in the divine Spirit as He did, we miss the point of His life, death, and resurrection. The belief that God became flesh is essential to the gospel. Yet, as in John’s day, there are those who refuse to accept it.  Again, one of the recent comments I received put it this way: “Having come down in the form of a god, does not mean Jesus came down as the God of gods.” In other words, Jesus was NOT God, but a little god. And according to this teaching, we can become a little god by following His example. But this is NOT the gospel. And the apostle Paul had strong words for those who would attempt to explain away the true essence of the gospel message. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).

Deuteronomy 3-4, John 11

The Glory of God.

Deuteronomy 3-4, John 11

Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes. He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other. – Deuteronomy 4:33-35 NLT

God had revealed Himself to men. Not only that, He had chosen to make Himself known to a nondescript nation who didn’t deserve His grace, mercy, power or the privilege of His presence. Moses explained to the Jews, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV). God chose the Israelites, not because they were a great nation or because they somehow deserved to have a relationship with Him, but because He wanted to reveal His glory to them and through them. They were to be an example to the rest of the world of what it looked like to live in a right relationship with the Creator of the universe. He had given them His law in order to set them apart from the other nations of the earth. They were to live according to a different standard. Moses reminded them, “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8 NLT). God was wanting to reveal His glory through the people of Israel. He let them hear His voice. He allowed them to enjoy His presence. He graciously and repeatedly provided proof of His power. So that they might know “that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39 ESV). Israel existed as a nation is order to reveal God’s glory. But they would constantly confuse the situation, and mistakenly believe that God existed for their glory. They would find themselves believing the lie that there was something special about them. They would convince themselves that God had chosen them because they deserved it; and He was somehow obligated to continue blessing them whether they were obedient to His law or not.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV). He will not tolerate unfaithfulness. The privilege of being His chosen possession comes with the responsibility to remain faithful. He will not put up with spiritual infidelity among His people. His law was intended to set His people apart. It was to be a practical and visible expression of their uniqueness and glorify Him. When the other nations saw how the Israelites lived, according to a unique set of instructions, unlike anything else they had ever seen, they would recognize the greatness and glory of God. Any time the nation of Israel lived as God had commanded and did as He had instructed, the nations around them were witness to His glory, and it produced a fear of Him. God wanted to reveal His glory through them. He wanted to exhibit His power on behalf of them. They were to be a living, breathing example of what life could be like when it was lived in obedience to Him. For God, the problems and seeming setbacks of this life are of no consequence. There is nothing too great for Him. He is not panicked by our predicaments. He is never up in heaven wringing His hands in worry over the situations and circumstances of our lives. He is never caught off guard by the trials and tribulations that seem to constantly mar our existence on this earth. They are simply opportunities for Him to reveal His glory among men.

When Jesus was given word that His friend, Lazarus, was ill, He delayed two days before He finally made the trip to Bethany to visit him. Upon receiving news of Lazarus’ condition, Jesus simply said, “it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4 ESV). Jesus knew that His delay would result in Lazarus’ death. In fact, he told His disciples, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14-15 ESV). When He finally arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. But Jesus was not surprised or shocked. He told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV). Jesus knew something that Mary and Martha didn’t know. He knew that His Father had power over death and the grave. He also knew that in the days ahead, there was going to be an even greater resurrection from the dead that would radically change the spiritual landscape of the world. Jesus Himself would die, but be raised again three days later, all to the glory of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Mankind is in desperate need of God’s glory. In spite of the fact that God’s glory and greatness has been revealed through His creation, mankind has refused to acknowledge it. Instead of worshiping the Creator, they ended up worshiping the creation itself. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV). Instead of honoring God and giving thanks to Him, mankind “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-22 ESV). In other words, mankind did exactly what God had warned the people of Israel NOT to do. The Israelites were to set a different standard. They were to worship one God. They were to glorify Him and not one another. They were to worship the Creator and not the creation. Creation was intended to reveal God’s glory, not replace it. Men were intended to seek God’s glory, not their own.

Mary and Martha were disappointed that Jesus had not come earlier and healed their brother. They were upset that He had not prevented Lazarus’ death. But Jesus told them, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 ESV). They were focused on Lazarus’ death. Jesus was focused on God’s glory. Jesus’ delay and Lazarus’ death were intended to bring glory to God. They would be further evidence of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Everything Jesus did during His time on this earth was done so that He might bring glory to God the Father. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:4-5 ESV). As a man, Jesus spent His life bringing glory to God. The glory of God was His obsession. Jesus showed us how to live as children of God. Our lives are to be lived out for the glory of God. We are to be ordinary vessels through which God’s glory is revealed to men. On this earth, we exist for His glory. But there is a day coming when we will be glorified by God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The temptation on this earth is to make much of me. It is so easy to mistake this earthly existence as the focal point. I want to be glorified and made much of. But my life is to be lived out for God’s glory, not my own. I am to be an instrument in His hands, not the other way around. My life is to point to Him and provide opportunities for Him to exhibit His power and presence among the lost of this world. Paul reminds me, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV). Jesus lived in obedience to God, even to the point of willingly giving His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He glorified God in life and in death. And as a result, God glorified Him by raising Him from the dead and restoring Him to His side in heaven. And it is the reality of Jesus’ glorification that is at the heart of the message of salvation. It is because He has been glorified that we know can have assurance that our future glorification is a sure thing. And every time we talk about it and tell others of it, God gets glory. Even talking about the gospel brings God glory. Pointing others to Jesus brings God glory. Living in reliance and dependence on Him in this life brings God glory. Making much of God and less of ourselves brings God glory. Keeping our focus on the future instead of the here-and-now brings God glory.

Father, I want my life to bring You glory. Forgive me for the many times that I end up trying to turn that equation around, desiring to believe that You exist for MY glory. I want to make much of You. I want to live my life in such a way that You become the focus, not me. Help me to understand that my glorification is future. In the meantime, my desire should be to bring You glory in all that I do. May my life be a vehicle for Your glory. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Romans 8:31-39

A Love That Cost, And Lasts.

Romans 8:31-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. – Romans 8:39 NLT

How great is God’s love for you? This seems to be the gist of Paul’s point in the closing section of chapter eight. He reminds us, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31b NLT). God is on our side. He has chosen us, sent His Son to die for us and, as a result of Christ’s substitionary death of the cross, restored us to a right relationship with Himself. All as an expression of His great love for us. So if God loved us that much, what could ever stand in His way when it comes to Him finishing what He has begun in our lives? “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32 NLT). In other words, won’t God complete His ongoing act of transformation in our lives? Peter assures us that the answer to this question is a resounding, “Yes!”

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT). God loves us too much to leave us like we are. He loves us too much to allow us to try and live the Christian life in our own power and at the mercy of a host of enemies who would love nothing better than to destroy and defeat us. They can accuse and condemn us all they want, but their efforts are in vain. Because God loves us and His Son sits at His right hand interceding and pleading with God for us.

Nothing and no one can ever separate us from the love of our Father and our Savior. But the problem is that we tend to view God’s love based on what is going on around us. We judge His love according to how well things are going for us. If life is going well, we assume that God must be pleased with us. But let something go wrong in our lives, and we automatically assume that God is upset with us – in other words, He has fallen out of love with us. But Paul would argue against such a conclusion. “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” (Romans 8:35 NLT). Paul answers his own question: “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:36 NLT). Paul was convinced that absolutely NOTHING could ever separate God’s children from His love. God’s love for us is unlimited. It transcends time and space. He loves us just as much in life as He will love us after death. His love for us is as great today as it will be in eternity. Our location can’t diminish or influence God’s love. Our circumstances can’t determine God’s love for us. The presence of opposition or the reality of difficulties are not determiners of God’s love for us. Paul reminds us, “not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 NLT). And here’s the really amazing thing. We can’t separate ourselves from God’s love either! You cannot cause God to fall out of love for you. His love is not fickle and fleeting like ours. He doesn’t love you one day and not the next. His love is constant and unchanging.

As we live out our lives on this earth, we must constantly remind ourselves of God’s unwavering love for us. Even as we progress toward Christ-likeness, we will fail and at times, fall away. We will continue to struggle with sin and sometimes give in to the desires of our sin nature. But at no point will God fall out of love for us. The degree of His love was reflected in the death of His Son. He loved us so much that He sent His own Son to die for us. But He raised His Son back to life as a vivid reminder of the kind of power He has at His disposal to finish His complete transformation of our lives. God’s love encompasses our salvation as well as our ultimate glorification. But is also includes our current sanctification. He is loving us even as we live out our lives in this fallen world. We may not always recognize it or feel it, but His love is there nonetheless. And nothing we encounter in this life has the capacity to ever separate us from that love. God will complete what He began. He will love us all the way to the end. “Despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:37 NLT).

Father, it is so hard to imagine the kind of love Paul is talking about. I tend to judge Your love based on human standards. I fall in and out of love with people all the time. My love is fickle and fleeting. But Yours is constant and unwavering. You love me in spite of me. You love me consistently and constantly. You love me all the time and my circumstances are not an indicator or barometer of that love. Give me the capacity to recognize and appreciate Your love regardless of what is going on around me. Help me to rest in Your love, even when I have done something that I believe might cause You to “un-love” me. I want to live in Your love. I want to rest in Your love. I want to rejoice in Your love – every day of my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Romans 8:1-17

Life Through the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-17

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. – Romans 8:5 NLT

Paul had a sin nature. You have a sin nature. I have a sin nature. Every person who has ever lived or is alive now has a sin nature. Even those of who are in Christ. But Paul has made it clear that, because of Christ’s death on the cross, we have been set free from having to live like a slave to sin, constantly giving in to the sinful disposition of our sin natures. While at one time we were totally enslaved and incapable of resisting our own sinful nature, we now have a choice. We have been given the Spirit of God, who resides within us, equipping and empowering us to live lives that are pleasing to Him. He can and will produce a host of good deeds through us and godly fruit within us. But we have to choose to live under his control, rather than willingly giving in to our own selfish sin nature.

Over and over again in this passage, Paul reminds us that we have the “power of the life-giving Spirit” within us. He has freed us from the power of sin that leads to death. He empowers us to no longer follow our sinful nature. But there is a choice that has to be made. We have to want to allow the Holy Spirit to control our minds and our lives. When He is in control, we will tend to think about the things that please Him. When our flesh is in control and our sinful nature raises its ugly head, we will find ourselves thinking about sinful things, inappropriate things, that don’t honor God or reflect our relationship as His sons and daughters. Paul emphasizes that the Spirit that lives within us is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. If that power can restore a dead man to life, it can restore us from spiritual death to new life. That incredible power can be tapped into in order to put to death the deeds of our sinful nature. It can allow us to live new lives – NOW – not just in eternity. We are God’s adopted children right here and now, not just some time in the future. We are heirs to His promises now, not just when Christ returns or He calls us home to heaven. We are beneficiaries of His life-transforming power now, not just at the rapture or when we experience our future glorification.

But Paul makes it clear that, while we will some day enjoy a future glorification and ultimate transformation into Christ-likeness, we are going to go through a period of suffering here and now. We will do daily battle with our sin nature, experiencing the same conflict and struggle that Paul expressed a few verses earlier. “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15 NLT). Christ suffered in His life on this planet. He had to do battle with sin and death, and so do we. We must constantly wage war with our sin nature and the enemy who seeks to kill and destroy us. We must wrestle with our inner desire to live for Christ, and the constant call of our sin nature to live for self. We are in a spiritual war zone as long as we live on this earth. But we have a power inside us that can equip us to live differently right here, right now. It will be difficult at times. It will be painful. But it will always result in our ongoing sanctification and ultimate glorification. We must rely on the Spirit of God to provide us with the power from God so that we can live lives that bring honor to God. This life-giving Spirit has not only freed us from sin and death, but empowers us to continue to live in freedom all the days of our lives – as long as we remain under His control and committed to living according to His power and not our own.

Father, thank You for providing Your Holy Spirit and placing Him inside me. I confess that I don’t always acknowledge His presence or tap into His power. I try far too often to live in my own strength and not in His. I do things my way, then wonder why things don’t turn out quite like I had hoped. Continue to show me how I might have victory over sin, not because I work hard at it, but because I have learned to rest in the power of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 151 – Mark 16:19-21; Luke 24:50-53

Ascended, but Interceding.

Mark 16:19-21; Luke 24:50-53

And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them. – Mark 16:20 NLT

This is it. The end of the story of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. But is it really? While we will wrap up the closing moments of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, He is far from done. His impact is far from over. He work is not yet complete. He finished that portion of God’s plan for which He had come – offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and dying on the cross as payment to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. But He rose from the dead “and was taken up into heaven and sat down at the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Mark 16:19 NLT). Jesus returned to His Father’s side. He rightfully took back His place of honor which had been reserved for Him while He was obediently accomplishing the will of His Father on earth. Paul reminds us that when He came to earth, “he did not think equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). And when Jesus had “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8 NLT), God “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT).

But what is Jesus doing now? What is His role at this very moment? Paul tells us, “Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 NET). He represents us before the Father. He is our representative before the very throne of God. And when God looks at us, He sees us through Christ’s righteousness. We are covered by His blood. Our sins have been paid for and forgiven because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven” (Hebrews 7:25-26 NLT). God listens to Him. He is like personal legal representative before the throne of God. When we sin, He speaks on our behalf. And we do sin. John writes, “My dear children, I am writing this to you to that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous” (1 John 2:1 NLT).

We can rest assured that Jesus is doing His job. He is not in retirement mode. He is far from done. In fact, He is preparing to return and fully complete what He began. But in the meantime, we have work to do – just as the disciples did. Mark tells us that after Jesus ascended, the “disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs” (Mark 16:20 NLT). They had work to do. They had a message to share and spread throughout the world. And Jesus was with them. He confirmed their words with miraculous signs. His Spirit accompanied them and empowered them. Jesus was busy continuing His transformative work in their lives through the ministry of the Spirit. As they obeyed His command to go and tell, His Spirit was busy transforming these men into powerful messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was molding them into the likeness of Jesus Himself. And that is what He wants to do in each of our lives today. Jesus is in the life transforming business. He is actively pursuing heart-change in the lives of His followers. He is continually saving us from sinful selves. He is praying for us. He is interceding with the Father on our behalf. He is preparing a place for us. And He is planning to return for us. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. The, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NLT).

Thank You Jesus, that You are not done. I am so grateful that You are my representative before God Himself. You have a place seated right next to Him and, while I am stuck here on this planet, You are speaking to Him on my behalf. You pray for me and plead my case for me before the Father. And You are some day coming back for me. I don’t know when it is, but it gives me hope and confidence that helps me make it in this world. Your work of salvation is not yet complete. There is more to this story than just Your ascension into heaven. As the angel told the disciples on the day You left them, some day you will return from heaven in the same way they saw you go. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org