Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Christ the Preeminent One (W.o.W. Rewind)

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Colossians 1:15-23

In every generation ideologies and false religions rise up claiming to meet our needs, to bring us peace, to free us from addiction, to take us to heaven (metaphorically or literally), and to explain the mysteries of our world. But only Jesus is uniquely equipped to reconcile us to God.

I can't think of another passage in all of Scripture that so cogently and convincingly argues for the preeminence of Christ. He is the firstborn of all creation. That is to say that He created it all. He is supreme over it and possesses the inheritance rights to all of it. He is also the image of the invisible God. That which was unknown, even unknowable, He has made known and brought near to us in His life on earth. He is the firstborn from among the dead. Several others in biblical history were brought back to life (John 11:43Mark 5:41, and others), but they continued living a natural life on earth only to die again. Jesus was the only one to pass through death into a new kind of life that He opened up to all of us. Jesus was given a transformed body, and He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And it is through the death of Jesus, His and no one else's, that all things are reconciled to God. Now we know that when this passage says that all things are reconciled to God it cannot mean that all people are saved. The Bible tells us clearly that will not happen (Rev. 20:15 & 1Cor. 6:9-11). Yet, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11). In the end all will bow before Him and the world will be set right. Some will bow unwillingly, but all will bow in the end.

If you are a Christian brother or sister I ask you, is Christ preeminent in your life today? How could He be moved more to the center of your schedule and your life? Schedule a meeting with Jesus every day, even if it is only for a minute to pray. If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, please know that only He brings true peace, true freedom, true understanding, and true reconciliation with God. Stop trying to save yourself. Trust in Christ!

For further reading...
  • If you would like to become a Christian. Here are the steps: 
    • A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).
    • B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
    • C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9).
  • Colossians: Read the entire book. It's a great one.
  • John 1:1-18- Read a little more about Jesus' participation in creation.
  • Revelation 5- Only the slain Lamb is worthy to open the scroll.

*This devotion  was originally posted on 10/2/13.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How to Complain to God

You will be righteous, Lord, even if I bring a case against You. Yet, I wish to contend with You: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the treacherous live at ease? You are ever on their lips, but far from their conscience. As for You, Lord, You know me; You see me. You test whether my heart is with You... How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? Because of the evil of its residents, animals and birds have been swept away, for the people have said, “He cannot see what our end will be.”
Jeremiah 12:1-4

It's bound to happen sooner or later. You'll want to complain to God. Maybe it'll be when a coworker gets your promotion or when someone close to you dies or when you realize you can't afford to buy your kid that thing they really want. Eventually, you will feel the urge to complain...we all do. But do you know how to complain to God? Jeremiah's complaint gives us insight. 

One of the most important things to remember when we complain to God is that in a real sense we are also complaining about God. Since God is in control of all things, whatever we complain about we are complaining about something God has allowed in our lives. We are complaining about the decisions God has made. When we lift our eyes to heaven and shake our fist saying "Life isn't fair!" We are also inherently saying, "God, you haven't been fair to me." Jeremiah knows this, so he carefully begins his complaint by reminding himself who is complaining to and about. This is an important first step if you are going to avoid disrespecting God.

Then Jeremiah launches into his complaint, but he doesn't stop with the specifics of what is bothering him, Jeremiah tells God why He should care. He doesn't appeal to God in purely selfish terms. He shows how the current circumstances hurt the things God cares about most: His creation, His people, and His glory. God's creation is ruined as a result of the wicked. The land and the animals are affected by the people's sin (v. 4). God's people are also impacted (v. 2 & 4). Anytime the wicked prosper the righteous suffer. Moreover, when the land isn't producing enough food, God's people go hungry. Lastly, God's glory is diminished. His reputation suffers when the wicked prosper as if there were no God, no justice. God's people begin to believe that God is no longer watching (v. 4). Jeremiah uses his knowledge of God's heart to move Him to act.

Lastly, Jeremiah is very careful to acknowledge that God knows him perfectly. God sees you, and He knows your thoughts. Don't you dare attack God with complaints if you are guilty of unconfessed sin, if your heart isn't right before Him. Be careful to approach Him with humility and innocence or don't approach Him with your complaint at all.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hope from Lazarus

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone... and [Jesus] cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11:39-41 & 43-44

I don't know what you struggle with. It may be a bad habit or an addiction. It may simply be lack of self-control in general. But no matter how long your particular area of struggle has had power over you, the story of Lazarus is good news for you. By raising Lazarus from the dead it is as though Jesus wrote in large letters across the page of Scripture, "YOU ARE NOT TOO FAR GONE FOR ME TO SAVE!"

Lazarus had been in the grave for four days! That is enough time for visible decomposition to have started. His body would have been bloated and it would have already started to smell. Consider that four days is merely how long Lazarus had been in the grave. We don't know how many days it was before they buried him. All of that to say... Lazarus was dead-dead. I know that isn't the medical term for it. But this isn't someone whose heart restarted after 20 minutes. This isn't someone who woke up from a coma. He was D-E-A-D. When they obeyed Jesus' command and opened the tomb, everyone standing around would have known this for sure, because they would have smelled the decomposition, the smell of death.

But then, a miracle happened. Jesus spoke! And the same voice that called life into being at creation, commanded Lazarus to come out of that tomb. In the face of the indisputable fact of death, Jesus spoke in faith. And the voice of the Creator reached into the grave, into death itself and set Lazarus free from its icy grip. You can imagine the decomposition reversed itself rapidly under the grave clothes. The synapses in Lazarus' brain began to fire slowly at first and then more quickly. His heart began to beat again. His lungs drew in that first precious gasp of air. In that moment Lazarus himself must have smelled the death all over him, and yet there he was alive again. He walked out of that tomb bound by the trappings of death, but what did Jesus say next? "Unbind him, and let him go."

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that what binds you is too strong for Jesus. Don't believe the lie that the enemy whispers in your ear, that you will never be free of your alcoholism, or nicotine addiction, or overeating, or pornography, or masturbation, or whatever sin entangles you. Jesus is powerful enough. You aren't too far gone. He can save you. You can be set free. Indeed, those of you who believe in Jesus have already been set free; you just haven't learned to walk in your freedom. Romans 6:18 says, "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." 2 Corinthians 5:17 "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An Apology for Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.
Hebrews 11:1-2

Do you remember that kid who believed in Santa way longer than everyone else did growing up? I do. At my school his name was Joshua. He was a firm believer. His confidence had been bolstered by the extraordinary lengths his parents had gone to in order to squeeze a few more good Christmases out of him. This young man continued writing letters to Santa I would say at least into 4th grade if not later. I remember with each passing year we really expected he would grow out of it, but instead he seemed to grow bolder in trying to convince us that Santa was real. The poor kid was a laughingstock every year.

I bring this up not to start a Santa war but simply to point out one of the many ways in which our world doesn't reward childlike faith. In the real world childlike faith is often equated with being gullible. If you aren't careful it will make you an easy target and leave you embarrassed you were ever so naive. Over time this world we live in has hardened me. I have had to learn to be more skeptical as I have been embarrassed by my own gullibility and have even almost fallen prey to con men multiple times. 

I have begun to realize that this has taken a toll on my relationship with God. I do not doubt His existence or the truth of Christianity. Those were settled in my heart, in my experience, and in my mind long ago. But I do find myself to be a terrible skeptic when it comes to viewing any particular situation or difficulty through the eyes of faith. I sometimes find it hard to believe that God is going to do some great work in a situation. I often feel like I am wasting my efforts. Instead of hoping for the best, or even looking to receive what God has promised, I often find myself expecting the worst. 

With this realization fresh in my heart I looked at Hebrews 11 with fresh eyes this week. I saw it for the first time not as a Hall of Faith- a list of all the great believers throughout history- but as an Apology for Faith- an argument for living in faith by showing what faith produces. As we read the chapter and the lives of those it references we find the following:

  • From Abel's life we learn that God remembers faith. 
  • From Enoch's life we learn that God is pleased with faith.
  • From Noah's life we learn that God is patient with those who have faith. (I extrapolate this from both the many years it took for Noah to build the ark and from Noah's failure after the flood.)
  • From Abraham's life we learn that God expects longsuffering faith and that he always rewards it, though on His own timetable.
  • From Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac we learn that God does test our faith.
  • From Joseph's life we learn that God wants us to make plans and preparations in accord with our faith.
  • From Moses' life we learn that God sets us free from fear by faith, that God gives us the faith to live for our future in Him and not for the present this world can offer us, that faith makes us bold, and that God does amazing things by our faith.
  • Lastly from Rahab's life we learn that God offers redemption to those who have faith.

So it turns out that when faith is placed in the right object it isn't shameful at all. In fact, faith in God is one of the most powerful forces for change our world has ever seen. So maybe it's time we all gave faith another try. Maybe we can learn to look at our circumstances through the eyes of faith again.

Father, give me the faith of a child towards You. Help me to be confident in You that You might be pleased in me.