Archive for December, 2013

RENOVATE: Week 12

In Ephesians chapter five, the Apostle Paul compares the relationship of Jesus and His church (those who have trusted Christ by faith) to that of a man and woman in marriage. There Paul states, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32, NASB).” He says this after a detailed discussion of the roles of a husband and wife within the marriage relationship.

This being a Biblical backdrop for consideration, I would like us to ponder Revelation 2:4 from the December 12th reading of the devotional Bible. Parenthetically, notice Paul’s letter is written to the Ephesian believers and Jesus, through the pen of the Apostle John, is also addressing the church in Ephesus. Jesus admonishes, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Revelation 2:4, NASB).” If left uncorrected, this condition would ultimately lead to the removal of God’s presence and power from the church; a useless shell of what it once was.

The Church at Ephesus was portrayed in John’s Revelation as enduring through the trials it faced; a hard working, doctrinally sound group of Christ followers that, for all intents and purposes, externally had it all together. Yet the internal flaw was so serious that their very life breath, the Holy Spirit, would be removed from their midst! At this juncture, Paul’s relationship comparison from Ephesians is quite instructive. Many marriages may have the appearance of success. Outwardly the couple gives the impression that they get along, they live in a nice home, are raising a fine family, and are models of integrity. They exemplify what marriage is supposed to be. However, internally something is fatally wrong. The couple is going through all the right motions but along the way the motive has been lost. They wake up one day and don’t even know each other; in the words of Jesus from Revelation, they have “left their first love.”

In this sense, motive is everything. A church is made up of individuals. The vitality of the church emanates from those who make it up. The vitality of those who make it up emanates from their personal union with Jesus. Love is at the core of it all and “we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19, NASB).” Without a passionate love relationship with Christ Jesus, our faith is dead. As James says, “…show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18b, NASB).” Stated differently, if what we DO does not stem from a vibrant attraction to know more intimately our Lord and Savior, then we are simply going through the motions without pure motive. Just as a husband and wife can potentially go through the motions of a marriage and forget that the main reason for their actions toward a successful bond is to be done out of a self-lost love of their partner; this type of relationship merely develops into an empty shell. Consequently, a marriage resembling the opposite is absolutely impossible without Jesus at its center. A dynamic marriage does not only take “two to tango,” it takes three! So it is with the church’s relationship with her Bridegroom! It takes the love of Three; the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9, NASB).”

The reality is when we fall in love with Christ, we serve Him and are not even aware of it. To be aware of it, desirous of recognition, is a viable indication we have “left our first love” (if we ever had it to begin with).

 

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 11

“Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:15-18, NASB)

It has been said that there is nothing more certain on earth than death and taxes. Of course, the flip side of this sentiment is that almost all of life is uncertain. Consequently, humans are forever trying to make a “best guess” when it comes to decision making. Trends are studied, risks are ostensibly counted, and costs of potential choices are weighed; all aimed at reaching the most informed and preferential outcome. The reason for such ambiguity is connected to the inability to know the future.

How is life possible under such conditions? Have questions like the following ever vexed you? Who should I marry? What career path should I take? How should I discipline my children? Should I trust my doctor’s opinion? How do I care for my aging loved one? What home should I purchase? Should I tell the truth? Is this the right time to retire? Is there anything more to life than this? Were things supposed to be this way? Should I cheat on this test? Do my parents really know what they are talking about? Does anyone really care? Is God really there? Does God really hear?

Endless questions; all rooted in uncertainty; all based on limited knowledge, especially about a seemingly unknowable future. However, there is another approach to life. This standard is entirely different and buries its roots in the enduring soil of the sovereignty of God. Stated more simply, faith placed in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Daniel exemplifies this kind of certainty in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the December 7th reading from the devotional Bible. When threatened with eminent destruction in a situation completely out of their control (which actually is an illusion anyway; control does not reside in human authority) the three young men demonstrate incredible fortitude. How; because they see themselves as great? No. They see their God as great. Do they act as if they deserve a privileged result from their trial? No. They rest in whatever choice their God will embrace, not one of their own personal affection.

The end result of their ordeal, after they are thrown into the furnace, is a stroll with a fourth individual who “is like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25, NASB) They actually get to walk with Jesus!

The even more important aspect of the story is not that they were delivered from the fire; but through the journey of the trial, they spent personal time with their Creator. Struggles have an amazing ability to reveal our true helplessness and frailty while bringing to light the ultimate seat of control and power from the Hand of God. In this is rest and assurance. Where does such insight begin? One must embark on this journey at the base of the cross of Jesus, in His death and ultimate resurrection. Only here is human frailty and subjugation certified. Only here is a personal relationship with an infinite God afforded. The trek commences here!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 10

When facing an enemy, being aware of the strategy to be used against us becomes a significant advantage. Such knowledge enables us to anticipate specific indicators that would arise from the modus operandi of our opponent; consequently, appropriate countermeasures can be applied. From a spiritual perspective, our adversary is formidable. He is truly out for our destruction. He is tireless in his pursuit for our demise. Even so, we fret not; interwoven throughout its fabric from Genesis to Revelation, the scripture clearly exposes the enemy’s tactics.

The framework of the evil one’s schemes is recorded in the December 3rd reading of our devotional Bible. The Apostle John insists, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16, NASB) Here he has plainly unpacked three major facets of combat; three distinct advantages the devil has in our sinful, fallen nature. Being aware of this can, through the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christ follower, keep us on guard when satan comes against us.

Consider examples from God’s Word. One doesn’t need to venture very far into the Bible before this diabolical method of assault is displayed. In Genesis chapter three, satan, in the form of a serpent, employs all three devices in the temptation of Adam and Eve toward action that would ultimately plunge humanity beneath the curse of sin. He begins his enticement of Eve with, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it (fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, NASB, emphasis mine) This temptation appeals to the boastful pride of life. Just as Lucifer tried to elevate himself above God out of pride (A deed at which he was unsuccessful, I might add!), he beguiles Eve by persuading her sense of pride that God is hiding something from her; He is keeping knowledge from her that she has a “right” to know. To simplify, Eve was fooled into thinking all knowledge should be accessible to her; she deserved to be “like God.” The text discloses that Eve believed the tree to be “desirable to make one wise (v. 6).” This, of course, was a fool’s errand that continues to plague every human being to this day.

The Genesis account goes on to say that she “saw the tree was good for food (v. 6)” This exposes the lust of the flesh. It is similar to Esau’s sin of selling his birthright to his brother Jacob because he was controlled by his immediate desire of the lust of his “belly,” instead of managing that lust for something exponentially more significant. For Eve, the grumbling of her stomach took precedence over the desire of her Creator; the consequences of which resulted in her spiritual death, as well as that of every other individual.

The fruit of the tree became a “delight to the eyes” for Eve. This obviously falls into the category of the lust of the eyes. Once she fixated on it, she was hooked. A reflection from the Book of James in the New Testament reveals, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15, NASB) Once the fruit glistened with perceived beauty in Eve’s eyes and she did not look away, she lusted, she ate (sinned), and she died (immediately spiritually and physically later). In like fashion, David, upon seeing Bathsheba bathing, instead of looking away, gazed intently at her leading to ramifications that followed him his entire life.

Incidentally, the text of Genesis reveals that Adam was standing alongside Eve the entire ordeal and did not intervene in any way. He was in the place of spiritual guidance and leadership for the two of them and he stood silently by! When given the fruit to eat by Eve, he did not refuse; gladly sinking his teeth into the demise of his potential race and the abrogation of his responsibilities from his Creator. Thus Adam bears the charge for the seed of sin in all of us.

Satan even employed these three devises in his temptation of Jesus found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The flesh of Jesus was drawn in by the temptation to turn a stone into bread (especially since Jesus had not eaten in 40 days!). The eyes of Jesus were appealed to by the evil one showing Him all the kingdoms of the world in an instant and offering them in exchange for worship (which was also a lure of the flesh because of the pain Jesus would have to endure in order to become King through the cross; satan was tempting Jesus toward a crown without the cross). The pride found in the world was provoked by satan’s tactic of taking Jesus to the highest part of the temple, over 100 feet in the air, and prodding Him to jump off; (satan invoking scripture) then assuring Him the angels would catch Him lest He dash His foot on a stone. In this Jesus would have selfishly been using God’s Word for His own personal fame causing those who would have witnessed the event to marvel at the immediate, an influence toward pride; not to be ultimately convinced of Christ’s life and mission by entering into His sufferings through death and resurrection; an influence toward selflessness. An outward appeal of flash and glamour may impress for a moment (easy “believeism”), yet does very little toward eternal heart change. Such things are only temporary and would have equated to nothing more than Jesus fame resembling that of a first century “rock star.”

Interestingly, Jesus victoriously countered these temptations with scripture. This makes the Renovate movement all the more important as we internalize God’s Word in our daily life following the admonition of the psalmist, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against Thee.” (Psalms 119:11, NASB)

Can you say that you know and recognize the strategies of the evil one as he seeks to devour you each day? Do you know how to extinguish his fiery arrows using the “washing of water with the Word?” (Eph. 5:26) These are very relevant questions for a fruitful and effective life lived in the shadow of Christ’s cross and in the victory of His resurrection.

In Christ,

Pastor Rob