Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Luke 23:33-43
23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

23:34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"

23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,

23:37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"

23:38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"

23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."

23:42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

23:43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Look at what the thief on the cross says.  He lived his whole life apart from God, and yet here, when he "gets it," he does three things.

1. He rebukes evil.  The other criminal does not get it.  He mocks Jesus and says, "Are you not the Christ?" (He does not believe that Jesus is).  "Save yourself and us!"  Show us a proof, a sign, a miracle.  When someone demands a miracle, we can be assured that he won't believe, even if the miracle takes place.  Abraham tells the rich man that his family will not believe, even if someone comes back from the dead.  Also, Jesus IS in the process of saving the thieves.  He is in the process of saving the whole world, but only those who accept the gift will receive it.  Even though Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for the whole world, the only people who receive it are the ones to whom the Holy Spirit applies it.

So, the saved thief rebukes the lost thief.  "Do you not even fear God?"  There seem to be two kinds of lost people: those who do not believe in God and those who do not fear God.  Belief in existence is not enough.  One has to know who God is, and when we know God, we fear him: a healthy respect, awe, and worship.  So many people do not believe in God, but when they do, they don't take him seriously.  They are essentially deists.

2. He confesses the gospel with repentance.  Next, the thief confesses his understanding of the gospel.  He says to the lost thief that both of them are under the same condemnation as Jesus but that they DESERVE the penalty and the punishment but Jesus does not.  This is the gospel in a nutshell.  Once we understand the magnitude of our sin and the righteousness of Christ, and that he suffered on our behalf, and that this switch is the ultimate divine act, we actually understand more about Christianity that most.  This is also a form of repentance, the idea that we understand that we DESERVE the penalty, and we turn from our sin and toward Christ.

3. He ASKS the Lord to remember him.  As Christ says in the sermon on the mount: Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find.  The last thing the saved thief does is ask Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  He acknowledges who Christ is: the king!  He merely asks to remember him, with no expectations that he will be there too.  Just as Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him, and the cupbearer forgets, Jesus, however, not only remembers but has already made plans for the thief to be with him in paradise.

When we despair and say, how hard it is to get to heaven!  The way is so narrow!  Remember, all we have to do is ask.  Ask as the thief asked: remember me.  Of course, we won't ask if we don't reject evil and understand the gospel, but never fear: according to Colossians 1:13:

1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 

God overcomes our rebellion.  He compels us to reject evil, he leads us to repentance, and he prompts us to ask.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Our Redeemer Lives

Job is a popular book of the Bible, but it is also one of the most difficult to grasp.  We realize that God has caused all this misery on Job, and yet we make excuses.  Well, we say, Satan was actually the one who did it, but God allowed Satan to inflict Job, so it is God's fault.  Atheist's hold up this book against the goodness of God, and we, as Christians, have to admit that we really don't know what true goodness is.  God is pure goodness, but goodness, when exercised, doesn't necessarily look like what we conceive it to be.

We have to realize several things.  One, everything is God's.  He giveth and he taketh away.  Not because he's mean, but because he knows our hearts better than we do.  Sometimes goodness means "for our good," and not necessarily "doing nice things."  So, yes, Job's life was essentially taken away.  He was inflicted with sores.  He lost everything.  He despaired.  But let's see how he reacts to this affliction.

He has three friends with him, and what they are doing to him is torture.  These three are essentially espousing the prosperity gospel to him.  This is the false gospel that is permeating our Christian culture today.  What this false gospel says is that with positive thoughts, you can have great health and prosperous wealth, and IF YOU DON'T get those things, that means you don't have enough faith.  You are failing as a Christian.  You must have done something sinful.  This is essentially what Job's friends tell him, and he finally screams at them: "you are worse than the affliction!  You are twisting the knife in deeper!  Leave me alone!"  He knows that the Lord has done this to him, but it is not because he did something particularly sinful.  We are ALL sinful.  We all deserve what has happened to Job and WORSE, but it is the Lord's discretion what happens to us.  Job's three friends deserve what he has gotten.  They are misled, because they think they do not deserve that, but they do.  God is only delaying their affliction till a later time, probably at actual death, and that affliction is everlasting ruin.

Here is what Job says:

Job 19:23-27a
19:23 "O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book!

19:24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!

19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

19:26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,

19:27a whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

He wishes his words would be preserved forever, and indeed they are, and the following words are some of the most well-known in all of scripture.  Let's look at them closely:

Verse 25 actually begins with the words, AS FOR ME.  This means that Job cannot speak for his friends or anyone else, for that matter.  Likewise, we cannot speak for others.  Each person has an individual walk with the Lord or not.  I can't speak for anyone in this room, but AS FOR ME, I can speak.  I can speak for myself.  What are Job's friends doing?  They are speaking for him.  They are telling him all that he has done wrong, and what his problem is.  Have you had friends who try to FIX your life?  They tell you what you should do.  They tell you were you should go.  They tell you how you should live.  Job says he only speaks for himself.

I KNOW that my Redeemer lives.  He doesn't think.  He doesn't hope.  He doesn't postulate based on the available evidence.  He KNOWS.  There's a fellow I know who tells me he has serious doubts about the Christian religion.  He is PLAGUED with doubts.  He fancies himself a Christian, but he has many doubts about Jesus, about the New Testament, etc.  He tells me that he would love to sit down with me and converse over coffee, but he is afraid that his doubts might rub off on me and ruin my walk with Christ.  Really?  I shook my head and told him that it would never happen.  Why?  Because I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES.  I'm not just convinced through lots of reading the right authors, and if I read the wrong authors, I'll fall out of faith.  I KNOW.  There is not a DOUBT.

MY REDEEMER.  Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God.  God got Job in this mess, in order to bring Job low and close to God, and God in the end will pull him out of the depths.  The only person he could be talking about in history is Jesus.  LIVES.  When does the story of Job take place?  Chronologically it's at the end of the historical books and right before Psalms.  But it is only there because it is wisdom literature.  Job lived somewhere in the time period of the book of Genesis. Job is a very early book, chronologically.  And Job KNOWS THAT HIS REDEEMER LIVES.  Jesus was alive at the time of Job.  He was alive at the creation of the world.  Jesus has always been and will always be. He is our redeemer, too, and he LIVES.

Not only does Job see the beginning and everlasting nature of Jesus, he sees him at the end of all things.  Job says that AT THE LAST, the end of everything, Jesus will take his stand on the earth.  He is seeing him at the end of everything as well as the beginning of everything.  Jesus permeates everything.  Even after Job's flesh, and our flesh for that matter, has been destroyed.  Yet, from his eyes, and from our eyes, we will see all these things take place.  Next week I will talk about how we will be witnesses of recreation.  This is possible, because we will receive new bodies from our Lord, and we will see through actual eyes.

The whole of verse 27 says, "Whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another.  My heart faints within me."  Not only will we behold the risen Christ with our own eyes, but we will not see anything else.  As it says in Isaiah 65: the former things will be forgotten and not even come to mind.  Everything involved in our future lives revolves around God.

Does this mean that heaven is one long Church service?  No.  I think it means that, because we are the bride of Christ, it is like one long marriage feast.  Christ is our lover, and we collectively focus on him, because he is our true love.  Someone once asked whether there would be chocolate in heaven, and the answer may be yes, but even if there was a truck load of chocolate in the corner, we wouldn't notice, because our attention will be on Christ.  The only way we will taste chocolate in heaven is if and when our lover places it in our mouths.

In the midst of despair, Job says these amazing words.  Why?  Because when we are at our lowest, that is when we find our redeemer, and we find that he is alive.  We know it to be so.  What about those who lose faith in God when they hit rock bottom?  Well, the world has misled them, and they have been given a false god in place of the true God.  When Jesus was at his lowest, death on the cross, the Father was right there with him, working salvation for us all.  At his lowest, Job knew that his redeemer lived.  Do we?

We know the verse that says, "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," but have we ever read it as, "the Lord taketh away and the Lord giveth?"  That order is just as true.  Everything created is the Lord's.  We are created beings.  We are the Lord's.  Pray that he will give us himself, because he is the most important possession we need.

Monday, November 4, 2013

In Christ

There's a period of time between when we come to a "head" knowledge of God and a "heart" knowledge.  The head knowledge is when we "get it," when we actually figure out that it's all true, that there is a God and that the Bible's representation of him is true.  I came to this head knowledge through the works of C.S. Lewis, and I devoured everything I could find about theology and about living a Christian life.  But I didn't have the heart knowledge.  To get this heart knowledge, God himself actually picks you up from the place you are, and he places you in a new place, a place where you begin to grow into a child of God.  This place is "in Christ."

I want to define two terms.  The first is "in Christ."  This is an actual place where God puts Christians.  Many professing Christians still belong to the "head knowledge" category, but being in Christ is something only God does, and it is defined Biblically as being "elected."  The elect are the group of professing Christians who are being supernaturally transformed into the image of Christ.  Hence, this is why they are in Christ.

Another word we hear is "saint."  What is a saint?  Is a saint a special, noteworthy Christian who performs miracles on earth after death, and so is written into a pantheon of saints in some book in a palace?  No, according to Paul, the elect are saints.  He wrote to the saints in Ephesus.  These aren't the leaders but the whole body of elect, of people who God has picked up and placed in Christ.

What does a saint look like?  We usually call each other saints under two circumstances.  One is derogatory.  When we rebuke someone, they may respond, "oh, well, you're such a SAINT," being ironic.  Essentially it's like calling someone a hypocrite. The other is when we witness someone persevering through horrible trials, someone who is able to withstand the onslaught of hostile words or actions.  We watch them go through hell on earth and the term is used during the ordeal, "you are SUCH a saint."  The implication is that the speaker would NEVER be able to hold out the way the saint is holding out.  "I'm astonished that you are able to put up with that."  This way saint is used is closer to what a saint looks like.

When I was in my period of head knowledge, in between understanding the Christian worldview and being put "in Christ," I had tried to evangelize the unbelieving people in my workplace.  As being born in America, living through the prosperous 80s decade, and being steeped in individualism, I interpreted the scriptures that talked about living the Christian life for all to see in a distinctly American way.  To hear that my new Christian life will actually draw unbelievers toward me and compel them to investigate my life, I took that to mean that I needed to look PROSPEROUS.  I needed to demonstrate that my life was BETTER than it had been, since I became a Christian.  So, that meant that I needed to be the best worker, the one that brought in the most clients, the one that solved all the problems, the one that never got sick or missed a day of work, the one that had the shining family, that one that had the happiest marriage, the one who had it ALL TOGETHER.

How did this work in practice?  I wasn't the best worker.  When there was no work to be had, I goofed off with the rest of them.  I didn't bring in the most clients.  Convincing people to give you a chance is hard stuff.  I'm living that now, trying to grow a church.  I didn't have the complete knowledge necessary to solve the company's problems or to make each individual project work smoothly.  I got sick, my family got sick.  I missed days of work due to sickness or family emergencies.  Sometimes I'd get into arguments with friends and family, and then I'd try to PRETEND that nothing was wrong. What I was broadcasting to the unbelievers in my office that there was NO change in my life, and worse, it was obvious that I was trying to cover it up and be deceitful in regards to my level of prosperity.  I was pushing people AWAY from Jesus.

What is the change then?  What is it that people are supposed to notice about you?  How are you supposed to be different now that you are a Christian?  Because we're Americans we expect God to weave a miracle about us, so that people will say, "wow," but the truth is that the miracle God provides is unexpected.  God doesn't fix our circumstances or solve our problems; God changes our hearts so that we can persevere through our problems.  We have the same problems as the ungodly, but all the ungodly have in response is despair.  We have hope in Jesus Christ.

Look at this passage from Luke:

Luke 6:20-31
6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

6:27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

We have hope, because no matter what happens to us in this world, we have inherited the next, simply by being "in Christ."  We can be poor, we can be hungry, we can be sad, we can be hated, excluded, reviled and defamed.  None of that matters, because by being in Christ, all of that will be undone in the next world.  Our knowledge of the truth of that promise from our Lord provides a hope that shines through all of the hardships, all of the trials and tribulations we face.  People SEE that.  People see how we react and that makes them curious.  God doesn't change our circumstances, he changes how we RESPOND to our circumstances.  People see THAT, and that is what makes them unsettled and intrigued about us.

In fact, if things are going our way, we should be worried.  Why?  Because it is when we are at our lowest that God is working in our lives the most.  It is at rock bottom where God is really touching our lives.  This is a place--a place of trial and tribulation--that we should be embracing, even though we don't want to, because it goes up against our American sensibilities.  See the list of actions Jesus demands we take in the passage above.

Love your enemies, 
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, 
pray for those who abuse you.

We steel ourselves up and say to God, "ok, I get it.  If ever I have an enemy, I will try to love him.  If ever someone hates me, I will try to do good to them.  If I am ever cursed, I will bless in response.  If ever I'm abused, I will try to pray for the abuser."  The change God has done in us involves much more than trying, it even involves more than doing.  If ever I have an enemy?  How about, "LORD, SEND ME AN ENEMY SO THAT I WILL LOVE HIM."  Lord, make me hated, so that I can do good in return.  Lord, make someone curse me so that I can bless him.  Can we pray those?  Our brains won't let us.  How about, "Lord, send me an ABUSER so that I will pray for him."  Only God can bring those prayers out of us.  We can only pray such things if we are IN CHRIST.

It is when we feel God the LEAST, then he is working the MOST in our lives.  Have you ever felt that God was far away and that things were empty in your life?  Guess what.  That's when God is building you up.  We don't like this sort of gospel; it's an unsettling gospel; but it is the true gospel.  When God seems furthest away, that is when he is nearest.

Jesus died on the cross, and at one point, when all the sins of the world were being heaped upon him, he lifted his head and cried out, "Lord, why have you forsaken me?"  For the first time ever, our sins had separated the Son from the Father, and Jesus could no longer feel the Father's presence.  Was the Father really gone?  No, that was when he was working the hardest.  That was when the salvation of the world was taking place.

Pray that God will pick you up from where you are and place you in Christ.  Pray that he will bring you low, so that he will sanctify you.  Pray that you will be poor, hungry, grieved, hated, excluded, reviled and defamed.  Those are the qualities of the saints.  Consider those qualities joy.  The joyous saints are the ones who draw the attention of the ungodly world.  The joyous saints are the ones who inherit the kingdom of God.