Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are we acting like we are dead or Alive?

Read Colossians 3.

The similarities between this chapter and Ephesians 4-5 are inescapable.  The Holy Spirit guided the Apostle Paul to write similar admonitions in many of his other letters.  These consistent statements explain the bedrock of what a true follower of Jesus looks like.

The basic picture is that when one places their eternal faith in Christ, they become a new person from the inside out (2 Corinthians 5:17).  They are to consider the old life before Christ to be dead (Romans 6:8).  Receiving Jesus is compared to a resurrection to life (Colossians 3:1).  This new life is no longer marked by "I" but Christ (Galatians 2:20).  Since life is outwardly evident for all to see, true faith in Jesus is impossible to hide.  It influences our way of thinking, speaking and behaving in all circumstances.  Others can see if you have a genuine faith.  

Question: What noticeable differences has Christ made in my life?

Some of the sinful habits of the old self are listed in this chapter.  The responsibility of a believer is to "put to death" (v.5), "put them all away" (v.8), and "put off" (v.9) every one of those indicators of existence without Christ.  Instead, we submit to the One who is our life (v.4) and seek to please Him in all things.  We are "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved" (v.12).  Now, we must discipline ourselves to act like it.  "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (v.17).

So, what does that look like exactly?  After a list of positive Christian traits in verses 12-13, he adds three more hallmarks of this new life.
1. Put on love. (v.14)
If we implement the character of verses 12-13 with a commitment to love people, we have provided the basis for an environment of living in relational harmony.

2. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. (v.15)
Hurting people, hurt people.  They resent what happened to them.  When we personally embrace God's forgiveness and trust His loving sovereignty in our circumstances, we experience His peace and gratitude in all things.  This peace becomes evident to others and allows us the freedom to minister to their needs.

3. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. (v.16)
There can be no spiritual growth without one immersing themselves in the Scriptures.  Note: this is not just for Sundays, a class to take, or group meeting.  The truth of God's word is to be "in you", and not a little, but abundantly!  The rest of this verse describes how this commitment to the Bible will be outwardly displayed for all to see.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

4 warnings against Religion

Read Colossians 2.

"...Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (vv.3b-4)

So, without Jesus what can a person do concerning wisdom and knowledge?  They are limited at best and left to their own imaginations.  Everyone depends all day every day upon facts and natural laws.  However, there can be no understanding as to how and why those things exist without Christ.  And, the devil is eager to pounce upon such opportunities to feed rebellious minds with man-made theories and systems of spiritual thought to believe absolutely anything but God's word.

The Gnostics attempted to gain a foothold into the church at Colossae.  They did not dismiss faith in Jesus altogether.  They mixed a mere human Jesus with intellectualism and some of the Old Testament Law to come up with a worthless religion.  The Apostle Paul took on these false teachers point by point so that no one needed to be confused or bothered by any contrary doctrine.

For the second time in two chapters, it is stated that Jesus is God in the flesh (1:19, 2:9).  With that we are given four warnings concerning false teaching.
1. Let no one delude you. (v.4)
The human approach to life is based upon "plausible" and persuasive arguments.  They sound reasonable on the surface, at least.  Those who present them are well-educated and leaders in their field of research and study.   But a theory is not a fact.  When analyzed thoroughly much more faith is required to believe their views than simple faith in Jesus.

2. Let no one distract you. (v.8)
So-called truth-seekers without Jesus will endeavor to piece together their own way of understanding life and spiritual things.  Paul warned against being taken captive by "philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."  Christians may stand firm with full confidence in light of such challenges.  "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

3. Let no one decide for you. (v.16)
The false teachers sought to judge the followers of Jesus by carrying over some of the Old Testament rituals and outward observances.  But, those things were temporary and only foreshadowed the reality of Christ.  Since Jesus came, we are no longer under that Law with its offerings of blood sacrifices, legalistic judgments of spirituality, and observances such as not working on Saturday.  Our focus, as believers, is to live each day filled with the Holy Spirit, pleasing the Lord who saved us.

4. Let no one disqualify you. (v.18)
Spiritism is alive and well.  If Satan can delude and distract people with intellectual thought or religious practice, then he will employ some element of an immaterial, spiritual system to enslave them and keep them in their sin.  Each generation has had a self-proclaimed prophet or guru that captivated followers.  They have claimed to have seen an angel and received a special message.  They have claimed a level of enlightenment that others do not have.  They claim a unique method of self-improvement of one kind or another.  The list of charlatans is endless.    "These indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value..." (v.23).  Jesus said regarding the devil, "there is no truth in him...he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:43-44)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Presenting the only real Jesus

Read Colossians 1.

Being a prisoner in Rome did not stop Paul from writing to churches.  This was especially true when he heard churches were being influenced by false teachers.  The challenge to the Colossians was Gnosticism.   Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul systematically answered the errors of the Gnostics and bolstered the confidence of the believers in Jesus.

The threat here was a strange mixture of a human Jesus (not God in the flesh) with Old Testament Law and the pseudo-elitism of philosophical thought.  Those who followed this line of thinking counted themselves intellectually superior to those who only trusted in Jesus by faith.

So, in response, the letter begins with three solid and unchangeable foundations of a true faith.
1. Who Jesus is. (vv.15-19)
True Christianity is not about a philosophy, but a Person.  It is not a religion, but a relationship.  One of the finest and most succinct depictions of Jesus is found here.
-He is the Creator of all things, material and immaterial.  Nothing exists that He did not call into existence.  Therefore, any theory or philosophical thought to the contrary is a direct affront to the Son of God.
-He is the Sustainer of all things.  It is Jesus who established and holds together the entire creation.
-He is the Head of the body of believers, called the church.
-He is the Beginning, or first, in the resurrection from the dead.
-He is to be preeminent in all things as Lord of all.
-He is fully God.
Any other Jesus is a false Jesus that never existed.

2. What Jesus did. (vv.13--14, 20-22)
-He delivered us from the dark domain of our slavery to sin.
-He transferred us into His marvelous kingdom and family.
-He redeemed through the sacrifice of His shed blood on the cross.
-He forgave us of our sin by His grace and faith in Him alone.
-He reconciled us to Himself, so we have peace with God.

3. What we are to be doing. (vv.24-29)
Our calling and opportunities may not match Paul's experiences, but every believer in Jesus has been called, gifted, and given a holy assignment to serve the Lord.  We are responsible to "administer" or manage our service (KJV="dispensation", NIV="commission", ESV="stewardship").  Regardless of when, where, or how we serve, our goal is identical.  Verses 28-29 is worthy of our memorization so we do not forget why God has left us on earth for a time
To do what? "Him we proclaim"
To whom?  "warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom"
Why?  "that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
What is required of me?  "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me."

Friday, August 26, 2016

How to behave in Church

Read Philippians 4.

In chapter two, the Holy Spirit guided the Apostle Paul to lay a foundation of what a believer's attitude should be.  The example of Christ was one of humility.  He did not demand His rights, but put them aside and willingly suffered to meet our need for redemption.  Now, in the closing chapter, he addressed some very practical issues for the congregation.

1. Be Faithful by standing firm in the Lord. (v.1)
In this culture of political correctness, many have compromised their faith in the Bible in order to accommodate false beliefs and sinful behaviors.  Ministry does flow through relationships.  But while we are to love people and serve them, we are never allowed to flinch on the Scriptures.  Being faithful to God means we are obedient to what God has said.

2. Be humble by living in harmony with each other. (v.2-3)
Whatever the disagreement was, the rift between these two women had reached a point where Paul felt he needed to say something.  Churches everywhere have been damaged and ministries stunted due to individuals in a congregation who could not get along.  All too often the church leadership does not step in to deal with the issue before it becomes sin.  Such people forget who the enemy is.  It is not another believer.  These were good women who needed help to resolve the problem and get back to serving the Lord.

3. Be cheerful by rejoicing in the Lord. (v.4)
Philippians is often called "the epistle of joy" because of the frequent use of the words joy and rejoice.  A person without Jesus may only find their happiness in their circumstances.  When life is good and going their way, they can rejoice.  A follower of Jesus is learning that circumstances are constantly changing but God and our faith in Him does not.  He is always in control.  He is always faithful.  His love for us and commitment to us never changes.  For this reason, Paul could write we are to "rejoice in the Lord always".

Paul gave his own testimony of the power of this truth in verses 10-13.  He "learned in whatever situation I am to be content."  That was not because everything in his life went well.  It did not.  He could rejoice and be content because Christ strengthened him through it all (v.13).

4. Be reasonable in dealing with everyone. (v.5)
Some translations have used the word "moderation" (KJV), or "forbearing spirit" (NAS), or "gentleness" (NIV).  The Greek has to do with behaving in an appropriate, patient, mild mannered way.  It is this response that we are to be known for inside and outside the church.  To Pastor Titus, Paul wrote "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What does it mean to know Jesus?

Read Philippians 3.

"If anyone could make it to heaven, surely he did."  That statement at a funeral was meant to be a compliment to the deceased for the kind of person he was and all that he had done to help others.  The problem is that being "good" has nothing to do with going to heaven.

Like the Galatians, the Philippian congregation encountered some false teachers.  The error being communicated was that in addition to Jesus one must do certain things in order to be saved.  Works of "the flesh", Paul called them.  Well, if works and achievement could earn merit with God, then the Apostle Paul had more than enough about which to boast (vv.4-6).  But none of those things forgave his sin, removed his guilt, and secured a home in heaven. "I count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (v.8).   Indeed, He considered knowing Jesus as having "surpassing worth."

Obviously, this is more than lip service about knowing Jesus.  It is not just information or a shallow belief.  Paul and the Philippians already knew Christ as their Savior.  But there is so much more.  Knowing Jesus, as the Bible describes, results in the renunciation of self for the priceless relationship with the Lord of life.  Here is the depth of that relationship from verse 10.

1. "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection".
This has nothing to do with a denomination or a church or a list of things to do.  This is a person with whom we are to develop an intimacy like no other.  One of the astounding facts of our faith is that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe desires our fellowship.  He has the power over life and death.  This was proved by His own predicted resurrection.  It is a precursor of our own resurrection.  But far greater than physical resurrection is His power to give spiritual life to those who were dead in sin.

2.  "That I may know him...and may share in his sufferings".
Those who only give lip service to faith in Christ wither when they are challenged to take a stand for Jesus.  Isaiah 53 speaks of the Messiah as one who was "despised and rejected".  The Apostle Paul frequently wrote of his sufferings solely due to letting others know about Jesus.  But no one gets to heaven unless someone delivers the good news to them (Romans 10:14).  Silence for a believer in Jesus is not golden.  Heartache and heartbreak over the spiritual condition of others comes with knowing Christ.  Not all will be martyred for knowing Jesus, but "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).

3. That I may know him...becoming like him in his death".
Paul is not suggesting that all believers should experience physical crucifixion.  However, truly knowing Jesus involves a death to self and all sinful behaviors of the past.  The baptism of a believer in water is a picture of what has already taken place when we were immersed into Christ by the Holy Spirit.  "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)  "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Which way is Up?

Read Philippians 2.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar was known for saying, "Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude."

Jesus said, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles (unbelievers) lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them"  Then, in contrast He said, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve..." (Mark 10:42,45)

The Apostle Paul wrote that followers of Jesus are to "have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus."  Then, he went on to explain what that means.

In this sin-warped world, success is most often measured by standards that are "crooked and twisted" (v.15).  Our natural attitudes are filled with "selfish ambition or conceit" (v.3).   Life becomes about what we can get and gain for ourselves.   Personal goals are marked by position, possessions and/or power.  Those three things comprise the entirety of human achievement.  Without Christ, that is all there is.

But, then came the example of Jesus.  He was God in the flesh.  He has position as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19).  He claims possession of everything there is.  "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." (Psalm 24:1)  And, on top of those, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).  Indeed, Jesus is the Supreme Being.

Yet, for our sakes, He voluntarily laid aside all of those things for a time in order to meet our greatest need.  "He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (v.8)  "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." (vv.9-10)  Since no one could ever come close to the humiliation of Christ, no one but Jesus could ever be so exalted.

Truly, the way up is down.  This, then, is the manner in which we are to serve.  "In humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (vv.3-4)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

So, why are you Here?

Read Philippians 1.

When Paul first visited the city of Philippi about A.D.51, he led Lydia, the Philippian jailer and others to faith in Christ.  When he left, there was a nucleus of baptized believers for a local church.  At this writing, a decade had passed.  Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting trial.  But, he is not complaining about his situation.  He understood why God had him where he was.

1. He understood why he was in prison. (vv.12-14)
God gave him a captive audience at government expense!  Moans and groans, grumbling and cursing would be normal expectations.  But Paul could sing praises to God, as he did in the Philippian jail.  He could loudly proclaim the saving grace of Jesus to these fellow prisoners.  And, as he stated in verse 13, all of Caesar's palace guards had heard the gospel.  Perhaps, none of these countless number of men would have heard the message if Paul had not been in prison.
Question: Why does God have you where you are today?  Who needs to hear the good news of Jesus?

2. He understood why he was on earth. (vv.19-26)
Why didn't God take Paul to heaven on the day of his conversion to Christ?  Why didn't God allow Paul to die on any number of occasions?  Why was he still living?  These thoughts perplexed him as well.  He wanted to go and be with Christ.  He would have preferred to be in heaven.  Paul wrote "to die is gain."  However, he realized that by staying he could continue to minister to and encourage others in their faith.  So, as long as God gave him breath, his life motto was "For to me to live is Christ."  
Question: Why are you still here on earth?  For whom are you living?

3. He understood why he suffered. (vv.27-30) 
Suffering due to sharing the gospel and living for Christ is a "given" part of our faith.
"Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)
"For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21)

   Paul was ridiculed for his faith.  He was beaten and left for dead for preaching Jesus.  His own former colleagues of religious leaders in Jerusalem sought to assassinate him.  A weaker man may have wanted to give up.  Adversities in life will tend either make a person bitter or better.  What gave Paul such perseverance was that he knew all of these things were temporary.  His hope lay in his "completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (v.6).
"But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:13)
Question: Now, do you understand?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Worship while you Work

Read Ephesians 6.

Continuing from chapter 5 is the theme of submission.  When the Holy Spirit is in control of a follower of Jesus, they will exhibit humility and a willing respect for those whom God has placed over them.  We do this, not because the other person, but because our focus is on our true Leader, Jesus.  It is our aim to always do those things that will please Him.  This is foundational to understanding the instructions to wives and husbands.

In chapter 6, the letter then addresses children and slaves with words of caution and warning to fathers and masters.  Regardless of one's station in life, each Christian is to fulfill their responsibilities in a God-honoring way.

One practical test will be how a believer in Jesus responds when there are challenges at work.  For example, what should a Christian do when there are disagreements with a supervisor, changes in job expectations, an overload of work to be done, or unfair treatment by an employer?  The unbeliever may display anger, grumbling, rebellion, etc.  If the word of God found here in 6:5-8 will work for Christian slaves in the Roman Empire, they will work anywhere.

1. Obey with fear and trembling.
Respect for authority is taught throughout the Bible on every level from the home to employment to government to God Himself.  Second to that is being afraid of the consequences of disobedience.

2. With a sincere heart.
There are those who will comply outwardly while harboring resentment and anger on the inside.  A follower of Jesus is to be genuine from the inside out.

3. As you would Christ.
If that person was Jesus Himself how would you respond?  But some will say, "They are not Jesus and do not deserve my respect."  That is the whole point of this passage!  We are to look beyond that imperfect, even sinful, person and keep our eyes of the One we really serve in this life.

4. Not with eyeservice as people-pleasers.
Some are tempted to work hard and smile big when the boss is watching.  True believers understand that God is watching our behavior all the time.

5. Doing the will of God from the heart.
Bloom where you are planted.  The slave had no choice of occupation.  But even the Christian slave had to decide about their attitude.  Free people must ask themselves if this place and this job is God's will for me or not.  If it is, are we to be accepting, embracing, God's will for our lives this day.

6. Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.
Performing a good job with a great attitude will not only be seen by the authority over us, but the Lord promises to take note and reward us accordingly.  "For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do." (Hebrews 6:10)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

3 indicators that God is control of your Life

Read Ephesians 5.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul continued to explain about the Christian walk.  Walk in love (v.1).  Walk as children of the light (v.8).  Look carefully then how you walk (v.15).

This theme began in chapter 2 and verse 2.  Those who do not know Jesus walk (live their lives) according to the satanically energized "course of this world."  As a defeated enemy, the devil does everything he can to cause individuals to distort and dismiss the standards of God.  Once a person rejects the fact that they are created by God and that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, then they will turn to their own way.  They will look to personal feelings, culture, government, and majority votes to determine what is right and wrong.  The Bible calls this rebellious independence sin (Isaiah 53:6) and is the very reason for the crucifixion of Christ.

Chapter 5 also continues to be specific about sin: Sexual immorality, all impurity, covetousness (which is idolatry), filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking.  Such things as these "must not even be named among you".

Men and women of God have renounced these behaviors in themselves in order to live lives that please God.  It is called "walking in the light", walking "as wise", and living in "will of God."  Instead, of being under the influence of those who will experience God's wrath (v.6), or the influence of substances such as wine (v.18), followers of Jesus are to be filled (controlled by) the Holy Spirit.

Next, we are given three indicators that we are in the will of God and that we have yielded ourselves to the Holy Spirit.
1. Singing. (v.19)
No religion on earth has music that can compare to that of Christianity.  Singing has always been a mainstay of the worship of Jesus Christ.  Two books of the Bible are songbooks (Psalms and the Song of Solomon).  Humorously, Steve Martin has recorded "The atheist ain't got no song."  Sin and the cares of this world may rob a believer of their song.  When Judah sat broken hearted, they lost their song (Psalm 137:4).   A sign of one who has submitted themselves and their circumstances to God begins to sing from the inside out.  And, as this verse begins, we need to let others hear our praise.
2. Giving thanks. (v.20)
When a person is trying to find their song in circumstances, they will become ungrateful.  They will want to measure their lives by more.  A follower of Jesus learns that contentment comes in knowing the truth.  "For the Gentiles (unbelievers) seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all." (Matthew 6:32)  Learning to acknowledge that everything comes to us from the hand of God causes us to live lives of thanksgiving for what we have been given today.
3. Submitting to one another. (v.21)
Here is a true test that will expose our wrong sort of independence.  We may yield to the Holy Spirit in private prayer, but yielding to each other may be the challenge.  When God is in control there will be a humility about that person.  They will not be demanding their own way but the good of others according to God's word.  We are to behave like this out of reverence for Christ.  "Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:5)  Jesus did not demand His rights as Creator and Owner of all things.  He submitted Himself to the suffering and the sacrifice to meet our needs.

The practical example of this last indicator is marriage.  Satan has done everything he can to distort and to dismiss the truth of God's word and to destroy this picture of Christ and the church.  The wife is to submit to her husband's leadership, not because she thinks her husband is always right, but out of reverence for her true Leader.  The husband is to lovingly sacrifice for his wife.  His weighty responsibility is to maintain the holiness of the relationship and the home.  This means he gives up living for himself, doing his own thing, and going his own way, in order to be like Jesus in his marriage.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Learning to Walk

Read Ephesian 4.

One of the exciting moments in parenting is when the baby takes those first steps.  In time, the child is expected to do much more than wobble for a few feet.  The parents look forward to seeing them run.  The walking comparison is used in the New Testament regarding spiritual growth and living as a follower of Jesus.

In chapter 2, the Apostle Paul explained that before a person puts their faith in Jesus, they are spiritually dead.  Unbelievers live life walking "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (2:2).  "But God" has "made us alive together with Christ" (2:4-5).  In chapter 3, we are challenged to put God's grace that saved and changed our lives into action.

Chapter 4 begins in verse 1 with "therefore."  Based upon what was written in the first three chapters, the last three chapters become very personal.  These are instructions on how to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called."  Since we are individually gifted by God to serve Him effectively, we are to grow up.  This is done as we mutually utilize our gifts for each other in the local church.  All of us need learn from those with speaking gifts (v.11).  Their purpose in ministry to us is to teach and equip us to maturity in our faith (vv.12-15).  Then, we are to serve one another with the gifts God has given to us.  Such maturation takes place in a gathering of committed believers.  Notice how crucial each member of the local church is to the health of the congregation.  "From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly..." (v.16)

Learning to walk as a believer in Jesus and then helping others to follow in your footsteps is what every church member is to be pursuing.  Living in a manner that pleases God requires decided and continuous acts of discipline.
1. Put off the old self. (vv.17-22)
We are no longer allowed to walk like those who do not know Christ.  All of us enter the Christian life with certain vocabulary words, ways of thinking, a world view, personal habits, sinful behaviors, and selfish motives that offend the holiness of God.  Those are sins that nailed Jesus to the cross (Isaiah 53).  Before Christ, these things did not bother us because of the "hardness of heart" and  callousness in our thinking.  Sometimes these changes may happen instantly upon salvation.  But there is usually one or more of these "old self" elements that linger.  It is our duty in Christ to daily confront our temptations to sin and flee them.

2. Put on the new self. (vv.23-24)
In other words, we are to practice, all the time, not sometimes, not just on Sunday mornings, "true righteousness and holiness"; "the likeness of God."  A man who claims to be a Christian is to be known by others as a man of God.  A woman who claims to be a follower of Jesus is to be known by others as a woman of God.  How does this happen?  First, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us.  We must listen moment by moment for His voice in our conscience reminding us of right from wrong.  Second, we must exercise moment by moment obedience to the holiness of God in our thinking, words, and actions.  There is no substitute for the daily intake of reading and studying the Scriptures to renew our minds.

3. Put away the old responses and practice the new. (vv.25-32)
To be specific, the Holy Spirit had Paul write down ten examples of sinful behaviors that we are no longer allowed to do.  Lying, anger (twice), stealing, offensive and condemning vocabulary, grieving the Holy Spirit, bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice.  Each of these comes with a contrasting response of a true follower of Christ.  Speak truth, do not hold on to anger, work so you  may share when others are in need, speak in a constructive way that ministers grace to others, be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.

Romans 12:2 reinforces this same teaching.  "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,"

Thursday, August 18, 2016

God's grace in Action

Read Ephesians 3.

This is one of the letters Paul wrote while in prison.  Rightly so, the people were gravely concerned for him and his health.  "So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is for your glory." (v.13)

How can a man who is confined in prison and apparently limited in resources write such strong words of doctrinal truth?  How can a hurting man seemingly dismiss his suffering and be encouraging to others?  The simple answer is here in this chapter as Paul explains effects of God's grace.

Again, in Greek the word grace (charis) refers to "the divine influence on the heart and its reflection in the life."  In other words, God does a work within a person and that work becomes outwardly apparent.  This is beyond personalities and natural abilities.  It is a spiritual result that causes us to act and react differently than those who do not know Jesus.  The word grace appears twelve times in these six chapters.  In chapter two, Paul explained that salvation is by God's grace.  Here, in chapter three, he began to expand upon the impact of grace.

1. The stewardship of God's grace. (vv.1-6)
Stewardship is a trust.  Whether the object is money, time, talent, life, children, opportunity, property, etc., it does not belong to the person.  The owner allows a steward to superintend it for a time.  At the end of that time, there will be accountability for what was entrusted.  Specifically, Paul acknowledged that the Holy Spirit had revealed insights "into the mystery of Christ".    That mystery, or previously unexplained truth, had to do with how the Gentiles fit into God's plans and promises.  It was the Holy Spirit's work of revelation, not as a result of his intellect and education.  It had been given to him "for you" (v.2).

As Creator, God is the Owner of all things (Psalm 24:1).  What He has entrusted to us is not for us.  It is to be used for the benefit of others.  When we respond to God's grace by renouncing selfish goals for passing on that grace to others, God is glorified.  And, that is the ultimate aim of life.  Soli Deo gloria.

2. The gift of God's grace. (v.7)
Every believer has been gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve Him effectively.  We do not all have the same spiritual giftedness.  These are differently distributed by the will of God.  See Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4, and Ephesians 4.  The gifts, as explained above, are stewardships given to us for the spiritual benefit of others.

3. The administration of God's grace. (vv.8-21)  
For Paul, the assignment was to preach the gospel (death, burial, and resurrection) of Jesus.  Faith in that message changed the lives and eternal destinies of those who responded in faith to God's grace (2:8).  Each follower of Christ must discover how God has gifted them and to be using that gift for the spiritual growth of other people.

It is a staggering thought that the God of heaven desires to use us!  But the impact and influence of our obedience to God's grace is beyond our comprehension.  "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dead man Walking

Read Ephesians 2.

After presenting a strong doctrinal case for what believers have in Christ, the letter now turns to recalling how and why this happened.

1. Where were we? (vv.1-3)
-Dead.  Before a person puts their personal faith in Jesus they are without true spiritual life.
-Disobedient.  The human life they live cannot please God.  They can only follow their sinful, natural desires which are energized by the devil himself.
-Doomed.  Without Jesus, "all" (v.3) people are destined to experience the consequences of their sin: God's eternal wrath.  (John 3:36)

2. What happened? (vv.4-7)
"But God."  When the God of heaven steps in, He changes everything.  It was impossible for us to be good enough to escape eternal judgment.  Note the Biblical statements describing the character of God.
-rich in mercy
-great in love
-immeasurable in kindness
"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

3. How did this change take place? (vv.8-10)
Our only hope of rescue was by the gracious intervention of God.  No one can earn their way to being saved from eternal torment.  No one can do anything to pay for a single sin.  The offer of Christ's full and final payment for the sin of the world comes only from the grace of God.  It becomes effective for each individual when they believe God's offer through faith alone.  Not only does one's personal destiny change but for the first time they can begin to understand their purpose in life.  It is not about our works, but God's workmanship and how He has created us.  (John 1:12)

4. Where are we now? (vv.11-22)
The Apostle Paul addressed one our biggest problems.  We humans are forgetful.  Twice, he stated "remember."   First, remember what life was like before faith in Jesus.  "But now in Christ" look what we have and what God is doing in and through us.
-we have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ
-we have peace with God because of Christ
-we have direct access to God because of Christ
-we are fellow citizens with all other believers, members of the household of God, working with Christ and each other in fulfilling His plans.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

4 blessings we have in Christ

Read Ephesians 1.

In writing this letter, under the divine and direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul used a familiar pattern.  The first half is doctrine.  The second half is duty.

It is crucial for a believer not just to know Jesus as Savior but to increasingly understand what we have in Christ.  We have been "blessed with every spiritual blessing" (v.1).  We have been adopted in the very family of God (v.5).  We have been redeemed and forgiven by the blood of Christ (v.7).  Our inheritance has not only been promised, but it is signed, sealed and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit Himself (vv.13-14).

Based upon those strong foundations of our faith, here is how to pray for oneself and how to pray for other believers in Jesus. (vv.15-23)
1. "The Spirit of wisdom and the revelation of the knowledge of him"
All of us are still learning.  All of us need help with insights into the Scriptures.  Reading and studying God's word should always lead us to greater insights and understanding of Jesus.  This is not an informational exercise but one of transformation.  For example, so many become needlessly bogged down and discouraged by the events in the book of Revelation.  But the first verse declares the purpose of the book is to reveal Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1).  Taking one's eyes off Jesus will result in confusion about the Bible and life.

2. "What is the hope to which he has called you"
Jesus is the only hope there is.  Everything else is wishful thinking that will only lead to a Christ-less eternity of torment.  With Jesus, we understand that this life is temporal.  We understand that no matter what happens here, God is working out His plan in us.  We understand that there awaits a secured future of eternal life and the joys of heaven.  It is this hope in Jesus, not our circumstances, that keeps us encouraged and persevering.

3. "What are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints"
What God has in store for those who love Him, He has already revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:8-10).  Comprehending what has been revealed in the Scriptures is the lifetime pursuit of a follower of Christ.  They are not perceived naturally by eyes and ears.  But as we learn the Scriptures, these abundant blessings begin to come alive.  They provide spiritual fuel, energizing us to live for God.

4. "What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us"
This is the power that by spoken word created the heavens and earth.  This is the power that holds and sustains the universe.  This is the power that controls life and death.  This is the power of resurrection.  This is the power of the Good News that can change a person's eternal destiny.  This is the power that enables us to overcome our sin and live for Jesus.

Wisdom.  Hope.  Riches.  Power.  All we need to be overcomers today already belong to us in Christ.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Get Connected

Read Galatians 6.

In chapter five, we are told that believers are free from the Old Testament Law.  However, our freedom is not a mere state of being.  It is to be displayed in our actions toward one another.  "Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (5:13-14)  The key to this new way of life is to be filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit (5:16).

But some in Galatia were not behaving in the Spirit (5:25).

Genuine followers of Christ are not perfect people without problems.  They are forgiven people who are learning how to respond to their problems in a godly way.  Our correct responses are proofs we are filled with the Spirit.

The question, then, comes, "How should we respond to a fellow believer when they yield to sin?"

Here, Paul implements the instructions of Jesus from Matthew 18:15-20.  The correction is to be done gently with the sole purpose of restoration.  Those taking the initiative are to be certain that the Holy Spirit is in control and manifesting the description of such from 5:22-24.  When we love each other enough to help them mature in their faith like this we are not being legalistic.  We are fulfilling "the law of Christ" (6:2).

Why does this not take place more often?  Some who claim they are Christians do not attend a local church.  Some who do attend do not join in to become connected.  Some who do attend regularly do not let others know about them and they do not get to know others on a personal level.  Without out the benefit of a mutually caring group of other believers, we rob ourselves of spiritual growth and we rob others of our ministry to them.

This provides another reason why a person who is not building relationships in a local church will never mature spiritually.  Repeatedly in Scripture, we are admonished that each of us needs the reciprocating love, care, and accountability of other committed believers in Jesus.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What freedom Means

Read Galatians 5.

"For freedom Christ has set us free."  What does that mean?  What are we free to do?  What has that got to do with me?

After obliterating the argument of the Judaizers, the Apostle Paul then described the effects of faith in Christ.  If believers are free from the Old Testament Law, how shall we live and evaluate our conduct?  Are we free to do anything we want, or does God have even greater expectations of us?  The confusion about the Law and questions of freedom evidently turned into divisiveness in the churches (v.15).  So, what are the answers?

1. Stand firm in the faith. (vv.1-12)
Truth and error do not mix.  Compromise of the word of God is sin.  In this case, the issue was either law or grace (v.4).  One cannot have it both ways.  Such toleration and accommodation of false teaching has been the destruction and downfall of every denomination that has allowed liberalism to creep in.  In world history, only one major denomination has ever recovered.   Paul expressed his shock that these brothers had given in so quickly to the influence of false teachers.  He had some strong words for those men (v.12).

2. Serve one another. (vv.13-15)
With the people choosing sides and arguing among themselves, they forgot how they were supposed to treat each other.  Even those who were on the right side of the debate, evidently, were using the freedom and firmness of their faith in in ways that violated Christian behavior.  Fighting for the faith cannot be used as a cloak for sinful words and actions.  In verse 26, Paul wrote, "Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another."  A true test of a follower of Jesus is to love those who are in disagreement.  Jesus said, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?" (Matthew 5:46a)

3. Submit to the Holy Spirit. (vv.16-26)
This is a smooth transition from the doctrinal debate of Law vs. Grace to the personal examination of the flesh vs. the Spirit.  Again, one cannot have it both ways.  It is one or the other, on a moment by moment basis.  Toleration of the works of the flesh is sin.  When one surrenders their thinking, words, and actions to the indwelling Holy Spirit, they will be identified by His fruit (singular).

The requirement is to die to oneself for the joy of experiencing true freedom in Christ (v.24).  This is a common theme in Paul's writings.  "I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)  "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The day things Changed

Read Galatians 4.

Apart from personal faith in Christ, people are doomed slaves to their sinful nature.  The Galatians made professions of faith in Jesus but then turned to the false teaching of the Judaizers.  The Apostle Paul labeled this religious enslavement.  He had to remind them that "you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (v.7).  So, why are you not acting like it?

Here are the key questions.
Is not the Law given to Moses in Exodus and Leviticus, and then repeated in Deuteronomy, the very word of God?  Yes.  Not only on Mount Sinai but God spoke directly to Moses from the Tabernacle (Leviticus 1:1).

If we do not obey the Old Testament Law today are we sinning?  No.

What changed?
The redemptive plan of God was always that Law would be temporary, not a permanent solution.  From the first sin (Genesis 3) and the choosing of Abraham (Genesis 12), there was a prophecy and a promise of a coming Messiah.  When He entered the world, things changed.

This is explained, step by step, in verses 4-5.
1. "But when the fullness of time had come"
Jesus was born right on schedule, in the exact city the prophets predicted, to the very nation, tribe, family, and couple to fulfill the covenants God made with Abraham and with David.
2. "God sent forth his Son."
The angelic announcement to Joseph (Matthew 1) declared that Jesus is "God with us."  The Apostle John opened his Gospel by unquestionably identifying Jesus as God in the flesh.  The Father's voice was heard from heaven declaring that Jesus is the Son of God.
3. "born of a woman"
Mary was sovereignly selected.  There was nothing special about her.  She was young, a virgin, and needed a Savior like everyone else (Luke 1:46-47).
4. "born under the law"
As Jesus grew up in the land of Israel, He obeyed the Old Testament Law.  He attended the synagogue and journeyed to Jerusalem for the various times for offerings and feasts.
5. "to redeem those who were under the law"
The primary reason for the first coming of Jesus was the redemption of the world.  He paid the price for all sin on the cross.  As the angel told Joseph, "he will save his people from their sins."
6. "so that we might receive adoption as sons."
Welcome to God's family!  "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12)

As a result, we have the confirming, indwelling, presence of the Holy Spirit to help us personally communicate with God (v.6).  He is not a distant, cosmic force.  He is indeed our loving, heavenly Father.

Monday, August 8, 2016

5 reasons it will never Work

Read Galatians 3.

Here is the dilemma.  Judaizers were accusing Jews who believed in Jesus of forsaking their heritage in Abraham.  Then, they said to the Gentiles that simple belief in Jesus was not enough.  All needed to obey the Old Testament Law.  The churches in Galatia became confused and acquiesced to these false teachers.  Paul called the Galatians "foolish" and "bewitched" at how they had become fascinated by this false representation of the truth.

Trying to mix or add to simple faith in Jesus for eternal life will never work.
1. The questions. (vv.1-6)
First, Paul asked a series of penetrating questions.  The answers all point to the fact it was the grace of God that saved them by faith and not by works of any kind.

2. The promise. (vv.7-9)
In Genesis 12, God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  The Lord said, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."  Gentiles were included in the blessing of being able to know and serve God by faith in Him.

3. The curse. (vv.10-14)
The Law never saved anyone.  It only held up a perfect standard that no one could attain.  Condemnation and a curse came with it.  At the crucifixion, our curse and condemnation was nailed to the cross, "so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith."

4. The history. (vv.15-18)
To prove how ridiculous the claims of the Judaizers were, Abraham never obeyed the Law!  He never saw or heard of the Law.  He lived 430 years before the Law was given.  Instead, God gave a promise that Abraham believed and received.  He did nothing to earn it.

5. The Law. (vv.19-24)
The Law became an "intermediary" step in God's plan for the world.  It was always temporary.  Paul referred to it as a "guardian", like one who would oversee the welfare of a child until the time of maturity.  This temporary time ended when Jesus came, "until the offspring should come" (v.19), "until the coming faith should be revealed" (v.23), "until Christ came" (v.25), "we are no longer under a guardian" (v.25).

 As a result, Jews who believe in Jesus do not lose their heritage as God's chosen people.  Gentiles do not have to become Jewish to complete their faith in Jesus.  The good news is this, regardless of who we are or our backgrounds (v.28), we can enter in and enjoy the blessing of Abraham: "so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (v.22).

Friday, August 5, 2016

Dead or Alive?

Read Galatians 2.

The Apostle Paul had been well-trained as a Pharisee.  Zealously, he led in pursuing and persecuting those who failed to obey the Old Testament Law due to their new faith in Christ.  But all of that changed the day he met Jesus.  Paul, then, had to be re-trained in his thinking and his teaching of God's word.  It took time with the help of the Holy Spirit and the confirming work of godly leaders.

As the ministry expanded, some confusion and questions naturally arose.  Peter remained in Israel with a calling to reach Jews for Jesus, while Paul, a Jew, was called to plant churches among the Gentiles.  Added to this were the ever present false teachers who wanted Christians (both Jew and Gentile) to obey the Law.  What was a believing Jew to do concerning the Old Testament Law?  What were Gentiles to do?  After all the Law was/is the word of God.

Peter fell into hypocrisy when he flip-flopped on this issue, depending upon whom he was with at the time (vv.11-15).  But Paul had learned his lesson well.  He boldly confronted Peter and the issue head-on.

Here is the dilemma.
1. If I embrace freedom in Christ, I am violating the Law.  Christ becomes a means of sin against God's word. (vv.15-17)
2. If I try to keep the law after it has been put away, I violate my faith in Christ. (v.18)
Either way I sin.

So, what is a follower of Jesus to do?
Hebrews 7:12, "For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law."  Even more, Paul said, "I died to the law, so that I might live to God."  A dead man has no feeling, no thoughts, no responsibilities, and no accountabilities.

Verse 20 is one of the hallmark verses in all of the Bible.  When one places their personal faith in Jesus, an eternal change happens.  Our old self was what nailed Jesus to the cross in full and final payment for our sin against God.  That personal identification with Jesus gives one a new life, a new beginning.  For the first time that person is able to live in faith's freedom.  Such a change and ability has nothing to do with self-effort of any kind.  It is solely because of "Christ who lives in me."  This new life comes to us by God's grace and His love for us.

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Popular with people or pleasing to God?

Read Galatians 1.

Are you living to be popular with people or pleasing to God?  There is a third alternative.  It is a requirement of believers in Jesus to love people and speak the truth of God's word.  Tim LaHaye used to say when teaching Ephesians 4:15, "Be sure the amount of truth you speak is matched by the amount of love you have for that person."

The Apostle Paul loved these Gentiles in the Galatian region of the Roman Empire.  He traveled throughout that area preaching and planting churches.  Once established with local leadership, he moved on.  But in his absence, the people there fell prey to false teaching.  Giving in and/or compromising belief in the word of God is no small matter.  Paul called it "deserting" Christ!  He was "astonished" (v.6) at how quickly this happened.

These false teachers had not just questioned what the Galatians had been taught.  They, in fact, were presenting "a different gospel."  Paul wrote that they were troubling the congregations and distorting the gospel of Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the one and only true gospel.  It is the bodily and literal death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is only through one's personal faith in this good news that one receives eternal life and enters the family of God.  To be absolutely clear, there is "not another one" (v.7).  Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Nothing else.

Adding to or subtracting from that message is a false gospel and is "contrary" (v.8) to the word of God.  But what if a religious authority, such as an apostle, or an angel from heaven delivered a new, culturally updated, altered, or different message?  "Let him be accursed!"  The Greek word is anathema, eternally condemned.  So, there is no misunderstanding, Paul repeated it.

The evidence of belief in the gospel of Jesus is life-change.  One becomes a new person as they follow Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The second half of this chapter is Paul's testimony of what took place in his own life.  "They only were hearing it said, 'He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.  And they glorified God in me.'" (vv.23-24).  May the people who know us glorify God when they see what He has done and is doing in our lives.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

6 signs of a healthy Church

Read 2 Corinthians 13.

The church was in a mess and turmoil.  Nearly every chapter of 1 and 2 Corinthians deals with some unresolved confusion or conflict.  Sin among the church members was not only known, but there existed a sense of pride in being accepting of such wrong behaviors.  Predictable divisions and vulnerability to false teaching resulted.

Paul had planned several times to return to Corinth but had not been able to do so.  His promise to come and his failure to arrive became an issue for the critics.  He mentioned this again in 12:20 as he began to conclude the letter.  

The apostle's appeal to the church was to take holy actions before he arrived.  Otherwise, he would have to lead such disciplines when he came.  Next, Paul named eleven sins in 12:20-21, so there would be no doubt as to what he meant.  Then, he repeated the steps of how they should process ridding the congregation of open sins.  He had written these instructions before, but now he reviews them one last time.

1. The goal is always restoration of the sinner. 
12:19, 13:9-10.  This is essential to the building up of the faith and maturity of the people.

2. The facts are confirmed by two or three witnesses.
13:1 refers to Jesus words in Matthew 18:15-20.  Some will fear that they do not have such authority to judge others for their sin.  But, the Scriptures could not be more clear.  As Paul stated in chapter 13 and as Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, when the two or three witness are in agreement about the discipline, the authority of Christ Himself is present.

3. The first step is self-examination.
13:5-7.  The questions are: "Do you really know Jesus as your personal Savior?"  "If so, does your behavior demonstrate what you say you believe?"  The test is will you "do what is right?"

4. The results are what everyone wishes for in a congregation.
13:11-14.  Who would not want to be a part of a church family who behaved like this?  Here are six signs of a healthy church.
-Rejoice.  Church is to be happy place where people are full of the joy of the Lord.
-Restoration.  Church is to be a place where we seek to restore people to the faith and to each other.
-Comfort.  Church is to be a place where the hurting have friends who come alongside in times of need.
-Unity.  Church is to be a place where there is agreement, one mind, regarding the word of God and who Jesus is.
-Peace.  Church is to be a place where healthy relationships exist and issues are quickly resolved.
-Love.  Church is to be a place where every person senses the love and care for one another.  It is shown in how they greet each person.

When these things are evident, "the God of love and peace will be with you."

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why won't this thing go Away?

Read 2 Corinthians 12.

False teachers confused the Corinthians with their erroneous messages and their attacks on the Apostle Paul.  They brought into question everything from Paul's credentials, his words, his speaking ability, and his personal appearance.  This is the third chapter responding to those accusations. Repeatedly, Paul "boasted" in his defense; sometimes facetiously, mostly seriously.

Was he weak?  Yes.  After reading chapter 11, it is a miracle that he survived.  It is also a fact that Luke, a medical doctor, traveled with Paul.  The nature of his weakness referenced in chapter 12 is up for speculation.  Verse 7 indicates that whatever it was came as a direct result of this heavenly experience that took place fourteen years earlier.  A thorn in the flesh, he called it; "a messenger of Satan to harass me."

In an attempt to rid himself of this hindrance, Paul invested three separate intentional times of prayer for healing.  And, the healing did not come.  Why didn't God heal him?  It would have been very human for him to ask, "Why won't this thing go away?"  Something much greater was given to him instead.  Notice what he learned in verses 7-10.

1. He learned a new depth of humility and dependence on God.
Paul was so smart, so educated, and so strong in his leadership.  To have this position as an apostle and, then, to be given this special revelation from the Lord, he could have been personally overpowering with conceit.  He could have tried to serve in his own power, with the wrong sort of independence.  Christ is special, not the messenger.  The attention and focus was/is to be on Jesus.  Every believer must learn the lesson of dependence upon the Lord, in one way or another.

2. He learned a new application of the grace of God.
According to the Greek dictionary, grace is "the divine influence upon the heart and it's reflection in the life."  Paul had experienced the saving grace of God.  Here, what he learned is the sustaining grace of God.  As with each application of grace, we do not deserve it and we cannot earn it, but it is all we need.

3. He learned a new level of contentment from God.
Dealing with "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities" is not enjoyable for anyone.  Yet, the promise of Jesus is "My grace is sufficient for you."  When, by faith, we depend on Him we discover that His grace is enough.  It satisfies.

4. He learned a new demonstration of the power of God.
The success and effectiveness of his service could no longer be attributed to him and the power of his personality.  When people saw and heard Paul they could have concluded that he just did not have what it takes.  His critics said that.  But as he depended upon God's grace, God's power became evident.   In fact, it was this weakness that became the touch point for the Lord to demonstrate His mighty work and reveal Himself when Paul ministered to others.

Once Paul realized these things, he did not try to excuse it or hide it.  He began to boast about it "so the power of Christ may rest upon me."