Life In Christ: But God… pt. 2

This Sunday, February 28, 2016 will be the third Sunday of Lent.  Now, in my world as a protestant, evangelical Christian that pastors a Southern Baptist church… we don’t speak much about Lent.  It is mostly observed by the Catholic church but there are some protestant believers that also take time to participate in this practice.

So what is Lent?

Lent is a time of preparation and remembrance of the death of Christ on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday. It lasts for a period of 40 days with acts of repentance, prayer, fasting, and abstinence, and confession.  While this observance may not be practiced or even biblically commanded, it is good for follower of Jesus to remember with reverence the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

This is not for us to be grim or bleak in our view of life…but to be reminded emphatically of what God did for us. Continue reading

Life In Christ: But God… pt. 1

“But God…”

These two little words that have been translated to English from the Greek words “de Theos” in Ephesians 2:4. They may seem like a small phrase but where God inspires the Apostle Paul to place these words provides a startling and groundbreaking portrait of God.

These two little words contain so much power and transformation to a soul.  They are a dynamic shift in the narrative of God working in the history of mankind.

These two little words speak of the grace, gospel, glory, and goodness of this Jesus Christ, the One True Living God.

These two little words are a catalyst for us as we encounter God that breaks the molded mindset we have about the person of God. And that’s something that we need to happen in our lives… it is something for those who are called disciples of Jesus that we should actually want to happen… even thought the results could alter our comfortable pattern of life.

The wonderful thing about this transformation that occurs is that it generally happens greatly when people gather together to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. And through the revelation of God in the Scriptures we understand what it means to worship (respond appropriately & obediently) this true God. It is a “But God…” moment that alters who we are from that point forward.

You see, when the true worship of God happens… the molds of our hearts, minds, soul, and strength become broken and recreated as something better and for something better.

Life in Christ 7

Note:  The mold I am speaking of is not the spore or fungal bacteria that grows on decaying matter.  The mold I speak of is the artistic and/or industrial hollow container used to give shape or form to molten metal or other hot liquids (i.e., wax or ceramics) when they cool or harden.

This kind of mold is made to keep the same process and product produced over a period of time.

Q: How does this relate to us in a spiritual sense?

Well, all people that grow up and develop a particular mindset due their personal history, experiences, opinions, traditions, and institutions.

But God does something incredible and gracious to who we are inside and out when the Scriptures of the Bible are opened, discovered, examined, and understood… transformation occurs as a result of the truth of God being revealed.  We can be and should be thankful that these Scriptures have been preserved for us and made accessible to us.

They are indeed powerful when we open our eyes and ears them to challenge and fashion how we think, how we speak, and how we act.  But they are only truly transformation and life-changing when we respond to God Himself as He makes Himself known through the Scripture and by His Holy Spirit.

 Scripture breaks the mold of who we are & how we think as we see God for who He truly is.

The Bible makes known to us the revelation of God because it reveals…

  • Who He Is (Has Always Been & Will Always Be)
  • What He Does (Has Done & Will Do)
  • What He Says (How To Know & Follow Him)

And let’s just be honest… the honest knowledge of God revealed to us can be devastating, but nonetheless, it is the message we so desperately need.  And though breaking the mold may be devastating to the self, God brings in this message His deliverance by the Savior.

Over the last few weeks I have been writing about Life in Christ as our church has been studying the Letter to the Ephesians by the Apostle Paul.  As we have examined the Scriptures on this Life in Christ we have been emphasizing a powerful principle found in them.

Life in Christ is this gracious identity that comes from God and which leads to the glorious outcomes made through God.  

The Apostle Paul expresses in this beautifully penned letter about the why and the how God does what He does to break the mold that once held our lives and the movement of God that now draws us into this new life with, in, and through Christ.

Ephesians 2:1-22* uncovers this incredible news with a well-penned delivery.  Let’s take a look and investigate it further.

*Holman Christian Standard Version

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1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient.

3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness  to us in Christ Jesus.

8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands.

12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.

14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.

16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.

17 When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.

21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord.

22 You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

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So, we just got through reading a whole chapter of Scripture together… and understanding it altogether could be a daunting task if let alone.  That’s why I want to be of help.

I am sometimes asked… “how can I get the most out of my Bible study time?” or “how can I understand the Scriptures fully?”  I must admit…I am still in the learning process myself.  It takes time and we all need help along the way.  It did and still does for me.  But I want to be able to help others along the way…So Here goes.

First of all, I believe that to gain a greater understanding of the Scriptures starts with God and the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).   Only those that truly know and seek to know God…will truly ever experience the awesome beauty and power of His Word…the Scriptures.

Secondly, for those that are followers of Christ…this is still not just an easy task.  We must remember that the Scriptures are what we call “special revelation” from God.  Meaning this…the same God who spoke the universe into all its existence…specifically shared special revelation of Himself in Words that were penned by men that were divinely inspired to write what God desired them to write.

Knowing this helps us to understand the context by studying the how, when, and why God delivered these messages. It makes an immense difference on how we can fully apply these messages to our lives as followers of Jesus.

So…to gain understanding from the Scriptures in their context that brings the greatest applications and the relevance of God’s Word to our lives…I encourage people to ask & answer 4 major questions…

  • What do the Scriptures say?

This is important so that we don’t lose the details of each intentionally inspired word. My personal opinion is that this is one of the reasons for seeking a close word-for-word translation. (BTW…No English translation is perfect.)It is also helpful to look at thorough (and reputable) commentaries and/or a good Bible Study software when difficult or confusing scenarios arise. (multiple ones if available).

  • What were the results of this revelation in their specific time and place?  

God specifically chose the time, place, people, language, and circumstance in which He revealed His Word for a reason… If we are going to understand the relevance of His Word today, we can’t skip out on what it meant then. That is because these are inseparable for how it still applies (and is still very much just as relevant) to us in our present circumstance.

Once again… thorough commentaries and Bible study softwares are quite helpful in this cases. It is also useful to have a a group of Bible believing, Bible seeking, & Bible studying friends to grow with in your understanding of the Scriptures. This is also one of the reasons why I believe a Bible-teaching church and growing through small groups is so essential to maturing as a disciple.

 

  • What applications are carried forward from then to now?

This is where the living and active nature of God’s Word gets planted in us not for mere entertainment, enlightenment, or encouragement…but to transform our lives in every arena. This can be tough to grasp and we will need others to help us walk through this process.

Please see again the reasons for being connected to a Bible-believing & teaching church and why resources such as commentaries, Bible-study software, and small groups can be of such help.

  • What am I willing to do about what God reveals?

This means responding to who God is, what God says, and what God does. Worship is the appropriate responding of man to God. We have not truly worshiped until we have responded to Him as He is. True worship that honors God and is the type of worship that He honestly seeks (John 4:23-24) is that which is of spirit and truth.

It must originate with God, respond to God, and be honest with all that God which also exposes the truth of who we are and the motives behind how we approach Him. Worship is very much both a collective and individual response.

It starts with the response of the individual soul to what God divinely reveals about Himself, but it was never meant to be done alone.  It becomes even more beautiful and glorious when connected collectively with other individuals whom God has transformed through the revelation of Himself in and through His Word. Continue reading

Life In Christ: the Mighty One

Ok, Ok… I admit it.  I’m a nerdy guy.  It’s something I’m actually quite ok with.  This is something that I have a little bit of fun with as well.  This nerdy state of mind has even at times, found it’s way into my role as a pastor.

So, it’s time now that as a pastor I make a proper confession.  I am a fan of superheroes.  These famous fictional figures of comics and movies come in all shapes and sizes and with differing abilities…but each shaped to accomplish something phenomenal in their stories.  But most of their abilities come out of narratives with tragedies or out of pure accidental occurrences.

There is something compelling to me about these fictional hero stories.  And sometimes, it’s not just the heroes themselves that are so fascinating to me.  You can notice in these stories the estate of those that the hero comes to save.  Some have names and their own stories by the author, while others are just “extras” for greater impact.  But they all find themselves…

  • helpless and in a time of need.
  • fearful of enemies that are stronger than themselves.
  • uncertain of what to do or who to trust.
  • having a view that those who they trusted to protect them are now unable to do so.
  • the knowledge that something must does but also they knowledge that they lack a power necessary to accomplish it.

How does this relate to Christianity?  How does this parallel or correspond to those that choose to follow Jesus?  Well, the strange aspect that is so compelling is that this fictional world of make believe is actually not too different from our nonfictional reality.  There may not be people flying around or super villains with strange powers…but we do know of the battle with darkness.  The battle we wage is with the real struggles of the flesh, the world, and very real biblical enemy.  That can seem like really bad news.

Life in christ 5But there is some great news that goes along with the Gospel. The Scriptures reveal that when it comes having Life… We have a hero.  We Have The Hero!

Even in those times when we feel so very weak, incapable, paralyzed, and/or defeated the Scripture declares that every disciple individually and the church collectively is never weak in the light Christ’s might and in light of the Gospel.  In fact, in those times that we feel our weakest…something incredible is possible.

 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

We have been sharing over the last few weeks about Life in Christ.  The Scriptures paint the great picture about this topic.  Life in Christ is about the gracious identity that comes from God which leads us toward a glorious outcome through God.  We have been talking about how this Life In Christ is perceived through the Epistle of Ephesians which speaks about…

  • the Blessings From God
  • the Adoption Through God
  • the Word Of God
  • the Prayers To God

And this week we look more closely at what it means to know the Might of God in this life from God.  We certainly declare what the Scripture reveals about our mighty rescuing God.  This is central to who Christians are…they must trust in that God can and will save them.

“Faith is the gaze of the soul on a saving God” – A.W. Tozer

The Scripture brings this central truth about Jesus to light.  In and only through Jesus Christ can we live in the light of the Hero that sovereignly, supremely, and supernaturally…

  • saves us
  • sustains us
  • seals us
  • sanctifies us
  • solves us

And this all comes about by the power and might of God… So how do we apply this to our life as disciples individually and in the church collectively?  Let’s read the Scripture from Ephesians 1:19-23

19 what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

It is so very important to learn from and study the Scriptures in their context.  This is where we reap the greatest benefit and what leads to the deepest life transformation.

Now to gain understanding from the Scriptures… I encourage you to think about the Four Questions I address here.

So, what can we learn here in Ephesians?

We can take note of a few things here. The letter was written most likely as a circuit letter between 60-63 A.D. while the apostle Paul was in his 2nd (and final) imprisonment in Rome under the reign of Nero. He is writing to a multi-cultural, multi-generational church in the city of Ephesus. This is a church that Paul was continually receiving reports about their great loyalty to Christ and the display of their love to mankind.  In this letter, Paul is trying to help the readers (listeners) understand their identity in Christ and the expected outcome of a disciple through Christ.  He also wants them to understand the healthy practices of this life in and through Christ.  But all of this is the result of God’s power at work throughout history and more personally the life of a believer.

As followers of Christ, we live in the light of…

I. His Demonstration of Strength

These things that Paul had been sharing with the Ephesian church were all about the demonstration of Christ’s kindness, Christ’s riches, and Christ’s strength.  Everything that Paul had been pointing to in the opening lines of this letter pointed to the very character, nature, and ability of God.

This is not just the portrayal of Ephesians.  Scripture is a repetitive demonstration of God’s strength.

  • Creation by His very spoken words
  • Providence over His covenant people
  • Deliverance from slavery
  • Preservation through miracles

The greatest overarching demonstration of God’s strength came at the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  This demonstration of Christ’s kindness and strength is never to be overlooked in the life of a disciple.

As followers of Jesus, we also live in the light of…

II.  His Deliverance From Death

Paul declared this deliverance from death is God’s greatest declaration and demonstration toward mankind.  It revealed Christ’s power over life and death.  This shows that Jesus is the one who makes the impossible a possibility.

Look at this point in this way.  If Jesus couldn’t fulfill the Scriptures, or overcome sin, or have victory over death…salvation would be impossible.  Man would have no hope because man would have no Messiah.  But Jesus does what man could not do.  He makes the impossible, possible.  And Jesus who was raised has sent the believer Himself in the Holy Spirit to dwell with us forever (Romans 8:11).

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.  Think about that.

Because Jesus fulfills the Scripture and lives in us… we can trust and obey the Scripture to accomplish the task we are put here for. We can have victory!

Because Jesus did overcome sin, we can have victory over sin as Christ reigns in us.

Because Jesus overcame death, we can now live with victory over death in this life.

As followers of Jesus, we live in the light of…

III. His Divine Authority

Paul wanted the church in Ephesus to understand and submit to the ultimate authority of Christ’s headship.  This Divine Authority keeps us in check and reminds us of who we are in the light of who He is…

  • He rules from the heavenly throne that is eternal and holy and sovereign.
  • He rules far above any ruler, any authority, any power, and any dominion.
  • He rules with a name far above any name in the ages past, present, or future.

There has never been anyone born that has or will ever have a greater authority than Jesus Christ.

When it comes to the disciple individually and church collectively…we belong to Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we live in the light of being…

IV. His Devoted Followers

Paul shared that the church is the collection of individual disciples that all belong to Jesus.  We are His servants (whether or not we are good ones is the choice before us).  Those that have trusted Jesus for His grace alone by faith alone received what only Jesus could pay for and what He alone willingly provides.

Each disciple has a special place, purpose, and provision.  And God provides the power, energy, might, and strength to bring about these purposes.  We are not here by accident.  We are here as the result of hearing and responding to God’s plans.  And He is the Hero that both calls and empowers sidekicks.

But, these are only available to those who have graciously received the Gospel.  But to those children of God who have believed and received the Gospel…God has revealed His might for abundant and meaningful Life in Christ.

By His Grace. Through His Gospel. For His Glory.

#FollowJesus and discover #LifeInChrist Continue reading

The ERLC Represents Me

This article was written by my friend, colleague, and brother in Christ, John Blackmon. I share his sentiments and felt he captured the right tone so I am re-blogging his post on my page. I too stand with the ERLC and I am grateful to have a well spoken, gospel proclaiming, and culturally engaging man like Dr. Russell Moore at the helm of such an entity.

Johnblackmon's Blog

erlcI was quite taken aback to see the recent opinion piece, “Does the ERLC Represent the SBC?” I was disappointed not only to find this piece published in the Louisiana Baptist Message but republished by our own Christian Index (Georgia). This type of rhetoric and opining is a continual wedge between the generations in the Southern Baptist Convention. Though the title question is couched in the language of the ERLC as a whole, it becomes evident quite quickly that the sights are set on the entity president, Dr. Russell Moore.

First, I must state my respect for former Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) head, Dr. Richard Land. Dr. Land was a formidable representative during a monumental time in our history and was a great diplomatic voice to many notable persons and heads of state for Southern Baptists. In recent years, it became evident to Southern Baptists and Dr. Land…

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