Thursday, February 23, 2012

Save Yourself?

"You've taken care of others so long; it's time you took care of yourself." "It's time you put yourself first." I hear this advice a lot. I'm sure you do, too. The other night my wife and I were watching television and heard someone give some counsel like this. My wife asked me if there was anything remotely like this in the Bible. It didn't occur to me immediately, but I found it.

"And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, 'He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One'" (Luke 23:35).

"The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, 'If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!'" (Luke 23:36,37).

"One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, 'Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!'" (Luke 23:39).

The mocking counsel of the people to Christ to "save Himself" is three-fold, representing all of humanity (compare with Acts 4:27, which also describes representatives from all humanity gathered against Christ at the cross). This is still the advice of everyone around you and me today.

Personally, I have a goal of using it all up in "the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). This was Paul's goal, too:

"But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (Philippians 2:17,18).

"But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:5-8). Paul, you've taken care of others long enough. You need to put yourself first, take care of yourself, find yourself (because you lost yourself in service to others), etc. and ad nauseum.

I think I'll walk Paul's way. "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him Who died and rose again on their behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:13-15). "Living for yourself" is an active decision to deny the all-sufficient work of Christ on the cross. "Putting yourself first" is rebellion against the authoritative control of "the love of Christ."

From where does the strength for this "pouring out" come? Waiting on God in His Word and in prayer: "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary" (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Rather than putting yourself first or leaving your responsibilities to "find yourself," put the Source first and seek His face in all things. "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:1-3). Our leaves never wither because of the living Water (John 4:3-14; 6:55; 7:37-39; 1 Corinthians 10:4; 12:13) from which we draw our strength. Because of this we are sustained as we bring the healing of Christ to others continually. "By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing" (Ezekiel 47:12). "Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:1,2). This last verse is from John's description of the "the holy city, the new Jerusalem," which I interpret to be the Church in all her Christ-given glory (John is told "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb," and then sees "the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God"). As part of the Church, we alone have what is needed "for the healing of the nations," and the Source of our continual strength is "the water of life...coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb."

I should also say that this theology of pouring does not lead to an application unto neglect. Be poured out for your family; do not neglect them for "ministry" - they are your first ministry. Also, a theology of pouring does not mean neglecting time in the Word and in prayer for "active" ministry. You cannot adequately do "good works" in Christ (John 3:21; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12,13; Hebrews 13:20,21) unless you are being trained by the Word: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17). This theology of pouring does not justify poor health choices, either. Diet and exercise can become obsessive distractions, of course - but so can poor diet and fitness. Use wisdom - keep the body given you in good enough condition to do what you have been called to do.

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).

"Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory" (Colossians 3:1-4, New Living Translation).

Don't live to save yourself, take care of yourself, find yourself, or put yourself first. It cannot be done!

"And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:38,39).

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (Matthew 16:24-26).

"And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (Mark 8:34-37).

"And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?'" (Luke 9:23-25).

"And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed...whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Luke 17:26-30,33).

Be poured out, and don't seek to fill yourself up. The Source will refill until your cup overflows forever and ever and ever.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It Is Today

“ the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25,26). It is no longer the day of Passover, but Today. Have faith in Jesus.

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31). It is no longer the overlooked day, but Today. Repent and have faith in Jesus.

“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried me by testing Me’...encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin...” (Hebrews 3:7,13). It is no longer the day of testing God’s patience, but Today. Encourage one another to continually repent from heart-hardening sin and to be always putting your faith in Jesus.

It is Today...
...the Day of Jesus, God's Righteousness (Romans 5:19,21; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9; 2 Peter 1:1).
...the Day of Jesus, God's Judge (John 5:22,27; Acts 10:42; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1).
...the Day of Jesus, God's faithful Son (Hebrews 3:6; Revelation 1:5).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Love by Knowing & Giving Thanks

Church, love Him today with your mind as we are commanded (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

There are two minds:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1,2).
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to A DEPRAVED MIND [after giving them over to “impurity” in 1:24, “degrading passions” in 1:26], to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32).
The first difference between the mind showing God’s will and the mind worthy of death is knowing God through Christ (John 17:3; Acts 22:14; 1 John 5:20) and responding continually with the giving of thanks: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools...” (Romans 1:21,22).

Love Him with your mind by knowing Him and giving Him thanks, showing yourself to be His in your study and meditation!

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17,18).

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24,25).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The House of the Lord of the Hill

Gather together as the Church today, saints. Meet at the house built by the Lord of the hill for the “relief and security of pilgrims.” The Lord’s Supper table will be set. All our talking & singing will be about what the "Lord of the hill" has done & we will “love Him the more.”

“Now I saw in my dream, that thus they sat talking together until supper was ready. So when they had made ready, they sat down to meat. Now the table was furnished with fat things, and with wine that was well refined; and all their talk at the table was about the Lord of the hill; as, namely, about what He had done, and wherefore He did what He did, and why He had builded that house; and by what they said, I perceived that He had been a great warrior, and had fought with and slain him that had the power of death, (Hebrews 2:14,15); but not without great danger to Himself, which made me love Him the more.

For, as they said, and as I believe, said Christian, He did it with the loss of much blood. But that which put the glory of grace into all He did, was, that He did it out of pure love to His country. And besides, there were some of them of the household that said they had been and spoke with Him since He did die on the cross; and they have attested that they had it from His own lips, that He is such a lover of poor pilgrims, that the like is not to be found from the east to the west. They, moreover, gave an instance of what they affirmed; and that was, He had stripped Himself of His glory that He might do this for the poor; and that they heard Him say and affirm, that He would not dwell in the mountain of Zion alone. They said, moreover, that He had made many pilgrims princes, though by nature they were beggars born, and their original had been the dunghill. (1 Samuel 2:8; Psalm 113:7).”

- John Bunyan (1628-1688), “The Pilgrim’s Progress”

Friday, February 10, 2012

How Gracious You Are!

“Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; my ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required” (Psalm 40:6).

Lord, thank You for transferring me from the rebellious house of the spiritually deaf (Deuteronomy 29:4; Jeremiah 6:10; Ezekiel 12:2; Romans 11:8) to the house where Your voice is spoken & heard (Ezekiel 40:4; 44:5; Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9,23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35). I am unworthy – even in the house where Your voice echoes through the hall I too often hear the voices of the other house in my heart, my mind, and sometimes from my own lips. How gracious You are for giving Psalm 40 a life-giving fullness in the saving and sanctifying work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:5-25)!

“Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart’” (40:7,8).

I am filled with gracious delight, and the Source is Your will that You speak to my heart. You speak and give me the ability to hear (40:6); I hear and respond with delight at Your Word (40:8). Thank You for this delight; if Your Word is eternal (Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25), then this joy You have given in Your Word is also FOREVER. How gracious You are!

“I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I will not restrain my lips, O LORD, You know. I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation” (40:9,10).

The house where Your voice is heard, where You open the ears of the previously deaf, where Your Word fuels eternal happiness in the heart...this house is never empty, and it is GREAT. Because of You, we have heard (Romans 10:8-17). Because of You, we rejoice. Because of You, we are “filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with [our hearts] to the Lord.” Because of You, we are “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” Because of You, we are “subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-21). Keep speaking, God the Holy Spirit, to the Great Congregation that exists because of Your voice (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22)! How gracious You are in Your great congregation!

May we spend our days here together with You and the never-ending days to come together with You speaking, hearing, singing, meditating upon, testifying to, and rejoicing in the Law written on our hearts in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34//Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16,17). How gracious You are to us in Jesus Christ!

Monday, February 6, 2012

May the LORD Write a Sermon in Your Life

“Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad, who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip. For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net...we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:8-12). We can praise & bless God in and after difficulties because we see He both brought us into them & delivered us out of them for the glory of His ultimate purpose. God is not surprised by “the net,” or the “fire and...water.” Through it all He “keeps us in life” securely, refining us & finally bringing us to His “place of abundance.”

From this “place,” the Psalmist remembers his faith in trial: he promised to worship God at the “place of abundance” (the LORD’s house) even while in the midst of trial. “I shall come into Your house with burnt offerings; I shall pay You my vows, which my lips uttered and my mouth spoke when I was in distress” (66:13,14).

Worshiping God following the trial includes calling others to corporate praise & testifying to His mighty deeds: “Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul” (66:16). The content of the “sermon” is that God hears the prayers of the faithful in the midst of their trials & is worthy of praise: “I cried to Him with my mouth...certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me” (66:17-20). It’s not just a sermon for the local congregation; it’s a call to go and tell on mission: “...sound His praise abroad...”

Live in faith this day, trusting that both the “net” and the “place of abundance” are God’s plan & make Him worthy of our prayers, promises, & blessings. Our experiences in the “net” & “place of abundance” become our sermons to the saints in the LORD’s house. May the LORD write sermons exalting His faithful lovingkindness in your life this week!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Fellowship Meal of Testimony: Taste & See, See & Taste

From this morning’s Psalm reading: “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the LORD; the humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together...O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:1-3,8). The Psalmist has praise in his mouth, proclaiming His boasting in the matchless works of God. He then invites the hearer/reader to have the praises of God in his own mouth; a shared meal, of sorts...a fellowship meal of the best things of God: truths about Who He is and what He has done.

John the apostle repeatedly follows the Psalmist’s pattern, rejoicing in what he has seen and speaking of it so others may share in these words of life unto saving belief:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being...and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we SAW His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and one has SEEN God at any time; the only begotten God Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:1-3,14,18).

“And he who has SEEN has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe” (John 19:35; cf. 17:20; 20:29).

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have SEEN with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life - and the life was manifested, and we have SEEN and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us - what we have SEEN and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:1-4).

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he SAW. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Revelation 1:1-3).

This is the fellowship meal of Christ's Church: prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11) who taste the Word spoken by the Scripture witnesses and then present the bounty to the congregation, training the congregation to speak it to each other and the world. See, proclaim, taste, believe, proclaim...rejoice in the feast!