The Resurrected Life Looks Different

Galatians 2.20 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Believing in the Resurrection means living a TRANSFORMED life, not for something different, but through someone different.  It is GIVING up, the denial, the death of our old life as Jesus lives through us in a completely new one (not improved version of the old).  And though I could describe what I think this life looks like, I’ve realized that trying to write blogs that speak for God’s Word, instead of just stating what it already says, is kind of foolish.   A resurrected life, therefore, is a life that looks like the life of a man named Paul who began as a murderer of the followers of Jesus to being murdered for following Jesus—all because he met the resurrected Jesus face to face.  He is not an example of a preacher, church planter, apostle…he is the example of a Christian. In writing from a jail cell he wrote:

RESURRECTED JESUS gives me a calling and purpose

Philippians 1.1 Paul and Timothy servants of Jesus…Philippians 1.21 21 For to me to live is Christ…

RESURRECTED JESUS gives satisfaction as I live

Philippians 3.8-11 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead

 RESURRECTED JESUS gives me joy and peace when I fear or fail

Philippians 4.6-7  4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

RESURRECTED JESUS gives me new strength to endure

Philippians 4.12-13 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (I can make it)

RESURRECTED JESUS gives me courage as I suffer

Philippians 4.19 -21 Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

 RESURRECTED JESUS gives me hope when I die

Philippians 3.20-2120 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

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Monday’s Obscure Bible Passage: Leviticus 10.1-3

The Book of Leviticus isn’t the first book you’ll probably choose to read for personal devotions.   Leviticus follows the last verses of Exodus which record the glory of God filling the newly constructed tabernacle.  In a very tangible way, a Holy God now “dwells” with His people.  Unholy Israel can now approach their Holy God, but only according to the God-ordained rules.  The Book of Leviticus is filled with God’s instructions for his priests to ensure the holiness of Israel through rituals, sacrifices, and festivals.  Unfortunately, many people dismiss the book of Leviticus as irrelevant to our age of grace and, in the process, ignore the central truth of the entire book that will never change–God takes His Holiness seriously.

I have been reading Leviticus as I am preparing for Easter. I came across this passage that, at first reading, will probably offend you:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me  will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10.1-3).

Following several chapters of specific “how to” instructions to the priests, Aaron’s (the High Priest) own sons decide to worship God their own way.  While we can only guess at exactly what we did or did not do, we don’t have to guess what God’s opinion of their efforts was–He did not authorize what they did, nor did he command it.  And while it is tempting to describe their worship as “well-intended” or excuse it as “personal”, without hesitation, God declares it sinful and worthy of death.
I am offended by many of the thoughts that rush into my mind in reading this passage.  If I’m honest, I find that I usually (and wrongly) take the side of man in these passages. I begin to view God as some unfair, capricious, and unpredictable deity with a temper.  Rarely, do I take the rightful position of viewing God as the one treated unfairly, the one dishonored, the one who is the true “victim.”  God expects us to worship Him His way.  When I fail to worship Him rightly, the problem isn’t a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding,  or a lack of opportunity.   The problem is that I don’t take God’s holiness as seriously as God does. 
Seeing God more and more for who He truly is, Holy, means I will see myself more and more for what I am, unholy.   This should lead us to the cross that becomes more necessary, more gracious, and more merciful with each passing day.  And as God’s people, adopted into God’s family through Christ, we are given a way to walk.  How do we learn this walk?  It comes through revelation, not from stars, winds, or flashing lights, but through God’s Word.  Just the sons of Aaron were not left to guess about how God expected them to worship as God’s people, neither are we.  I pray we don’t make the mistake of worshiping in ways he did not authorize or command:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 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. (Romans 12.1-3)

Glory for, by, and with

I don’t know why I am writing this blog right now.  And though I would like to pretend it is an effort to “teach” others, I have a feeling it is in fact intended as a lesson for me. A lesson about what?  It’s the same lesson I am always learning–sanctification.  What is sanctification?  A simple definition is, “loving Jesus more and sin less.”  This simple definition does not explain how exactly this happens, which is why I think I am writing. The following quote is what inspired me to write:

“It is when we change from looking at ourselves with our imperfections, sinfulness, and helplessness and turn to the Lord Jesus and see and depend on His power and perfection, that we can expect a transformation to begin.”

The motivation is glory for God.  There are a lot of reasons that men and women will fight against their sinful flesh.  Most of them are the wrong ones.  More often than not, people fight sin simply because they were “caught” doing something they shouldn’t–they’ve hurt themselves or someone else.  In response, they fight so that people will admire them again, so that they will feel good about themselves, as some sort of penance expected by those they hurt, or in order to make some relationship “happier (work, marriage, etc.).  In the pursuit of godliness, all such motivations will ultimately fail because they all fall short of the primary purpose for which we were created–to glorify God (and as a result, enjoy Him).  God has always been about His own glory, namely, because He’s the greatest being  that has ever and will ever exist.  In the Old Testament we see God increasing the odds against his people (Judges 7.2) so that his greatness will be magnified.  The Psalmist in Psalm 115 sings a song not often found on the Christians’ top 10 list, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory...”.  And lastly Paul, charges us to give God glory, whether we’re eating, drinking, or doing anything for that matter (1Cor 10.31).

The power for change is glory of God.  Ironically, the motivation for our pursuit of godliness is also the power by which it is accomplished.  2Corinthians 3.16-18 says, ” But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” In other words, focusing on the glory of God is the key to real transformation.  But how do we do that?  If we’re not careful, even our efforts to “glorify” God can become sinful if we misunderstand God’s glory.   Sin is so evil it takes good things and makes them bad.  We don’t “behold” God’s glory through moralistic efforts to reform our behavior–that would be seeking our own glory.  Instead, we focus on WHO, not what, God’s glory is.  We behold Jesus.  Hebrews 1.1-4 tells us that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God.”  Putting the 2Corinthians and the Hebrews passages together, we see that change comes from contemplating, meditating, focusing, studying, and worshiping the person Jesus.

The hope is glory with GodAs we fight FOR the glory of Jesus, BY the power of Jesus, what do we hope happens exactly?  Again, this echoes back to our motivation question. We are not motivated FOR the glory of Jesus and empowered BY the glory of Jesus to get something other than glory with Jesus.  2Thessalonians 2.14 says, “ To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We live with an eternal perspective, not to obtain glory here, but to experience glory there with Him because we are heirs with Him (Romans 8.16-17).  We hope in salvation through faith in Jesus, and that salvation is the eternal glory of Jesus himself (2Tim 2.10), basking in His presence of Jesus forever.

If our motivation is not for glory of Jesus, then we will never get beyond temporal reformation to eternal transformation.  If our power is not by the glory of Jesus, but rooted in our own efforts, we will never get beyond self-righteousness or self-indulgence to self-denial.  And if our hope in this world, and beyond,  is not be “rest” in the glory of Jesus, then we’ll never get beyond hell (even if we think it is paradise) to heaven.

To Him be the glory forever and ever, Amen.

The “first” words I wish I spoke

On the journey of planting Damascus Road Church, there have been a lot of “firsts.”  There was the first set up, first public service, the first worship set, and the first communion.  There were the first leaders, the first elders, the first converts, the first members, and the first baptisms.  I remember the first “Amen”, the first mean email, the first stupid decision, the first confrontation, the first church discipline, even the first people who left.  Then there is the first big move into a new building, the first roots put down, the first “home.”  What I don’t remember are what the first words preached at our new building were.  I’m sure they are recorded but the fact that I don’t remember them means I didn’t try to make them memorable. Quite honestly, I don’t think I really considered those as a “first”, didn’t try to make them “special”, or otherwise meaningful.

Reading a biography on Charles Spurgeon recently, made we wish I had.  The author includes many excerpts from Spurgeon’s sermons and conversations in this book.  He also includes the first words Charles Spurgeon spoke in their new building known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  If I could go back in time a year and 9 months, these are the first words I would have endeavored to imitate:

I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ.   I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist…but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ’…Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the Gospel, who is in Himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.” (The Sword and Trowel, 1861)

Encouraged to Encourage

I love our church. When I say that, I don’t mean that I simply love our name, building, music, or whatever parts you might consider make up the “church” and its “steeple.”  What I love are the hearts of our people, and the love they have for one another.  Though I have been a part of many churches, this is the first time that I have experienced the church as a genuine family of families (this new experience is more about my own sanctification than it is about any church’s past failure).  This has not resulted from some master leadership plan I had when planting the church.  It is a gift from the Spirit of God.

Last week, after what is often coined as another “Sunday hangover”, I lamented about all of the things that I should have said, shouldn’t have said, or would say given another chance in the sermon.  This is not an unusual experience and, I am learning, somewhat of an unavoidable one.  There never has nor will there ever be a sermon where I walk of the stage like UW’s Isaiah Thomas hitting a clutch shot at the buzzer–nailed it!  You will never see me, arm bent back like a gooseneck, walking backwards off of the stage to the roar of the congregation after waxing eloquently for 45 minutes.  If you do…run from the church and find one without a prima-dona pastor.  In truth, it takes little more than one comment, positive or negative, to catapult a pastor into the Sunday hangover spiral.   Both kinds of comments are rooted in the same thing, pride. If someone gives a negative comment, the pastor despairs because denies the POWER of the Holy Spirit to speak, even through the mouth of a jackass (Numbers 22).  If someone gives a positive comment, the pastor pridefully admires the power in his own words, all the while denying his NEED for the Holy Spirit.  Once the pastor realizes he’s doing either, the hangover commences.

Enough with the self-deprecating downers, this is blog is supposed to be about encouragement.  After this past week, I needed encouragement, though I doubt I would have admitted that–too prideful. What began as an email from my bride to a friend, mentioning among other things that I was spending the post-sermon afternoon as “Pastor Poopy Pants”, erupted into a flow of encouraging emails that were, “like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov 16.24).  A friend sent one email out, encouraging people to encourage me, then to “pass it on” if they felt so led.  Normally, I would dismiss such gestures as manufactured and solicited, but I could not dismiss the love in these words.   Many people stopped what they were doing, sat down at a computer, and thoughtfully shared from their hearts.  Reading these words could have easily turned my heart to pride but, instead, they soothed what felt like an open wound (perhaps one that had been there for more than a week).  The emails, texts, and voice mails poured in, some from good friends, others from acquaintances, all from our family at Damascus Road.

I was, am, humbled to the point of tingles, a tight throat, and tears of joy.

I am learning that encouragement is one of the unheralded, and most important, graces of a gospel community.  Encouragement is a tool for protection, healing, and growth.  But if you’re anything like me, encouragement does not come naturally.  Though I value, perhaps more than anything, being encouraged; that fact that has not motivated me enough to be an encourager.  Admittedly, this is a weakness.  There are times  we all need a Barnabas (Acts 4.36).  There are times when we need to be a Barnabas. I am not a natural Barnabas, it takes work, it takes effort, it takes discipline.  For a long time I thought I was broken, more of a Bizzaro-Barnabas, not the intentional encourager, but the accidental discourager with the spiritual gift of criticism.  In recent times, I have learned that I am simply incomplete–sanctification is God’s means of completing me (though it will never be done until I’m dead).  I find that a lot of us are this way, incomplete that is, even the encouraging Barnabas’ of the world.  Perhaps what seems like “discouragement” is in fact an effort, and ability, to discern where things need more work–however poorly worded.  We find then, that a hyper-critical spirit that sees all weaknesses can be just as bad as a hyper-encouraging spirit that refuses to see any.

All that to say when the New Testament writers charges us to “encourage one another”, this means exactly what I experienced last week. But what if it means more? In other words, there are many ways to encourage people, and we need to endeavor to do them all.   There will always be a need to encourage people with words of praise and expressions of gratitude.  I hope that, as we love our brothers this way, we will not believe that this is the only kinds of encouragements necessary in a genuine gospel community.    I pray that the need to love men through encouragement, doesn’t discourage us from encouraging them to love God–which is the greatest encouragement we could give.   In other words, let the end of our encouragement be more than simply to make that other person feel good (which is good), rather, let it be to see God glorified.

To that end, there is much more that we can “encourage” in addition to people praise.  We must encourage one another when we fail, to trust in the completed work of Jesus.  We must encourage one another, when tempted, to believe in the promises of God more than the promises of sin.  We must encourage one another to obey and not sin.  We must encourage one another towards good works.  We must encourage one another to serve and sacrifice for another. We must encourage one another to pray.  We must encourage one another to help carry each other’s burdens.   We must encourage people to read God’s Word that they might know God more.  We must encourage one another to worship God through every thing they eat, drink, or do.  We must encourage one another to be faithful.  We must encourage people to confess, repent, and live in the forgiveness of the cross.  We must encourage people to trust in the unchanging character of God in the midst of ever-changing circumstances.   We must encourage one another to love Jesus more and to love sin less; to love being in and with church more, and to love being alone and independent less.  And the list goes on…

And we must encourage one another to actively encourage one another.