Monday, September 30, 2013

We are Changing

2 Corinthians 3:18 " And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

Isn't it great that God accepts us the way we are, cleans us in the blood of Jesus, tells us we are a new creation, and then lets us know he wants to keep changing us into the likeness of His Son?

The verse above describes being transformed into his likeness, with ever-increasing glory. Other translations use the phrase "changed from one degree of glory to another." But wait. Don't we believe that whatever we do in this life as a Christian is done to bring all the glory to God?  We do, or at least we should. But now we have verses from the Bible telling us as God changes us, it is done in phases as we become transformed into the likeness of Jesus with ever-increasing glory.  That's what the Paul was talking about when he said we "reflect the Lord's glory."

To help understand we look back to the Old Testament book of Haggai where there is another usage of this idea of "increasing glory."  The prophet of God is instructed to speak to the leaders, the high priests, and to the remainder of the people and ask , "Who among you is left that saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now?" Later, the prophet's message from God is that God is going to shake things up a bit and make the heavens, the earth, the sea and the dry lands tremble.   God says, "I will shake all nations and the desire and the precious things of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendor."  Do we see the prophetic message of the coming Lord, or some prophecy about the church?

Let's make an application from our perspective. Do you think God received the glory of another addition to his spiritual family when you were born again? Sure he did. And while we may stumble and make mistakes and commit sins in our lives, we Christians still bring glory to the Father when we grow to overcome the stumbling blocks of Satan.  From the biblical sense, especially our knowledge of God's plan spoken through Haggai, as the process of being changed from one degree of glory to another is experienced, we take another step toward the likeness of Jesus. 

However we interpret those verses, the truth is the same. God is not one to leave us where we are, even after we become Christians. He desires for us to grow and mature in Christ until the glory we reflect is just like that of Jesus.  And according to the reference from the book of Haggai, each future glory will surpass the previous glory.

Satan tells us we are not worth saving. He wants us to believe that God gave up on us years ago. These feelings are the devil's tools to slow us down and keep us focused on our worthlessness. The truth of the matter is that God loves us, and through the cross gives us the privilege of redemption. His grace that brought us to this point continues with us as we mature in ever increasing glory and become transformed into the likeness of Christ.  Praise God for the person we can become through our commitment to Him. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

The Tree Climber

Luke 19 tells the story of a wealthy tax-collector named Zacchaeus.   He was a short man, but wanted to be taller on that day because Jesus was in town.  Zacchaeus wanted to see who this Jesus was, and he was having trouble seeing over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree, just so he could see Jesus as he passed by. 

Jesus came to the tree and saw Zacchaeus up there, and told him to come down. Jesus further explained he was going to Zacchaeus' house that day!  I doubt it took very long for that short man to get out of that tree. The Bible says he welcomed Jesus gladly.

This caused quite a bit of concern from those who observed these happenings.  Tax-collectors were not regarded with high esteem in that day.  In fact, since they made their living by charging more money than had been levied in taxes, there was a lot of crooked dealings on the part of the tax-collectors.  The bad feelings toward them caused the onlookers to make the statement, "He (Jesus) has gone to be the guest of a sinner."

If the story ended there, I would be quick to admit Zacchaeus  was the object of my envy.  This sinner would welcome Jesus, not only today, but every day!  The story didn't end there.

Look at verse 8.   But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

The verses that follow do not let us know if Zacchaeus had fraudulently dealt with these people in collecting their taxes.  Some say he did or he wouldn't have made the offer of restitution.  The important thing for us to notice is Zacchaeus is now in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth, and from his heart is more than willing to make any wrong things in his life, immediately right.
The words Jesus spoke next would be the words I would want Jesus to speak if he came to my house.  "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham."

To a woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus extended forgiveness.  Another woman with a poor reputation, met Jesus at a water well one day, and through their conversation about her life, she ran into town a believer, inviting everyone to "Come, see a man."  Still another occasion involved two blind men who received their sight and the blessing of knowing their sins were forgiven.

It is no wonder the story of Zacchaeus ends with Jesus saying, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Lord Jesus, come to our cities, our homes, and our lives, convicting us of our sins and offering your love and forgiveness.  Thank you for seeking and saving the lost. Amen.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Table Etiquette When Dining With Jesus

It was on the Sabbath when Jesus went to eat a meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee.  The Scripture in Luke 14 tells us Jesus was being watched carefully.  Sitting right in front of Jesus was a man who was sick. His body was abnormally swelling, and that brought Jesus to ask his Pharisee hosts and the highly regarded experts of the law,  "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"  They refused to answer, so Jesus healed the sick man.

 Then Jesus wanted them to answer another question. "If you child or your ox falls into a well on the Sabbath day, are you going to pull it out?" For the second time, they refused to answer. 

Meanwhile, back in the dining room, Jesus was noticing how the arriving guests were picking places of honor at the dining table.  So Jesus told the parable about being invited to a wedding feast, and tells them not to take the place of honor.  There is a chance someone more distinguished than you might show up and the host will have you move to another place so the distinguished guest can have the place of honor. No doubt that would cause humiliation.  Jesus went on to say you should be seated in the lowest place, then the host will probably have you move up to a better place.  That will bring more honor to you in the presence of the other guests.  Sounds like a lot of ado about nothing, but Jesus had something else to say which makes it very important.  "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Verses 12-14 gives additional etiquette lessons. 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Now wait.....when we host a dinner, don't we do that to show off a bit?  We want our guests to see how nice our home is, or to get some idea of our success, or maybe everyone can be amazed at how many influential people we know.  Jesus shows us the better way,  "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed."  He was getting us to see our real motives in making our guest list.  Are we hosting a dinner and inviting those we know will invite us to their house to watch them show off, too?  Hopefully, our heart is in the right place and we are inviting those less fortunate, knowing they will never be able to repay us.  Jesus promises we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. 

Jesus never mentions using the right fork or eating dessert before the main course. You will not find him scolding you for talking with your mouth full.  His etiquette lessons involve us acquiring and cultivating a heart with concern for the sick, the less fortunate, the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.  He always takes the side of the underdog, showing his love and forgiveness to those who had already been condemned by their peers.  I'm happy to learn his way.  After all, he loves me enough to invite me to his eternal feast.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Source of Redemption

"18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect"  1 Peter 1:18-19.

These familiar verses are a part of Peter's first letter, a letter written to those described as exiles scattered throughout various regions.  The terminology used here indicates the recipients of the letter were people who had suffered because of their faith, they had encountered mistreatment and perhaps in some cases punishment because they chose to belong to the Lord.

The first segment of Peter's letter reminds Christians how blessed they are to have such a strong hope, and Peter uses some power language to show them their importance to God.  He mentions their new birth, and the spiritual inheritance that belongs to them, and the protection provided by the power of God.  All of these terms describing the blessings of faithful Christians, lead into the two verses printed above.  Peter is emphasizing the point that their redemption source isn't found in earthly things.

Notice first, they are told they weren't redeemed by perishable things like silver or gold.  You would probably fail if you searched for someone that would say they were depending on their wealth and possessions to save them.  We all know better.  Yet in the actions of some, and even among the ranks of Christians, their lifestyle is such that they are showing a complete dependence on their success in their bank accounts, their fancy homes, cars, boats, prestige, name it, and they have probably been successful at it.  Simply because they are, by the standards of our society, extremely successful, there is a tendency to place all confidence and trust in "things." 

Peter wants them to know none of these things can bring about the redemption of a single soul.  Let's also notice there is no condemnation of anyone because of wealth or societal position.  They simply needed to understand, as do we, that our salvation can never be tied to these things. 

Secondly, in the words of the next part of the verse, they were told their redemption is in no way tied to the "empty way of life handed from their ancestors."  That is actually saying, you cannot be saved on the basis of your traditions.  Remember how much the traditions of the Pharisees were often more important than the written law.  We can make the same mistake by holding our traditional beliefs as more significant than the truth of the gospel. 

Here again Peter makes it clear that no matter how good our traditions may be, and we all have traditional things which are important to us, but those traditions are not the source of our eternal life.
Instead of our dependence on these perishable, temporary things, Peter says our redemption is on the basis of "the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  That's where we find redemption.  Look now at the next two verses, giving more proof of God's power to save. 

"20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God"   1 Peter 1:20-21.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

All the Time

During World War II, the assault transport, U.S.S. Samuel Chase participated for several days at an invasion site in Salerno, Italy.  Following that assignment, the transport headed back to its port in Algeria.  While enroute, they were located in the night by the Luftwaffe and a fierce battle ensued. The intensity of that event left the U.S.S. Samuel Chase damaged, but still making its way to their assigned area. 

Mounted on the deck of this ship were 40mm guns, and one of them had a broken part that prevented the gun's use.  It was vitally important the gun be repaired and available if needed. However, searching for the replacement for the broken part was futile.  Just like everything else during war-time, replacement parts were scarce.  They would have to wait until the ship could get back to the States for the repairs to be made.

The day finally came when they were ordered home and as they sailed to their port on the East Coast, messages were sent to all suppliers for the gun's replacement part. One by one, the messages ordering the part were returned with the response....."out of stock."

A seaman who had heard of the problem went to one of the ship's officers, advising that he may know where he can get the part.  Unheard of in military commands, the seaman was given permission to leave the ship, was given money and a car, and went to search for the part.  Less than an hour later he returned.  An officer asked if he found the part.  "Yes, and it cost $5.00, and since you gave me a $20 bill, I bought four of them."  The smiling officer finally asked, "Where did you find them?"  Back came the reply, "Montgomery Ward." 
I don't know about you, but I find it strange as well as somewhat humorous that a repair part for anything as vital as a ship's 40mm canon, could be found in a simple department store.  What they searched for so eagerly, to no avail, was readily available in a store where most would never look. 

That made me think of the words of a song that has always carried such a great message. 

"Time after time I was searching for peace in some void
I was trying to blame all my ills on this world I was in
Surface relationships used me till I was done in
But all the while someone was begging to free me from sin.

He was there all the time
He was there all the time
Waiting patiently in line
He was there all the time."

We search for so many things, so many answers, so many solutions to our bundle of problems. We often give up when the answers just aren't there.  May you be blessed in finding God, the answer for our tangled lives.  "He is there ALL the time."


Monday, September 23, 2013

Becoming and Being

A group of Christian scholars were asked recently, "What's it like for someone to become a Christian after living a life away from God?  What can a new convert expect, and what will others expect of him?"

The answers all showed some of the basic things that would occur when life-changing decisions are made.  Charting the course of life in a different direction, with new opportunities as well as new warnings, is to be expected. 

One of those, when asked the above questions, answered, "Being a Christian is not for those who are looking for the easy road, but it brings the rewards of knowing it is the right road."

I have done some thinking and reading and praying about how I would answer the question. I am not going to give a list of "do's and do not's," but simply give some encouragement for those who may be wrestling with taking the step of becoming a part of God's spiritual family.  My list is not complete, and every Christian will let you know such a list can be an on-going thing. We are a people who daily recognize the need of forgiveness and grace to face the issues everyone faces in life.  Here is my list...see what you think. 

1.  All Christians must be aware of the daily presence of God.  He is now with you and longs for close communication through prayer and the written Word.  Your life will find peace as the will of God becomes primary in your choices and decisions.  God's will sets the standard. 

2.  You are beginning a journey which involves turning from self, to a total surrender of all you are, to God.  This journey is one that begins when you become God's child, and continues throughout your life. In fact, it is a lifestyle we cultivate as we open more and more of ourselves to God. 

3.  We have been added to the Lord's church, therefore we will anxiously look forward to meeting him in worship, in fellowship, and in day to day associations with others in the church.  Being a part of the family is one of your greatest blessings and good works are accomplished as we strive to reach out to the world with our good deeds and the message of the gospel. 

4.  The grace which we have received from God, is to be extended to others in our gracious acts of service, our words, and our love for one another.  Learning to love others as God loves them is a huge challenge, yet it is conditionally connected with God's love for us.

5.  We are now a people whose objectives become less for the things of this world, and more about our eternal existence.  We are laying up treasures in heaven rather than in the temporary things this world offers.

Like the man we quoted earlier, Christianity is not for those who look for the easy road, but it is the right road.  May God bless you as you in your journey, and please know we are praying for you.