Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Generosity of God


and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God 
has been poured out within our hearts 
through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 
(Romans 5:5 NASB)

For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," 
is the One who has shone in our hearts 
to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 
(2 Corinthians 4:6 NASB)

As I grow older and learn more about the depths of the work of Christ in the Gospel, I believe that I will be spending the rest of my life, and into eternity, coming to grips with the incredible generosity of God.  I believe perhaps the greatest act of generosity which impacts believers day to day is the presence of the Holy Spirit, God literally dwelling within and filling the believer in Jesus.

I've been spending a lot of time this year in Ephesians 1, unfolding the depths of salvation, what God has done for believers through Christ.  Notice what He says about the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:13-14:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. 

I anticipate learning much about my salvation, and in particular the work of the Holy Spirit this year.  For now let me leave you with the words of Puritan Stephen Charnock as He reflects on this great truth:

'Perhaps you will not be so ready of yourselves to imagine so great a liberality; but take it upon my word, it is true, and so you will find it. And his bounty travels, as it were, in birth, to give the greatest blessings, upon our asking, rather than the smallest : " your heavenly Father shall give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him" (Luke 11:13): which in Matthew 7:11, is called, " good things." Of all the good and rich things Divine goodness hath in his treasury, he delights to give the best upon asking, because God doth act so as to manifest the greatness of his bounty and magnificence to men; and, therefore, is delighted when men, by their petitioning him, own such a liberal disposition in him, and put him upon the manifesting it. He would rather you should ask the greatest things heaven can afford, than the trifles of this world; because his bounty is not discovered in meaner gifts : he loves to have an opportunity to manifest his affection above the liberality and tenderness of worldly fathers.'
 - The Works of Stephen Charnock, Volume 2, p. 304, emphasis mine

May God revive and fill you with His Spirit today.

In His Grip,

Mark

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Real Thing


Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 
 (Galatians 5:24-25 NASB)
 
     As I stopped to rest and refuel this weekend (after a work all-nighter Friday - !), I am just overcome with joy at my salvation and voraciously desirous of the filling of the Holy Spirit.  I am thinking of those for whom God’s Spirit rushed upon and they accomplished great things:
•    Samson: Judges 14:6, 14:19, 15:14,
•    Saul: 1 Samuel 10:6, 10, 11:6, 16:13, 18:10
These examples are troublesome for me, as these men experienced incredible moments of the Spirit's filling, but not necessarily a lifetime characterized by the Spirit's work.

I want not simply moments of those things, but a lifetime of those things.  This desire is borne both out of the sheer joy of His filling and the fear of ‘going rogue’ and seeking to run my own thoughts and life.

What other examples do we see in sacred Scripture?
•    Exodus 28:3, 31:3, 35:31 – craftsmen performing skillful work
•    Deuteronomy 34:9, Isaiah 11:2, Daniel 5:11, 14, Acts 6:3, 10 – powerful leaders
•    1 Corinthians 2:4, 13, 12:8 – powerful words
•    Ephesians 1:17 – an internal spirit of wisdom

     For those of us who are believers (1 Corinthians 3:16), I believe it is not as much a matter of overt events, but of a life that consistently pleases God and blesses others.  As I look at Ephesians 1:8 and reflect on the meaning of 'wisdom', I see that the wisdom imparted to us by God has a singular source and a singular goal: the glory of God.  May my words and works be so directed!

     One of the great modern examples we have of this is marriage.  Betty and I attended a Christ-centered wedding this past weekend, and it occurred to me that, once you see the real thing, substitutes seem incredibly disconnected and conflicted.  Michael Card's 'The Wedding' is one of my favorites:



May God fill us - and our marriages - in such a way.

     In reflecting upon all that God has done in salvation in Ephesians, I am reflecting on  how the inward work of God flows outward in my mind, thoughts, work, and life.  May my life be Gospel-directed!


In His Grip,


Mark

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Redemption


In Him we have redemption through His blood, 
the forgiveness of our trespasses, 
according to the riches of His grace 
(Ephesians 1:7 NASB)

From the AMG Word Study Dictionary, redemption is 'deliverance on account of the ransom paid as spoken of the deliverance from the power and consequences of sin which Christ procured by laying down His life as a ransom for those who believe.'

The idea in 'redemption' is a ransom paid.  But who is paid, and what is the price?  I have heard of the 'ransom theory' of the atonement, which I understand contends that, since we are held captive by Satan (2Timothy 2:26), God is paying Satan to redeem us.  This cannot be!  We see from sacred Scripture:

  •  We are 'shut up under sin' (Romans 3:9, Galatians 3:22), that is, the law obligates us, and the debt that is owed is owed to God.  May we say that, in the same way we are rescued from God's wrath through the death of His son (Romans 5:9), we are freed from debt through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?  Yes, God offered up Jesus as a propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:25, 1John 4:10).  God killed Christ, His wrath was satisfied, the debt paid (Isaiah 53:5-11).
  •  Satan and his followers were not only not paid, but were entirely vanquished through the atoning work of Christ (Colossians 2:13-15)!  His resurrection demonstrates His ultimate triumph over them!
  •  This is yet another example of how only God can meet His own requirements.  In salvation we are saved both from God and to God.  He killed His Son.  He paid Himself.

To quote a good friend of mine, 'what a Savior we have!'.  Amazing.

In His Grip,

Mark

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sowing and Reaping


And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. 
(Mark 4:26-27 NASB)

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 
(Galatians 6:7-8 NASB)

I've long been intrigued by the concept of sowing and reaping.  Better understood in an agrarian culture, I wonder how much we understand it in an age where instant gratification is emphasized.  I have also been intrigued by the irony that, even though life is short (Psalm 39:4), God calls us to patience (James 5:7).

I believe that this can only be properly understood by considering the eternal purposes of God.  Patience seems to make no sense if our focus is on ourselves and what can be done in our lifetimes; however, when we consider the eternal purposes of God - what He has planned in eternity past for an eternal future - it makes much more sense!

Recently at our church, Jacob's Well, we have been going through the Gospel of Mark.  I love the parable of the sower in Mark 4, where we see the miracle of growth, both in its size (Mark 4:8) and in its nature (Mark 4:27).  These are wonderful reminders that our expectations are supernatural ones focused on God, and that as sowers and reapers, we are and do essentially nothing compared to Him (1 Corinthians 3:7).

In my ongoing study in the book of Ephesians I came across something unexpected:
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.  (from Ephesians 1:4 NASB)

I was surprised to learn that the word ‘foundation’ has the sense of casting seed for a purpose yet to be realized.  Clearly we are chosen by God individually and corporately to reflect His character.  Not under condemnation, God has called us, redeemed us, and destined us for glory!  (Romans 8:28-30).  All circumstances in our lives have been designed from eternity past for this purpose.

The key takeaways for me here are as follows:
 - I can be patient knowing that what God is doing in my life is part of an eternal plan, the full extent of which will not be realized until we reach heaven.
 - I can be persistent knowing that at any given moment I am sowing to the flesh or to the Spirit, and seek to sow to the latter as consistently as possible.

So I look back at my life, and while impatient at the slow pace of personal growth, I am amazed at how much God has changed me - and I know that I did not make that happen!

Here's to joyfully and expectantly sowing to the Spirit.

In His Grip,

Mark

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goals

O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; 
Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. 
(Psalm 43:3 NASB)

A new year is instinctively a time to look back and also to look forward.  We look back at past accomplishments and are proud.  We look back at past disappointments and determine to do better.  If we are wise and honest, then we are thankful, knowing that for all of us we are doing far better than we deserve!

What are you thinking about as 2012 gets started?  What is your focus?  I believe all of us struggle to think less of ourselves and more of God.

Several months ago I was gripped by Psalm 43, and in particular verse 5.  What will shape my thinking and determine my goals?  I don't want to be led by my emotions, my self-determination, or my circumstances, but on something more reliable, more sure, something that has a greater chance of success.  His light, His truth, His presence must point the way.

What if I told you that there was a supremely impossible but glorious goal that was guaranteed to succeed?  For the believer in Jesus, there is.  Consider:

"Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." 
(Psalm 46:10 NASB)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 
(Romans 8:29-30 NASB)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 
(Philippians 1:6 NASB)

He will be exalted.
He will make His children like His beloved son Jesus.


How committed to these goals are you?

In 2012 and beyond, may we measure all we do by the exaltation of Christ, and marvel at the myriad ways He does this in our lives and in the lives of those around us!

In His Grip,

Mark

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Peace!


For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; 
And the government will rest on His shoulders; 
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace… 
(Isaiah 9:6-7a NASB)

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace
among men with whom He is pleased." 
(Luke 2:13-14 NASB)

As I reflect on the state of our world, the goings on in my community (like Black Friday madness!), and even in my own home and relationships, peace seems often elusive, and, at times, downright impossible.
Yet, we seek peace, we hold out for the prospect of it, for the hope of it.

If we have not peace in our own hearts, our own relationships, and in our communities, 
on what basis can we hope for peace in our world?

One of the things I have been learning this year is the relevance and sufficiency of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in and for all of life.  In a recent study on the topic of conflict, God reminded me of the following:

  • God is a God of reconciliation, and reconciliation is central to the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
  • God is a God of peace (Philippians 4:9), peace is central to the Gospel (see above and Romans 5:1), and Jesus Himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).
  • Relationships are all about conflict resolution, and if we are to be like Christ, we must be really good at conflict resolution; we must be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
  • Peace with God is a prerequisite to peace with others (Ephesians 2:15)

My prayer for you would that the gospel would work peace through you in your identity and work its way out in your worship, community, and the mission of God where you are.

Those of you who know me know that I am somewhat of a fanatic when it comes to Christmas music.  I just love it!  One of my recent favorites is Casting Crowns' rendition of 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day'.  You may know that this was penned during the American Civil War when peace, to say the least, seemed elusive.  Enjoy this beautiful cry and hope for God's peace.



God is not dead nor does He sleep.  Indeed!


In His Grip,

Mark

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Authentic Teaching

 -

Last Fall I began a series entitled Spiritual Tests: How We Know What is Authentic. While I’ve taken some detours along the way, here is a review of some of the ground we’ve covered regarding ways we can test our own authenticity:
•    Godly Self-Examination
•    God’s Examination
•    Examination from Godly People


From here I’d like to explore with you how we test the influence of others on our lives, both the claims of truth we receive, as well as the credibility of the source of those claims.

God has given us this instruction from the Apostle John:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
(1 John 4:1-3 NASB)

In this context, the word ‘spirit’ refers to a person or teacher who acts or professes to act under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by divine inspiration (from The Complete Word-Study Dictionary, AMG).  In other words, not every person who claims to speak for God is actually doing so.  In fact, Scripture warns us that many false teachers will come (Mark 13:22-23, 2 Peter 2:1-3) and that even during the time the New Testament was written, some had appeared (Jude 1:3-4ff).  So God’s people have had to be on their guard for quite some time!  In fact, we are warned that false teachers will disguise themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13-14).  So, how do we know?

What the Apostle John tells us here is that we are to evaluate a teaching specifically by what it says about Jesus Christ.  Given that Jesus Himself is the truth (John 14:6), we can affirm with John that this is the very best way to determine the veracity (truthfulness) of the teaching we are exposed to.

So – what must a teacher affirm about Christ to be believed?
•    That Jesus Christ was an actual person who came to earth as a man (1 John 4:2).
•    That Jesus Christ is, in fact, God (1 John 2:22-23, 4:15, 5:1, 20, see also John 1:1, 14).

In other words, the mysterious, dual nature of the God-man Jesus must be affirmed for the teaching to be believed.  Such is the nature – and importance – of the person of Jesus.

I am continually amazed at how truth is revealed simply by asking, “Who is Jesus?”  Your friends who may be Muslim, or Mormon, or Jehovah’s Witness, for example may claim to you that they worship the same God, but would not affirm the truth about Jesus.  Rather than agree with their false teaching, let us patiently but firmly affirm the truth about Christ, and be used of God to lead them to Him.

May we see people like Peter and the friends of the woman at the well turn to the truth that is in Jesus:

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
(Matthew 16:16 NASB)

and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world."

(John 4:42 NASB)

Next, Lord willing we will talk about the importance of character in proclaiming truth, i.e. not just speaking it, but very obviously living it.

In His Grip,

Mark