The Great Eight (Part 10)

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:10-11 ESV). As I said at the beginning of this journey through the eighth chapter of Romans, we would be here for a while. Over the last ten days we have really just scratched the surface of the meaning of these principles. Today, we’re going to look again at a part of yesterday’s reading. Since its Valentine’s Day also, I thought the timing was good for us to examine what the gift of God’s grace means to us a bit more. It is centered in the work of redemption in Christ. Paul says, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (v. 11). Let’s see if I can make this a bit clearer in a practical way. First, it means that our destiny, the end of this life, will be a “seat” in the heavenly places (cf. Ephesians 2:6).  To understand this image we need to recognize how the typical meal looked for the first century Jew. Today most people merely eat when they can and where they can. It is a necessary evil. In the Biblical context mealtime was an event. It affirmed kinship, friendship, and good will. The seating acknowledged your status and recognized a peaceful disposition and commitment to those at the table. It was a declaration of personal relationship. If we get a seat in the heavenly places with Jesus, it means we are a part of His family; we are trusted friends with a deep relationship. Jesus said, No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15 ESV). Second, in Christ Jesus all the promises of God are “yes” for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20). All of the “if/then” statements of Scripture are ours. All of these statements are more than promises; they are law. Laws are different than commandments in the Scripture. Laws always give us clear direction. It’s much like math. If you add one to one, you will always get two. You will never get less or more. You get two. There is incredible assurance in that truth. God is giving us great clarity in living our life. Believe in Jesus, get eternal life; sow good seed, get a good harvest. There are many more; however, here’s what so important for us to recognize. God is not selective with his children. We are all loved, because we are all redeemed. All of His promises are yours. That’s a real Valentine’s...

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Good Intentions (Part 3)

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:26-32 ESV). The third “good intention” I would encourage you to adopt for this New Year is to love and forgive yourself and others. You cannot express unconditional love if you do not first practice it with yourself. There is a beautiful song by the Bluegrass band Mountain Heart that lists the writer’s transgressors and his success in forgiving them. Notice the last line: I forgive my daddy for missing half my life, I forgive my momma for holding on too tight, I’ve forgiven friends, strangers, neighbors, family, Everybody… everybody… but me. Holding on to guilt can impact relationships because it blocks the flow of communication, of love itself. Practice grace, with others and with yourself. You can’t truly live your life until you do. There is no question that learning to love in the manner Christ intended is more of a lifetime goal than an immediate accomplishment. The progress sneaks up on you over months, years. Forgiving people who have hurt us may well be the most difficult task we are asked to perform. But if you keep “carrying all that anger, it’ll eat you up inside,” as Don Henley sang. Strangely we find comfort in holding on to the guilt of both others and ourselves. It is almost as if that somehow we have come to believe that if we punish them or ourselves that can erase the hurt. It can’t and it won’t. The result of self-depredation and deepening guilt can only drive us further away from the grace of God. However, letting go of those failures brings us freedom and peace. I know that is difficult; however, if we remember that it is a process not a singular event, we can move forward. The first step is always beginning. Start with yourself and forgive, no matter how significant your failure. Then expand to others who have hurt you. You will like the new...

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Good Intentions (Part 2)

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. 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 12:1-2 ESV). The second think I would encourage you to practice in your life this year is to think positive thoughts. The most current research suggests that human beings think three or four negative thoughts to every positive one. Many people I counsel admit to negative self-talk. In fact, they become so easily entangled in this destructive habit that they are debilitated with anxiety to the point of distraction and fear of the future. When things are going wrong, that’s the most difficult time to be positive. But a steady stream of hopeful or reassuring thoughts can help bring us back to the truth that we are not alone. The apostle is clear in our reading today that the path to being transformed is through the renewing of our minds. This is done from within. It is how we think that makes the difference. In fact, he models that when he says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). It is a proven fact that thoughts like “It’s going to be OK!” are better thoughts to think than “I’ll never be able to do it!” Thinking on the true and good thing (cf. Philippians 4:8) is far better than allowing fear to overcome you. No matter how bad the situation is, remember you are loved beyond measure. I am not suggesting that this is merely an attitude in our head.  There’s an active positive attitude that we can do. We can wear positive, constructive thoughts. Then it becomes the attitude that compels us to move forward to keep living, the same way our hearts keep beating. That’s the attitude that can make the difference.  It’s the difference between letting life pass us by and dancing in the rain, doing what we set out to accomplish, no matter what, however big or little of a thing that might be. What if, instead of staring out the window, feeling defeat while sitting idly by, blaming ourselves for not having a strong enough attitude, we took a different approach?  What if we slid on our rain boots and stepped out into the rain?  What if we actually moved?  What if we let our bodies sway side to side and tapped our rain-booted toes in the splotchy puddles.  What if we twirled around with our arms wide?  What if we just kept going?  What if we really danced in the rain? Make that a part of your practice this coming...

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Good Intentions (Part 1)

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4 ESV). I have come to a firm conviction that New Year’s Resolutions simply don’t work very well for me without a daily commitment of my mind followed by intention action. This is not something new for me. In fact, my wife recognized this personality trait years ago. She got me a little wall plaque when I first began full-time ministry that read: “The Road to Hell is Paved with Good intentions.” It has been a consistent reminder for me for nearly five decades. Perhaps you’re a bit like me. Or, perhaps you do make a good start with your resolutions each year and then there’s a small slip and failure and guilt cause you to quit altogether. I would encourage you in that from a spiritual perspective, we must remember we’re not perfect. Perfection is not the goal in this earthly life; we should seek to persevere in our journey. It’s a daily resetting of your mind and soul. It’s trying again when you “fail” and knowing that you can never fail if you’re trying. It is…grace. So, knowing this truth there are a few ideas I’d like to encourage you with as 2018 dawns in replacement of 2017. First, develop a habit of “counting to ten.” The age-old axiom describing a pause before you speak or act is wise. Our first reactions to things may be influenced by how stressed we are at the moment, what just happened in that meeting or where our blood sugar levels are hovering. In our age of instant messaging to a world-wide audience, this principle has never been so important. We certainly have seen the destructive result of pounding out 140 characters for that scathing retort in a moment of haste. Taking a few seconds to think before speaking takes discipline and practice. But taking time to respond when you feel emotional is a spiritual exercise that will help you be more centered and more caring. I’ve watched twitter and Facebook destroy many relationships.  We all forget sometime that perception is everything in this life we live. What you see as innocent may not translate that way to your boyfriend, girlfriend or boss. Please post and tweet smartly. Before you post or tweet something count to ten! That’s just another way of saying we should think about how others would perceive what we have...

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The Near Past

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16 ESV). I have often worked with people who were experiencing a devastating loss. Often their trust has been shaken. They may even doubt the goodness of God toward them. Typically this is due, at least in part, to the pain of the “near” past. We all know the truth that it is easier to remember what has just happened with more vividness than the distant past. It is because we remember that pain so vividly that we can also easily project it into our future. And, further, since we are often given to accept absolutes, we decide that our future will never be better than the pain of our past. It is at that time when we desperately need to understand the work of God’s grace in our lives. Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it. It is an actual power from God that acts and makes good things happen in us and for us. This is what’s behind the Apostle Paul’s writing to the Corinthians in our reading today. God’s grace was God’s acting in Paul to make Paul work hard: “By the grace of God . . . I worked harder than any of them.” So when Paul says, “Work out your own salvation,” he adds, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (vv. 12-13). Grace is power from God to do good things in us and for us. John Piper says it like this: This grace is past and it is future. It is ever-cascading over the infinitesimal waterfall of the present, from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future, into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past. In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future, and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past. The proper response to the grace you experienced in the past is thankfulness, and the proper response to grace promised to you in the future is faith. We are thankful for the past grace of the last year, and we are confident in the future grace for the New Year. Don’t be deceived by your circumstances. God is at work to do good things in and for...

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2018, Ready or Not!

I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.” Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:15-21 ESV). You know it by the name of “Hide and Seek.” Hide-and-Seek is still a popular game for children around the world. Any number of players can play and there is no real strategy or physical ability necessary to play. You know, it is when players conceal themselves in their favorite hiding place to be found by one or more seekers. The game is played by one player chosen (designated as being “it”) closing their eyes and counting to a predetermined number while the other players hide. After reaching this number, the player who is “it” calls “Ready or not, here I come!” and then attempts to locate all concealed players. The game can end in one of several ways. In the most common variation of the game, the player chosen as “it” locates all players as the players are not allowed to move; the player found last is the winner and is chosen to be “it” in the next game. Another common variation has the seeker counting at “home base”; the hiders can either remain hidden or they can come out of hiding to race to home base; once they touch it, they are “safe” and cannot be tagged. Sometimes I feel coming into a new year we feel as if we are about to be “discovered” and must race to home base before being “tagged.” Some of that feeling is based on our past. After all, some of us have been run over a bit by life. The message God has for each of us is that feeling is merely temporary and has actually passed. The prophet says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” It was the Lord’s way of reminding Israel that he had not forgotten them and he was doing this “new thing” to make their way good and productive. That is the message in Jesus’ work of grace. Today we have the advantage of knowing that God has already secured our eternal future. He has proven this what Jesus did for us on the cross. I love the message Jesus delivers to the thief who is dying with him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” That is our assurance too. I don’t need to race to “home base.” Jesus has done that for me; and, I need only wait until I am called to the home is not preparing for me. Come on 2018! I’m ready for...

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