Mission Accomplished!

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My Musings – Been thinking a lot about the aging process here lately.  In my adult Sunday School class yesterday, we talked about the various age groups in the Body and how they relate to each other, noting that older does not always equate with more mature in the faith.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we matured as fast (at least it seems fast now that I am in my mid-sixties) as we aged?  I confessed to the class to being older (it was quite obvious, of course), but not old (some denial going on?).  I also told them I aspired to being the oldest in our Church, but was willing to be patient about it.

Back to aging, versus maturing.  In the above text, as John speaks of three ages of men (children, young men and fathers) he could just as well be speaking about the three stages of salvation and Christian maturity (justification, sanctification, glorification).

Dear Children (Justification) – A judicial act of God, by which he pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accounts, accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law. In addition to the pardon of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled – Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.  This is a past event that is accomplished through the work of the Son.

Young Men (Sanctification) – In Christian theology, a distinction is made between justification and sanctification where justification refers to having saving faith and sanctification refers to the process of gradual purification from sin and progressive spiritual growth that should mark the life of the believer – The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.  This is an on-going process that is accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Fathers  (Glorification) – In the Scripture the idea of glorification deals with the ultimate perfection of believers.  It is ours by inheritance – Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.  This is our future destination through the work of the Father.

Interestingly, while these three aspects of salvation occur in the past (“have been justified through faith“), present (“are being transformed into His likeness“) and future (“we shall be like Him“), John speaks of them all as having already taken place (“have been forgiven“, “have overcome“, “have known Him“).  How each of us progress is different, and all of us experience our ups and downs, but that first act of faith guarantees the ultimate perfection of them all.  It kind of looks like this:

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My Advice –  Do not be discouraged.  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6, NIV 1978).”  It’s a done deal.  So, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily [those ups and downs] entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1, NIV 1978).”  And one day “we shall see Him as He is.”  What a glorious thought!

Just Say Whoa to Woe

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My Musings – It’s easy to dump on the Pharisees. After all, their name has become synonymous with self-righteous hypocrisy making them easy marks for criticism and condemnation.  But what if we substituted the word Pharisee in the above verses with the word Christian?  Is that how the world sees many of us?  Are they justified in seeing us that way?  We want to scream that they are way off base.  That we are under attack and being unjustly persecuted.  But we need to be very careful before we dismiss it outright.  For you see, “the problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin. but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because you see, grace is only for sinners.” ― Jerry Bridges, evangelical Christian author, speaker and staff member of The Navigators.

We might think, why should we care what the world thinks of us?  Well, if they are wrong, and perhaps they are in most cases, we need not care.  Jesus did say, after all that in this world we will have persecution, and that if the world hated Him, we should not be surprised if they hate us too.  But if they are right, even about a minority, we should care very much.  For Jesus also said they (the world), will know we are His followers if we have love for one another.  And if they do not see His love in us and from us, then the truth that we are proclaiming will not seem very much like the truth.

Another reason we should care is because Jesus cares.  He had nothing but condemnation and anger (yes, anger) for the teachers, scribes and teachers of the law that exhibited such self-piety and hypocrisy.  His attitude was not a casual “well actually,” but a very much heated “woe to you!“…”You snakes! You brood of vipers!”  Whoa.  Let’s take a closer look at these “woes” from Matthew 23, NIV 1984, and learn from them.  We do not want to become 21st century Pharisees.

  • Hypocrites – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
  • Sons of Hell – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

  • Blind Guides – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?”

  • Neglectful – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

  • Greedy and Self-Indulgent – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

  • Whitewashed Tombs, Dead Men’s Bones – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

  • Full Measured Sinners – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

My Advice – I am sure that the vast majority of Christians are not this way, or at least not blatantly.  But are there times we “deny” God’s grace to those whose sins seem greater than our own?  On occasion, is the way we behave on the outside inconsistent with how we are on the inside?  Do we overly focus on certain evils (“strain out a gnat“), to the exclusion of others (“swallow a camel”)?  Are we so self-absorbed by the “injustices” that we must endure that show no mercy to others?  Let’s just say whoa to woe.

 

The Elephant In The Room

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My Musings – “People primarily respond not to what we do but how we’re being.  It’s not that we do the wrong thing necessarily, but that we do what we do – maybe even if it is the ‘right’ thing – the wrong way.” (Leadership and Self-Deception, The Arbinger Institute).

My great fear for the Church today is that a lot of us spend a lot of time and energy “doing” Christianity, while failing to “be” Christ-like.  We pride ourselves with saying, supporting and doing the right things (the modern-day equivalent of a tenth of our mint, dill and cumin), but neglect to be those things (the all-time equivalent of, “justice, mercy and sacrifice“).  In the process, we are well on our way to alienating an entire generation from “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  Given the appropriate “salt and light” there are many who would love to “be” like Christ, but are afraid of “doing” like “Christians.”  But unfortunately, the “salt” in many of us leaves a bad taste, and the “light” shining from us artificial and not a true reflection of its Source.

My Advice – There is nothing wrong with saying, supporting and doing the right things.  But we must practice these without neglecting “justice, mercy and sacrifice.”  Otherwise, we are merely a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Distracting noise and “fake news” in a world searching for the truth.  Woe to us, the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge.

Don’t just do, be.  People still might not acknowledge the truth, but what they are rejecting will be plain.

Learning From Failure

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My Musings – This was a familiar pattern in the Old Testament.  God delivers the promised land into the hands of the Israelites.  They get complacent and fall into sin.  God brings judgment through their enemies.  The Israelites call out to the Lord.  He provides a deliverer (called a Judge).  And the cycle starts all over again, and again and again.  They seem to never have learned from their failings.

Are we any different?  Are there cycles of failure that we repeat time and again, never seeming to learn from prior experiences?  Of course it is better to not fall into sin in the first place. But when we do, once we are delivered and restored (following confession and repentance), we should learn from the past failure and be on guard lest we repeat it in the future.

Of course, not all failures are the result of sin. “Failure in and of itself is not a bad thing. But failing to learn from it is inexcusable.” (Alison Levine, On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership).  In our journey of discipleship, God will take us through failures (not sin) so that we will learn from them.  For it is on the journey that we learn the most and see our character develop the most. “The journey is where we find perspective.” (Alison Levine, On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership).

My Advice – What are we learning?  It would be a pity to go through the struggle and not reap the benefit of learning from it.  So pay attention.

Take Heart!

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My Musings – I wrote in my book “Got Spiritual Milk?” (see Store), that justification is a one-time event (the starting line), sanctification is a life-long process (the journey) and glorification is our ultimate destination (the finish line).  In the verse above, Jesus states that if we would come after Him (the justification part) we must take up our cross daily (the sanctification part) and follow Him (the glorification part).

While the justification part is a free gift, taking up our cross daily is a graphic illustration of the cost of becoming like Jesus. Crucifixion was one of the cruelest and barbaric forms of execution ever devised.  A medical doctor provides the following  physical description:

The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet.

As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen.

Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.

It is now almost over—the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level—the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues—the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.

He can feel the chill of death creeping through is tissues. . .Finally he can allow his body to die.

All this the Bible records with the simple words, “And they crucified Him.” (Mark 15:24).

What wondrous love is this?

— Adapted from C. Truman Davis, M.D. in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8

Somehow, the crosses we have to bear in our journey of sanctification here below, do not seem so awful after all – no comparison to what Jesus had to go through, and which bought our justification.  Paul also tells us the they are not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed (Romans 8:18) — our ultimate glorification.

My Advice – Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV 1984). Jesus had the ultimate victory (overcame) over His cross.  Because of this, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome ours as well.  So take heart!

 

 

Walking or Stumbling

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My Musings – The righteous (those cleansed by the blood of Christ) walk in the ways of the Lord because their spiritual eyes were opened by their faith in Christ. He is the light of the world, and through Him the righteous can see the way of the Lord illuminated before them.

The rebellious stumble over the ways of the Lord because, though they have eyes to see, they do not see.  They are spiritually blind.  To them, the Gospel is a stumbling-block.

My Advice – If you have not already done so, open your eyes to the truth of the Gospel.  He is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him].” John 14:6, NIV 1984)

 

Not So With You

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My Musings – No one wakes up in the morning with the hope that someone will manage us.  We wake up in the morning with the hope that someone will lead us.  The problem is, for us to be led, there must be leaders we want to follow.  (From Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek).

There is no shortage of people who wish to exercise authority.  Just look at the number of candidates in recent (and upcoming) elections who want to be President.  As you listen to many of them, you get the idea that as much as they would like to lead, there are not many that we would like to follow.  This concept is not restricted to politics.  It is rampant in many businesses and organizations, and yes, even in some churches.  To make matters worse, many who wish to lead, find little fault in their leadership skills, preferring to blame those they wish to lead with the inability or unwillingness to follow.

Perhaps that is one reason why Christ turned the leadership model on its head.  Do you want to a leader?  Then learn how to follow.  You want to be seen as great? Then learn to be humble.  You want to be first? Then be willing to wait in line.  You want to be master?  Then be willing to become a servant. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45, NIV 1984).

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.‘” (John 13:12–17, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Go and do likewise.  Has a familiar ring to it.