Friday, August 19, 2011

Greater than Death

"The benefactors, those who are given unending, undeserved goodness and unmerited perfection, in Jesus are (and will be) more powerful in life than death itself, which has had power over mankind through Adam." This is my understanding of Rom. 5:17. The result of Jesus' person and work is far greater in its accomplishments than the results of Adam's sin on mankind and creation. This is a phenomenal concept with radical implications. This claim is extraordinary.

Sin damned the race of men. It ravaged a perfect world. Sin crowned as king an alien, destructive enemy of mankind, death, to war against life. Death was given power like none other. It reigns over kings, emperors, dictators, and generals. Excepting Christ, none has mastered this 'master of the world.' It brings the great and powerful low, placing great and small on the same plain before its dark throne. Death reminds us that we are a broken and weak race. Its long terrible arm is inescapable.

And God subjected creation and mankind to this ruler, knowing that He would place himself under its power to restore that which had been broken. He tasted the pitiless, uncaring power of death in order to disarm its power and replace it with a greater power, a power He gives to all that love and trust in His finished work on the cross. He gives us greater gifts, than the ones that were robbed from us by sin. What we lost, we lost so that we could receive that which is greater. What we experience in this life because of sin in the world, we go through in order to glory in the good gifts we have received in Christ. The greatest of these gifts being Himself. Our reign, our rule with Christ begins in this life and is brought into fullness and completeness in the next. We can, each moment of every day, experience the power and fullness of God in this life that is greater in its power than death's own tyranny. Our good gifts are abundant grace and the perfection of Jesus given to us freely in the person of Jesus.

Drink deeply of the concept of abundant grace! Grace is the idea that goodness in being shown to those whom do not deserve it. That's you and me. The term "abundant grace" used in Rom. 5:17 communicates that there is such an abundance of God's goodness shown to you in His Son, Jesus, you will never be able to exhaust this eternal source of grace. You and I can drink our fill beginning in this life and spanning all of eternity. Grace implies that you and I will never deserve it, but regardless it will be shown to those of us who are in Jesus. This means that as Christians we never wear out our welcome with God. We are not required to clean ourselves to receive God's favor, instead we clean ourselves up because of God's favor already has been shown to us. We are simply becoming what God has already made us in His Son. Our appetites will never be ambitious nor ravenous enough to indulge ourselves past what is freely available in Jesus. We may daily drink deeply filling ourselves with the beauty and majesty of God revealed in face of Jesus Christ until we are saturated to our core, yet there in an infinite surplus remaining for us.

The goodness shown in Christ which is unending and undeserved is more powerful than the sin which unqualifies and brings death. Whether we embrace this or not, we Christians are kings and queens of the earth in Christ. We get to experience the power and fullness of life which is greater than what death can steal, because it cannot be stolen by death. Christ has accomplished more than what Adam lost for humanity. If we lose everything in this life but still have Christ, we still have everything.

May your life's ambition be summed up in these words that you might reign in this life:
"It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed but that with full courage now, as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20)."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Powerful Foolishness of the Cross

We should be honest, honest with ourselves and honest with those around us. Jesus dying on the cross is often received with a shrug by you and by me. As Christians it is often received as tired, old tune. For others is seems senseless, barbaric, and out-dated. Christians lose joy and excitement in the cross because they do not embrace the reason it is so controversial for everyone else. Instead we shy away from the controversy.

How can love be displayed in the death of the innocent? How can a loving Father kill his Son for the injustice of others? Why does blood have to be shed? Why would the death of God the Son bring life? Doesn't the cross portray a vengeful, wrathful, morbid God rather than a God of love?

The Gospel defies conventional wisdom (ex. above questions), does it not?

These are good questions, but they are questions that stem from a fundamental misunderstanding. This thinking flows out of a complete/partial dismissal of sin. Sin is not a mere breaking of a rule, or the violation of an arbitrary standard. If this is all that sin is, then such a display of God's wrath as the cross would rightly be an overreaction. Sin is a rebellion against the authority of God as God. It is the rejection of his nature, his character, his attributes, and his person. It is a declaration of war against all that God is. It is the natural drive of every human to say, "I will do what is right in my own eyes." We desire to determine what is good, which is described solely of God in Genesis 1 & 2. The sin of mankind was not eating of some fruit, nor was it the mere dismal of God's rules. The sin of mankind was the decision to see the world as glorious, rather than God. Reread Genesis 3. Our sin was to define good as we see fit, and reject God's rule all together. The fall was a revolution, humanity's attempt to set on the throne as the ultimate authority. It was a declaration of anarchy. You and I have committed high treason!

Could we really expect God just to forget the fact that we completely reject Him as Ruler of the Universe? We do reject him everyday. We don't even have to do anything necessarily "bad" in order to do this. All we have to do is live life the way we see fit, try to be a good person, and hope for the best. "God, sorry about my complete disregard for you on a daily basis, but I am going to do things my way and things will ok between us." This statement is the reality that most folks who acknowledge the existence of God live in. We can insult, disregard, disrespect, despise, and refuse to submit to God, but since he is loving he can't get mad. Right? Wrong!

We all wish God was really like that, because a god like that is like a boss who lets you do whatever you want. Sure you like the guy, but you will never respect him or take him seriously. In truth, most of the time we delude ourselves with the idea that God is some soft old man in the clouds. We refuse to see that God is all powerful and very just. Meaning everyone will get exactly what they deserve and He has the authority and power to make the penalty match the crime. In light of the earlier paragraph, can we really expect heaven? To slight an infinitely perfect being, is an immeasurably weighty sin. This is the highest form of treason. Only an eternal punishment will do....hell.

So back to the cross. At the cross the infinite wrath of God was poured out on the Man-God, Jesus (fully man and fully God), because only an infinite being could absorb infinite wrath. Death is the penalty for high treason, even today in almost every country. Out of love God paid the penalty for your and my highest treason so that you and I might live. So what may seem very foolish to our culture and most cultures on the planet, is the power of God for your and my salvation from his wrath. This reality is only beautiful to those who first realize that they actually stand before God as rebels, but now through Christ realize that they stand before God wearing Jesus' perfection. Do you live in light of the gospel as the power of God or without a second thought to the gospel (treating it as foolishness)?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

I imagine that most people who might read the title of this blog entry (though I am fully aware that when I say most I am being overly optimistic about the readership of this blog, lol) might think that this entry is about the saving power of the Gospel. In other words, it might be assumed that I am going to write about the Gospel's ability to transform those opposed to Christ (a.k.a. the "lost"). Indeed, this would be a valid and wonderful subject on which to expound, but it is not my topic of interest for the moment. The Gospel is not merely a introductory course for the new believer, but is to be the life blood and daily bread of the oldest, most astute Christian.

Apart from the person and work of Jesus (the Gospel) there cannot be any spiritual growth. If there is any perceived spiritual growth divorced from Christ, in reality it is an inflation of an individual's pride, self-righteousness, and a self-delusion of holiness. John 15:1-11 was the source of this shocking revelation in my own spiritual development. Jesus could not be clearer. If we are separated from him, we do not flourish. We whither and become useless fodder, meaning we become the fruitless, bitter, self-serving, joyless people you and I have come to avoid in the church.

There were two realizations that flowed from this passage that were chilling to my zealous religiosity a few years ago, and one powerful truth that warmly clothed my naked soul. The first realization was that I had not looked to Jesus as my life line. I was determined that I would forge ahead in my Christian life relying on my determination, my head knowledge, and (unknowingly at the time) my ability to deceitfully ignore my lack of love for God and for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Had God not awaken me from slumber, I was on the path to becoming what I had hated in churches I had attended and served. I would have continued the process of transforming into the hypocritical, self-righteous, prideful, arrogant, loveless, and bitter church member. God in His grace showed me that what I hated around me, was really what I despised about myself. My frustration with church, ministry, and Christian organizations was flowing out of a seething hatred of my own hypocrisy. I knew how to play the pious part so well in public, that I began to believe it in private. This piercing conviction awoke another realization.

The second chilling thing was that I knew so many people/churches that relied on good moral instruction as a substitute for Christian discipleship. Moral teaching flows out of biblical discipleship, but cannot be severed from a deep dependence and daily obsession with Jesus and his work on our behalf. Otherwise, it is not Christian morality. When we take the short-cut of teaching morality without digging into our identity based on and flowing out of the Gospel, we remove the branches from the vine to whither and die. We cannot have Christ-exalting, life-transforming ministries or churches unless they are fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. This stark reality ignited a insatiable passion for serving in Gospel-driven ministry.

The third reality was the nourishment my anemic soul needed and has become a very precious truth in my life. If I loose everything, my job, my home, my family, in Jesus I still have everything I will ever need in this life. I am very grateful that God has given me a wonderful wife, a daughter on the way, a job doing what I love, and a roof over my head. But this passage John 15:1-11, especially v.11, made me realize that all the joy I needed to have a full, purposeful, meaningful life is found in Jesus. He is my heartbeat, my life-blood. It is from Him that I have an identity. I have been freed to live a life of repentance and faith. I do not have to be ashamed anymore to admit that I am a messed-up person who desperately needs Jesus everyday. This should be the confession of every Christian.

He is everything so that I can be content, even happy, being nothing. There is no pressure to measure up to some obscure standard others have set, because Jesus measured up to the perfect standard for me. I have to remind myself of that precious truth everyday. This motivates me to serve him out of love, not out of duty. I am a servant of my Lord because I adore him, not because I am obligated or guilted into service. This radically changed my life and is still doing so. Jesus is the Vine, I am merely a branch. Jesus is the Vine and you are only a branch. Jesus is the Vine; churches are only branches. Without Him none of us flourish; we all whither and die. In Him we have fullness of Joy, nourishment, and abundant lives/life. Are you connected to the Vine? Is your church?