Friday, January 27, 2012

God's Exchange

Would you trade the toaster oven in your hands for what’s behind Door Number 3? It might be a new car or a lump of coal – on a game show, there is no way of knowing. One thing is for sure, though -- you have to give up what you have to get something new.

With God, we have the assurance of knowing that what we will get by trusting Him is infinitely better than what we give up, because you can’t outgive God. When we pray for Him to meet a specific need, He does not just add a little something to what we already have; He takes away a burden and replaces it with a priceless gift (Philippians 4: 4-6).

What’s the catch? There is no catch, except that we have to release the burden to Him before He will bless us with the gift. If we clutch on to the old and familiar because we’re afraid to let go, we lack the faith that He knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8), and that He will answer our prayer exceeding abundantly beyond what we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:14).

This is not a prosperity gospel or a name-it-and-claim-it philosophy, because we should recognize that not all our specific requests are in line with God’s perfect will, and that His blessings are often not in the material realm. As we become more conformed to Christ’s image (Philippians 3:10), and trust Him more and more, He will grant us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4) because those desires become more aligned with His perfect will for us.

When we feel that God is not blessing us as we had hoped, it may be because we haven’t yet asked Him (James 4:2; Matthew 7:8; 21:22; Luke 11:10), or because we’re asking for something to satisfy our fleshly wants rather than our spiritual needs (James 4:3). Or it may be that our heart is not right with God because we have not forgiven those who have wronged us, or we have not repented of our sins, or because we are relying on our own limited resources to solve the problem, instead of trusting in His abundant grace.

But God delights in blessing His children with good things beyond our imagination! (Matthew 7:11; Ephesians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:14) If we have faith to leave our burdens at the foot of the cross, He will fill us up with blessings beyond measure (Hebrews 11:6). He will exchange:

Our sins for His righteousness (Hebrews 12:11)

Our bondage for His liberty (James 1:25)

Our weakness for His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 40:31)

Our exhaustion for His rest (Matthew 11:28)

Our loneliness for His presence (Hebrews 13:5; Proverbs 18:24) and for brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:2)

Our pride for His humility (Philippians 2:5-7; Mark 10:45)

Our limitations for His omnipotence (Luke 18:27; Matthew 19:26; Philippians 4:13)

Our ignorance for His wisdom (James 1:5; Colossians 2:3) and teaching (John 14:26; Ephesians 1:17-18)

Our confusion for His direction (Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 119:105)

Our guilt for His forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9; Romans 8:1; Colossians 1:13-14)

Our doubt and fear for His perfect love, faith, and the peace that passes all understanding (1 John 4:18; Philippians 4:7).

Our sin sickness for His healing (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24)

Our tears for joy in Him (Philippians 4:4; Psalm 5:11; 1 John 1:4)

Our lack for His abundance (Philippians 4:19)

A death sentence of eternity in hell for abundant life now and eternity with Him in Heaven (Ephesians 2:1; John 3:16).

Dying to self for living with and in Him (Galatians 2:20)

Being children of the devil for being children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

A story has circulated on the Internet about a little girl who dearly loved a necklace of plastic pearls she bought at the dime store after scrimping and saving her allowance. Her father asked her to trust him to give them to her so he could give her something better, but each time he asked, she turned away defiantly with pouting and tears, clinging to the plastic pearls even though their coating had long since flaked away. After all, she had worked so hard and given up so much to get them.

Finally she realized that her love for her father and her desire to please him outweighed her attachment to her necklace. Reluctantly, timidly, she removed them from her neck and offered them to him. Imagine her surprise and delight when he placed around her neck a string of perfectly matched, cultured pearls of great beauty and value.

How often are we like the little girl, refusing to give up the childish trinkets we acquire by our own efforts, letting them take on the importance of idols in our life? Why are we so often afraid to exchange what we have for what the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer longs to give us?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Change Me Now!

A few days ago, when reviewing song lyrics I wrote about salvation, I realized that the climax of the song was the lyric, “Change me now – make me a new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Emphasizing that lyric and expressing the change made all the difference in the interpretation of the song and its power to communicate God’s message. Imagine my surprise when that night, a dear sister in Christ lent me a book entitled, “Lord, Change Me!”

There are no coincidences with God, so I wondered what God was revealing to me. Clearly we are changed so dramatically at the moment of salvation that Jesus referred to it as being born again (John 3:3-7). At that very instant the burden of our sin is lifted from us forever (Romans 8:1-2); its stain on our soul is washed away (Psalm 51:2, Acts 22:16, Revelation 1:5); and the Holy Spirit indwells us (2 Corinthians 5:5) with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).

From that moment on we have access to the infinite love, power, wisdom and righteousness of God living within us (Colossians 1:27). We are no longer enemies of God (Romans 5:10) condemned to death (Romans 8:7; Colossians 1: 21), but His children, joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17), ambassadors of the Gospel of grace (2 Corinthians 5:20), and even future priests and rulers within His Kingdom (Revelation 20:6). We are blessed with abundant and eternal life (John 10:10; John 3:16).

I was saved 11 years ago, but I feel God has a fresh message for me now about change. As radical as the change at the moment of salvation is from death in sin to newness of life (Romans 6:4), so sudden is the change that awaits us at the moment of the Rapture. In the twinkling of an eye we will be transformed from an ailing, aging physical body to a glorified body that will never get sick, feel pain, age, or die. At the same moment our sin nature will be gone forever, replaced with the perfect righteousness and holiness of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-58).

At salvation we receive justification, or positional sanctification, because we are justified in Christ’s perfect sacrifice to pay our sin debt in full (Romans 3:23-25; Romans 5:9; Hebrews 10:10,14). It is “just as if” we had never sinned. When God looks at us, we are holy or sanctified in His eyes, because He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son instead of seeing our sins (Romans 5:15-18; Hebrews 10:14-17). At the Rapture we receive glorification, or complete sanctification, as we become like Christ in every way (Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:4).

But I believe that God was reminding me of what happens in between the moment of salvation and the moment of the Rapture. We are not meant to stagnate during that time, but to increasingly be transformed into the image of Christ, through a process known as progressive sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Timothy 2:21). It is not an instantaneous change like being born again or like meeting Christ in the air, but it is a time-intensive, often arduous process causing us to groan in our spirit (Romans 8:19-25; 2 Corinthians 5:2-4).

Paul spoke of it as working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). We are saved not by works but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet once we are saved, we must “run the race” (Philippians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1) and “fight the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7) to become progressively conformed to His image (Colossians 3:1-4).

God allows us to go through trials to identify with Christ’s suffering that will make us more like Him (Romans 8:17-18; Philippians 3:10) and that will bring us patience and hope (Romans 5:3-5). He may not immediately answer our prayers in the way we had hoped because He wants us to wait on Him (Isaiah 40:31), to strengthen our faith and reliance on Him. If we strike out on our own without seeking the wisdom He will freely give us when we ask for it (James 1:5), we will be struggling in our own flesh instead of fulfilling His perfect will for our lives.

Especially for those of us saved later in life, we have a long history of being conformed to the world, of defining who we are in terms of worldly standards, and of following idols of status, power, wealth, and prestige. It takes time, prayer, and meditation in God’s Word to be renewed and transformed in our mind (Romans 12:2). It takes diligent, devoted study and discipline to begin to think with the mind of Christ that entered us at the moment of salvation, and not to fall back on the easy solutions so familiar to our carnal mind (Romans 8:6-9).

I had been praying “Change me now!” but now I realize that it’s like praying, “Lord give me patience, and do it right away!” Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God will change me, not immediately, but continually during my earthly journey. May we learn to wait upon the Lord so that He can complete the good work He began in us the moment we were saved (Philippians 1:6).

Friday, January 13, 2012

When God Talks

When God talks, people don’t always listen. But we should, for when God speaks, it is so, and it is done (Isaiah 55:11; Ezekiel 12:28).

God wrote some of His Word directly on tablets of stone (Deuteronomy 9:10), and the Holy Spirit inspired chosen men of God to write the rest (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Unlike any other religious text, the Bible is not only internally consistent, but also historically and scientifically accurate, as well as tried, true, and pure (2 Samuel 7:28; Psalm 18:30; Proverbs 30:5; Isaiah 40:8; 2 Timothy 2:15).

Archaeological and scientific discoveries and advances increasingly support corresponding facts in the Bible. The state of the art and of knowledge in all these disciplines changes, and their theories come and go, but the Word of God is eternal and unchanging (John 1:1; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35).

Many Biblical prophecies, such as those concerning the earthly ministry of the Messiah, have already been fulfilled exactly, with astronomical odds against this happening by chance. Those prophecies and promises not yet fulfilled will one day come to pass, and we should live accordingly, in faith and not in unbelief (Hebrews 4:1-7).

Jesus Christ, Son of God, spoke the universe into existence and saw that it was good (Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5). He used the power of His tongue to heal (Luke 5:13; 17:14; 18:42; John 5:8-9), forgive sins (John 8:11), cast out demons (Matthew 8:16), lead others to believe in Him (John 8:30), and even to raise the dead (John 11:43-44; 5:28-29).

His Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17), piercing straight to the heart to convict us of our sins and of our need for His saving grace. For those who hear, believe, and act upon His Word, it cleanses us from sin (Ephesians 5:26), sustains us (Matthew 4:4), blesses us (Luke 11:28), identifies us with God (John 8:47; 1 John 2:5), and gives eternal life (John 5:24-26). Jesus withered a barren fig tree with a single utterance (Mark 11:14, 20-22), and when He returns, His Word will defeat all His enemies (Revelation 19:11-16).

Knowing this, how should we choose our own words? Words have the power to build up and to tear down. With our tongue we can bring joy, love, truth, and comfort, or incite anger, hated and strife (Philippians 2:14-16; James 3). We can glorify God with words of praise and thanksgiving, or we can dishonor Him with filthy speech and blasphemy (Ephesians 5:4,6,19-20).

Like Jesus, we can speak the truth of Scripture to war against the devil and watch him flee (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10-11). Or, like Satan, we can twist and corrupt that truth (Genesis 3: 1-5; John 8:44) so that we are false teachers speaking lies (2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2; Matthew 7:15).

When we face Jesus Christ at the judgment, we will have to give account for every idle word (Matthew 12:36-37). Not just for lies, gossip, backbiting, and slander, which we know God hates (Psalm 101:5; Proverbs 10:18), but for which His Son has already paid the price in full by dying on the cross. “Idle” words imply those words spoken without much thought or care – not necessarily harmful in themselves, but perhaps preventing an opportunity to encourage, exhort, or witness (Romans 10:17; Acts 4:31). Do we chat about our latest fashion finds or football scores to fill the awkward silence, shutting out the Holy Spirit’s voice prompting us to tell someone about Jesus?

As we present our bodies to Him as a holy, acceptable living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), surely our tongue should be the member we especially consecrate to His service. When God speaks, may we listen, believe, and do what He says, following His perfect will for our lives.

Friday, January 6, 2012

In the Beginning

What a blessing to know that before anything was, God was. And not just God the Father, but the Triune God also manifest as God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Genesis 1: 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

The word translated as “God” in the first chapters of Genesis is “Elohim,” a plural noun using a singular verb, indicating that the three aspects of God act as One Being. The Spirit moved upon the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2), showing His role from the beginning of creation in providing the power or energy needed to carry out the plan of God the Father. And the Son also played an integral role, speaking into existence the Father’s plan.

As God said, so it was created: light (Gen. 1:3); Heaven (Gen. 1:6-8); Earth and Seas (Gen. 1:9-10); vegetation and trees (Gen. 1:11-12); sun, moon and stars (Gen. 1:14-16); sealife and birds (Gen. 1:20-21); and land animals (Gen. 1:24).

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Word is another name for Jesus Christ, King of Kings (Revelation 19:13), so given because whatsoever He speaks is done, whether it be creation of the universe, healing and forgiveness of sins (Luke 5:12-13; 18-25; Matthew 8: 1-17), or defeating the enemies of Israel at the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19: 11-16).

John 1:1 tells us that Jesus Christ was not only there at the beginning with God the Father, but that He Himself was (and is) equally God, the Creator of all. He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:8,11; 21:6; 22:13), existing before time and eternally present when time is no more.

Genesis 1: 26 And God said, Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness.
(capitals mine)

This verse is another clear indication of the triune nature of God -- one of the divine mysteries that we will never fully understand until we reach glory. Yet we may draw some insight from this verse, because human beings also have a three-part nature: body, mind and spirit. Each of us is a unique person defined by these three aspects, which must all be present and functioning for us to realize our God-given potential.

Before we do anything, we must first think of what we are going to do, even if the time between the thought and the action is so short that the action seems like an involuntary reflex. Thus, our body responds to our mind and carries out the planned action. But our soul or spirit – our motivating force that underlies and determines all we do and how we react to what happens to us – shapes and energizes our thoughts. So our soul or spirit determines what we think, and, accordingly, what we say and do.

That is why believers are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), as His indwelling Holy Spirit motivates and directs our thoughts (Romans 8:9-11), giving us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5). If we die to our sin nature and follow the mind of Christ, our words and behavior will show others that we belong to Him (Romans 12:1-2), and our body will be His temple reflecting His presence (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

God made us in His image; He is a triune Being; and we have a three-part nature. One way to consider the triune nature of God is that God the Father is the Originator or the “mind” of the plan, including the plan of creation, of salvation, or of anything in between or thereafter. God the Son could be regarded as the Embodiment of the plan, the One Who spoke the worlds into existence and Who wrapped Himself in human flesh to redeem us (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit as the Empowerment of the plan (Micah 3:8; Luke 4:14; Romans 15:19; 2 Timothy 1:7). The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to draw attention to Jesus Christ (1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 5:6), Who is the only Way we can know the Father (John 1:18; 5:37; 14:7,9).

How amazing it is to think that the Creator of all loves us so much that He created us in His image, gave His Son to redeem us, and indwelled believers with His Holy Spirit to empower us with the mind of Christ. May we glorify Him in all we think, speak and do (Romans 15:6).