Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our Joy is Our Treasure

Can the world see your joy?

Psalm 4:6-7
“Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.
You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.”

Christians should always stand out from the world. When you compare the lives of a Christian to that of a non-believer, you should be able to see a difference. Through Christ, a Christian should show the fruit of the Spirit and live in a way that non-Christians can’t quite understand. We should live in exceeding joy.
This is quite different from the rest of the world, because lets face it, there is very little joy in the world. Failing economy, lose/lose elections, intolerance, war, truth decay, and over-population rule this age and with it; fear, anger, hate, suffering; this is the path to the dark side. But, Christians should be able to see these circumstances and move past them. We are not living for the here and now, but for the coming and soon to be.
As Christians, we should be living in joy. What is joy? We need to realize that joy is beyond temporary feelings. Joy is not just happy or excited, everyone experiences that. No, joy is the ability to look ahead and to see what is coming beyond the present. It’s the ability to face trial and know that we still have hope.
But where does joy come from? I believe that joy comes from two things in particular. I believe that joy comes from truth and love. But let’s face it; the world has distorted these two things severely. So let’s look at what truth and love mean to the world and to Christians.
What is truth? Truth is reality and certainty. But that’s not how the world sees it. For the world, reality is how you make it and truth is inconsistent. This is a world where everything is relative and there are no absolute truths. Promises are made to be broken, rules are made to be disobeyed, and your truth is good for you but not for me. Truth is like your favorite shirt that your girlfriend hates; she may know it’s a terrible shirt but you know that it’s awesome.
So if the is how the world sees truth, how does the world see love? For the world, love is all you need, but you can never get. Look at how the world handles it. Marriage is supposed to be the example of how Christ loved the church, yet the divorce rate is 50% and it’s the same stat for Christians! Is this the love we show each other and teach our children? And when we can’t find love in people we try to find it in things. We buy and buy, we eat and eat, and we want and want just to fill in a hole and to find something we can love.
There is a lack of honest joy in the world and even pop culture exemplifies this. One band I particular enjoy, though their lyrics get a little to melancholy, is the band “The Postal Service”. But one song always catches my attention; “Clark Gable”. In the song, the singer is retelling how he tried to win the heart of his old girlfriend by filming an old-style film. In the chorus though, he makes this statement.

“I want so badly to believe
That there is truth and love is real.”

Is this an overstatement or a real representation of how the world feels?
If this is how the world sees truth and love, how do Christians see it? Or at least, how should we see it?
Christians need to find there truth in God and his promises. Psalm 105:8 reads,

“He remembers his covenant forever,
The word he commanded, for a thousand generations.”

And Paul in writing Titus 1:2 also says,

“A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.”

So, Christian truth needs to come from God and his promises. What about Christian love? 1 John 4:7-8 (though you should read the whole chapter) says it best,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

God’s love is perfect and infallible and what we should always strive to achieve. We will never get there in this life, but someday we will be able to experience this love first hand and stand in the glory of it. This is where we should get our joy.
It seems too often that Christians forget about the truth and love of the Gospel and of our relationship with the Lord. We can so easily fall into the despair of the mucky-muck and lose sight of the future. But the future is the very thing we should never loose focus on. Through the promises and love of God, we have hope, and with hope we have joy. A Christians joy should be a defining element in his or hers life. Our joy makes the world stop and scratch its head. Joy will keep us going through this dark world and joy will remind us of our bright future. Psalm 30:11-12 reads,

“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Our Treasure

According to this report at BBC News, these are the top 10 funeral songs.

1 - "Goodbye My Lover" - James Blunt
2 - "Angels" - Robbie Williams
3 - "I've Had The Time Of My Life" - Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley
4 - "Wind Beneath My Wings" - Bette Midler
5 - "Pie Jesu" - Requiem
6 - "Candle In The Wind" - Elton John
7 - "With Or Without You" - U2
8 - "Tears In Heaven" - Eric Clapton
9 - "Every Breath You Take - The Police
10 -"Unchained Melody" - Righteous Brothers

Why do I bring this up? Because I've been thinking of this myself. A funeral song, if you get to pick it yourself, is the last real comment you get to leave on your life, you experience, and everything in between. As a moody teenager, I used to think I wanted my song to be "Warm Tape" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I got a little older and then decided I wanted "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" by Creedance Clearwater Revival. I still think they're great songs and have a cool feel for a funeral song. But now I think I need a better song to define my departure.

See, being a Christian, my last song should not be one of sorrow or regret. It should not be a song about not wanting to leave or not doing enough. It should be a song of rejoicing and acceptance. This world is temporary and death is the transition from this world to the real one. To think that when you close your eyes for the last time it's not for the last time, that's something to be thankful for.

As Christians, what should our song be? Far be it from me to ever tell anyone what the answer is. However, I do have three I would like to comment on. These songs I think represent a Christian's point of view on death and rebirth.

All My Tears by Jars of Clay

A cover off of their latest album "Good Monsters". The first verse goes as such;

"When I go don't cry for me
In my fathers arms Ill be.
The wounds this world left on my soul
Will all be healed and Ill be whole."

Right here I knew this would be a great song to have played at my departure. Sometimes death can have such a crippling effect on us. We weep for those who have died and the fact that we will not see them in this life anymore. But, we can't forget that death leads to the ultimate reward. We will be in our heavenly father's arms and everything this would has ever done to us will be washed away. Any self-confidence issues this would has caused me, any heartache that we have felt, it will all be gone. We will be our true selves at last and finally have the relationship with God we desperately crave.
The rest of the song is a great reminder of what being with God will be like. It's just a great reminder of our true hope as Christians.

Treasure by Tree 63
I heard this song when I bought their greatest hits album. I was instantly drawn to this song. It has a great upbeat sound and you can tell this band truly loves the world. Here's the first verse of the song;

"Taken up out of the world
Shaken up with just a word,
Turned around so suddenly
I'm alive eternally."

As Christians, we should always remember that we are already taken from this world. We died to sin and this world when we accepted Christ into our lives. Romans 6:4 reads;

"Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."(NASB)

We are now alive eternally. At this very moment! Think about what that means! If you have accepted Christ into your life, you now are everlasting. You will never die and you will never stop. Christ has saved us so completely, nothing can separate us from His love.
The song chorus is simple yet so great to stop and think about.

"My heart is where my treasure lies
My great reward is in Your eyes,
My every breath belongs to You
You are my treasure."

Where is your heart? If you have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, then you heart is now with God. Your treasure is now in the kingdom, waiting for you. Those that leave this world finally receive their great reward and that is not a thing to mourn for.

Pierced by Audio Adrenaline

From Audio Adrenaline's "Worldwide" album. This song is great gospel/worship chorus and I can't understand why it has yet to make into my churches service. The chorus goes like this;

"Make me, take me, break me, I am pierced.
Make me, take me, break me, I am pierced."

Simple, no? What else does this chorus need to say to get its message across. Part of the sanctification process is allowing God to carry you where He desires you to be, even death. Christ made us, took us from death, and we should trust Him when He needs to break us. We are already pierced through our new birth in our Lord. When you final day comes, will you be ready for Christ to take you?

I understand that death will always be a sorrowful event. That's the curse of living in this fallen world. Those we care for and love will leave this world, sometimes sooner than we expect. But we should always remind ourselves that when Christ's kingdom comes, we will never have to experience death again.
We should face death with fear and trembling, we should always be ready for our Lord to come and takes us. After all, that's are ultimate goal. We leave this world of death for a kingdom of life. I just hope what ever song is played at my funeral represents the truth I know.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Growing with Help

It's tough living in the real world when you know it's not the "real" world. Everyone tries to ignore the idea of absolute truth and you feel rather alone. I had forgotten how bad it can be and now I'm back in the swing of things and I find myself remembering what it was like.
I haven't done what I wanted to do this summer. I wanted to strengthen all of my friends and family, evangelize like a madman, and make good use of what I learned this past year. But, all I've found myself doing is reading, playing "Hulk: Ultimate Destruction", and hanging out with my friends like I used to. I know that I can't expect to change the world all at once, but I haven't done anything to change anything.
One problem I see is that I thought I would do it instantly and I need to realize this stuff takes time. I also need to realize that it's not by my hand that anything gets done, it's by God's. And because I thought, in a way, that it would be by strength. So now, because my strength will never be enough, I haven't moved forward.
So, how do I fix this? I need to trust in God more and more everyday. I need to pray to Him to give me opportunities to practice my faith, and to help me use my faith effectively. I need to reemphasize my spiritual life and read more Bible and learn more scripture, pray daily, discuss theology regularly, and fix my intake. "Rome" is an amazing show, but it can't be the thing that makes up my mental stimulation. There is so much out there to read that can help me grow, I just need to find it.
I hope I'm not the only one that feels like this sometime, and I hope I'm not the only one of those who knows I need to fix it. We all can become so content in our walk with Christ that we forget to grow at all. We treat our faith like a dollar bill that we never spend and it works for nothing. What good is dead faith?
We need to remember (myself especially) that while our salvation and justification was all by God's work through Christ, sanctification and growing is a combined effort of us and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will work in us and through us, but we must work with Him to become more Christ-like. It's like Paul tells us in Romans 15:16,

"To be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit."

It's like the Green Lantern and his ring.

The Green Lantern's power comes from his ring, without the ring, the Green Lantern has no power. However, the ring does nothing on it's own. It's the Green Lantern's will power that forces the ring to act. We, like the Green Lantern, have no power. Our power lies in the Holy Spirit. Yet, it is through prayer and discipline that we can use the Holy Spirit and He can use us.
We need to keep growing in our faith, we cannot let ourselves stay complacent in our lives with being half-way there. We must always be striving to be more like Christ and being a better example of Christ to others. Romans 12:1-2 says,

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Than Conquerors

A Hermeneutical Exercise of Romans 8:28-39

“28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:28-39 (NIV)

As you can see, my passage of Romans is Chapter 8, verses 28-39. In my NIV Student Bible, this section is titled “More Than Conquerors”. Why is this passage so important to our Christian living and how can it relate to us now just as it did thousands of years ago?

To understand these questions, we must first understand the book of Romans as well. Romans was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Roman church. Romans 1:1-16 proves this by being Paul’s opening comments, declaring who he is and what he is here for. The Roman church, made of mostly Gentiles, had not been visited by Paul yet and he was hoping that he would be able to see them on his way to Spain. Paul did not want to impose himself on the Romans, for he did not start this church, but he did want to bless them and strengthen them as well as himself.

Romans has at times been called a summarization of the Christian faith. While this view is a strong one, Romans really speaks about righteousness more than anything. Whether it’s Christ’s righteousness, our righteousness in Christ or living a righteous life, Romans helps us understand the outcome of faith in a better way.

Now, for the text in question, what does this passage mean? It starts with verse 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” This verse tells us that God works all things for good. But what does that mean?

By God working all things for good, He is taking everything that happens for what He knows is good. This verse does not read, “God will only let good things happen”, but rather that He will use all things, including bad things, for good. The verse then says He works together all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.

“…Those who love Him…” could only mean believers. Now, a non-believer’s life may seem amazing, full of riches and pleasure, but in the long run he is just a pile of dead bones. Meanwhile, a Christian may be struggling through a life of poverty and suffering and be rejoicing in the fact that God is working in him. When Paul writes “…who have been called according to His purpose” we can see the coming discussion of election.

We have been called by God to believe in Him. Normally, we would be blind to His word and His love, but because God has shown such mercy on us, He has opened our eyes and allowed us to accept His gift of eternal life. But the next part of that line, “…according to His purpose” shows us that He has chosen us based off of his will, plan, and desire and not off of anything we have done.

Romans 29 and 30 then read,

For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified"

Ah, the wonderful proof of election and mercy.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We have been called to become like Christ. God cannot look at sin. When Christ was on the cross, even though He lived a blameless life, God turned away from His son for Jesus had taken up our sins on Himself. If God cannot tolerate sin so much that He could not look at His most cherished son, how could He look at us? Now that Christ has died and taken the punishment for our sins, we stand in His righteousness. But, we do not act like we have Christ’s righteousness. We still sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) But throughout life, God is working in us to make us more like Christ. This process is known as the Ordo Salutis, which is Latin for “the Order of Salvation.”

According to Romans 8:30; the Lord first foreknew us, predestined us, called us, justified us, and finally glorified us. By saying He foreknew us; we must understand that foreknew means to fore love. In Amos 3:2 God says to the people of Israel, "You only have I known among all the families of the earth." And Jesus says in Matthew 7:23, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness."

God loved Israel first and foremost over all other nations on earth and Jesus never loved the Pharisees He spoke to. So God loved us, then He predestined us.

What did God predestine us for? Does this mean all our choices and paths are chosen before we even know what to choose ourselves? Is life us just going through motions already drawn out by an animator? No. God predestined us to Him. God made it so we would come to Him and that we would be saved, but He has given us the ability to choose our actions. But, naturally, our actions would be sinful and focused on ourselves. By predestining us, God has opened our eyes and allowed us to see the error of our ways and the glory of coming to our Lord. Genesis 1:26 reads,

“Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

God made us in His image. What does this mean? In part, it means that God made us with the free will and the ability to choose. He also made us in charge of everything He created. Does this sound like someone making all our decisions for us? I don’t believe so.

After God predestined us, He called us. We, like everyone else, have received what is known as the outward call. This call would be the preaching of the gospel and the natural revelation of the creation itself. But, unlike everyone else, we have also received the inward call. This call would be the special revelation that is given by the Holy Spirit and allows us to hear God’s word for what it is; truth. Because of this, we are able to accept the gift of eternal life and be adopted into God’s family.

Once we are called, we are then justified. What does this mean, to be justified? In this context, it would be a legal term. What it would mean, is that we are not righteous, but by the transference of Christ’s righteousness to us, we are now looked on as righteous. Christ’s death justified our salvation. Because this is by God’s doing and the work of Christ, we can also see where Catholicism misses the point. We are not saved by any works we do, because God sees all the work Christ did. We do works out of gratitude as fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). Justification comes by faith, not by works.

Finally, after God justified us, He has also glorified us. What is interesting here is that glorified is in the past tense for a future occurrence. Why would Paul write this? I believe that it is because God’s work in us is so complete and final that nothing will break us from this salvation. Paul might as well speak in past tense because, in his mind, the work is done. We, still bound by time, must wait for our final glorification when we become like Christ, but to God we are already there.

Verse 31 is one of my favorite verses. Paul asks the question of what could be against us if God is for us. If God’s plan is so complete and perfect, then what do we have to fear? If God gave His only son for us, would He truly let something defeat us?

We should take pride that, when we face persecution, we face it in the name of Christ. We should understand that those who attack us are really attacking our Lord Christ and are fighting His light in anger and hate. (1 Peter 4:14)

Paul gives us a list of things we would worry about; trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. We could add homelessness, disease, poverty, war, and all other things and Paul’s message would have been the same. None of these things can defeat us. In fact, we are more than conquerors because we don’t just defeat these things on a physical level or mental level, but we defeat them on a spiritual level. We are able to defeat them because of Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and the fact that He still intercedes for us.

Paul then states his assurance in Christ’s work and God’s plan by listing off all the things that can’t separate us from God; death, life, angels, demons, present, future, powers, height, depth, and everything else in creation. That’s a thorough list.

The state of death cannot separate us. In fact, once we die, we can be rest assured that our next conscience moment will be us by Christ. No matter if you believe in soul sleep or not, this must be agreed upon. And if that is the fact of the matter, than even death fails at separating us from the Lord. Life, with all of its troubles, also fails. All the hardships of life can only strengthen our resolve and trust in the Lord.

Angels could not separate us, even as powerful as they are. They serve the Lord and act as our protectors. Demons will not be able to defeat us because none can withstand the power of Christ. With but a word of His name, demons shudder and retreat. The Bible states our bodies our a temple for Christ and that He lives in us through the Holy Spirit, and if that is so, than how can a demon hope to destroy us?

We must also remember that things of the present cannot defeat us. No matter what is going on this very day; whether it be financial issues, sickness, war, or suffering, nothing that is happening today will steal us from Christ. We must also remember that nothing coming will defeat us. We can stop fearing the future because whatever happens, we will still stand firm in Christ. Are we afraid of future attacks on American soil? Why? It will not remove us from Christ. Are we afraid that we may develop a disease that our father before us had? Why? It will not remove us from Chris either.

Nothing of power can defeat us in Christ. What power does man have that is not given by the Lord, who is for us? Living in a country of relative freedom, we forget this sometimes. I believe that those living in countries where they risk their very lives to read God’s word and worship Him understand this better than we can. They do not fear their communist rulers and malicious dictators because these threats will not remove them from God’s plan.

Height, depths, or anything else in creation will defeat us. God has made it all. Everything that is and ever will be exists by the very nature of God’s will. If Christ is in us, as the ruler of everything, than how can anything defeat us? Back in verse 28, we read that God works everything for the good of those who love Him. He works everything: meaning all of creation. Did Paul not state something you fear might remove your from the Lord? Stop fearing because nothing will remove you. God’s love is so complete and infinite we are safe.

None of this means we are going to be free from troubles. Christ says that we will have trials (John 16:33). But, throughout all of our suffering we can remember that Christ has already won the day and we have won it through Him.

I also believe it is by no coincidence that Romans 9-12 follows these verses. To go from this to the question of Israel’s salvation must be a planned thought by Paul. I believe that Paul is trying to remind Israel that you cannot fall from grace, nor does God forget you. Israel was chosen before all other nations, predestined, and is now going through their sanctification/perseverance stage. Soon, they too will accept Christ and be saved, glorified. But their hearts are hard and their willingness to come to Lord dull. But we should trust that the Lord is still working with them.

While reading sermons on this passage I have come to a better understand of our security of the Lord. But not just that, I have learned of the need for us to trust in the Lord in all things. In fact, the best example I found was a blog online. It is written by a woman named Emily Hunter McGowin, and posted on her blog site named, "Think. Laugh. Weep. Worship". She writes about her mother-in-law slowly dying from cancer. But, through all of it, both women stand strong in their resolve and know that even through such a time of despairing and pain, Christ is with them and God is working the whole thing for their good. The trial may not be good itself, but in the end, they will be stronger from it.

But this isn’t a case of “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. No, this is much more powerful and worthwhile. In light of this fact, we should stand taller in the face of adversity. I myself have problems sharing Christ with others, in fear of them rejecting not only the gospel, but myself. Yet, how much can their rejection really do to me? God is for me. I am guarded, protected, watched over, loved by, cared for, and strengthened by the very creator of the universe. I am allied with the one whose breath keeps creation in existence.

Romans 8:28-39 raises a real challenge for all those whom would see us fall. We should read these verses and say to our opposition, “Come and get me.” Let them come and try to remove us and destroy us. We are God’s children; foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Ephesians 2:8 says, “…And this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”

God, the maker of everything, chose us. He will not give us up.