Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Love (Part 2)

Seeing Jesus' character ought to encourage believers and strengthen their faith. As proposed in the introductory post, it should also provide an example for Christians to follow. The more clearly Christians see Jesus, the more fully they can follow in His footsteps.

Jesus displayed the fruit of the Spirit that God desires to cultivate in each of His children. Love, first on the list, is probably the characteristic that Jesus most noticeably exhibited and ought to be the easiest to expound. At its deepest root, everything Jesus did was based on love; the focus of this survey is on fairly overt displays.

Jesus' love fulfilled all that would be expected of love. In fact, Jesus did so even when other humans may have understandably lapsed. When Jesus was in agony, dying on the cross, He looked down and saw His mother. Even in His dire situation, He wanted to care for His mother, and He assigned her care to a disciple that He loved and trusted (John 19:26-27).

Jesus revealed love by His acceptance of His followers. When someone came to Him announcing the arrival of His mother and brothers, Jesus indicated His disciples and said, "Behold My mother and My brothers!" (Matthew 12:49). This was not to disparage His biological family, but to show His profoundly deep relationship with all who follow Him. He extends to them the loving status of family.

Jesus displayed His love through genuine friendship, which included sharing in the sorrow of His friends. Siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were special to Jesus; His love was evident to them, to the author of the story, and to the onlookers (John 11:3,5,36). When Lazarus died, Jesus came to minister to the sisters. As He saw their sorrow, "He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled" (John 11:33). His love was so great that He wept with them (11:35-36) and that He raised Lazarus from the dead (11:38-43). Both responses are linked to His love and emotional response to the family.

Because of His love, Jesus desired safety for His friends. When armed men came to the garden to capture Jesus, all of the disciples faced some danger. While Jesus accepted His own fate, He desired that none of His followers be lost in the fracas. As He surrendered Himself, Jesus indicated His disciples and urged the soldiers, "If you seek Me, let these go their way" (John 18:8).

Jesus demonstrated His love by deliberate interaction to restore someone who had failed. Peter, the most outspoken of the disciples, had adamantly declared that he would never desert Jesus. Hours later he did precisely that, cursing and denying that he even knew Jesus. Peter was broken over his failure, and Jesus had a personal conversation with Peter for the purposes of confirming the foundation of love between them and of assuring Peter that Jesus still wanted to use him greatly (John 21:15-17).

Jesus' love was faithful. Jesus did not love only when it was convenient. When things became difficult for Him personally, He did not diminish His love so that He could focus on His own life. Jesus knew that His death was impending, and "having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1).

Jesus expressed His love by praying for His disciples. His petitions for those He loved included the following: "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me" (John 17:9). "Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are" (John 17:11). "Keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). "Sanctify them in the truth" (John 17:17). "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19). "I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me" (John 17:23). "I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26). It is clear from the words of Jesus' prayer that He deeply loved His followers and desired meaningful blessings for them.

Jesus declared His love with His words. As Jesus neared death, His words to His disciples overflowed with assurances of love (John 14-16). The underlying tone of these chapters is concern, love, comfort, and assurance. He gave comfort by assuring them of an eternal home with Him (14:1-3). He offered reassurances about abundant answers to their prayers (14:13-14). He promised them another Helper to take His place (14:16-17). He assured them of continued love by Himself and His Father (14:18-21). He lovingly prepared them for future events (14:28-31). He told them of the power they could have by abiding in Him (15:3-11). He assured them of His relationship with them as being that of a friend (15:15). He comforted them in their sorrow by promising continued care (16:6-15). These various words can be represented by His statement, "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love" (John 15:9).

Finally, Jesus showed His love through sacrifice. True love makes sacrifices for the one who is loved, and the greater the love, the greater the extent of the sacrifice. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). This is exactly what He was about to do for His friends. Jesus' willing death on the cross is argued throughout Scripture as the undeniable proof of His love. That act alone was enough to confirm His love, but to that ultimate act, Jesus added innumerable smaller demonstrations.

"We love, because He first loved us." (I John 4:19)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Seeing Jesus - Part 1

On the day of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, many people surrounded Jesus. Most were Jews who celebrated His coming; some were true followers, while others merely hoped to see miracles and desired His overthrow of the government. There was also a group of Greeks who approached one of the apostles with a request: "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (John 12:21).

It seems that these Greeks were genuine searchers who respected Jesus. They had come to Jerusalem in the spirit of worship and believed Jesus was important in that context. They were right. Seeing Jesus and coming to know Him are critical for the believer.

The writer of Hebrews repeatedly echoes this idea of seeing Jesus as important for a Christian's faith. “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels” (2:9). “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (3:1). Moses showed his faith when “he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (11:27). Believers are challenged to endure, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2). Finally, Christians are challenged, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself” (13:3).

What is it about looking at Jesus that is so important for the believer? Hebrews 12:2 gives insight. Jesus is the author of the believer's faith. He is the one who designed and started it. He is also the finisher of faith. He completed and fulfilled it by living it out in a human body. When a believer looks at Jesus, therefore, he is able to see what he should be and how he should live.

The Bible, which in every way points to Jesus, has amazing power. Not only does it reveal how a believer should live, but it initiates an active, transformative influence on his life. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18).

The phrase "from glory to glory" is interesting. Some have interpreted this as a time frame - that is, from the glory of salvation to the glory of glorification - meaning that God does His work from the time someone is saved until the time he reaches heaven. While this is true, this particular phrase appears to have a different meaning. The Greek word translated "glory" refers to something that is apparent or seen; it deals with reputation, dignity, and something worthy of praise. It seems more accurate that the phrase refers to various aspects of godly character; God produces one after another Christian attribute as the believer looks into His Word and beholds the "glory" (same word) of the Lord. When Christians see what Jesus looks like, they are changed to look like Him.

The list of desirable attributes could be arranged in many ways; a good list is found in Galatians 5:22-23. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." These are the traits that God wants to produce in His children. They are traits that Jesus possessed and therefore traits that Christians can learn by observing Jesus.

Christian growth is definitely an on-going process. Paul spoke of physical maturity; he was different as a man than he was as a child. He used to speak, think, and act childishly, but he learned to speak, think, and act like an adult. Paul made the comparison that spiritually he was also maturing; his understanding of  "adult" Christianity was imperfect and would continue to grow. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known" (I Corinthians 13:12).

Paul realized that full knowledge would not come until heaven, when he would finally be able to see Jesus clearly. John taught the same truth. "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2). Some day in heaven believers will finally be what they ought to be, because they will finally see their Savior in complete accuracy and uninhibited clarity. Until that day Christians can have a very good, but nevertheless imperfect, understanding of what they ought to be.

That imperfect understanding can increase, however, even on this earth. God wants Christians to grow in their knowledge of Jesus. "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). The more a believer knows of Jesus, the more he can grow. The more clearly and frequently a believer sees Jesus, the more potential he has to be transformed in this life, and the only way to see Jesus is through the pages of the Bible. (I do not mean to imply that a Christian can produce maturity, which is the work of God; rather, God can produce more maturity in a believer who understands more of what God wants and can more effectively do His transforming work in the life of one who exposes himself frequently to the powerful Word of God.)

There is a Christmas hymn written by J. Edgar Park. The words of the concluding stanza express the desire to see and follow the Savior, being and doing what He desires.

"We would see Jesus, in the early morning,
Still as of old He calleth, "Follow me!"
Let us arise, all meaner service scorning;
Lord, we are thine, we give ourselves to thee.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ezra

Imagine a country suffering greatly during a long siege. The people are then completely defeated, with many being killed and the rest exiled to a faraway land. All the national treasures are confiscated; even the most beloved landmarks are burned. The buildings and once-protective walls are completely ruined. The country has apparently been brought to an ignoble and permanent end.

Seventy years pass. Only those who were young children at the time of the defeat have ever seen their homeland. Suddenly, the king issues a proclamation to restore exiles to their country, specifically to rebuild the most important building of the nation's destroyed capital. "Whoever there is among you of all His people, . . . let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD" (Ezra 1:3).

What happened to Ezra and his fellow Jews is a powerful illustration of the principle "Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Psalm 127:1). The task before Ezra was enormous. It would face opposition and discouragement. It would demand many resources, incredible expertise, and much wisdom. How were Ezra and his co-laborers to rebuild something none of them had ever seen?

The answer is found in words repeated seven times in the book of Ezra: "the good hand of his God was upon him" (Ezra 7:9; variations in 5:5, 7:6, 7:28, 8:18, 8:22, 8:31). God's hand of blessing, found throughout Ezra's story, is somewhat unexpected from a human perspective. God had destroyed this nation because of its wickedness. He had brought the destruction and ordained that they go into captivity. With God's judgment so deliberate, how could these people come once again under His favor?

At the dedication of the very temple that Ezra was to rebuild, Solomon had prayed, "When they sin against You . . . and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near, if they take thought in the land where they are taken captive, and repent and make supplications to You, . . . then hear from heaven . . . and maintain their cause and forgive Your people" (II Chronicles 6:36-39). God approved this prayer and affirmed His intention of answering it.

The time had come for God to restore His chastised and repentant people, something they could never have initiated on their own. They were helpless, without resources or expertise, yet God brought the impossible task to a successful conclusion. He clearly placed His good hand of blessing on His people by providing everything they needed.

First, God provided the very opportunity. "The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation" seeking willing workers for the project (Ezra 1:1). It is illogical that a king would care about the heritage or worship of his foreign servants. Why, after all these years, would he care about a destroyed building in a defeated land far away? Cyrus was moved to make the proclamation only because God's good hand directed him.

Second, God provided the resources. By Cyrus's command, the neighbors of the exiles "encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was [previously] given as a freewill offering" (1:6). Additionally, "Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the LORD" (1:7); 5,400 valuable utensils did not need to be crafted, because the originals were restored to the returning exiles. The people also returned with over 8,000 beasts of burden.

Third, God provided the personnel. 42,360 people returned to do the work, including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants, who would serve in the restored temple. An additional 7,337 servants accompanied the exiles.

Fourth, God blessed the actual progress. In spite of their fear, the returning exiles set up the altar (3:3). They procured cedar wood needed for building (3:7) and laid the foundation (3:10).

Fifth, God provided relief from opposition. Adversaries "discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building" (4:4). They sent letters to the new king, maligning the exiles and resulting in "a decree to make these men stop work" (4:21). After an eventual delay of eighteen years, a new king searched the archives for the original proclamation. He not only ordered the opponents to "leave this work on the house of God alone" (6:7), but he also commanded that the opponents be responsible for "the full cost" and supply "whatever is needed" (6:8-9). Furthermore, anyone who disobeyed was to "be impaled . . . and his house shall be made a refuse heap" (6:11).

Sixth, God brought about a successful completion. The remainder of the work was "carried out with all diligence" (6:12), and the "temple was completed" (6:15). Ezra's subsequent requests from the king were granted, additional funds were collected, and unlimited numbers of additional exiles were allowed to return. The royal treasury was placed at Ezra's disposal, the opposition was further restrained and commanded to supply resources; biblical instruction was authorized.

The first striking conclusion from Ezra's story is that God does not abandon His people. In spite of their wickedness and deserved judgment, God's heart was still open to these people. When the exiles laid the foundation of the temple, they praised God, saying, "He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever" (3:11). When the temple was completed, they acknowledged, "God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us" (9:9).

The second conclusion is that God can prosper even the most unlikely endeavor. God provided abundantly through each challenge; kings issued all-encompassing edicts, using words like "whoever," "full cost," "any man," "all diligence," "all he requested," "whatever seems good to you," and "whatever is commanded." There were no half-measures, and the key to the success was that "the hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him" (8:22). When God's good hand is at work, there is no stopping it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Why Church Matters

Many people follow their acknowledgement of Christian belief with the admission that they never go to church. Then they are quick to follow up with an excuse or defense. Excuses include busy lives, uninterested family, and past hurtful behavior. They defend themselves as believing in God, being sure of salvation, or praying often.

Some of these people are almost surely saved, but have had little Biblical teaching. I suspect many don't know enough about God to understand salvation. The Bible is clear that church matters.

First, the Bible commands faithfulness to church. "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25).

Second, the structure of the New Testament centers on the church. The epistles were written to churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. Hebrews, James, and the epistles of Peter were written to scattered believers who were establishing new churches. Timothy and Titus are written to pastors. Revelation is addressed to seven churches.

Third, the content of the New Testament supports the importance of the church. The book of Acts is consumed with the establishment, growth, and outreach of local churches. The epistles give instruction about how to resolve problems in the church, how to set up leadership in the church, and how to work together in the church. They additionally reveal the purpose and expected actions of the churches.

The fourth consideration stems from the third: many things that Christians are supposed to do are made possible through the church. Granted, some of these could be done by individuals, but they are intended to be done through the church and are more effective through the church.

Praising God. Believers serve God in the church for this purpose: "So that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 4:11). "I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng" (Psalm 35:18).

Serving God. God gives Christians gifts and abilities designed to be utilized in the church. "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality" (Romans 12:6-8).

Giving. "On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper" (I Corinthians 16:2).

Praying. "So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God" (Acts 12:5). "Devoted to prayer" (Romans 12:12).

Observing the ordinances. "So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added [to the church] about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (I Corinthians 11:26).

Interacting with other Christians. "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another" (I Thessalonians 5:11). Any effort is easier when others come alongside. The epistles are filled with actions that church members are to do for one another: be devoted, give preference, be of the same mind, love, build up, accept, admonish, greet, wait for, have care for, serve, bear burdens, show tolerance, be kind and tenderhearted, forgive, be subject, bear with, teach, comfort, stimulate to love and good deeds, confess sins, pray for, be hospitable, show humility toward, and fellowship with. Believers certainly cannot do these things effectively without being together with other believers.

Maturing. God established roles within the church for the purpose of aiding in Christian growth. "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Receiving truth. The church is the venue through which God's Word is taught. "Preach the word; . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort" (II Timothy 4:2). "They met with the church and taught" (Acts 11:26).

Being protected: The Hebrews 10:25 command concludes a sentence that begins, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering" (10:23). Jude and Galatians were written specifically to guard the churches against false doctrine. Alone, it is easy to be deceived; the church is the place to be adjusted and returned to the truth.

Meeting needs. "Contributing to the needs of the saints" (Romans 12:13). The early church set an amazing example (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35; 6:3-6).

Spreading the gospel. This is the essence of the book of Acts. "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life'" (Acts 11:18).

Responding to the pastor. "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls" (Hebrews 13:17). "Appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work" (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

The New Testament overflows with support for being part of a local church. God describes the church as the body of Christ, united and interdependent; He also describes it as a family, where spiritual brothers and sisters can surpass the role of biological family. To those who attend church already, I encourage continued faithfulness and challenge an appreciation for the value of what happens through the church.

To those who don't attend regularly, I urge a commitment to this important aspect of Christianity. Find a church where the Bible is routinely opened, carefully explained, and accurately taught. Then, rather than deciding on a week-to-week basis, make the decision once - to attend church whenever the doors are open. Such a decision will be life-changing.