Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘sanctification’

grow-upThis is a re-post reflecting on a couple of things. First, Luther’s saying: “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbour does.”

Second, Dave K’s observation that, post-resurrection, no-one summarizes the law with “love God and love neighbour” but only with “love neighbour” – read it, it’s very stimulating.

….

A friend recently told me of some “higher life” Christians he met who would chant together:

“I refuse, I refuse, I refuse to come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities.”

They were horrible people to be around.  Their marriages were a mess.  And it was impossible to get at their sins because they were supposedly “hidden” from it all at God’s right hand.

Well you do have to admire their sense of unbreakable union with Christ.  I will give them that.

But you’ve also got to question the kind of Christ they feel united to.

Isn’t the true Jesus exactly the kind of Person who does come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities?  Isn’t that His eternal glory?  And therefore, doesn’t Paul constantly take us from that secure union and then into those battles with the flesh?

Never for the sake of our union. But always from that union and in the power of it.  How can union with this Christ mean anything else?

Jesus said: “For their sake I sanctify myself.”  (John 17:19).

Our response should not be “And likewise, Lord, for your sake I sanctify myself.”  No.  There can be no payback here.

But there is a response to Christ’s work.  And it does involve our sanctification.  It means receiving Christ’s setting-apart-of-us, and passing it on in costly ways – just as Jesus passed it on to us in the most costly way.

We do engage with the mess, not for God’s sake but for our neighbour’s.  Jesus doesn’t need my sanctification, but my wife does.  Desperately.  And the way I glorify the other-centred Christ is not to pay Him back with godliness but to pass it on in sacrificial love.  “Hidden in Christ” does not mean hidden from the battle.  Christ leads me into the battle because He’s adopted me into His kind of other-centred life.

So, for God’s sake, don’t grow up for God’s sake
But, for God’s sake, do grow up for your neighbour’s sake.

.

Read Full Post »

To change internally through external acts can be flesh.

But to change externally through internal devotions can be just as flesh-ly.

Conversely, the external application of word and sacrament can have a wonderful effect internally.

And an internal resolve to look away to Christ can brilliantly impact your externals.

Neither outside-in nor inside-out is the right method for change.  The division the bible makes is between flesh and Spirit.

The real issue is whether the Spirit is leading us to Jesus and His finished work. It’s the Spirit who takes us outside to Christ who offers up our true standing before the Father.

I talk about this here in a recent sermon on Romans 8 (audio here).

13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,

What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit.  Not by the law, not by the flesh, not by will power or human effort.  What does change look like that is by the Spirit?

Well, imagine you lie.  You lie to protect your reputation, you tell everyone you’ve done something that you haven’t done to sound like a big shot.  And afterwards you feel bad about lying.  And you want to stop lying like that because it’s getting to be a habit.

Now at that point – what is Christian about that resolve?  Non-Christians resolve to tell the truth too.  There’s nothing Christian about trying to be a better person.  There’s nothing Christian about putting sins to death.  It’s the WAY you put them to death that’s the real difference.

See, you could put it to death through the law.  You could say “The law says Thou shalt not lie.  I’ve broken the law.  I’ll punish myself and put myself under condemnation until I feel I’ve done my penance and then I’ll try really, really hard to be honest next time.”

Two problems with the law approach.  First, it doesn’t work.  Second, I’ve just resolved to be my own Saviour.  I don’t need Jesus for this.  I don’t need the cross, I don’t need the Spirit.  I’m just trying to be more moral.  There’s nothing Christian about resolving to tell the truth.

But Paul tells me to put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

What’s that?  Well to figure out that, we need to figure out what the Spirit is up to in the world.  And verse 14 will tell us what we need to know.  Here’s what the Spirit is up to:

14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Verse 15 calls the Spirit “the Spirit of Sonship.”  So the Spirit of the Son makes US sons and daughters of God.  The Spirit sweeps us up into Jesus so that we share Jesus’ relationship with God.  And what is Jesus’ relationship with God.  He is the Son, who calls out to God, “Abba, Father.”  And now, BY THE SPIRIT, so do we!

Abba is a word for Daddy in many middle eastern languages.  It’s intimate, it’s affectionate.  It’s also deeply respectful.  But here’s the question: Who on earth gets to call Almighty God, Abba?  Calling the Queen “Liz” is bad enough.  But at least calling her Liz doesn’t presume anything about your relationship to the Queen.  To call God “Daddy” you’re not only being incredibly intimate with God, you’re also making a claim on Him.  You’re saying “God, You are my Father and I am Your child.”  And children have certain rights.  In verse 17, Paul will tell us one of those rights – we have inheritance rights – as children of God we are heirs of the cosmos.

So that’s what the Spirit is up to – He’s communicating Christ to me, He’s testifying to me that I am in Jesus and in Him God is my Father, He’s communicating all that that means…

Now come back to verse 13 and ask “What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of this Adamic body BY THE SPIRIT?”

Here’s what it means.  It means I open up my bible, I read the Spirit’s words and I allow Him to tell me:  “Glen, don’t you realize you HAVE the righteousness of Christ?!  You ARE God’s beloved child, unimprovably so.  So Glen, when you lied, who were you trying to impress?  Why lie?  You are dead to lying now, not because there’s an anti-lying law.  You’re dead to lying because, What need is there to lie?

The Spirit is constantly telling me, “I am a trillionaire walking around the millionaires club.”  And my lying exaggeration is like flashing around a counterfeit £50 note, trying to impress people.  That doesn’t impress people in the millionaires club.  And it completely forgets that I have a trillion pounds to my name?  What am I doing?

So put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

It works for all sins.

Put porn to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Why go after that counterfeit intimacy, when Jesus brings us into His eternal fellowship with the Father?

Put covetousness to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Do you really need the latest outfit or the latest gadget, when you’re about to inherit the universe?

Put anger and harsh words to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Don’t you realize you’re loved and appreciated and declared righteous in the heavenly realms?  Do you really need to assert your rights here and now?

Whatever the misdeeds of your Adam nature, put them to death BY THE SPIRIT.

To change by the Spirit means to have my gaze drawn to Christ who is my righteousness.  It means the Spirit re-reminding me that Christ is my standing before the Father.  All my sins spring from trying to live independently of Jesus and establishing my own standing in the world.  So look out to Christ who offers up the real you.  That’s how Christian change occurs.

Read Full Post »

What’s this verse about?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory…  (2 Cor 3:18)

Is it about enjoying private devotional experiences with Jesus so that we become like Him?   That’s a popular interpretation.  And it’s half right.  But it’s really not the full story.

The NIV footnote says that ‘reflect’ can be translated ‘contemplate’.  But I think ‘reflect’ is a better translation.  It’s a word that means ‘showing like a mirror shows’.  The question is this – Is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the beholder looks at the mirror?  Or is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the mirror itself reflects outwardly?

My guess is the latter.  Our faces are like mirrors reflecting outwardly to the world the glory of Jesus.

This fits the context.  Paul has been reminding us about Moses’s face-to-face encounters with the Lord (2 Cor 3:7,13).  He put a veil on to stop the Israelites seeing this fading glory.  But we (as v18 says) have unveiled faces.  And so what happens?   Others see the glory of Christ as we reflect it out to the world.

So this verse does indeed depend on our having devotional experiences with Jesus – just as Moses did (e.g. Exodus 33:7-11).  But that in itself will not transform us into Christ’s likeness.  Reflecting Christ’s glory out into the world – that will transform us.

Which is what the next two chapters of 2 Corinthians are all about.

Too often we think of holiness as one thing and mission as another.  Really they are mutually defining and mutually achieved.  Just as God’s own being is a being in outreach, so our Christian character is a character in outreach.  To divorce the two is disastrous.

Holiness-in-mission is parallel to God’s being-in-becoming. Just as God is who He is in His mission, so are we. Reflecting the Lord’s glory is not a private activity – or at least it must not end there.  It’s not essentially pietistic but proclamatory.  It’s not about locking ourselves in a “prayer closet” – it’s outgoing witness (to believers and unbelievers).

.

Read Full Post »

Four simple questions and four (perhaps) surprising answers regarding Colossians 3:10:

Put on the new self (the new man), which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

1) Who is the Creator referred to?

In context you’d think it was Christ, who is the Creator Image of God (Col 1:15-17)

2) What gets renewed?

The “new self” gets renewed.  It’s not simply that we are renewed by getting a new self.  And it’s not simply that we are given a new self.  We are given a new self and the new self is renewed.

3) How does renewal happen?

Knowledge.  Note all the knowledge language of the letter.  This is just from chapter 1:
“heard… word of truth… gospel… learned… understood… all its truth… knowledge… spiritual wisdom… understanding… increasing in knowledge… make the word of God fully known… Him we proclaim… teaching everyone with all wisdom.”
We desperately and continually need gospel knowledge to be renewed.

4) What does our Creator look like (given that we’re supposed to look like Him)?

He is compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forbearing, forgiving – in a word: He is love (v12-14).  We know that these character-traits originally belong to the Lord because a) it says “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” and b) these virtues are outlined in the context of our becoming like Him.

So we don’t become forgiving, humble and meek because God will hold us to account and He’s big and powerful.  We are forgiving, humble and meek because He is forgiving, humble and meek.  And He has demonstrated it at the cross.

 

Therefore as we appreciate and know the goodness of this good news our new selves are being renewed to look like Him – the compassionate and humble God.

Surprised by any of those answers?

.

Read Full Post »

It’s important to rightly relate these truths – ‘I am in Christ’ and ‘Christ is in me’ (see this older post and this one).

If I put “Christ in me” first then I fall for a Catholic doctrine of infusion.  God infuses His grace into me so that I begin to live the righteous life.  Eventually I might be declared righteous.  If a person gives priority to “Christ in me” they may have Personalised the grace which God gives (which is an improvement on the Catholic doctrine) but we’re still travelling along the same route.

The gospel is “I in Christ” – that is, through a gracious marriage union with Christ I immediately have His name.  Therefore righteousness is a status instantly imputed to me as a gift in Jesus. The rest of my life involves a communion with Jesus in which I gradually exhibit more and more of His nature.  But that is not my hope.  My hope is not me living Christ’s life (by His power within me).  My hope is Christ living my life (with me hidden in Him).

This morning I was reflecting on the nature of the sacraments and how they teach this fundamental truth.  I am baptised into Christ.  This is the beginning and foundation of my Christian life – I in Christ.  But regularly I am fed by Christ and take Him into myself – Christ in me.

To put it in Passover terms, I am saved once and for all by the Lamb’s blood applied externally – I’m hidden in the Lamb.  But I am nourished for the journey out of Egypt by the Lamb’s flesh – the Lamb in me.

And incidentally this is the basis of the Christian sexual ethic too.  The once-for-all one-flesh union first, the regular one-flesh communion afterwards – the two utterly united and the former given absolute priority.

Mix them up and you get into all sorts of trouble, in all areas of life!

.

Read Full Post »

In the last post I thought a bit about the dangers of Pharasaism re-producing itself.

If you pastor out of the Pharisee’s mindset, here is how you will conceive the Christian life.

Here the Christian life is about minimizing sins and maximizing performance.  You will keep your sins private and your righteousness public.  Of course Jesus tells us to do the exact opposite.  He is the Doctor only for those who own the public label ‘sinner’ (Mark 2:17).  And He commands us not to perform our righteousness ‘to be seen by men’ (Matt 6:1ff).

But in this world performance is everything.  Life works because we’ve learnt the ropes, tried hard and never given up.  Things go wrong because of bad performance.  This holds for suffering too.  We might not be so crass as the disciples when they looked at the blind man and asked ‘Who sinned?!’ (John 9:2).  But actually the Pharisee will find themselves asking those same questions internally and will, in the long run, find it impossible to love an inveterately suffering person. ‘If only they’d take my advice, live right, try harder, keep going they’d be well by now.’  Sustained suffering (not to mention on-going sin) will force the Pharisee to either abandon their Pharisaism or abandon the struggler.  But if they hold onto their works mentality they must eventually abandon the struggler.

Pastoring in this world will not be a long-term journey alongside people.  It will be an impatient ‘fixing’ of people.  It’s all about whitewashing our tombs (Matt 23:27).  The pastors will be the experts, dispensing advice from on high.  The pastored will be those who progress outwardly through pressure.

The community might seem to be very judgemental.  And on one level, it is.  But in fact, while the accusations will be brutally harsh and backed by intense self-righteousness, they will be hopelessly superficial judgements.  The outside of the cup will be addressed in scathing attacks.  But the insides of all will remain full of every kind of uncleanness.  (Matt 23:25ff)

And, in collusion with one another, this community will consistently fail to address sin on any meaningful level.  Life will exist within a very narrow band.  No one will be very bad (or at least admit to it).  And no-one will be particularly good either.  They’ll tithe their spices for sure.  But because of the self-centredness of works-righteousness, no-one will actually go out of themselves into the kind of ‘justice, mercy and faithfulness’ that Jesus identifies as ‘the weightier matters of the law’.  (Matt 23:23)

So the Pharisee will show a very shallow gradient of Christian growth and level out early on.  They find the level of their Pharisaical community and stick there.

The world Jesus asks us to inhabit is completely different:

This diagram is ripped off from World Harvest Mission.  I learnt it from a friend who learnt it from a friend who got it from WHM.  Any good and profitable insight is entirely due to WHM, any misunderstandings or unwarranted developments are mine alone.

On this understanding, we begin the Christian life when we see Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.  (Rom 4:25)  He has bridged the gap between ourselves and our Holy Father and He has bridged it entirely in Himself.  Christ crucified becomes precious to us – He is our wisdom; our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor 1:30)

However as we continue in the Christian life, we realize that we are actually much more sinful than we’d ever realized.  The Lord begins to show us more and more features of our lives that need addressing.  And He reveals greater and greater heights to His redeeming love.  In this sense, the cross gets bigger and bigger in our understanding as we realize “Ah, the Lord shed His blood even for that; He justifies me even in that wickedness.”

And so in the gospel world, our knowledge of sin increases not decreases.  But, correspondingly, our knowledge of Christ’s gracious atonement increases.  Thus our love for Christ grows.

Except that… we are a strange hybrid of Christian and Pharisee.  The default state of our hearts is always to hide our sins and justify ourselves.  From the very beginning we’ve hidden our nakedness and sewed together fig-leaves.  Therefore my Pharisaical tendency will always be towards self-deception – ‘I’m not really that bad.  There are plenty who are worse.  The Lord’s more interested in X, Y, Z – the really bad sins.’  And I’ll self-justify – I’ll draw my sense of peace, joy, OK-ness from self and world and not from Christ crucified.

In doing this, I keep the cross small.  After all I’m not that bad and in fact I am quite good, all things considered.

The work of gospel pastoring will be to continually confront my self-justifying, self-deceiving heart with the grace and truth of Jesus.  In my right mind, I should welcome this pastoring because its goal is to reveal to me Christ in all His grace and wonder.

A community that seeks after this magnification of Christ and Him crucified will be radically different to the Pharisaical one.  Here I can never be shocked by my sin or by yours.  If I’ve seen anything of the cross then I’m convinced that my sins demanded the blood of God.  Not a moral pep-talk, not a 12 step programme or rigourous accountability structure – only God’s blood spilt in wrath averting sacrifice can ever atone.  I’m so much worse than I’d ever imagined.  And when you point this out, you are my friend, because you are showing me fresh depths to the love of Christ.

Here, community is about coming out from our hiding places, standing naked before the Lord, peeling off our fig-leaves and being clothed in the sacrifice He has made.

It will be a life-long journey, not a quick fix.  And it won’t be one expert dispensing advice from on high, but one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.

More to follow…

.

Read Full Post »

You who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ  (Gal 3:27)

I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you  (Gal 4:19)

Christ put on me

Christ formed in me

.

Christ surrounding me

Christ birthed in me

.

Christ already

Christ progressing

.

Christ: My status

Christ: My stature

.

I in Christ

Christ in me

.

Read Full Post »

feather duster… in the southern hemisphere anyway.

But as the weather turns decidedly Fall-en here, I’m still thinking about Spring cleaning.  The reason being – I’ve just preached on Exodus 12 tonight.  In preparation I was thinking about the Feast of Unleavened Bread (I speak about it some more in my 1 Corinthians 5 sermon).

Basically the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins with Passover and then continues with the purging of yeast from Israelite households. (see e.g. Exodus 12:15) What’s wrong with yeast you might ask?  Yeast kept a person in slavery.  If, when the other Israelites were eating and fleeing in haste, you’re waiting for your bread to rise, it’s clear where your heart is.  (Ex 12:33-34)  You’re not really committed to the LORD’s deliverance.  You’d rather live it up in Egypt.

So then every year after Passover, the Israelites were to purge their households of any sign of this compromise.  It was a cleansing symbolic of a spiritual spring clean (see how Paul applies it in 1 Cor 5:7-8).  Cupboard examination pointed to self-examination.  Am I really on board with the LORD’s redemption, or is my heart still in Egypt?

What’s interesting to me is that we have a Christian festival of self-examination.  It’s called Lent.  But when does it come?  Not after Passover (Easter) – but before.   Unfortunately in our calendar we have a spiritual spring clean before Jesus dies for us.  In the Hebrew calendar – Passover was the very first thing (Ex 12:2).  

In the bible, we are redeemed as helpless, enslaved sinners.  In fact nothing can happen before the LORD’s salvation.  Later we consider compromise in our lives. 

So much of our church experience teaches the Lent then Easter pattern.  We clean ourselves up and then God helps those who help themselves.

Reminds me of the worst sermon I ever heard.

But maybe that’s for another post…

.

Read Full Post »

This is a long one but I won’t be posting for a while so read at your leisure…

 

crisis1) This is the occasion for change not the reason for change.

It’s great if you’ve come to some sort of crisis moment.  It’s good that you want to change.  But you ought to know that this is the struggle of your life.

I don’t mean: This is the struggle of your life.  I mean: This is the struggle of your life.  Welcome.

.

Struggle2) If you’re not struggling, you’re losing.  Or worse, you’re not even a Christian.

Christians struggle.  We are the product of two births.  Our flesh is from Adam, our Spirit from Christ.  If you’re not struggling then you’re simply gratifying the cravings of your flesh (however respectable you may look).  And perhaps you don’t even have the Spirit.  Let the comfortable be disturbed.  And let the strugglers be comforted – your battle is a sign of the Spirit’s work.

.

 Fruitful-Tree3) If you are struggling, you have a Power within you to live new creation life.

If Christ is in you, you have the power that called forth the universe and He is determined to bring supernatural change.  Mark 4 comes to mind – the power of Christ’s word can and will produce 30, 60, 100-fold growth but of course it will be as gradual and organic as the growth of a seed.  Nonetheless this is what you are aiming for – not simply the correction of some annoying habits but the transformation of your character through Christ’s word.  Be encouraged by your struggle – it means that an other-worldly Power is at work and will transform you in ways you can only begin to imagine.

..

 

prodigal son3  4) Your righteousness is entirely outside and above you.

These problems do not define you.  Your success at handling these problems does not define you.  Christ defines you. We don’t say ‘My name’s Glen and I’m an alcoholic’ (or insert your problem of choice).  We say ‘My name’s Glen and I’m a saint clothed in Christ… I also happen to struggle with…’  We don’t struggle for but struggle from freedom.

.

 

.

community5) You must deal with this struggle in community

All the real action happens outside of you.  You need the word of life to come from outside.  As Bonhoeffer says ‘The Christ in the word of a brother is stronger than the Christ in my heart.’  At the same time you need to put words to your darkness and, again, bring it outside.  Sin thrives in the dark, you must bring it into the light.  1 John 1:5-10. James 5:16.  Find someone.

.

 

David confessing6) The person you reveal yourself to be in the midst of these sins is the person you’ve always been. 

We tend to think that we’re generally righteous and these problems have been a blip.  David knew better.  When he committed adultery and murder he realised that this was the person he’d been ‘from birth – sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’  (Ps 51:5)  These problems are just you with the hand-brake off.  Ugly huh?

But know also…

.

 

prodigal son27) The person you reveal yourself to be in the midst of these sins is the person Jesus loves and has forgiven.

Jesus did not die for ‘me-on-my-best-behaviour’.  ‘While we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8).  ‘God justifies the wicked’ (Rom 4:5).  Which ‘me’ does Jesus love?  The cleaned up me?  No.  Jesus loves the me I showed myself to be in my worst moments.  When we grasp that Jesus is committed to us even and especially as we stink of sin it’s a hundred times worse but a thousand times better.  We must grasp the depths of this love for me the sinner – this is fundamental to real change.

.

 

Jesus looking8) With 4-7 in place – you can learn to hate and hope appropriately.

Focussed in on ourselves we tend either to lose hatred or hope.  Either we don’t really hate our sin because we’re too attached to the ‘me’ who committed it.  Or we don’t really hope for transformation because we can’t imagine such a ‘me’ changing.  The problem is that we’re too attached to ‘me’.  Number 4) is the truth that releases us from that attachment and number 5) is the practice of it.  We then learn how to address this ‘me’ the way we’d address a brother or sister in sin.  As another addresses you in your sin with appropriate hatred and hope, learn to see things from this much healthier perspective.

.

 

solutions9) Your problems are really your ‘solutions’.

You’ll be tempted to think…

“I have a recurring personal problem with X.”

Don’t be so sure.  Probably the truth is something much closer to…

“X is my solution to its insufferable alternative – Y”

X is a chosen strategy to avoid what you consistently reckon to be an even worse state of affairs.  You need to be thinking about what is Y, and why Y is so unbearable that you’d choose X.  Your deep fears (of Y) may be completely irrational and out of control.  But your chosen strategy, X, is not.

Therefore…

.

 

strategy10)  Even the most seemingly compulsive and irrational ‘personal problems’ (non-organically caused) are, on deeper examination, chosen and intended strategies.

It might take some digging (Prov 20:5), but you will find volition at play.  This ought to reinforce the hope and hatred mix.  Hope because you’re not bound to sin like this.  Hatred because you’ve consistently and deliberately chosen these sins in defiance of Jesus and His way.

.

 

nothing-but-the-blood11) Until you’ve diagnosed your problem as one for which Christ is necessary, you haven’t defined your real problem.

Your problem is not low self esteem or negative thoughts or panic attacks or over-eating or self-harm etc etc.  None of those require the blood of God.  Until you do the hard work on 4-7 and get to the heart issues – your angry defiance of your Father, your petrified mistrust of Christ, your obdurate resistance of the Spirit – you’re treating your wound lightly.

Jesus had to die.  Divine wisdom and heavenly encouragement have never been enough to address the human problem.  You don’t just need a bible study and a pep talk.  You need bloody, wrath-bearing atonement on your behalf, while all you can do is watch aghast.  Until you see your problems in that light you won’t be appropriately humbled and all your efforts at change will be a re-arranging of the flesh.

.

resurrection12) Until you’ve set your hopes on a change for which Christ is necessary, you’re not aiming for Christian growth. 

It’s tempting to aim for a re-arranging of the flesh.  For instance, you may struggle with pornography and therefore make your resolution to be porn free from now on.  Well, ok.  But Ephesians 3 tells you that resurrection power is available to effect in you far above all you can ask or imagine (Eph 1:19-20; 3:20).  To aim for a clean internet history is not really to aim for Christian growth.  To aim for a pure heart that knows God and a burning zeal for Christ that takes you out of yourself and into the world – that’s your prayer.  And it’s impossible.  You can’t do it.  Only resurrection Power can.  But that’s where you aim if you want Christian growth.  And kicking pornography is just a little part of that.

Putting 11) and 12) together you get this:

Christ’s cross tells you to dig deeper,

Christ’s resurrection tells you to reach higher.

Therefore

.

prayer13) Pray

The cross drives us down so that we call out in desperation, the resurrection lifts us up so that we ask for that which is humanly impossible.  There is therefore a gospel shape as well as a gospel power to our prayers.  Perhaps use the Lord’s Prayer as your guide.  Every line of the prayer calls us to change.  Don’t move on in the prayer until you’ve prayed through the issues that each line is raising.  Here is the really hard work of change, but only because it’s so powerful.

.

 

Scheming14) In your desire to change there will be both flesh and Spirit at work.

Your flesh wants you to change to gain control, look better, escape guilt feelings, avoid the need for dependence, achieve a righteousness of your own, etc, etc.  Bring these false motives before the Lord and repent of your repentance strategies.  True repentance comes from a brokenness that realizes even our tears of regret need washing in Christ’s blood.

At the same time be aware that there is a true yearning from your new nature – a deeper desire to know Christ and be conformed to His image.  Get in touch with the Spirit’s stirrings here through prayer and conversation with others.  Figuring out why you want to change and having this answer come from the right place is priceless.

.

entitlement14) Address your entitlement spirit?

The flesh is ever desiring to establish its own righteousness.  How, specifically, are you seeking to make a name for yourself?  According to your flesh – what are you trying to earn?  What do you feel you are owed?  What do you have to do to earn this?  What has blocked your goals?  Having thought about this, try to articulate the shape of your entitlement spirit.  How does the gospel address your entitlement spirit in general?  Specifically, how does the gospel address the specifics of your entitlement spirit?  Real change is happening when the Gospel demolishes your flesh-strategies.

.


15) You already have the solution

Not within you!  In Christ.

4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  (John 15:4-9)

Allow these words to live in you and allow yourself to live in Christ.

.

 

fat cat16) Some or all of these things are true of you:

You have little joy, take yourself too seriously, don’t have the friendships you need and are not sleeping/eating/exercising as you should.

.

Read Full Post »

Some found my bible study on Ephesians 4 helpful.  Here’s another on Mark 4:1-20:

four soils

Verses 10-12: Jesus promises that those who are outsiders to Him will never understand His word, only be hardened.

Do you come to Jesus in dependence to understand His word?  Do you read it with Him at the centre?

Meditate on this: Diligent bible students are not changed but hardened when they don’t read to receive Christ. (cf John 5:39-47).

Verses 4 & 15:  Satan is active in snatching away the word that lies on the surface.

Do you realise the height and depth of this spiritual battle?  Do you pray accordingly: ‘Deliver us from the evil one’ (probably the best translation of Matt 6:13)?

Are there ways you could receive the word more deeply?  Communion?  Community?  Meditation on Scripture?

Verses 5-6&16-17: There is a shallow reception of the word that fails when trouble comes.

Are you ready for the ‘when’ of v17, or do you only look for quick joy?

How do you respond to trouble and persecution?  Does your entitlement spirit get enflamed?  What sorts of things do you start to tell yourself?  How can you counter such thinking?

What does it mean to have a ‘root’? (v6). 

Verses 7&18-19: Where the word is received along with other competing allegiances there will be no fruitfulness.

Name your worries.  Write them down.

How is wealth tempting you?  How is it deceiving you?  Write it down.

What are the ‘other things’ that you are desiring?  Articulate how they’ve captured your heart.  Write it down.

Think through how all these are choking you.

Now consider what is promised you in Christ’s word.  Write it down / draw it / sing it / speak it out to others.

Imagine what fruitfulness is possible if you do the necessary weeding.  Talk to Jesus about it.

Verses 8&20:  Supernatural fruitfulness is promised to those who ‘hear the word and welcome it’ (literally).

What would it mean to ‘welcome’ Christ’s word in your life? (Look up other uses of the word: Prov 3:12; Acts 15:4; 1 Tim 5:19).

Daydream about what 30,60,100 fold growth would look like in your Christian life.  Think about 5 years from now.  Think about 20 years from now.  As you imagine this remember to think gradual but to think big.  Seeds grow slowly, but exponentially.  You’ll probably overestimate the change you might see in a year but underestimate what’s possible in 5. 

Meditate on Col 3:16-17 and think about ways you can have the word of Christ dwelling in you richly.

Now trust Jesus’ words about Jesus words.  Though weak looking, though slow growing, they really are that powerful!

.

 Here’s a sermon of mine on Mark 4

Here’s a kids song on it.

 

Read Full Post »

Some questions to ask of Ephesians 4:22-24 (and context) – preferably with a friend, preferably with some personal struggles in mind:

22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

What are the desires of your old self?  List them in as much detail as possible.

How are they deceiving?  What do they promise?  Why is that attractive?  How is it a lie?

How are they corrupting?  How are they affecting you?  Describe their ugliness to the Lord and others.

Spend some time feeling the power of these desires, lies and corruptions.  Realize that you cannot redeem yourself.

Now consider – what has happened to this old self?  (cf Rom 6:6)

Meditate on this: Christ loves and redeems not your new self but your old self – in all its lusts, lies and ugliness.

Meditate too on the oldness of this former self – crucified with Christ.

Describe the new self.

Are you the one to ‘create’ this new self?  Where does it come from?

How is the Lord making you new in the attitude of your minds?

How is this new thinking different to your old thinking (v17-19)

In what ways can you meditate on this new ‘truth in Jesus’ (v21)?

Come up with opposing statements to counter the desires and promises of the old self.

 

.

Read Full Post »

From Watchman Nee’s Sit, Walk, Stand.

“An engineer living in a large city in the West left his homeland for the Far East. He was away for two or three years, and during his absence his wife was unfaithful to him and went off with one of his best friends. On his return home he found he had lost his wife, his two children and his best friend. At the close of a meeting which I was addressing, this grief-stricken man unburdened himself to me. ‘Day and night for two solid years my heart has been full of hatred,’ he said. ‘I am a Christian, and I know I ought to forgive my wife and my friend, but though I try and try to forgive them, I simply cannot. Every day I resolve to love them, and every day I fail. What can I do about it?’ ‘Do nothing at all,’ I replied. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked, startled. ‘Am I to continue to hate them?’ So I explained: ‘The solution of your problem lies here, that when the Lord Jesus died on the Cross he not only bore your sins away but he bore you away too. When he was crucified, your old man was crucified in him, so that that unforgiving you, who simply cannot love those who have wronged you, has been taken right out of the way in his death. God has dealt with the whole situation in the Cross, and there is nothing left for you to deal with. Just say to him, ‘Lord, I cannot love and I give up trying, but I count on thy perfect love. I cannot forgive, but I trust thee to forgive instead of me, and to do so henceforth in me.’

The man sat there amazed and said, ‘That’s all so new, I feel I must do something about it.’ Then a moment later he added again, ‘But what can I do?’ ‘God is waiting till you cease to do,’ I said. ‘When you cease doing, then God will begin. Have you ever tried to save a drowning man? The trouble is that his fear prevents him trusting himself to you. When that is so, there are just two ways of going about it. Either you must knock him unconscious and then drag him to the shore, or else you must leave him to struggle and shout until his strength gives way before you go to his rescue. If you try to save him while he has any strength left, he will clutch at you in his terror and drag you under, and both he and you will be lost. God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before he can deliver you. Once you have ceased to struggle, he will do everything. God is waiting for you to despair.’

My engineer friend jumped up. ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen it. Praise God, it’s all right now with me! There’s nothing for me to do. He has done it all!’ And with radiant face he went off rejoicing.”

 

.

 

 

Read Full Post »

What’s this verse about?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory…  (2 Cor 3:18)

Is it about enjoying private devotional experiences with Jesus so that we become like Him?   That’s a popular interpretation.  And it’s half right.  But it’s really not the full story.

The NIV footnote says that ‘reflect’ can be translated ‘contemplate’.  But I think ‘reflect’ is a better translation.  It’s a word that means ‘showing like a mirror shows’.  The question is this – Is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the beholder looks at the mirror?  Or is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the mirror itself reflects outwardly?

My guess is the latter.  Our faces are like mirrors reflecting outwardly to the world the glory of Jesus.

This fits the context.  Paul has been reminding us about Moses’s face-to-face encounters with the Lord (2 Cor 3:7,13).  He put a veil on to stop the Israelites seeing this fading glory.  We though (as v18 says) have unveiled faces.  And so what happens?   Others see the glory of Christ as we reflect it out to the world.

So this verse does indeed depend on our having devotional experiences with Jesus – just as Moses did (e.g. Exodus 33:7-11).  But that in itself will not transform us into Christ’s likeness.  Reflecting Christ’s glory out into the worldthat will transform us.

Which is what the next two chapters of 2 Corinthians are all about.

Too often we think of holiness as one thing and mission as another.  Really they are mutually defining and mutually achieved.  Just as God’s own being is a being in outreach, so our Christian character is a character in outreach.  To divorce the two is disastrous.

One of these days I’ll write some posts on holiness in mission as parallel to God’s being in becoming.  One of these days…

.

Read Full Post »