"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Monday, May 16, 2016

Living to Hear "Well done!" (Sword of the Spirit, Part 3)

Imagine, for a minute, a man who applies for a job in a hardware store. On the application, he answers questions about his abilities and experiences. Once hired, he shows up at the workplace in the proper attire. He listens patiently to the instructions and job requirements.

On his first day of work, he wanders out onto the sales floor and essentially does nothing. He browses the aisles and chats with acquaintances as they pass through the store. Eventually, his boss asks him why he is ignoring his responsibilities. The new employee responds, "I didn't know you actually expected me to do those things! What matters is that I am an employee and have the benefits and insurance. That's good enough for me!"

Of course, that example is ridiculous. In most sectors that attitude would result in dismissal. Yet, we sometimes approach Christ's Kingdom with a similar attitude: "I signed up, prayed the prayer, got the certificate, and, my eternal life insurance. I show up for church and faithfully listen to my instructions week after week.  I didn't know I was actually expected to do those things!" I know this is uncomfortable truth. I have been there myself and I understand what a broad and easy road it can be. However, it is not the path we were meant to take.

"Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your lives in reverent fear." I Peter 1:17

Jesus' teaching is peppered with action verbs: Take up your cross; follow me; go into all the world; teach; baptize; give; help; serve! To be clear, we are not talking about working to earn your salvation. Ephesians 2:8-10 states that we are saved by grace through faith (not works) so that we can walk in the good works God has prepared for each one of us. Such a great salvation demands an active response. As James 2:18 puts it, "I will show you my faith by what I do."

Armed with God's enduring word, the motivations of our lives is to hear God say "well done!" Jesus taught this principle in the parable of the talents (coins). Various amounts were given to several servants. To the one who invested his talents wisely, the Master said, "Well done! Come and share your master's happiness!" For the one who took the "safe" route and buried his talents, there was a harsher judgment. Matthew 25:14-21


Monday, May 2, 2016

A Stranger in This World (Sword of the Spirit, Part 2)

Since Jesus and the Apostles clearly taught that God's Word is our offensive weapon in the spiritual warfare which surrounds us, it raises the question, How do I know if I am armed with God's Word? The passage we are diving into offers some interesting clues. I hope to examine them over the next several weeks. Here is our passage:

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creations of the world, nut was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that your have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the hgrass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever." And this is the word that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:17-25

In those final verses, Peter reminds his readers that they have been born again as a result of God's enduring word. What they are reading is not new; it is exactly what he has been telling them all along. He wants them to fully realize that these truths--God's truths--will never change. One rooted in God's word has come to the full, experiential knowledge of these basic truths.

One of these truths is that true believers in this Word will. live as foreigners here (vs. 17). Even a brief scan of these verses shows that Peter is contrasting the temporary (silver, gold, an empty way of life) with the eternal (the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without blemish, the enduring word of God. So many of he things we value highly are temporary: retirement accounts, impressive homes and cars, human philosophies, fame , physical beauty. By contrast, Peter, in this passage, challenges us to cling to the eternal. Similarly, Jesus taught his followers to store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21), concluding that where our treasure is, our hearts will also be.

When you travel to a strange place, you travel light--the less the better! Who travels to a foreign country and buys furniture and appliances to carry from hotel to hotel? That's just crazy! But if we really believe our home is in heaven, why do we put so much time, energy and money into this, our temporary home?

Ask yourself:

Based on my calendar and checkbook, where is my treasure--where is my heart?

Whatever the answer, take it to God and have a heart to heart.

Next week: Working to hear "well done!"

Peace of Christ!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Sword of the Spirit

In his biography of General Douglas MacArthur, Major Courtney Whitney recounts an incident that occurred during the Korean War on the night before the Inchon landnig:

General MacArthur planned to encircle the North Korean forces that had driven south to Seoul and cut off their supply lines from the north. If successful, this stratagem might not only accelerate a drive toward victory, but more importantly, save lives of some 100,000 UN troops.

It was a daring scheme. While encircling an enemy force was not a new strategy, it had never before been accomplished by way of the sea. Furthermore, the peculiar tides and unfavorable terrain at Inchon militated against an amphibious landing of troops. Yet that also contributed to MacArthur's decision to proceed; because of these impediments, the North Koreans would be caught unprepared for such a maneuver.

On the night before the landing, Courtney Whitney, who was aboard the flagship Mount McKinley with General MacArthur, retired early in anticipation of the action at dawn. He'd been asleep only a short time when he was summoned to MacArthur's cabin. He found the General in a bathrobe and slippers, pacing the floor. Whitney was told to be seated. MacArthur, in a kind of self-debate, talked as he walked the cabin, reviewing one by one the arguments against the proposed landing in the morning. MacArthur then countered with reasons for the surprise assault.

Finally at about 2:30 AM, he concluded that his decision was a sound one. "Thanks, Court," the General said to Whitney. "Thanks for listening to me. Now let's get some sleep."

Then Courtney Whitney added these words:

General MacArthur threw off his robe, climbed into his bed and reached to the table alongside to pick up his Bible.

Why the Bible? Why not Shakespeare of Tennyson or Hemingway? Because only one book has the power of life. It strengthens, encourages, challenges and comforts us. Day by day, year by year, decade after decade, it can be read over and over again until its words become a part of life itself.

At a pivotal moment in history, the leader of the most dominant military force on earth kept the most powerful weapon in the world close at hand: The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. He valued God's Word more than he valued his sleep--on the night before a decisive battle. MacArthur, though not without his personal flaws, was one of many great leaders (like Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan), to depend on  God's Word for guidance. It is no less important for you and me.

Contrast this dependency on God's Word with today's culture, where right is determined by what seems best to each individual. Universities call this philosophical relativity. The ideas is, there is no absolute truth (which is itself an absolute statement). Right and wrong are up to each of us, and can change depending on perspectives and circumstances. Like novice hikers lost in the woods without a compass, each one follows his own sense of direction. Then we are surprised when we, as a culture, are very lost, with escalating acts of violence and inverted moral values. These things are the inevitable consequence of life without the absolute standard of God's Word.

The New Testament teaches that the Word is a crucial weapon in our spiritual warfare:

"Take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17

When Jesus did battle with Satan in the wilderness he didn't rely on what seemed right to him--and he was (is) God--but he accurately quoted Scripture (correcting Satan's twisted version of it.) One thing is clear: if Jesus needed it, I need it!

Over the next several weeks, I hope to mine some gems from 1 Peter 1:17-25. In this passage we will find significant clues to what it means to be truly armed with the Sword of the Spirit, God's eternal Word.

"For you have been born again, not if perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, 'All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.' And this is the word that was preached to you." 1 Peter 1: 23-25