Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Becoming Like God - Series Conclusion

Last week's posts centered on the a possible resurrection for you and I based on the certainty of the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, such a possibility exists only for those who choose to follow Jesus. Two key verses for this series have been Ephesians 5.1 - that God's children should imitate Him - and that we must be purposeful in doing so (1 Timothy 4.7).

In concluding this series of posts, I want to provide a brief reminder of the disciplines we have encountered on this study. These Spiritual Disciplines are empowered by God, through His grace, but require us to do our part as well (see 1 Timothy 4.7 – note the word training, exercising, disciplining, etc. - depending on your translation).

The following table shows the Disciplines.

The words on the left were the different Disciplines covered in this series. The words on the right represent the application in one (or two) key word(s). Take a moment to notice the first letter of each word from the column on the right. What two words do you see as you read down the page? As I mentioned in the second post last week, being justified by God, through the blood of Christ, occurs in a moment. However, becoming like God takes a lifetime of living faithfully, responding to the faithfulness He has shown to us.

The "Next Step" for this week was DECIDE. But DECIDE also depicts our next step as it relates to this series. For last week it represented a need to decide about having faith in Jesus. For the series it represents how to live for Jesus, deciding what to do from here. Thus, in reviewing our 4L’s, I will present them from the perspective of the entire series. The 4L’s – Learn, Live, Love, Lead – are a model to help us grow as disciples. So, specifically what might you DECIDE to do to take the next step in being disciplined? Determine what step is right for you and begin there with the goal of moving forward over time.

How do you decide matters for your life? What motivates your decisions? Develop a vision or purpose to guide you.

Begin to life’s make decisions according to your vision and purpose. This allows us to respond to challenges more effectively when they come – and they will come.

Remember that the Disciplines are a means to an end – not the end. This can help you decide to persevere – to be disciplined and be conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8.29), which is only fully accomplished in God’s time (Philippians 1.6).

Share with others how living by purpose and conviction makes for more effective living.

*This series of blogs was adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Resurrection (3 of 3)

The first two posts this week (here and here) help us to realize that the resurrection of Christ was not just about His rising from the dead, but paving the way for us to be resurrected as well. Today’s post is brief, but points to our need to make one critical choice which will impact not only our future as we imagine it, but our eternity as well.

Why do I look forward to the future and my resurrection? Two very real reasons.

1) I will be with Jesus forever. This is the most important and nothing else compares, yet everything hinges on this truth.

2) Freedom. Freedom from the troubles of this body, and freedom from the troubles of this world. But all freedom comes from discipline. It was the discipline of Jesus’ which bought my freedom. And now my discipline allows me to be more free than I would be otherwise. Elisabeth Elliott says it this way, “Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward of discipline.”

Donald Whitney says that the desire and the power for disciplines are produced by the grace of God. Well, it is also that same grace and His same power that resurrected Jesus nearly 2000 years ago, and which is available to resurrect us one day as well.

So, our JOURNEY letter this week is all about the J – Jesus. We are to follow Him – not only in life, but through death. To stand before Him at the end of our JOURNEY is our destiny, but what happens from there is up to the decision we make in this life.

So what is our next step? Our recurring question must be asked once more – this time with regards to the resurrection:

If your growth in godliness was measured by your expectation of meeting God face to face, what would be the result?

So what’s the next step in Becoming Like God? DECIDE

The most important question you need to decide is in answer to Jesus question found in Matthew 16.15: “But who do you say I am?”

For someone reading this, your next step could be your first step in faith. Perhaps you feel a need to DECIDE to follow Jesus for the first time. Do so today! Change the course on your JOURNEY today and begin to follow Him.

For others, maybe you need to DECIDE to begin following Jesus again. There is guilt, and that can be good. But you need not feel shamed. The Holy Spirit may convict you, but it is only the devil that shames you. God wants to redeem you! God did redeem you, but you have to DECIDE what to do with it.

Finally, for others, your decision to follow Jesus may have been cemented long ago. And as you have, whether for days or years, it is still a daily decision each of us must make to live our lives in a manner which is becoming more like God. And that is what this series has been about. As God’s dearly beloved children we learn to imitate Him (Ephesians 5.1) by training ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4.7). The practice of the Spiritual Disciplines allows that as we are led by God’s Spirit to become more like Him. Like Mary, seeking after Jesus, is the best place to begin.

The final post this week will provide a conclusion to this series on Spiritual Disciplines.

*This series of blogs has been adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Resurrection (2 of 3)

A part of the promise of Christ’s resurrection, is that we too may be resurrected. Today’s post provides four considerations for this truth.

First, to be resurrected with Christ, you must first die to self. Galatians 2.20

Paul has willingly crucified his own ambitions and desires so that he can better reflect Christ. In fact, Paul laying down his life to Christ, is similar to Christ laying down his life for us. It doesn’t have the same ramifications, but the willingness is similar. What I mean is that Jesus willingly gave Himself over to die. Yes, He was arrested and beaten and hung on the cross, but He also stated that He could be removed at a moment’s notice if He so desired. I agree with the old phrase that says, “It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus on the cross, it was His love.” Likewise, Paul gave his life over to Christ. His body still existed within the context of his flesh, but it was not his flesh that lived any longer, it was His faith that guided Paul to live as he did.

Second, to be resurrected with Christ, you must be a new Creation.  2 Corinthians 5.17

What do I mean by a new creation? Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that to enter the Kingdom one must be born again. Born again. Truly to become a new creature. And like any new creature learning is involved. For instance, a new baby has to learn to move, to crawl, to walk, to feed him/herself, etc. Likewise, a new creature in Christ must learn to live as Christ. That is why Jesus said to his disciples (his learners), “Follow me.” Jesus certainly meant as He traveled. But more importantly He meant to follow His example. To imitate Him. Or, as this series has been entitled, to become more like God.  As a new creation, God supplies the power, but we still have to do the work. To paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, “We must work as if everything depends on man, and pray as if everything depends on God.”

Third, to be resurrected with Christ may come after you are already with Him. 2 Corinthians 5.8

This verse has been traditionally rendered, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Later in 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about entering the third heaven. I believe this took place when he was stoned to death at Lystra (Acts 14.19). 2 Corinthians 12 makes clear that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was given so that he would not be prideful about the wonders he saw in heaven. Yet, Paul admits in that passage that he did not know whether he was in his body or not. Frankly, he didn’t care as he simply states – “God knows” (12.3).

But Paul also writes elsewhere that the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4) at the last trumpet. Then, those who remain alive at that time will rise. So, the resurrection of the dead is real, but it doesn’t happen until Christ returns. And He will return. The words of Jesus, Himself, as recorded in Revelation  22.20 – the next to the last verse of the Bible – “Surely I am coming soon.” (Lest we think it isn’t still soon, to God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day – 2 Peter 3.8. God is not bound to time, but even if He was, this verse could suggest that, in God’s time, it has been less than 2 days since Jesus’ resurrection.)

So, if you die as a follower of Christ, you will be with Him in some form even before the resurrection. Let me make one further clarification. Our form will not be the form of an angel. When you die, despite popular belief, we do not become angels. The Bible is clear that angels long to understand salvation (they don’t receive it). Paul says that we will judge the angels, not become one. So, whatever form it is that we take after our death before the resurrection, it will not be as angels.

Finally, fourth, to be resurrected with Christ, is about Him, not us. Philippians 3.10-14

Let me summarize Philippians 3. Paul had it all. Everything a Hebrew could desire, he had. But he gave it up because although he was completely blameless according the law, it did not make him righteous before God. Only God can do that. So he voluntarily renounced every right he had so that he could gain what truly mattered. Reminding us of the first two points, he died to self, and became a new creation in Christ.

But this was not the end. He was “saved”, but there was still something missing - a perfection that comes from God. In today’s terms we talk about being saved. What most people mean comes down to a theological term – justification. This is like the judge striking the gavel and saying, “Innocent.” But justification is just one part of salvation. If it was the end of the process, why do we remain here after we are saved?  The truth is, for one who receives Christ as Savior, they are saved, but they are still being saved. This second part of being saved is called being sanctified. It is the process of becoming holy. Here, we become holy in part, in eternity we will be truly holy (or glorified). That is what Paul means regarding the prize of the upward call. That he would receive His glorified body – the body we receive after we are resurrected. Our perfect body – a body without sin, without pain, and fully glorious. This is the kind of body that Jesus had after His resurrection, to which he refers in John 20.17. He could eat, but He also passed through a locked door. Do I understand that? No. But I don’t need to understand it. I just need to believe God is capable of it. And in placing my faith in Jesus, who was the first to rise from the dead (1 Corinthians 15), I too, will one day experience a similar resurrection and be with Him forever.

In this week’s third post, I will provide a conclusion to this week’s blog regarding the resurrection and point to the series concluding blog (the final post of the week).

* This series of blogs has been adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Resurrection (1 of 3)

Yesterday, we celebrated Resurrection Sunday. I began my sermon with the following question, “Why are you here today?” My answer, for the congregation, was one of three reasons:

1) Some because they want to be.
2) Others because they have to be.
3) Others because it is tradition.

But really each of those ideas was secondary. The reason people go to church on Resurrection Sunday is because of what happened nearly 2000 years ago. A man, who claimed to be God, proved it, in part by rising from the dead.

Now, you might not believe that. Or maybe you do. But either way if you were in church on Sunday, April 5, 2015, that is why. For instance, if you don’t believe Jesus is risen, well you probably weren’t in church last week, or the week before, or last month. Yet, many who fit that description were in church yesterday whether by choice, by tradition, or even if forced. Why? Because someone asked/or made them come because of what Easter Sunday means on the calendar to Christians all around the world for nearly two millenia.

But my message on Sunday, and what I want to write about here this week, is not where you were yesterday, but where you will be 2000 years from now. It won’t be wherever you were yesterday. Or last week, last month, last year. It will not be in your hometown, nor in any town on this or any other planet – at least that currently exists (perhaps you will be on the new Earth though – see Revelation 21). No you will have died. The face you see in the mirror, the body you dress and undress daily, the joys and pains experienced in this body will have long ceased. So where will you be? Well, the choice is up to you. You won’t be dragged somewhere. You won’t be anywhere because of a tradition or based on a date on a calendar. However, where you are will depend on a choice you make in this body before you die. That choice will impact you, literally, beyond whatever our minds can fathom. So where will that be? And how do we know a choice exists?

Take a moment to read John 20.1-18. I will summarize here. According to this account, a woman went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus was gone. But He really wasn’t gone – He was back! So this woman ran to tell the disciples and two of them rushed to the grave and found out it was true. They then went back to their homes. But not Mary Magdalene. No, she waited. I love how verse 11 starts,  “But Mary”. Mary stayed...searching for Jesus. And she was rewarded.

And just like Mary was rewarded, we, too, will be rewarded, if we stop and seek after Him. And a part of that reward is a future resurrection for us. So, this week’s blog, with the truth of the Christ’s Resurrection fresh in our minds, will reveal the truth that a resurrection awaits us in our future – at least for those who choose to believe and follow after Jesus.

In the second post this week, I will provide four aspects relating the possibility of our resurrection with the certainty of Jesus’. In post three, I will provide a conclusion to this week’s blog regarding the resurrection and point to the series concluding blog which will be the final post of the week.

* This series of blogs has been adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Time (2 of 2)

In this week’s first post, three aspects to our ability to (learn to) persevere were mentioned – the role of the Holy Spirit, the role of fellowship, and the role of struggle. Three enemies and three allies of the Christian were also mentioned. This post will conclude the thoughts on the Discipline of Persevering (and our need to persevere in the Disciplines), and provide a few thoughts on how to proceed.

First, let me mention the passage found in 2 Peter 1.5-8. When reading this, you will notice that steadfastness (or perseverance) is between the virtues of self-control and godliness. So, first one must develop self-control (be disciplined), then with perseverance, one can become godly - and becoming godly is the entire point of this series. Yet, most don’t like the idea of discipline even though it is a necessary component to our lives. Furthermore, persevering in discipline is even more difficult. Is it any wonder that many people never grow and become mature Christians? And yes, I admit I fail in this endeavor far too often, so this is not merely the pot calling the kettle black. The reality is that too many people want to live life completely spontaneously, but without discipline, our spontaneity leads nowhere. Whitney provides the following example through the short story of a farmer, as provided by John Guest in an article in Christianity Today.

            “The spontaneous person who shrugs off the need for discipline is like the farmer who went out to gather eggs. As he walked across the farmyard toward the hen house, he noticed the pump was leaking. So he stopped to fix it. It needed a new washer, so he set off to the barn to get one. But on the way he saw that the hayloft needed straightening, so he went to fetch the pitchfork. Hanging next to the pitchfork was a broom with a broken handle. ‘I must make a not to myself to buy a broom handle the next time I get to town,’ he thought...
            By now it is clear that the farmer is not going to get his eggs gathered, nor is he likely to accomplish anything else he sets out to do. He is utterly, gloriously spontaneous, but he is hardly free. He is, if anything, a prisoner to his unbridled spontaneity. The fact of the matter is that discipline is the only way to freedom; it is the necessary context for spontaneity.”

Spontaneity can be good. But it only brings freedom in the overall context of discipline. Imagine, spontaneously deciding to take a road trip across country. No real plans, just a dream to see God’s great design. Well, that is great, but if being completely spontaneous, you will only get as far as the amount of gas you have in the tank. Spontaneity in this case requires gas, which requires money. So, the larger context of being disciplined allows for the spontaneous person to thrive.

How does this idea of persevering apply to our JOURNEY? Well, it encompasses the entire word this week. The J is for JESUS, and the Y is for YOU. We need to be disciplined in every part of our JOURNEY to properly be connected with Jesus. We need to OBSERVE His commands, UNITE with others, REVERE Him, NURTURE one another for the sake of ministry, and EVOKE the hearts of ourselves and others with the truth of the message of the Gospel. In doing so, we (the YOU) can be fully connected with JESUS, and thus become more like Him.

So what is our next step? Let me tweak our question for this series to make it about persevering:

If your growth in godliness were measured by your perseverance, what would be the result?

So what’s the next step in Becoming Like God?  ENDURE

Again, this series is entitled Becoming Like God. And the example we have in Jesus is one who endured. In fact, Hebrews 12.2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. That joy – a restored fellowship with the Father and a possible fellowship with us, if we will receive Him as our Savior, making Him Lord. That is how we endure. We must think beyond our current situation and remember the hope that lies beyond.

So, specifically, what can we do as it relates to persevering? Well, we return to our 4L’s – Learn, Live, Love, and Lead – to provide potential next steps for each of us. Again, consider where you are in your worship RIGHT NOW. And let the Spirit lead you to what you might next do.

God may be more interested in holding you as you work through your trials than He is in healing or removing you from them.

Stand strong. Remember that the challenges you face are short term – most are short in this life, but especially in the scope of eternity, no struggle will last but for just a brief time.

Recall that God uses each event in our lives to mold us – conform us to the image of His Son. Remember that Jesus endured for you, and in your time of struggle, He is providing you an opportunity to be more like Him (Romans 8.29).

What lies beyond. Remind others of the challenges you have been through and how God has seen you through them. Help others to learn to see beyond the present situation and keep their hope in the future.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.