Saturday, July 27, 2019

Alive in Christ!

Colossians 2:6-15 The Bible says that in the beginning there existed between God and man such a closeness and fellowship that Adam and Eve’s relationship with the Lord was like friends taking a walk together in the country.  That is what we were made for—life with God! 
But sin entered the world and that life and relationship was destroyed and mankind no longer walked with God in fellowship-- but ran from God in fear—and we have to confess about ourselves that we too have wandered far and wide from God’s presence and his loving purpose for our lives. 
Today we are going to hear how God re-established that perfect fellowship between himself and humanity and how it is that we can now once again walk with him in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection.  And we are also going to hear about the dangers lay along the way in that walk of faith.  The Bible says that:
As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
            When man ran away from God in the garden it was God who sought him out—it was God who wanted to re-establish that relationship and walk with man in fellowship.  The importance of this basic biblical truth cannot be over-emphasized! 
All of the religions of the world apart from biblical Christianity tell us that it is mankind who seeks after God.  Wrong!  Apart from personal faith in Christ, man is dead in sin and trespasses. 
From the beginning, the story of our salvation and reconciliation is the story of God seeking after us to give us life.
God sought out Adam and Eve as they ran from him and he re-established fellowship by a sacrifice.  Not their sacrifice—but his sacrifice of an innocent animal whose blood covered the shame and removed the guilt of their sin—a sign of what he would do for every person in the world in the death of his own Son—the innocent Lamb of God.
And having been restored to fellowship through sacrifice, God has made the way for us to walk with Him through faith in his Son Jesus Christ.  And he intends that we do so-- for we have been made alive in Christ for fellowship with God—to walk with him.
Much too often we regard our salvation as that which provides us the opportunity to live life as we see fit without having to worry about eternity—having checked it off our list—while we focus on the earthly goals and priorities.
But that is not Christianity!  We were created by the Father and redeemed by the Son and made alive in the Spirit—to walk with God. 
And so having received Jesus Christ by faith as the beginning and ending of our salvation—rooted and established and built up in him—we walk with him as our Lord.  And yet that walk of faith and fellowship is not without perils.  The Bible says:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 
            Even in Eden, Adam and Eve had to be on guard spirituaally—they needed to listen to God’s Word and stay close to him if they were to continue to walk with him.
But they didn’t—and they fell victim to Satan’s deceit and became captive to sin and death.  And if that warning to watch out for lies was necessary for Adam and Eve in their walk with God-- how much more true is it for us as we journey to heaven through this dark and deceptive world! 
When we think of dangers that confront us in our walk of faith with the Lord, we tend to think primarily of moral dangers—and of course there are many of those such as various addictions and sexual immorality and the love of money and other besetting sins. 
But behind these moral dangers is a philosophical framework that is the real danger to our walk with the Lord.  For example:
Evolution tells us that we are merely animals-- and so why shouldn’t we act like them regarding our sexuality?  Humanism tells us that man is the measure of all things-- and so why shouldn’t I decide for myself what is true?  Materialism tells us that the only things that are real are those things that we can touch-- and so why shouldn’t I live my life in a relentless pursuit of things? 
These deceptive philosophies are not just ideas discussed by academics.  They are the working philosophies of what we see and read and experience all around us.  They are human traditions, deceitful lies given by Satan in place of God’s Word, and they are deadly to our life with God and our walk with Christ.  The Bible says that in Jesus…
the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 
            When we set Jesus aside—for whatever reason-- when we follow the ways of the world or are led astray by lies from within the visible church--what we are really doing giving up is God himself—the fullness of whom dwells in Jesus bodily. 
To worship Jesus is to worship God and to walk with Jesus is to walk with God.  We have been saved for fellowship with God as his sons and daughters by Jesus Christ who fills our life with his presence so that we are rooted and built up in him.    
And so how did this life—this walk with God--come to be?  How did we come to be filed with Christ?  The Bible says that:
In [Jesus] you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 
            How did we come to be filled with Christ?  Very simply the Bible says that happened in baptism.  Down here in Texas we live in a place where many of our fellow Christians see baptism as something that we do for God—as merely an outward sign of our faith and commitment to God with no real spiritual power in our lives. 
But that is not what baptism is!  Baptism is what God graciously does for us to give us his blood-bought salvation personally and individually through faith in Christ—and in these verses baptism is likened to Jewish circumcision which made one a part of the saving  covenant the Lord made with the Israelites.
Now, the eight day old boys who were circumcised among the Israelites did not circumcise themselves—they were circumcised by others.  So it is with our baptism.
Baptism is not our work for God-- but it is Christ’s work for us.  It is done to us—not by us—and it is not really the Pastor who baptizes-- but God himself. 
Yes, the parents bring the child.  Yes, the congregation speaks and confesses.  Yes, the pastor pours the water.  But it is God who baptizes and in that moment, according to his promise, a real, spiritual break with our sinful flesh occurs-- just as physical flesh is really cut away in circumcision. 
In holy baptism we were buried with Jesus and through God’s powerful work we were raised in him to walk with him in newness of life—in a resurrection life like his.
The power for this spiritual dying and rising is not found in the water but in the new covenant that fills that water:  the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.  The Bible says that:
you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 
            Each and every one of us has a record of sin—those bad things that we have done and those good things that we have left undone.  The legal demands of the law force upon us a moral and spiritual debt that we cannot repay even if we had eternity to pay it. 
But the Good News for us today is that Jesus has cancelled that record paid our debt in full.
Jesus Christ assumed our sin debt and carried that to the cross where it was nailed there in his body.  Through his death and by his shed blood that sin debt that we could never repay on our own-- has been paid in full-- and Christ rose victorious over our enemies of sin, death and the devil. The Bible says that Jesus…
disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
            When the Romans conquered an opponent—whether a general or a king—they would bind him in chains and lead him in triumphant procession through Rome to the shouts of joyful acclamation of the people and everyone in the community would join in this great victory march. 
Another person had conquered their enemies—one greater than themselves--but they got to participate in the victory parade too for it was their enemies that had been defeated.
That is the picture here.  Jesus Christ has defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil by his death and resurrection and he invites us to walk with him, throughout this life, in his victory parade.  Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

In This Hope We Are Saved

Romans 8:18-24a It is so very easy--living in this world that is broken by sin and death--to become depressed and discouraged—to lose hope. 
With each election cycle we hear candidates promise that they are different than those who came before—that this time things will be different for our nation. 
Many people find themselves in marriages and families where the future holds out the promise of the same old painful past. 
Those of us who have lived more than just a few years on earth discover that we are not becoming stronger, but weaker, with the passing years. 
It is difficult to be people of hope when it seems as if the future is simply an endless repeat of the same old cycle of brokenness and death that has come before. 
And yet, we are called to be people of hope!  The Bible says:  that love always hopes-- and that there is a hope that is an anchor for our souls—a hope that will not disappoint us.  And so what is that hope for the future that we Christians have?  God the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
            Do you see that word “consider” there in your bible?  The Greek word that Paul used there comes from the ancient business world and it means to count up and enumerate and weigh things out carefully.  And so then…
In one column are all the things that tempt us to lose hope:  a nation in moral decline, difficult relationships, frail health, economic difficulties-- and in the other column are the good things of God that are still to come:  an eternal home where sorrow and suffering have no part, relief from the burden of our flesh, a reunion with those we love who have gone before, and a new life in the very presence of God. 
Add up both of those columns and you will very quickly discover that even the most broken earthly life that is full of hardships-- still does not come close to outweighing the wonderful life that God has in store for those who are his children and heirs of all of the blessings Christ has earned for us on the cross.
Many of these blessings are still in the future—they are objects of hope—but they are no less certain than the accomplished facts of salvation history.  We just have to wait for them in hope, looking forward to the day when they will be our own.  And so…
When will, what we hope for as Christians, become our own?  The Bible says:  The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
As we look at the world around us, it is often difficult to distinguish between those who are God’s children from those who are not God’s children.  As the bible says, it rains on the just and the unjust. 
In other words, earthly blessings and hardships are no indicator of those who are God’s children and those who are not.  Sometimes Christians suffer while the evil flourish.
But it will not always be this way.  There is coming a day—the Last Day—when there will be a distinct division between those who are God’s—and those who are not.  There will be reward and punishment on that day—and what we have hoped for and prayed for and longed for as Christian people—what has always been in the future—will become our present possession for eternity. 
And not only do WE long for that day—but even creation longs for that day-- for it too will be restored.  The Bible says:
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
            When evil entered into our world—all of creation was affected.  Satan took upon himself the form of a serpent.  Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit.  And their sin not only ruined their lives—but it ruined creation as well.  God said that:
No longer would work be a delight--but creation would work against man every step of the way with thorns and thistles and every other kind of earthly hardship. 
No longer would man and woman dwell in perfect delight with one another but there would be animosity between them. 
Every generation that followed them would come forth into the world through pain. 
And death would enter into the world—beginning with the animals that God used to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.  A broken creation.
So it still is today.  The world that was created to support our life-- takes our life through earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and disease and drought and famine.  Men commit every kind of evil against their fellow man and bitterness and anger extend into even our closest human relationships.  And death is still the end of every living thing.
That was true even for our Lord.  His blessed mother brought him forth in painful labor.  The knife of the priest on his eighth day of life cause him to cry out in pain.  He labored by the sweat of his brow.  His family struggled to understand him and his friends rejected him.  He too breathed a last earthly breath just like every other person who came before him.
But three days later Jesus did something that no one had ever done before—he rose up from the dead.  His resurrection is God’s promise that the curse of creation that brings death to us and ruins this beautiful world will not endure forever—that the downward spiral of the world -and mankind with it- has been reversed by God and is now moving in a different direction—towards freedom and life.  The Bible says:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
            When Adam and Even sinned, one of the consequences of that sin was that children would be brought forth in pain.  And yet despite the pain, children are brought forth. 
The love and courage of women and their hope for their children’s future is greater than their fear of pain and new life comes forth into the world.  That is the way that Paul describes the world itself—filled with pain-- but not futility—looking forward to the future and a new life to come.
This image radically changes how we view the brokenness of this world and the terrible tragedies of the natural order. 
No longer do we see an endless cycle of pain and misery and suffering that have no meaning or purpose or end—but we see them as the birth pains of a new world to come—a new creation redeemed by the blood of its Creator and renewed by his resurrection so that the whole world can live again without the stain and punishment of sin—just as we will one day live.  The Bible says:
Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
            The children of Israel offered up the first part of every harvest to the LORD—as a tangible sign that the LORD had provided for them just as he promised-- and that having begun the harvest he would bring in the rest of the promised crop.  That firstfruit gift connected the past and present and the future.
So it is with the firstfruits of the Spirit.  We have been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit—we confess that Jesus is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit dwells in our life—and the Holy Spirit gives us his good gifts. 
The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a promise from God—a guarantee, a down payment, on every other blessing of body and soul that he has promised to his children-- culminating in our physical resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.
Now, when we die, our souls go to be with the Lord—and the Bible says that is better by far than what we experience here on earth. 
But that is not all there is to the restoration and renewal of our lives by any means!  We are both body and soul and Jesus Christ has redeemed both body and soul and rose up from his grave—body and soul—glorified, never to die again.  So will we! 
That day is still in the future—it is an object of hope—and until that day we suffer the hardships of the broken human condition.  We age.  We get sick.  We become frail.  And we die. 
But Christians do not see that as simply our own small part in an endless cycle of birth, life and death that has no meaning or purpose or fulfillment. 
Instead, we know that we are moving towards something—that life, real life, life as God intends is getting closer and closer and that knowledge helps us to wait patiently for the day of resurrection that God has promised will come for his children.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

God's Steadfast Love and Compassion

Micah 7:18-20 Apparently last Sunday’s sermon about loving others like Christ loves us--struck a chord with a number of folks who heard it!  One person, especially close to me, who shall remain nameless, said after worship was over:  “Well, that’s it, I’m not going to heaven”!
That’s exactly what the Law does when it is preached in its fullness!  It shows us that we do not have what it takes (this time in our love for others) to make our own way to heaven. 
Much of the Book of Micah is just like that.  It is full of hard-hitting preaching of the Law.  If you have your Bibles open and flip through the pages of Micah and read the headings you will get a quick sense of how hard-hitting his message was!  “The Coming Destruction!”  “Woe to the Oppressors!”  “The Indictment of the Lord!”  “The Destruction of the Wicked!”
Neither the politicians nor the preachers not the people were spared from the law.  Their lack of faith, their love of money, their immoral lives, their divided hearts were laid bare and shown to be rebellion against God that deserved his judgment in time and eternity.
That’s what we heard last Sunday:  that anger is murder and no murderer has eternal life.
But in defense of my sermon, despite how hard-hitting it was, I also talked about God’s love for us in Christ—that this is what true love is and how Jesus makes all the difference in our life.
So it is in today’s text:  there is woe and destruction and indictment and judgment to be sure!  But there is also the compassion and forgiveness of God who:  Reaches out to people who cannot make their way to him; who Rescues people who cannot help themselves; who Redeems people who deserve only his judgment. 
Then and now:  there is hope for us (not because we get it right) but because we have in the LORD a God like no other who forgives and restores sinners.  The Bible says: 
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? 
            Most Bible experts consider this a rhetorical question that is only asked so that it may be answered by the one who asked it—but I’m not so sure. 
I believe the Holy Spirit inspired Micah to write these words so that we really would consider just for a moment—just exactly what kind of God we have in the LORD who forgives sins so mercifully and completely—and then compare him to the false gods and dead idols of the unbelieving world.  And so I ask you…
Do the false gods of Hinduism or Islam forgive sins by sacrificing themselves for sinners?  No!  Do the countless gods of the pagans act with mercy towards the broken?  No!  Do all of the idols that struggle for a place in our hearts give us the comfort and peace of knowing that we are loved?  No!  And so then…
Who is a God like the LORD?  The answer is no one!  The Bible says that the LORD:  does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 
Before we go too much farther we ought to be very clear:  God is angry over the sins of mankind.  They are an affront to his eyes; they are a stench in his nostrils; they are an outrage to his ears!  He is absolutely serious when he says that we are to be holy as he is holy and he means it when he says that the wages of sin is death!
The Bible is perfectly clear that the LORD is a God of wrath and we ought to stand in awe of his holiness and fear his judgment.  But the Bible is just as clear that the LORD delights in steadfast love.  DELIGHTS in STEADFAST love!
Now, we learned about ourselves last week that our love for others is all over the place in its sincerity and truth and sometimes it is lacking altogether!  But the LORD’s love for us never changes; his mercies never cease; and he does not hold onto his anger over our sins forever!
But we also need to understand this:  the reason that the LORD does not retain his anger forever is not because his holiness and righteousness have changed-- and it is not because he has changed his mind about his expectations for us. 
Rather, the LORD does not hold onto his anger because he has poured it out upon his Son Jesus Christ!    
Micah had to trust that this was true as he prophesied about the Messiah to come-- but we know it is true because of the accomplished facts of salvation history.
The Savior born in Bethlehem of whom Micah prophesied died on the cross, in our place, with the wrath of his heavenly poured upon him, because of our sins-- and the Father abandoned his son, our substitute, to death and hell and the grave. 
He did this FOR US and Christ sacrificed himself FOR US because he saw our great need and was moved to come to our aid, knowing that we were helpless to make our own way to him.  The Bible says that:  He will again have compassion on us;
Throughout the Bible, compassion is not just a feeling of pity that God has from on high upon those down below-- but a heartfelt concern that moves him to help those in need. 
There were hard times ahead for the people of Judah but Micah knew, and he wanted God’s people to know, that the Lord could be counted on (no matter how dark the days, no matter how well-deserved the discipline) to have compassion on his people and come to their aid.
And that is exactly what he did for our greatest need of all—our need of forgiveness.
Micah uses two vibrant word pictures to show us just how completely the Lord has dealt with our sins.  First of all he says that the LORD will he will tread our iniquities underfoot. 
            There is only one person who has had the complete victory over temptation and sin and the devil and that is Jesus.  He rose victorious over death and he grave and he reigns as the King of kings and Lord of lords while all of heaven sings his eternal victory song.
            The experience of the rest of us when it comes to temptation and sin and the devil is very different indeed.  We know about ourselves how difficult it is to go even a short time without some sin of thought, word, or deed.  We know how often our love for others is not like Jesus’ love for us.
If you have every struggled against a besetting sin particular to you, you know how humiliating it is to fall victim to that sin again and again.  Oftentimes, in various ways, we are defeated by our spiritual enemies.
   That is why it is the best possible news for us that the LORD himself treads our iniquities underfoot!  The image comes from a battlefield in the ancient world where an enemy has been so utterly defeated and brought to ruin that their conqueror can walk upon them unafraid and unchallenged. 
That is God’s own truth about the sins in your life:  they lie defeated under the nail-pierced feet of your champion, Jesus Christ. 
And then Micah goes on to offer us another picture of how completely, how totally the LORD has dealt with our sin.  He says that the LORD will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. 
In the ancient world, when ship and a crew and their cargo was lost at sea—it was lost—along with everything in it.  There was no recovery effort—not way to bring it back.  It was simply gone forever, never seen again.  Even today, if you take a cruise and throw something overboard, it’s gone for good!
That’s how completely the Lord has dealt with our sins.  They have been cast into the flood of Jesus’ blood that poured out from his sacred veins upon Calvary’s cross.  Covered by his blood, they cannot be found, they will not be recovered, they will never again see the light of day!
That is what the LORD says about your sins of the past and that is what the LORD says about you in the days to come.  The Bible says that the LORD will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.
What about this new week that we have entered into today?  We know that there are going to be faith challenges.  We know that there are going to be temptations.  We know that there are going to be some spiritual defeats and some sin.  How do we face the future knowing this about ourselves without despair?
We face the future trusting in the promise that we hear today:  the LORD WILL show faithfulness to his people!  He has sworn on oath by himself (for there is nothing greater) that he will always be the God of steadfast love and compassion who will pass over our transgressions and pardon our iniquity and cast ALL our sins into the depths of the sea.
In this week to come, and in every day of Your life as his child, you can trust that this is who the LORD is and this is what he will do for you!  Amen!