Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Salvation by Death?

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death,”
1 Corinthians 15:26 (NIV).

“When I die, I know where I’m going!” I triumphantly asserted. Confident life in Heaven is far better there than here on earth, I played right into my enemy’s hand. I looked at death as my entrance to eternal life and all it entails. I believed for salvation by death. By delaying participation in eternal life until after I died, I missed out on its benefits right now. Look how wrong you can be.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” Philippians 1:21 (NIV).

Paul describes a paradox, death is an enemy and yet profitable. Which way is it Paul, friend or foe? Definitely foe!

The bible describes death is unflattering terms: “and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death,” Hebrews 2:5 (NIV).  How did Paul find anything good about death?

Paul didn’t wait to draw his last breath to take advantage of eternal life. He participated in and enjoyed it from this side of the grave. He recorded at least one trip to Heaven, interactions with Jesus and angels and supernatural manifestations. Death would mark the start of life full time in the realm of the spirit. Until that moment, Paul operated in both the physical and spiritual dimensions. A careful reading of Colossians 2:5 depicts this.

“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is,” (NIV emphasis mine).

Unlike today’s communication systems, Paul lacked fast access to the far-flung churches he’d established. Travel was long and arduous. Letters sent via courier were slow to arrive, possibly akin to our postal service. Paul tapped into the realm of the spirit to stay in touch with the congregations he’d pioneered.

Heavenly visits, trans-location and seeing into spiritual realms was common place then and available to us today. Dr. A. Ogbonnaya, of Venice UMC in California said, “If Christianity is less spiritual than the occult, there’s a problem.” I think he’s onto something.

How about you? How would your experience as a believer change if you could interact with Heavenly realms? How would your faith be bolstered if you could see and engage with your Heavenly Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit? How would your perspective of life’s challenges and difficulties shift seeing them from this new vantage point? It really is possible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Means In

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” Acts 17:27-28 (NIV).

If money wasn't an object, where would you live? Would you pick:
-  a city apartment, loft or condo close to shopping, restaurants and ugh, work;
-  a mountain top retreat with spectacular views and extreme privacy;
-  a house on the beach complete with sun, surf and cool breezes?

The choices are plentiful. What if you could live outside of earth’s realm, would you do it? What if you already do?

Although never mentioned by name, the apostle Luke is the presumed author of the book of Acts. He resided in that realm and claimed all believers could also. Many Christians are unaware of this important truth. Why is this happening?

A large portion of the church discounts the supernatural. Feet firmly planted on terra firma and concepts of biblical doctrine grounded in logic and reason, the supernatural is relegated to a hoped for and not a live by experience. Tragically there are non-believers who are more knowledgeable about spiritual dynamics, albeit from the wrong side.

God provided a pictorial illustration of Acts 17:28 back in the days of the Tabernacle. Hebrews 9:4 describes three items stored in the Ark of the Covenant: a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s rod that budded and the stone tablets we call the Ten Commandments. The Ark, covered by the Mercy Seat was the residence of the manifest presence of God. The aforementioned items resided in Him.

Manna correlates to live in verse 28. The daily source of sustenance for the Israelites in the wilderness, it was their sole means of survival. Eat manna or die. We receive our very life from Christ also, something we need to do on a day by day basis. Outside of the Ark, the manna would spoil. Outside of Him, our life disintegrates.

Aaron’s rod equates with move. This rod confirmed Aaron’s calling as the designated High Priest. Appointed by God Himself, believers share this same destiny: “…and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father,” Rev. 1:6. Only in Him will we find our unique purpose, our reason for living.

The stone tablets or the Ten Commandants represent have our being. Jewish scholars believe the Pentateuch or first five books of the bible are a picture of a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract. The Ten Commandants reflect the portion where the bride and groom outlined their expectations of their prospective spouse. These conditions are better understood as the groom’s expression of his ability to care for his bride. She should not feel the need to resort to these behaviors because he will provide more than adequately for her. Our Groom will also more than meet and exceed our expectations of Him. He defined reasonable behaviors for His bride to agree with.

Our very lives, our destinies and identities are all found in Him. And In means IN! Not a nice theoretical idea, in Him is a real place where we can live.

What about you? How would you describe in Him? If the idea of this has never occurred to you before, what can you do to make it a reality in your life? Take confidence that you are in Him. Is there really any safer place to live? I doubt it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Sweet" Words That Pack a Punch

“Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.” Daniel 11:32

I'm more familiar with the second half of this verse. I've quoted it and heard numerous sermons on this subject. Recently as I read Daniel 11:32 the first portion captured my interest.

The saying “Flattery will get you nowhere,” refers to attempts to gain advantage through insincere compliments. Corruption by flattery? Stealth warfare at its finest. Flowery words and glowing accolades are a feast for the ears and sweet to taste. Once ingested, they go to work destroying their victim from the inside out.

The Bible portrays flattery in a most unflattering light. Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves. A genuine compliment given to bless and encourage can be a cool drink to a parched soul. Sincere demonstrations of appreciation help us plug away at difficult and/or thankless tasks.

Flattery has a certain slimy ilk about it. What sounds so good leaves a bad after taste. It can, however, prove to be addicting if one’s desperate for recognition. Negative attention is better than none at all. The danger comes when one dines continually on a diet of misinformation. People fail all the time; they fall victim to their own press.

God doesn't condone flattery which is rooted in deception. He does allow it to work its sinister destruction in those who actively and intentionally oppose His covenant. Jehovah Sneaky (ok, not one of His official names) doesn't need to even lift His little finger against his enemies. They have plenty of so-called friends and hangers-on whose sugar-coated, poison pill words work just fine.

The Bible reminds us about the power of our words. They can bring life and cause death. We must guard not only what we say but also what we listen to. In this verse it is those who consciously oppose God who are harmed but this can apply to Christians too. We also need to be cognizant of words spoken over us. God can teach us to discern the difference between a real compliment and flattery. The former we can graciously receive and pass the glory on to God. The latter – dump it in the trash and move on.

How about you? What do you do when you feel slimed by a back handed compliment? What measures can you take to avoid doling out flattery to others? Is there really any justification to use flattery at any time?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

We Can't Have It Both Ways?

Sara Jane Olsen achieved the American Dream. She, along with her physician husband and three children, lived an upper-middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs of St. Paul, MN. A mini-van driving soccer mom, Sara Jane was an accomplished cook who hosted lavish dinner parties. She had the perfect life but it was all a lie.

In March and May of 1999 America's Most Wanted posted the picture of Kathleen Ann Soliah, the only remaining fugitive of a bank robbery and failed attempt to bomb two police cars in California. A member of the SLA, the Symbionese Liberation Army, Soliah had avoided arrest for almost 25 years. Her photo was broadcast twice in hopes that someone would recognize it and call in a tip. Someone did and Sara Jane Olsen's carefully constructed world unraveled quickly.

Offered a deal, Sara Jane plead guilty. 911 occurred and Sara Jane feared that any terrorist, even a reformed one, stood little chance with a jury trial. She changed tactics and declared her innocence to the press. The trial judge wasn't amused and told her he didn't know which version of her story to believe. The Associated Press reported that the judge told Sara she couldn't have it both ways. She was convicted and sent to jail.

Thanks be to God that we get to have it both ways!

But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NIV).

Am I guilty of every sin I have or will ever commit? Absolutely! Can I obtain a “Not Guilty” verdict from The Righteous Judge? Yes I can. The blood of Jesus is my defense and it works every time! I'm now the righteousness of God, 2 Corinthians 5:21. How? Its by God's grace.

There is uproar in the church at present over the issue of grace: hyper-grace, uber-grace, greasy grace and so forth. For the record, I'm in the grace camp. To be clear, grace is never a license to sin-ever. The wages of sin are still death. Death in any form is a meal I can afford to miss. Why forfeit life?

I'm hyper-grace because:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It (grace) teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” Titus 2:11-12 (NIV).

I'm still a work in progress and I can use all the help I can get. If grace can to teach me to be more like God, I'm open for instruction.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us...” Ephesians 1:7-8 (ESV).

“Riches.....lavished.” Seems to me that when it comes to grace God doesn't skimp.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound to every good work” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV).

God views grace as a vital component for successful living. He super-sizes portions of grace to us in order to fulfill His purposes through us – and all without any extra calories! I'll have an extra helping please.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men” Luke 2:52 (NIV).

Favor in Greek is charis. This same word is translated grace throughout the New Testament. Apparently Jesus needed grace in order for Him to fulfill His destiny. If He needed it, I do too. He was sinless and that is a goal worth pursuing.

To use God's grace as an excuse to sin is a cop-out. We have free will. With the ability to choose comes the consequences of our actions, both good and bad. Grace doesn't provide us lee-way to play the fool, just the opposite. Grace changed my perspective of how God looked at me. His opinions trump all others. As one now counted righteous in His eyes I'm motivated to not sin.

How about you? How can God's super-abundant grace empower you in your daily life? How would a shift of emphasis from being a rotten old sinner to being righteous in God's eyes change your outlook and your behavior? With God, we really can have it both ways.