September 25, 2011

So Far Beyond Us - Sep 25, 2011

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Romans 11:33-36 (NIV)

“33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

We live on Earth. One dirty little rock among nine others circling the sun. Earth seems pretty big to us from our little vantage point. But, when you compare Earth’s size to the size of our solar system, it begins to looks small.

For example, if you shrunk the solar system so that Earth was the size of a tennis ball, that would mean that the sun is still half a mile away.

But go further than that. Our solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way galaxy is a collection of around 300 billion stars. If the Milky Way galaxy were shrunk down to the size of the United States east of the Mississippi, our whole solar system would only be the size of a quarter. Yep, plunk a quarter into the eastern states, and that’s our solar system in the Milky Way galaxy.

Now, there are billions of galaxies in the visible universe. I say visible, because we can only see so much of the universe before the eyesight of our strongest telescopes fails. What is beyond the range of our strongest telescopes? Does the universe extend forever, or does it come to an end? WE have no idea.

I say all this because I want us to get a bit of a hold on how large God’s creation is, so that we can see, in part, how HUGE God is. He is not only the being who created our vast universe; He is the being who fills it all and more. He is bigger than the edges of existence.

God’s creation is amazing even if you just describe it in terms of size. But there is so much more when it comes to living creatures.

When a butterfly hatches, it doesn’t go to flight school. It knows how to fly right out of the chrysalis. How does it know how to do something that took man forever to figure out?

A callus is formed on human hand because the body senses that right there the skin is being worn off too quickly. So, the body dials up the skin production in that spot. You know how the body knows where and how much to dial up the skin production? Neither does anyone else. It’s still a mystery. If the body were to dial up skin production just a tad too much we’d have clunky unfeeling hands. Too little, and our skin would wear all the way through to the muscle.

A human baby needs around nine months to grow so that he or she can begin living outside the mother. When the time is right for birth, the body produces a chemical called oxytocin, and labor begins. How does the body know when the time is right? Nobody knows.

Whether you look out, or in, the universe is huge and complex. And the God who made this structured universe is still active in it.

Right now there are about seven billion human beings living on earth. And the Bible says the following about all these people.
“24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being…’” (Acts 17:24-28 NIV).
You are where you are because God wants you to reach out for Him, and come to know who He is and what He’s done for you. That’s how big God is. That’s how much God cares for you.

When we begin to study the creation, we realize how big it is. And this gives us some inkling of how big God is.

In our reading for today, Paul points out how HUGE God is so that we will stop trying to define Him with our own limited minds. We all do this. We picture God from our tiny vantage point. We think we’ve go parts of Him figured out from the things He’s made. And while it’s true that you can learn some things about God from what He has made, the fact remains that man can only come to know the heart of God through His Word, the Bible.

If we keep our thoughts about God grounded on the foundation of the Bible, then we won’t go wrong in trying to form some picture of what He’s like.

Look again at the beginning of our reading. Verses 33-34. There Paul says…
“33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34 NIV).

Imagine that. A human being trying to tell God what to do. A creature trying to tell the Creator, Here, let’s have a little conversation, I think you need some direction.

As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s exactly what a man named Job once tried to do. Job was a rich man. He had a big family. He was healthy. And then, Job lost it all. His possessions, gone. His children, dead. His body, stricken with disease.

He was a follower of the true God, but Job still felt slighted. He appealed to God for a meeting. He wanted to talk things over.

At the end of the book of Job, the LORD finally granted him that meeting. In Job 38 it says…
“38:1 Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this” (Job 38:1-18 NIV).

Job thought he knew better than God. He forgot that he was the creature, God the Creator, and not the other way around. Instead doubting God’s ways, Job would have done much better just to listen to what God says in His Word.

That’s the lesson we have to learn also. He’s the thunderstorm, we’re the desert flower. He’s the powerhouse, we’re the light bulb. He’s the surging ocean, we’re the grain of sand. He’s the universe, we’re the tiny planet.

When we humbly see our place under God, He graciously reveals His Himself to us. In 1 Corinthians 2 it says…
“ “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-12 NKJV).
The ultimate truth that God reveals to mankind is this: We were created perfect, but we rebelled against God by sin. In His love, God sent a Savior to bring us back to His side. Jesus suffered and died so that all our sins stand forgiven before God. And through the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus, God reveals to us what no human mind could ever have conceived. God loves us, and has forgiven our sins through His Son’s suffering and death.

I said earlier that Job thought he knew better than God. Or at the very least Job felt that God owed him some sort of an explanation for the bad things that had happened in his life. Job felt a sense of entitlement. But in verse 35 Paul says…
“35 ‘Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?’
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:35-36 NIV).

I heard a joke once, that went like this. A scientist approached God Almighty and said, “God we have figured out how to create life, so we don’t need you anymore.” God said, “Oh really? Well, let’s see you make life.” The scientist bend down to pick up a handful of dust, but God interrupted, “Oh no, get your own dirt”.

We should have no sense of entitlement when it comes to God. For there is no good thing that we have that we did not receive from Him. He made all things. He gives all good gifts. All things are connected to Him and serve to bring Him glory in one way or another. In Romans 1 it says…
“…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 NIV).
I think the most interesting word in that verse is “divine”. What does “divine” mean? How can you explain or define that word? “Divine” is the quality of “being God”. Only God is “divine”. He is the apex of all that is. He is not just the highest thing created, He is the One “thing” that is NOT created. He is God. It’s hard to define the word “divine” because it’s at the top of the pyramid. There aren’t things around “divine” to help explain it, only things below it that can’t reach it.

God is the source. God is the giver. God is the hub in the wheel of existence that makes it all be.

I know we can’t understand everything about God. But by the grace of God we can understand what He reveals to us.

Once of my favorite illustrations about man’s limits comes from a book by C.S. Lewis. It’s a fictional story whose main character is a man named “Ransom”. In one scene, Ransom is talking to an angel of God. He asks the angel some question, and in response the angel says something like, “Ransom, I’d love to tell you the answer to your question, but there is no place in your mind where it will fit.”

We can’t comprehend the greatness of God. But through the Bible we can know the most important things about Him and what He’s done for sinners like us. God fits these teachings into our minds through the Holy Spirit who lives in His Word.

We are sinners who don’t deserve God’s tender care. But because of Jesus, we have it. Through Jesus, the sinless, almighty Creator has made us His own people. His own sinners made saints. We were the darkness, but His light has shined on us in the middle of this universe. As we feel His forgiveness and love through the message of Christ, let’s make sure that the light that reflects back to Him is the light of praise and worship.

I’d like to end our mediation today by reading one last passage. Proverbs 3:5...
“5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).

To the LORD be the glory, forever. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

September 18, 2011

Righteous in Christ Alone - Sept 18, 2011

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For the past four Sundays our sermon readings have taken us into the eighth chapter of Romans. There the apostle Paul talks about the suffering that followers of Christ must endure in this life, before they finally get to experience the bliss of living with God in heaven.

Toward the end of chapter eight Paul ramps up his encouragement to his fellow Christians and lists off reason after reason for us to keep on trusting in God, no matter what sufferings come in this life. He says…

God’s on our side, who can oppose Him?

God didn’t spare His own Son in saving us, so we know He’ll give us everything good!

Nobody can overturn God’s verdict of “sins forgiven”. God is the ultimate judge, and in Christ our verdict is “not guilty”.

God’s own Son who suffered to take our sins away stands at the Father’s side speaking up for us.

Paul concludes by saying that he’s convinced that as long as we keep on trusting in Jesus ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.

The Bible tells us that we are sinners who deserve nothing but punishment from the Holy God who created us. But because of Jesus, our sins have been paid for. All who trust in Jesus stand sinless in God’s sight. In Jesus we don’t just have a good head-start on getting to heaven, we have heaven itself. Through faith in Christ’s cross, our passport reads “Citizen of Heaven”.

It’s this complete security in Christ that moves Paul to write the words we meditate on today.
We read the beginning verses of Romans chapter nine and ten…

Romans 9:1-5, 10:1-4 (NIV)

9:1I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Paul is on a high at the end of chapter eight. He’s thinking about the sure salvation that is HIS because of Jesus. He’s already laid this secure salvation before his Roman readers as the foundation for their comfort in suffering. But then his mind turns to think of those who don’t have this basis for comfort. His heart turns to think of his nation, the Jews. And he expresses his sincere sorrow that most of the Jewish nation has rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and by doing that they have rejected their only hope.

When you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, do you think of all the people who only have a cup of rice and a handful of dirty water? In the winter, when you curl up in a warm bed with a solid roof over your head, do you sometimes think of those who are sleeping outside, with only the shirt on their back to keep them warm?

This is what Paul thinks of as he rides the high crest of the wave of comfort that is salvation through Christ. He thinks of those who don’t have what he has. He thinks of those who don’t have Christ.

Some of the Jews followed Paul from city to city trying to stamp out this “new” religion. But Paul harbors no ill will toward them. His heart is filled with compassion. He knows that he too is a sinner who doesn’t deserve the gift of God’s free forgiveness in Christ Jesus.

Here. Meditate on these passages from Scripture. Jesus says…
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV).
In Ephesians it says…
“7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV).
In Romans it says…
“…Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11 NIV).
“…sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NIV).
When contemplate certainty of forgiveness that we have in Jesus, it moves us to compassion for those who don’t know this security. It makes us want to share this security with others.

This is why we need to keep on coming together on Sunday morning, and on other days we set aside for worship. The more we see that we are truly, freely, absolutely forgiven through what Jesus did for us, the more we will gain the courage and the wisdom to share this message with adults and children around us.

It’s when the Gospel becomes some bland fact that we know in the back of our minds that we sit back and let mission opportunities slip through our fingers. It’s when we get caught up in the daily grind or the daily busyness or daily distractions, that we begin to lose perspective, lose sight of where we sit because of Jesus’ cross. Above the law. Above condemnation. Above our well deserved guilt. Free and victorious.

Paul brings us back to reality with his word of sorrow. We are children of God through Christ. But there are many who do not know this peace. And WE can give it to them through the simple Gospel of Jesus’ cross.

Paul really feels for the Jews because they are his own people. And he knows their history. In our reading Paul points out how much interaction the people of Israel have had with the true God. He says in verse four
“…Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 8:4-5 NIV).
The Jewish people descended from Abraham. Back in the day when Abraham was still called “Abram”, God came along and said, Abram, leave your family ties here and travel west. Eventually you’ll reach a land that I’m going to give you and your descendants. Eventually, I’ll bless the whole world through you.

So, Abram trusted in this covenant that God made with him. And he went west, not KNOWING what would come, but TRUSTING that God was true.

Then came Isaac, and Jacob. Then came the twelve tribes of Israel. And when the descendants of Israel had become a huge nation enslaved by Egypt, God took them to be His own people. In Exodus 6 God tells Moses…
“…say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:6-7 NIV).
And for no other reason than God’s undeserved love, Israel became God’s chosen nation. They were adopted as His people.

Then came the Ten Commandments, and all the other laws through which God showed Israel what kind of a God He was. A loving God who would reveal the way of blessing to them.

Along with the Law which showed the Israelites what His will was, God also gave them a Temple in which to worship Him. And when that Temple was dedicated, His own visible glory descended and filled it. At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, we read…
“10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple” (1 Kings 8:10-11 NIV).

Along the way, God blessed the Israelites with all sorts of famous leaders. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Moses. King David.

Eventually, the very Savior of the world was born from the nation of Israel. The Savior through whom the whole world would be blessed, was born to a Jewish girl named Mary. This was God’s own Son. The One who God had promised would crush the power of the Serpent, and restore sinners to God once and for all.

All of this history Paul knows and summarizes as he thinks about the Jewish people. How they have been blessed by God.

The glory of the Israelite people has ever been God’s interaction with them. But it seems to Paul that this glory will end in tragedy, for when the promised Messiah finally arrived, the Jews crucified Him. After all God’s prophecies, and all His steadfast love, most of them rejected the Savior, and held stubbornly to their own self-righteousness. A righteousness that is really none at all.

There is a warning here for us. Outward association with God’s things does not connect us to God. Even outward association with God’s Word does not connect us to God. Even knowledge of God’s Savior does not connect us to God. Only inward faith, TRUST in Jesus as the sin-cleanser, connects us to God and salvation.

There is a tendency in human beings to hold onto outward things as our hope.

The ancient Israelites once walked into a battle carrying the Ark of Covenant. God hadn’t told them to do this. They carried it because they figured it was an amulet. A charmed box that would guarantee their victory. But God hadn’t told them to do it, so they were defeated soundly in battle and many lost their lives.

In Jesus’ day, the Jews thought that the fact that they were descended from Abraham would get them points with God. But John the Baptist tore this superstition to rags. In Matthew we read…“
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9 NIV).
After Jesus had ascended back into heaven, there were people who tried to cast out demons by using His Name, even though they were not His true followers.

Acts 19 says…
“13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (Acts 19:13-16 NIV).
Jesus Himself said…
“21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV).
Outward association with God’s things does not connect us to God. Only trust in Christ as our Savior from sin does that.

In the book of Romans, Paul’s main theme is that we are righteous in Christ alone.

To grow God’s church outwardly, we have to start with Christ and what He did to save us from sin.

To grow inwardly in our connection to God, we have to start with Christ and what He did to save us from sin.

We have to start with Christ.

And when we start with Christ, we find miraculously that we have reached the end also. In Christ we have the beginning of our salvation, and the end.

Like Paul says…
“4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4 NIV).

If you fire up your internet browser and type in “the rest is just the details” you’ll get a parade of things that people love.

Golf is life, the rest is just the details.
Football is life, the rest is just the details.
Horses are life, the rest is just the details.
Surfing is life, the rest is just the details.
Sewing is life, the rest is just the details.
Education is life, the rest is just the details.

If the apostle Paul had a Facebook account, he’d have this as his daily status, “Christ is life. The rest is just the details”.

Let’s make that our motto in every area of our lives. If we’re talking mission work, lets start with Christ, the rest is just the details. If we’re talking about our inner faith, lets start with Christ, the rest is just the details.

May the Holy Spirit enable us all to see where we stand through faith in Jesus. As forgiven children of God. And may the clear perception of all that this means for us in this life and in eternity, move us to compassion for those who don’t have this motto. And may the clear perception of all that we have in Christ move us to grow in knowledge of our great God, to His glory, and our eternal security. Amen.

September 11, 2011

More Than Conquerors in Christ - Sep 11, 2011

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For the past three Sundays our sermon readings have come from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians.

These Christians were living in the city of Rome, the capital of the world at the time. At that time, Christianity was a new thing to the world, and it was not well received. As a result, Christians experienced persecution.

The religious Jews viewed Christianity as a perversion of the true Jewish religion. And so they fought against Paul and company. They stirred up crowds in cities and had Christians arrested, beaten, imprisoned and killed.

Sometimes the persecution of Christians originated from Rome itself. During times of persecution by the state, followers of Christ were given the option of either forsaking their faith and worshipping images of Caesar, or dying the most horrible deaths. Men and women of all ages were stoned, burned, crucified and thrown to wild animals in the arena. One Roman emperor even raised pitch soaked Christians on posts and set them on fire to light his night parties.

When persecution was not so openly physical and deadly, it was still present. Because Christians often met in private for the Lord’s Supper, they were accused of cannibalism or infanticide. Natural disasters were seen by pagans as the wrath of the old gods for letting this new and “false” religion to exist.

With this history in mind, it isn’t surprising that Paul would spend a whole chapter of his letter to the Romans on the subject of suffering. He comforts his fellow Christians by telling them to look to the future, and the promised renewal of all things when Christ returns. All the Christian’s sufferings will come to an end on that day.

Paul points them to the present also, reminding them that the same Holy Spirit who brought them to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is still with them. And the Holy Spirit is constantly adding His own perfect prayers to their imperfect ones.

Paul points them to the past also. Revealing to his fellow Christians that even before God created the world, he had already chosen them to come to faith and to receive forgiveness, eternal life in heavenly glory.

In our reading for today, Paul brings his words of comfort to a crescendo. He says that those who trust in Christ are not just future victors; they are more than conquerors NOW in every persecution, suffering and pain.

Paul presents this culmination of encouragement by describing two scenes: the courtroom of God, and the battlefield of earth. His point is the same in both images: through the love of God in Christ Jesus, WE WIN.

First, we hear Paul’s description of God’s courtroom.

Romans 8:31–34 (ESV)

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

When I take the school kids out for recess, we usually play a game called “steal the pin”. This game requires two teams, so the kids line up and captains pick teams. Now, since our school is kindergarten through eighth grade, each team is bound to have a smattering of ages and abilities.

Sometimes the teams are unevenly weighted. One captain picks all the older kids, or the best ball throwers, or the fastest runners. And when that happens, there’s both rejoicing and grumbling.

Now, imagine what would happen if we had some guest players one recess. Say, the NFL quarterback Michael Vick, or the current fastest man alive, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. The rejoicing and the grumbling would be a little louder than usual when teams were finally picked.

That’s the image Paul presents to his fellow Christians in Rome. But it isn’t just some star athlete on some recess team. Paul says GOD is on our side. And if God is on our side, we CAN’T lose!

Paul charges on in verse 32…
“32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV).
Let me tell you a quick story. The other day I was carrying my daughter Carmen down the back stairs of our deck. They’re kinda high stairs, and my heel slipped off one of the steps. Instinctively I threw Carmen into the yard in order to save myself from injury.

Okay, not really.

What I did was clutch her as tightly as possible, allowing my own body to absorb the impact of our fall. What else would a father do?

Now look at God’s record. He took the hit for us. To take our sins away, the Son of God became human, suffered through life while never sinning, died a horrific and excruciating death, including being left alone on the cross to suffer the full weight of hell in our place.

And then there’s God the Father. He stood aside and LET His Son do this for us. Can you imagine the agony of the Father as the Son He had known and cherished from eternity was staked to a cross, mocked, spit on and murdered? And yet because this was the price that HAD to be paid for our sins, He didn’t step in for His Son.

If that’s what the Father is willing to give for us, He’ll give anything He’s got to make sure we reach heaven in the end.

Paul surges forward to more comfort for the suffering Christian in verse 33…
“33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33 ESV).
To this point I’ve been using some non-courtroom images to illustrate Paul’s points. But here Paul delves into the courtroom to show his fellow Christians just how secure our salvation really is.

God is the one who ultimately makes the call in His courtroom. He says guilty or innocent. He’s the judge. As Paul says, it is God who justifies. In the Bible, God says that all who trust in what Jesus did on the cross, are forgiven. No other authority can over-rule His verdict.

Paul even uses that phrase “God’s elect”, to again remind his fellow Christians that we have been chosen by God to be cleansed of our sins through Christ Jesus. He chose us in Christ in eternity, and He pronounces us sinless because of what Christ did in time. The gavel pounds in the eternal courtroom of God, and we are released. None can overturn His decision.

And to add one more detail to this scene of courtroom comfort, Paul mentions someone standing beside the Father. Verse 34...
“34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34 ESV).
There Jesus stands at the right hand of the Father. Paul says, Remember who this is! Jesus is the one who gave His LIFE on the cross, feeling the punishment for each and every one of our sins, IN OUR PLACE. If there’s ever been a witness capable of testifying to the fact that our sentence has been served, it’s Him!

And not only that, Paul says, Remember that He was raised from the dead by the Father. In this way, God put His stamp of approval on the payment Jesus made in our place. If anyone in this courtroom would dare question whether Jesus’ payment was enough to cover all our sins, the Father Himself would weigh in saying, If Jesus’ sacrifice WASN’T enough, then why would I have raised Him from the dead?

It’s at this point that Paul shifts from the image of a courtroom, to the image of a battlefield. This is the battlefield of earth where Paul and his fellow Christians are suffering now.

With all these previous things in mind, Paul says, Answer this question for me…

Romans 8:35–39 (ESV)

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul doesn’t hide from the reality of suffering here. He also doesn’t play it down as if it isn’t so bad. He just puts it in the proper context. The context of Christ’s work of salvation.

All the hard practices, all the injuries, all the sweat and blood that precedes a Super Bowl win are overshadowed by that victory. All the sore muscles, the sick mornings and the painful contractions are overshadowed by the birth of a child.

In the same way, all the sufferings of a Christian in life are overshadowed by the love of Christ which will one day bring that Christian into paradise.

Without Christ, sufferings are a huge source of confusion. A person who doesn’t know the true God looks at suffering and comes to all sorts of false conclusions.

Suffering means a good God doesn’t exist. False. The Bible says suffering exists because Adam and Eve’s sin brought pain and death into the world.

Suffering means God isn’t strong enough to protect me. False. God works in mysterious ways in a world infected with sin. He uses even the evil things that happen to serve His good and perfect plan.

Suffering means God is angry with me over some sin I’ve done. False. Suffering means this is not the world God intended it to be. Suffering here is a warning of what eternity apart from God would be like.

Paul’s outlook on life and suffering is defined by forgiveness through Christ. He sees past all these false conclusions because the Holy Spirit has shown Him the big picture, the ultimate salvation that will be His on the Last Day because of all that Jesus did for Him.

With salvation through Christ as the centerpiece of His worldview, Paul can tell his fellow Christians…
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 ESV).

This is an intriguing statement. More than conquerors? How can that be? How can you be more than the victor?

Think about it like this. In Science, people try to find truth. The scientific method tries to prove something to be true by making a hypothesis, a guess at how something works, and then testing that hypothesis in a systematic way in order to see if it is true or false.

On the way to treating any disease, numerous possible solutions are proposed and tested. Some of these solutions end up being worthless. Others end up helping in some way. But in one sense, no failed hypothesis is ever really a failure because it teaches the scientist SOMETHING. Each failed experiment is a step along the way to a cure. Or a breakthrough in understanding.

The Bible tells us that Jesus died for our sins. Through simple trust in what He did for us, our sins stand forgiven. We have a home in heaven waiting for us. The victory over all the forces of pain and suffering and evil is already ours in Christ.

Viewed in that light, no defeat suffered by the Christian can really be considered a defeat. We can “lose” over and over, but all those losses are really wins because victory is already ours in Christ. Each victory or defeat on the battlefield of earth brings us one step closer to the return of Christ, and to final glory at God’s side.

This is why Paul can say in all our sufferings we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

No no pain inflicted upon us this side of heaven can destroy the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. To put it more simply, if our own sins weren’t able to keep us from God, because God in love took them away through Christ’s cross, what in the world could possibly separate us from God’s love? Certainly not suffering.

The important thing is to keep on putting all our hope for salvation in Him, and in Him alone. All these comforting words from Paul only apply to sinners like us because of what Jesus did for us.

Throughout our study of Romans I’ve been referencing the fact that the apostle Paul wrote this letter. Well, eventually, he didn’t have to write letters to Rome. He was arrested and brought there in chains. This was the second time he was brought to Rome for trial, and this time he wasn’t acquitted. Somewhere around the year 67-68 AD, Paul was convicted of crimes against the state and beheaded.

I would leave you with this final thought. As the blade passed through Paul’s spinal column, and as he passed from this world, HE was the conqueror because he was in CHRIST.

May God enable us also to live through our sufferings as more than conquerors, just like Paul did, and to pass through the finish-line-tape of death to eternal life and victory in Christ Jesus. Our Lord. Amen.

September 4, 2011

Predestined for a Purpose - Sep 4, 2011

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This summer we’ve been working our way through the book of Romans. For the past few Sunday’s we’ve been in Romans chapter 8. In this chapter Paul talks about suffering, and how followers of Christ have comfort in their suffering.

Just like a friend might comfort you during a hard time, Paul notes multiple reasons for Christians to keep trusting in God even when days are hard.

First Paul points to the future. The Bible tells us that one day the universe will be renewed. It will be restored as a place where sin, pain and evil no longer exist. Our bodies will also be restored. No longer infected with sin. No longer able to experience pain, sadness, aging and so on (Romans 8:18-25).

Then Paul moves on to another comfort. We don’t just have hope for the future. Right now the Holy Spirit is with us, and is adding His perfect prayers to our stumbling, bumbling incomplete ones. No matter what we’re going through, we know that the Holy Spirit is praying perfect prayers for us (Romans 8:26-27).

In our reading for today, Paul offers yet another reason for Christians to lift up their heads while suffering. Way back before anything was created, God the Father looked forward in time and chose us to be His own people, to be saved from our sins (Romans 8:28-30).

We were Chosen from Eternity, by God the Father, to be Glorified with His Son.

Romans 8:28–30 (ESV)

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

It’s nice to have someone watching out for you, especially when you’re a little kid at the pool.

Just a few weeks ago, my three year old daughter Carmen started swimming lessons at the Lynnwood pool. We were a little late, but we rushed her in and she joined the rest of the little squids in the shallow end of the pool.

Now, it’s shallow, but Carmen is only a few feet tall. The swim teacher recognized right away that Carmen wasn’t tall enough to reach the bottom.

No problem. While the taller kids practiced blowing bubbles by the side of the pool, the littler ones had a platform to stand on in the pool so they could do the same.

It didn’t take long before Carmen needed rescuing. While the teacher was helping other kids, she started inching closer to the edge of the platform.

“Carmen, keep blowing bubbles AND stay on the platform”, the teacher said as Carmen got closer to the edge.

Testing her boundaries, Carmen stubbornly, and sneakily crept close and closer to the edge until – sploosh! She went under.

Calmly, the teacher reached out and pulled my sputtering little blonde up out of the “deep” and back onto the platform.

Later my wife said that Carmen was never really in danger. My wife said that she had seen both the teacher and the patrolling life guard mark Carmen as soon as she was standing on the platform. They knew what she was up to, even before she did.

I’ll say it again. It’s nice to have someone watching out for you.

In our reading for today, the apostle Paul wants his fellow Christians to know that even before the world was created, God the Father was already watching out for us. Verse 29 says…
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:29 ESV).
This isn’t the only place in the bible that the teaching of Predestination is found. Perhaps the most well known verses on this subject are found in Ephesian 1, verse 3. There Paul tells his fellow Christians…
“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:3–10 NIV).

When we hear that God chose some to be saved, the first thought we might think is, well, that means that God chose the rest to be damned. But that’s not very nice. In fact that’s downright evil. If God made some people just to put them in hell, that would make Him evil. But that’s not what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible clearly tells us that God wants, “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 NKJV).

But, that truth bumps up against something else we know about God. We know that He is all-powerful. So, our human logic says, “If God is all-powerful, and He wants all people to be saved, how come the Bible says some will go to hell?”

Now, it’s likely that the solution for this mystery is bound up in the fact that God created human beings with free-will, not as robots who cannot stray from the program loaded into their minds.

But, even though we can say the solution is somehow connected to free-will, we still can’t identify a solution to this logical problem.

Of course, religious teachers throughout the ages have TRIED to reason this conundrum out. Some dispose of free-will and say that God chose some to be saved, and some to be damned, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But that’s not biblical. This kind of thinking makes God into a monster.

Others say salvation is either chosen or rejected by sinful man. In other words, WE decide to be saved or damned. But this also is not biblical. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit creates faith, not man. We don’t CHOOSE to believe, the Spirit convinces us that Jesus is our Savior through the Word of God.

The Bible teaches that God gets full credit for saving sinners, while the sinful person gets all the blame for being damned. This is not logical to our human minds, but all the same, it is what the Bible teaches, and what Christians believe.

Now, I’ve taken the time to elaborate on predestination because I think it’s important that we understand what God says and what He does not. But Paul doesn’t elaborate on all this right here in Romans 8 because his point here is to comfort his fellow Christians who are suffering. And that’s what the teaching of predestination is for. God lets us in on the mind boggling teaching of predestination so that we will be comforted by His concern and plan for us. A plan which is older than dirt. A plan whose origin stretches back into the eternal mind of God.

Look again at our reading. Verse 28
“28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”(Romans 8:28–30 ESV).
Paul’s point is that in eternity, God chose us, and in time He reached out to take hold of us through the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus. Christians, if God is really this involved in our lives, than we should be confident that EVERYTHING that happens in life will be used by God for our benefit. Whether it’s something good or bad.

My brother Seth is a teacher. He once told me that some of the best lessons, he learned from the worst teachers. He learned what NOT to do.

Or think of the person who loses their job (BAD), only to find better work (GOOD). Maybe not higher paying work, but work that is more fulfilling, or better in some other way.

God uses the good and the bad events in the lives of Christians to benefit them. This should move us to trust God no matter what happens. Like it says in Eccelsiastes
“14 When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14 NIV).

Paul doesn’t just tell us that we have been chosen by the Father to be saved. He adds more detail. He says we’ve been predestined to be called through the Gospel of Christ and molded to resemble Jesus.

Verse 29 says…
“29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29 ESV).
Earlier in Romans, Paul talked about how through faith in Jesus, we become children of God. And as children of God we have the inheritance of heaven to look forward to. Here in verse 29 Paul tells us that there’s more to being children of God than receiving a heavenly inheritance. As children of God we are also called to receive the family resemblance.

Just as members of families resemble each other in their outward appearance, the members of God’s faith-family resemble each other. They take on the look of Jesus, God’s Son.

Paul says that this is part of God’s purpose in predestining us. He wants us to look like Jesus, not like the children of the world.

Not long ago there were all sorts of bracelets, bumper stickers and t-shirts springing up that asked the question, “What would Jesus do?” And that’s good question for Christians to ask themselves. First we ask, “What DID Jesus do?” And the answer is, He lived, suffered and died so that all my sins stand forgiven before God the Father. But after that, we ask “How should I live as a forgiven sinner?” And the answer is - do what Jesus would do.

Paul once wrote a letter to a young pastor named Timothy. And in that letter Paul instructed him…
“11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” (1 Timothy 6:11-12a NIV).

Fighting the good fight of faith. Talking hold of the eternal life to which we were called. This means not clicking on the soft-porn offered on the side of your web-browser. This means trusting God instead of money. This means seeking to help our grumpy and difficult neighbors. This means patiently correcting our children when their behavior is bad. In all these ways and in so many other we are taking hold of the eternal life that we have been given through faith in Christ. In all these ways we are living the NEW life God always had planned for us. That life starts NOW, not in heaven.

Really living as God’s children is part of Paul’s message here. But again, the main point is to comfort Christians in their suffering.

Look once more at verse 30. Paul directs his fellow Christians to see the overarching plan of God.
“…those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28–30 ESV).
Paul could have simply said, “those God predestined he also called, justified and glorified”. But He doesn’t say it that way. He spreads it all out to remind us that this domino effect is what God always had in mind. He set these dominos up in eternity with the purpose that each stage would follow the last. Paul’s point – God’s will for you will happen.

Like God says in Isaiah 55
“10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11-12 NIV).

See the power of God in your life. In the future He will watch over you in heaven. Now, His Holy Spirit watches over you in life. And in the past, before the world began, God was already watching over you, and planning the events that would lead you to trust in Jesus for forgiveness. Planning the events that would lead you into His family forever.

No matter what may come, it must serve God’s purpose. Let this bring you comfort, even in pain and sorrow. Let this remind you to do what it says in Psalm 46, verse 10
“Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10 NIV).