Tag Archives: hope

Galatians 2:15-16; Brief Thoughts

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Tribal identification offers a certain level of confidence for the average person. It allows us to create a division between those we deem “less than” and ourselves. Labels and distinctions are often methods we use to form identities for ourselves and they provide tools by which we can categorize others. These tribal identifications can be useful when the definitions are clear and universally accepted. They can also be dangerous when they are misunderstood or given too much credence.

Paul is a Jew. That is his tribal identification. A people group that was selected by God from all the nations of the earth, led by His voice and Law throughout their history, provided for by His miraculous hand and used as His representatives on the earth. Quite a pedigree indeed! There is a great deal to be proud of in this tribal identification. Paul states, “we are Jews.” In stating this identification, Paul is asserting his own superior pedigree above the “Gentile sinners” mentioned next. Indeed, the Jewish people were given the Law and the prophets (Romans 3:1-2). The Jews are the people who have been given the Law of God and are His chosen people.

Further, note that Paul says, “We ourselves are Jews BY BIRTH.” He did not join Judaism by choice. He was born into it. He also was favored to be Jewish from the moment he came into existence. Unlike the “Gentile sinner,” Paul and his brothers were chosen as Jews. While there are numerous benefits to tribal identity, there are also some requirements. For the Jew, circumcision is required. A man must be circumcised to be a Jew. It is the identifying act given to Abraham in Genesis 17 and a part of the law that the Jews were handed down in the desert in Leviticus 12:3. So important was this identifying mark that Exodus 12 commands that the slaves of the household and those who are merely interested in observing the Passover ought to be circumcised as well.  Paul’s identity as a Jew demanded that he obey and observe certain parts of the law, for the law is for the Jews. Gentiles do not have the law. They are sinners, lawless and separated from the people of God.

What a terrifying identity to live in – one who is deemed a “Gentile sinner” before the judgment throne of God. A Gentile sinner has no hope of being accepted by God. He must become a Jew and even then he is only allowed admittance as a second class citizen and must obey the Law completely in order to be made righteous in God’s sight! In stark contrast to the Jew by birth, the Gentile sinner must accomplish an impossible task – they must become righteous after having been born unrighteous! This would be a horrific state indeed were it not for the next verse.

No tribal identification can make someone righteous. Righteousness is not achieved by the works of the law. Being a Jew, Paul had great confidence in the law and the works of the law, yet he was acutely aware of the truth that the law cannot and does not save a person. The only thing that does save a person is faith in Jesus Christ. Oh friend, can you not see that no amount of work can justify you before God!? He is holy and perfect. He has no fault within His being or actions. You stand before Him, a rebel to His perfection. What can you do to remedy such a sorry state? You can’t fulfill the law because you have already broken it in one place or another. You have one recourse of action. Throw yourself upon the mercy of Christ and trust Him to save you! Believe that Jesus, the Son of God: lived a perfect life, died on the cross to cover your sins, and rose again to bring life eternal to all who will trust Him! Salvation is at hand, just believe. No one is justified by works of the Law. Your tribal identity cannot save you. Your only hope is in Christ’s atoning work on the cross!

Paul recognized that salvation was beyond Judaism. Salvation comes from Christ and Christ is something more than Judaism. The law cannot save. Judaism and the religious systems and identities to which we cling so tightly offer no hope of salvation. While they may offer some enjoyment and understanding of how to live in this life, they offer no salvation. Only a complete surrender of identity to Christ will bring justification. “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Your own righteous deeds in obedience to the law cannot save. Being a Jew cannot save. Only Christ and His life will save!

Repent and believe, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

Brief Thoughts: Philemon 4-5

4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints,

Philemon was a house church leader in Colossae. His prominence among the community of faith was one that held sway and influence over a number of brothers and sisters in Christ. So Paul begins his instruction to Philemon by reminding Philemon of their mutual relationship. Though Paul is in prison and Philemon is in comfort, they share a shepherding relationship in the church. Confrontation looming, Paul seeks to remind his brother, Philemon, of that relationship.

Paul begins to approach the issues that need addressing by praising God for the good Philemon has done. Invoking the authority of God and, thereby, passively reminding Philemon of God’s position in their relationship. Paul’s reminder to Philemon in verse 4 is a not-so-subtle attempt to remind Philemon that he is being brought before God. Anytime someone says they have been thanking God for you, it ought to make you examine yourself to see if there is anything God is going to correct. This is especially true when a man such as Paul reminds you that he has labored over you in prayer. As a student wanting to please his teacher, so Philemon must have had some desire to please Paul, the great missionary founder of the churches in Asia.

The reason for gratitude over Philemon is the news of his love and faith. Philemon has made sacrifices for the community. He voluntarily gives over his home and time to the work of the Lord. This is a unique sacrifice that should not be overlooked. While Philemon may or may not be an elder (scripture does not tell us if he held the title pastor), he is the host of the church. Hosts don’t get time off. Hosts surrender their own space so that the community can meet in their home. If someone else is tired or sick, they can stay home and just skip for the week. But the host cannot. So Philemon has shown himself to be loving and faithful.

Moreover, Paul is probably referencing even further dedication to the love of the saints and the provision of their needs. It is, no doubt, with great joy that Paul prays in gratitude for Philemon. His constant care and love for the church has made its way to Paul’s ear. Paul, who founded the churches of Asia and dealt specifically with riots, rejection, and all sorts of pitfalls, must find extreme delight in those who carry on the work when he is gone.

Take note that Paul is particularly struck by his love toward “Jesus and all the saints.” Philemon is gently reminded that his love for Jesus is good and that it extends to ALL the saints. Not merely those of high social standing or those who are in particular positions of prominence. The love of Jesus must extend through the hearts of His disciples to everyone. Jesus’ own words explain this even further in Matthew 25:31-40 when He speaks about the final judgment and the day that the King will say to those who are condemned that they have failed to provide for the least and therefore have failed to provide for Him. Loving the lowest in society is loving Jesus. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of God. There is only one King and He made himself lowest (C.f. John 13). We are to follow His example and be as He is.

The gospel is the great equalizer. Titles of “slave” and “master” are no longer applicable in the context of the gospel. Philemon’s relationship to Onesimus has transformed from slave to brother. To what extent does the gospel change society’s structure? To what end does the gospel defy the social morae’s of the time? In every way! The gospel defies injustice and demands that believers live above the base morality of society. When a believer is confronted with injustice they make war against it. Believers do not submit to the unjust luxuries of society no matter how integrated they may be. Slavery was an integral part of society in the first century. No matter how easy it made life or how dependent on slavery the economic structure may have been, Christians are called to live the gospel! That means there can no longer be slaves. The gospel must transform all of life. We should not be surprised if the gospel requires great cost from those who believe. After all, we are all once slaves, now free.

Philemon 1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Paul and Timothy write to Philemon to encourage him to welcome Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother in Christ and to free him from slavery to sin and death. As they have been freed in Christ, so the gospel is one that should set every man free from slavery both spiritual and physical. In this simple letter, Paul endeavors to engage Philemon as a brother and encourage him to voluntarily forgive Onesimus and make him a brother, no longer a slave. Whatever offense Onesimus has caused, Philemon needs to be able to forgive it and do what is right. That is to say, Philemon needs to be able to forgive the past and free the slave – because that’s what the gospel does.

This greeting identifies Paul as a victim of circumstantial wickedness (imprisonment for Christ) like Onesimus (a victim of slavery). It also sets Paul apart from Philemon. Paul was alone with only Timothy to support him. Indeed, he had been abandoned by many! Contrary to Paul, Philemon is surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even lists, specifically, a “sister and a “soldier.” A family member and a protector. Whereas Paul is condemned by soldiers of a wicked government, Philemon has a soldier of Christ in his home! Whereas Paul has only Timothy to console him, Philemon has an entire church! The stark contrast between luxury and prison cannot be lost. Paul is clearly making a point by asserting the blessings of Philemon. It is as if Paul is saying, “you have no reason for complaint about property, condition, or company.” It is no great thing for Philemon to release a slave in order to gain a brother.

Further, Paul knows that others are watching Philemon and he is reminding Philemon that he has the eyes of others upon him. The church that he labors to serve as a “fellow worker” is the very audience to which he is attempting to model Christ. So it stands to reason: if Philemon wishes to display the freedom of Christ and the love of Christ in his own actions, then it follows that he should forgive Onesimus and set him free. Paul’s greeting serves as both a loving salutation and a gentle reminder of the responsibility of one who leads the church.

Finally, Paul’s greeting to Philemon passively asserts the truth that no one in the church should compartmentalize their lives to allow un-forgiveness. Philemon is a part of a community. That community meets in his home and is intimately acquainted with him. Philemon cannot avoid them or live hypocritically before them. This is the nature of a healthy church community. A healthy church is one in which members of the body cannot hide from each other. They cannot simply pretend that they are holy and pursuing Christ in all areas of life and then simply go home and do as they please. Healthy communities engage each other on a level that does not allow for isolation and compartmentalization.

Unfortunately, compartmentalized faith is all too common in the modern western church. Men will serve as bastions of holiness in their church community while living a debauched life away from that community. Women will put themselves pillars of godly womanhood when present in their church, then they will gossip and slander others when away from the community. In a healthy church, this should not happen. A healthy church is in contact with each other in all spheres of life. The eyes of the church community are all looking out for one another and are helping to urge one another on towards unity. There is no hiding when you have surrendered your life to the exposing light of Jesus Christ. Love exposes our failures and redirects us to love one another through a personal connection.

Do you have a community like this? Philemon was held accountable by loving brothers and sisters. Such accountability would, no doubt, give him the support and love to forgive Onesimus and bring him into the community. Do you compartmentalize your faith from your everyday life? Strive to serve and love others in a transparent community of faith! Surrender your privacy so that you might delight in the community of Christ.

The I pastor strives to live in this sort of authentic community. If you live anywhere near Brazoria, TX, come join us as we struggle to live transparent lives worshiping the King of Glory together! We don’t always get it right, and we are far from perfect. Come walk this life in community. More info available here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Colossians 1:17: Brief thoughts

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Before the light burst forth into the void, before the waters that covered the earth laid their torrent upon the land, before the land rose to peaks and habitable pastures, and before the earth existed, Jesus, the Christ, existed. He was there before time. He was there before the fall of man that so grievously broke the communion of creation with Creator. He was present before the first leaf blossomed and directed the unfolding of all creation. His tender hand saw fit to mold the earth in the beauty of His love. Every blade of grass, every creeping animal, and every aspect of creation came into existence by His voice.

Jesus is before all things. He existed before time could measure existence. Further, He created all things and “In Him all things hold together” (v.17). In the beginning, God created an earth that was filled with beauty and was perfect. Mankind’s sin fractured and damaged that creation to the point of continuous slow decay. As a result, death entered the world and now death rules. However, Jesus’ grace upon creation has not ceased. So great was the sin of man that all of creation could have been justifiably obliterated. Yet, God saw fit to redeem His creation and in love worked to sustain that creation. In spite of man’s willful rejection of God, God acts in grace, even before Christ came to the cross. Jesus holds all things together, maintaining His creation. It is because of grace that the world does not spin out of control.

In saying that Jesus “holds all things together,” Paul is recognizing a kind of common grace to all mankind. God, in His infinite grace, allows wicked men to persist in living. He patiently waits for those who will repent and believe. His restraining hand holds back the effects of sin. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul repeats that God “gave [men] over” to their sin. In this simple phrase, Paul explains that God is restraining evil to the extent of restraining the consequences on the heart of men. So it is that common grace exists. This common grace is the grace to breathe air and live. This common grace is found in the ability to exist. It is called grace, because no one actually deserves life. The result of sin is death. The patience of God is common grace that does not demand immediate remittance of that debt. Man has rejected God. Still, Jesus holds all things together: this is grace.

Not only is Jesus sustaining life, He also makes sense of all things. In one sense He holds all things together, literally sustaining life. In another sense He holds all things together in that life has purpose and reason in Him. Jesus holds all things together because He is the purpose of creation. Creation exists to glorify God. In Jesus man is given the ability to glorify God. Thus, Jesus holds, within Himself, purpose. It is in knowing Him that trials and joys make sense. Without Him, nothing makes sense and all is meaningless. The life of a man is a vapor (James 4:14). In Jesus, life is eternal and has significance beyond the grave. Without Him, life is a meaningless mist that is here for a moment and is quickly dispelled by the winds of death. A man can either, delight in Jesus and live a meaningful life that extends beyond the momentary vapor of this temporal existence, or he can deny the truth of Christ and waste the vapor.

The glorious God of all creation has come to make Himself known to you. He is before all things. He has seen your every failing and rejection of Him. He has patiently waited for you to know Him. He holds you together. Further, He calls you to purpose. He has granted you some semblance of reason to your life. Praise God!

Colossians 1:15; brief thoughts

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Sin blinded the eyes of mankind so that no man could see God. The very image of God was marred and broken by the fall of man. In the beginning, God created mankind in the image of God and commissioned man and woman to spread His image and glory across the world (Genesis 1:26-28). Yet, Adam sinned and as a result, the image of God was shattered (C.f. Romans 5). As history has progressed, God’s image has become more and more depraved through the work and sin of man. Indeed, so great is the fall of man, that man no longer resembles the image of God.

The loss of this image is the loss of communion with God. God’s creation has been severed from Him by sin: the willful rejection of God by the beings that are supposed to reflect Him. God began His work with the intention of spreading His own image across the earth. His mission has not changed. Christ comes as the image of God. He is the perfect reflection of the glory and character of God. Being God, Himself, Christ is God. Thus, when you have seen Christ, you have seen the Father (John 14:9). That severed communion is re-created and restored in Jesus Christ. In knowing Jesus, we can know God.

The image of God is the son of God. He is the heir to all that God has. Jesus, being one with God, is also distinct as the second person of the Trinity. He is the Son. He is the image of God and bears the same essence as God, yet remains uniquely individual. His position in the Trinity is best understood in human terms as, Son. In this way, we can understand that He inherits all the wealth of God. This is what is meant by “firstborn.” This is not to say that Jesus was a created being. He was not created. He has been God from the beginning (c.f. John 1:1-5). He was not created but born. The terminology of birth here is specifically addressing priority. Jesus is firstborn of creation in the sense that He is the first in priority.[1]

Jesus is the image of God, and the firstborn. Consider for a moment the implications of such truth. In Jesus, men can see what is invisible. The invisible God of all creation is made visible in Jesus Christ. Further, He is the One on whom priority in all things rest. He is the first to be worthy. He is the first to be recognized. He is the first to be worshiped. He is the first to receive glory. He is the first to be honored. He is the first to speak. He is the first to whom one should listen. He is the first in authority. He is first in position. He is first in majesty. He is first in mankind’s affections. He is the first to work. He is the first! He is first. There are too many things and people to which western Christianity ascribes priority. Too many things take the place of first priority over following and knowing Jesus. Yet, Jesus remains first. If anything else stands in front of Him, then truth is lost.

Jesus is not granted the priority based on man’s acceptance of that order. Rather, Jesus is given priority because that priority is the truth. Jesus being firstborn does not depend on man’s opinion of His position or authority. He simply is firstborn. He is the Son of God. This is truth and it needs no validation from humanity. All the earth could reject Jesus Christ and still, He remains: the image of God, firstborn.

 

[1] For a fuller examination of this I recommend John MacArthur’s commentary on Colossians.

Colossians 1:13-14; Brief Thoughts

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. [1]

The Father has “qualified” believers to be adopted as children of God. He qualified believers by making them worthy. Verses 13-14 explain what it is that God did to make Christians worthy. In one motion, God has moved those who trust in Him from darkness to light in Jesus Christ.

People need rescue. Every individual is guilty of sin against a holy and magnificent King, who has every right to destroy all of humanity. Mankind has rejected God’s authority and determined to find righteousness on their own. In doing so, humanity has embraced the darkness and consciously rejected the Creator. The Bible articulates this reality using terms such as “sons of disobedience,” “children of slavery,” “accursed children,” and “children of the devil”(Ephesians 5:6, Galatians 4:31, 2 Peter 2:14, and 1 John 3:10). God has, first, rescued believers from the “domain of darkness” (v.13).

The “domain of darkness.” Before trusting in Christ all of humanity is under the rule of darkness. Darkness floods the soul of man making it impossible to discern between good and evil. On the rare occasion that a person does achieves some sort of altruistic motives, the darkness that blinds that person will inevitably destroy any positive work that one can muster. People are so blinded that they will not live up to the righteous requirements of a holy and perfect God. Further, this world is dark. Darkness has a level of dictatorship over the world in which humanity walks. This is what Paul means when he asserts that “the days are evil” and that the “natural man does not accept the things of God” (Eph. 5:16 and 1 Cor. 2:14). Darkness has such tyrannical control over the minds of people that there is an overwhelming unwillingness to pursue righteousness. But hope remains, God, the Father has rescued those who trust in Jesus from the control and authority of darkness. The power of darkness to blind the eyes of man has been overcome. The authority of sin in the life of a believer has been defeated because of Jesus. No longer is a believer subject to the dominion of evil. Now a believer is a child of the light and lives with the freedom to reject sin.

The believer’s freedom is secured by their citizenship. While darkness reigned over the unbeliever, the believer now is secure in the kingdom of Jesus. In contrast to the slavery of darkness, the kingdom of Jesus Christ offers freedom. Freedom to reject sin and pursue holiness. While in darkness, humanity is incapable and unwilling to reject sin. The nature of man is so bent towards darkness that righteousness seems utterly absurd. Yet, once transferred to the citizenship of heaven, the believer is empowered to stand against sin and pursue holiness. The worthy Christian life is made possible by the destruction of sins power and the transfer of allegiance.

To be a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom is to live in stark contrast to darkness. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Light exposes people and places on display the truth of character. Darkness hides the truth and allows wickedness to go unchecked. Light declares and embraces the disparity between God’s holiness and man’s unrighteousness. Darkness attempts to deny such disparate conditions. Light reveals both the need of man and the love of God. Darkness deceives unrighteous men into believing that they are righteous and have no need of God’s love. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is the Kingdom of light.

Jesus serves as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of those who believe. He has redeemed His saints and has forgiven their sins. All who trust in Jesus are forgiven and redeemed. All who trust in Jesus can stand before God and know His love and call Him Father (c.f. John 20:17). Before Christ, humanity views God as an enemy while resting in the false comfort of darkness. After Christ, the darkness is exposed and driven away to reveal the beauty of God’s love for His own and the nature of a believer is changed in view of His holiness.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 1:13–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

4 Observations from Piles of Trash

The smell of decay and death that flooded these homes slowly begins to fade. As the rivers have returned to the confinement of their banks and people have begun the marathon labor of restoring their homes, the remains of death line the roads. Putrid heaps of near toxic, mold-covered trash block the view of once beautifully simple homes.

FullSizeRender (2)Like many in my community, I have been working hard to help people remove waste from their home. Tearing out sheetrock, flooring, destroyed treasure, appliances, etc… It has been a grueling process. I had just completed yet another session of spraying someone else’s home with mold remediation when I was overcome by the view of the street. The devastation is so great that you can smell the decay from inside the car. I was paralyzed as the realization struck me: this is not trash on the side of the road, this is lives and history wiped out in a moment. Those carpets and walls are years spent with children and family. Those piles of trash are someone’s hopes buried inside a tomb of river water. As I struggle to understand and process such tremendous devastation I have been struck by a few observations:

  1. The value of life is not in “things.”

These heaps of destroyed dreams offer an image of life that cannot be easily dismissed. We invest our lives and money in material goods, building homes and putting our monetary resources into “things” that can be easily stripped from us in a moment.  It’s important to note, that the value is not actually in the “things.” The value of this life is not something that can be so easily destroyed. These things only have value because they represent experiences, moments, memories, and relationships. Those things cannot be stripped from you. Cling to those intangible realities of life.

  1. Restoration/ Redemption is painful

When tearing someone’s life apart in order to restore, the old must be torn (literally) from the framework of the home, in order to clean and redeem the home. Life is no different. Our lives are flooded with death and decay because of sin. Born into a world of death, we have only one hope. Jesus offers that hope. When we recognize our sin, admit that we have rejected life, and trust in Him to redeem our souls; then He works in our hearts and redeems. There is much work to be done in the life of a redeemed sinner. The old must be torn away. This process is hard and sometimes painful. It is painful because it is removing a part of who you are. Indeed, it is tearing down what you once thought wonderful, in favor of a potential of who you could be. But having a home that is livable is worth it. Redemption is worth it.

  1. You need help.

Many people where I live did not have insurance. More do not have true community. It has been beautiful to watch as the church community in my area has dropped the pretense and labored to serve the community. Churches in my town have lists of homes that are being worked through. As people have called, the church has answered! When disaster hits, we need each other. When the rivers rise and destroy, we need help. Often overlooked, this simple truth is a key tenant of Christianity. The Christian life is best lived in community together. We need brothers and sisters to help us identify what is waste and what is not. We need the help of Christian community to carry out demolition and drag piles of waste to the curb. We need each other.

  1. To be restored, your home will have to be gutted first.

The work of restoration begins when the house has been fully gutted and all the inner workings of the house have been completely exposed. So it is with life. In order for restoration and redemption to take place, transparency is necessary. You must be willing to be laid bare before the world. Our inner life must be completely stripped and the Spirit of God given rule over the reconstruction work of the soul.

Though I weep for those who have lost everything and yet I know there is hope. I know restoration of homes can and will bring life from death. The process is long and hard. Many will suffer depression and despair as their labor and life have been razed to the ground. Yet, as time progresses and the people of God serve and love their neighbors, life will be brought from death. Homes will be restored, memories will remain, and life will begin anew. This is the hope. Life springs up out of death. Redemption from the flood.