Monthly Archives: February 2012

Holding It Together

Fear is powerful. It can prevent us from doing what we otherwise would want to do. It can keep us from doing what we know we should do. The fear of nature, the fear of men, the fear of the unknown, all can paralyze us.

But what are the things that compel our fear? How are they formed? Where does their power come from?

The answer is in Colossians 1:17:

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (ESV)

Christ, we are reminded, is before all things. The Greek actually says (in present-tense indicative, if that matters) that He “is in existence prior to all things.” That is, He both now exists and existed before anything else existed. No power or force existed before Christ. No earthquake, no hurricane, no tidal wave, no storm was unleashed prior to Him.

What is more, we are told that in Him all things hold together. That is, they are combined together as they are and continue to be what they are, by Him. They are put together by Christ and do what they do because of Christ.  The power or force that any thing exerts is put there by Christ. Every earthquake, each hurricane, every tidal wave, each storm is placed where it is (and does what it does) by Him.

Our understanding of that is crucial. It means that the things we might fear are not powerful in themselves. Our fears are misplaced if our fears are directed against nature, men, or the unknown. They may have power, but all their strength really comes from and through Christ, who exists now as He did before they did, and who continues to hold and distribute their power as He sees fit.

Our fear and awe should be not of the things around us, but of Him.

The disciples of Jesus were frightened on several occasions. One of them is reported in Luke 8:22-25, (also Mark 4:35-41 and Matthew 8:23-27). One evening, near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus got into a boat with the disciples and told them to go to the other side of the sea. Jesus fell asleep, and a tremendous storm came up, causing the boat to fill with water. At this point, the disciples, many of whom were skilled at navigating these very waters in all kinds of weather, became alarmed that they were going to die. They woke Jesus up with the words “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Jesus then rebuked the wind and the waves, bringing calm to the sea. After rebuking nature, Jesus rebuked the disciples, asking, “Where is your faith?” The response of the disciples to this is interesting. Luke 8:25 says that THEN the disciples were afraid!

Even though they thought they knew Jesus, they learned then that He was utterly and completely in control. That frightened them.

The Man who fell asleep in that tiny boat that evening existed before the Sea they floated upon was formed. He formed that Sea, and the power of its waves was the power that He imparted to them. He existed before the wind that blew so fiercely that evening, and the force in the wind was the force that He imparted to it.

The other men in that tiny boat on that vast Sea learned that truth that evening, when the things that He had commanded into existence obeyed Him again. At that moment, those men understood that the things they might have feared were under the command of Christ. Now He, rather than those things, became the object of their fear, awe, and wonderment.

We must learn that lesson. The things we fear did not exist before Christ, and He exists and will exist even after they have spent all their force and power. The things we fear have no existence and no strength outside of Christ, and His power and strength will continue even after He stops sustaining those things.

Whether we fear storms or disasters or men, the things we fear only exist and do what they do by His authority and His design. Let us not fear what they can do, but what He can do.

The same Christ who commanded the sea and wind said “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” in Luke 12:4-5 (ESV).

But, He also offered comfort to all those who, like the disciples, call out to Him, “Master, we are perishing!” He said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.”-Luke 12:6-8 (ESV)

He is still “before all things.” All things still “hold together in Him.” He still calms the Sea when He is called upon. And, after He has done so, He still asks, “Where is your faith?”


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Exalted Firstborn


The highest, most exalted position in a family is that of the firstborn. This was especially true in ancient times, when the firstborn son of a king was the heir to the position held by his father. He was the one who would inherit the rights and privileges of his father. The firstborn had priority over all his brothers.  He was a part of the family, and he was one of the brothers, but his place was first among all those with whom he shared the family name.

This is the sense in which we learn of Christ that

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. -Colossians 1:15-16, ESV

What does this tell us about Christ?

Christ is the highest and most exalted because He is the image of the invisible God.

That is, as the Son, He is like His Father. He is the likeness of His Father in every respect. Only He can make that claim. As Jesus said of Himself, “I and the Father are one.” (in John 10:30) To know Jesus is to know His Father, as He said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (in John 14:7, ESV). To see Jesus is to see His Father, as He said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (in John 14:9, ESV). Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him (see John 14:11).

Christ is the highest and most exalted because He is the firstborn of all creation.

This does not mean that Christ is a created being, but rather that He is the rightful owner of Creation.  One might have called the son of a king “the firstborn of the land” but that would not mean that the king’s son sprang up out of the ground! Rather, to call the king’s son “the firstborn of the land” would have been acknowledging that the son of the king had the right and authority to rule and possess the whole land in which he lived. Similarly, to say that Christ is the “firstborn of creation” does not mean that He was created or came out of the creation. Rather, to call Him “the firstborn of all creation” is to say that He is the rightful possessor and ruler of the Creation into which He came to dwell in the flesh. As the firstborn Son over all Creation, Jesus Christ has the ownership of and authority over all of Creation. Jesus declared ( in John 3:35), “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” He also made His right to rule and possess all creation clear when He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” (in Matthew 28:18).

Christ is the highest and most exalted because everything was made by and through Him.

Before taking on flesh and entering His creation, Christ, as the eternal Son of God, was active with His Father in the process of Creation.  John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (ESV)  Nothing is left out. Everything created that you can see– stars, planets, asteroids,  oceans, whales, elephants, puppies, mosquitos, amoebas –could rightfully be stamped “Made by Him.”  All the created things that you can’t see– black holes, angels, gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces, atoms, muons, the vacuum of space — were made by Him, too. What is more, all the thrones, dominions, and rulers were made by Him; all the spiritual, political, economic, and social powers in the world are His creation. Since He is the maker of everything, it is all under Him and exists due to His power and His control.

Christ is the highest and most exalted because everything was made for Him.

The universe and everything in it was made so that Christ could possess it. It was made as a kingdom for Him to rule. All of history is leading up to the climax of His possession of His kingdom. As Revelation 11:15 says, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

But, of course there is something else that makes Christ the highest and most exalted.

This exalted Christ–  the perfect likeness of God, the heir of all creation,  the one by whom, through whom and for whom all creation was made– set aside His exalted firstborn status.  He came into His creation for the sake of those whom He created. What is more remarkable, He came into His Creation to save the very ones  who rebelled against His rule and authority over Creation. He lowered Himself to the status of one of His creatures, and then lowered Himself further by dying as one of them. This was all so that those who turn from their rebellion against Him and trust in Him to save them would be saved from His wrath by His work.

If you have not turned from your rebellion against God and trusted in the exalted firstborn, what He has done should show you how serious it is to remain in rebellion. His call is to repent and believe in what He has done, because “…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (see Acts 4:12)

If you have turned to Christ and trusted in the sacrifice of the exalted firstborn of Creation, then meditate upon Who He is, and marvel at what He has done for you.

Exalt the Firstborn of Creation.

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Invisible Mercy

God is invisible. That fact creates speculation and misinterpretation.

People who don’t know better think that God is invisible because He does not exist. They liken Him to an “imaginary friend,” who lives only in the thoughts and hopes of the deluded faithful.

Even those who say that they believe in God suspect, although they may not say so, that God is invisible because He is in some sense less “real” than the visible world around us. They reason that He is spirit, and that spiritual things exist as sort of shadows of the more tangible and solid physical world.

Both of these ideas are incorrect. The truth is simple.

God is invisible because of His mercy.

God knows that no one can see Him and live, (see Genesis 33:19) and so in His mercy, God prevents us from seeing Him. If we did see Him, we would die.

Even Moses, to whom God spoke as one would speak to a friend (see Exodus 33:11), was prevented from actually seeing Him. On Mount Horeb, Moses asked God to show him His glory (in Exodus 33:18). God then declared to Moses His mercy, saying that He will be gracious to whom He would be gracious, and will show mercy to whom He will show mercy (in Exodus 33:19). Mercifully, He then immediately reminded Moses that no man could see Him and live. Instead, God offered to make all His goodness pass before Moses, without allowing Moses to see His face  (in Exodus 33:20-23).

The next day, the Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed Himself, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”  (-Exodus 34:6-7, ESV)

We are reminded of the mercy of the invisible God in Colossians 1:14-15, when we are told of Christ,

…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God,… (ESV)

In Christ, in Whom are the redemption of God and the forgiveness of God, we “see” the image of the invisible God. The glory of God that Moses beheld, we can see in Christ. He is the perfect likeness of the merciful God who makes Himself invisible in His mercy. In Christ, we see the the God who is merciful and gracious. In Christ, we see the God who is slow to anger. In Christ, we see the God who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin without clearing the guilty. In Christ, we see the God who abounds in steadfast love (grace) and faithfulness (truth).

As John says,

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (-John 1:14, 16-18, ESV)

Because God is merciful, we cannot see Him. In His mercy, He has made Himself known to you, however, in Christ.

What is more, by receiving Him and the mercy of God, you can be given even more than a glimpse at the invisible God.

… to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (- John 1:12, ESV)

If you have received Him and believed in His name, you have seen the glory of God. You are now the child of God.

Declare the mercy of Christ, the image of God, Whose glory you, like Moses, have seen by the mercy of God.

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Out of Darkness

Children are frequently afraid of the dark. The dark hides all kinds of things. To a child they are mysterious, terrible, and frightening.

Most adults are not afraid of the dark. Maybe we should be.

On the first day of Creation, God called light into existence. In Genesis 1:3-4, God called the light He created “good,” but He made no such pronouncement upon the darkness. Instead, He separated the light that He made from the darkness.

From that point on, Scripture associates darkness not only with the absence of light but also the absence of God’s presence and work.

Not frightened yet?

1 Samuel 2:9 says “He will guard the feet of His faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness.” Psalm 107:10-11 says, “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.” Isaiah 8:22 says of those who don’t trust God, “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”

Feel any twinges?

In Matthew 8:10-12, Jesus said that those who reject Him “will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In His parable about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 22:2-14, Jesus spoke about the interloper who was not clothed properly for the Heavenly Wedding. Describing that man’s fate, He said, “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”

That place of “outer darkness” is a frightening prospect. It should be. It is the place where every soul who rebels against the God of light deserves to reside.

But, for those who trust in Christ, the Father has done something marvelous, as Colossians 1:13-14 tells us:

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

We once belonged to the domain of darkness. The place that Jesus described as “outer darkness” was once our place. We were in the realm in which we would be weeping and gnashing our teeth.

But the Father has delivered us from that domain.
We are rescued.
He has drawn us out from that terrible and frightening region. As a man might pluck a bound and helpless child from the squalid dark hiding place of his kidnappers, He has pulled us out of the mirky darkness of our wrath.

He has transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son.
We are now safe.
He has placed us into the trusted arms of the Heir of Creation, and made us His subjects, His very own precious possession. We are secure, in a home that will stand forever, in the Kingdom that shall never end, in the arms of the King who will always reign.

In Him, Christ, we have redemption.
Our rescue is compete.
Not only are we no longer in the darkness, but because His Son has paid the ransom, the bond, the obligation holding us in darkness, the darkness has no further claims upon us or strength to retake us.

In Him, Christ, we have forgiveness of sins.
Our future is secure.
The sins of the past that made darkness our home are all forgiven, and thus darkness is no longer our lodging. The sins of the future, which we might fear will send us back to darkness, are all forever forgiven as well.

We need no longer fear the darkness, because in Christ we have complete forgiveness, forever.

If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ, the Son God sent into the world to die for the rescue of those who are in darkness, think. You may be rescued.  As 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)

For all who are in Christ, Peter describes our new position, and what we are to do, now that the fear of darkness is forever dispelled.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – I Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Let us remember where we once belonged, and rejoice in the condition we now enjoy, praising forever the One who has done it all!



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“We’re sorry, you don’t qualify.”

If you’ve ever heard or read those words before, you know how disappointing they are. Hopes may be dashed by those words. Dreams may be left in tatters. The words sting, even though they are merely conveying a fact that you don’t meet the requirements for the job, the loan, or the place on the team.

Those words are bad enough when they refer to some worldly activity. But imagine what it would be like to hear them, or words like them, when life is over and your eternal destination is being assigned. Imagine being told “You are not qualified to escape God’s wrath. You don’t qualify for eternal life. You don’t meet the requirement.”

For those of us who have trusted in Christ, imagining is the closest we will ever come to that experience. That is because of what our heavenly Father has done, as Colossians 1:12 tells us:

…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (ESV)

The Father has qualified you. Notice that the verse does not say that you have done anything. He has done everything required, by sending His Son to meet the requirements for you. This was His act, not yours. You are passive in it. You have done none of it. He has done it all.

Notice also that the verse says that all of this has already happened. You are already qualified, and need not do anything in the future. There are no tests or exams. There is no paperwork that you need to file. There is no condition you still have to fulfill. It is done.

But for what has He qualified you?

To share in the inheritance. What is the inheritance?

The inheritance includes eternal life, but it is even more. Jesus described that inheritance as the kingdom of the Father:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. – Luke 12:32 (ESV)
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. -Matthew 25:34 (ESV)

Jesus described it as a hundred times greater than all the things you might possess on earth put together:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. -Matthew 19:29 (ESV)

Peter described the inheritance as…

…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, – I Peter 1:4 (ESV)

 What is more, you are qualified by the Father as one of the saints in light.

The saints are those who are “set apart” and made holy. The Father has already designated you as holy, pure, righteous, and sinless. That is the quality that the sovereign all-powerful Creator and sustainer of the world has ascribed to you. To describe you as a saint, He also uses the expression “in light,” which means both in purity and in truth. There is no doubt of your holy standing as a saint, for it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). Just as He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, He has declared you a saint and holy in truth, and so you are made holy in truth.

In response to all of this, the first part of Colossians 1:12 reminds us to give thanks to the Father. Although we might look upon all that the Father has qualified us for– eternal life, the inheritance of the kingdom, standing as a holy saint, true purity– and desire to somehow deserve them, we cannot. A gift cannot be deserved, and God’s grace cannot be repaid. The only seemly thing we can do is to give thanks to the Father who has done all of this.

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Power of Knowledge

You have doubtless heard the expression “Knowledge is Power.” In educational circles, it’s a popular mantra. We college professor types have to recite it because, frankly, it drums up business. When people want power, we tell them the way to get it is through increased knowledge, and sure enough, OUR purchasing power increases.

Cynicism aside, there is a connection between knowledge and power. In fact, the Bible says that for those who know God through Jesus Christ, greater knowledge of Him is tied to His power.

In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul says he is praying for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. He then says that this knowledge will produce spiritual wisdom and understanding. He goes on to say that this knowledge will then create, in those who receive it, the ability to please God, which will lead to even greater knowledge of God.

So far, that sounds like this knowledge of God’s will that comes from God is pretty powerful already. It enables us to do something that we could not otherwise do– please God in our actions and deeds. It also has the power to produce even more knowledge of God.

Then, in Colossians 1:11, Paul goes on to tell the Colossians that he is praying for something more. The wording strongly implies (especially in the original Greek) that this is tied back to the knowledge of God’s will that he is praying God to give them:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (ESV)

It makes sense that strength and power that come from God must follow and accompany a God-given knowledge of his will. If God gave His power to those who did not know His will or to those who had no desire to do it, He would be working against His own purposes.

Those who don’t know God’s will should not expect Him to give them strength. Those who don’t wish to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord should not expect to see His power.

But, for those of us who have been given knowledge of God’s will, God gives strength “with all power, according to His glorious might.” Imagine how tremendous that is! The strength is not limited and barely sufficient. It is all — all that is needed. The source of it is not constrained or restricted. It is according to God’s glorious might. It is the power of God, who created the universe and sustains it second to second.

That power is the power that you and I can  know, see, experience, and be strengthened with if we are granted to know His will and desire to do it. We won’t be on our own, and won’t have to rely on our own strength and ability. Will will have His.

To what end will He give this strengthening to us? It is so that we can do His will in endurance and patience with joy.

Why will we need His strengthening for endurance? Because if we are seeking to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord, we will certainly encounter difficulties, resistance, trials and suffering for the Lord and for the sake of His will. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him even through all that.

Why will we need His strengthening for patience? Because if we are seeking to be fully pleasing to God, we will need to wait for Him to bring about His will in His time, not seeking instant relief or vengeance when we are wronged or misunderstood. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him even through all that.

Why will we need His strengthening for joy? Because if we are bearing fruit in every good work, we will need to glorify Him by delighting in Him and His will constantly. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him always, with joy.

Knowledge of the will of God, that comes from God, is powerful, but God gives it with the power to do His will. Doing His will is beyond our ability, but it is not beyond His. If we know His will, and desire to do it, we will need to seek and rely upon His power, and find the joy of having the endurance and patience that only He can supply.

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Do By Learning

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.”

This is the principle behind much, if not all, of what we learn to do. We make attempts at what we wish to do, and learn from the mistakes we make. We try to put ourselves in learning situations in which the results of our mistakes will be minimized, such as when a new driver learns to drive by actually driving in an empty parking lot. But, what we wish to do we practice, for “practice makes perfect.” If it at first, we don’t succeed, we try, try, again. That is how we learn to do.

This principle actually operates upon and relies upon human imperfection, which makes some sense, because “everyone makes mistakes.” But notice, our faults and failings are given permission, even power, to bring about learning, as successive errors lead to gradual increases in knowledge and ability.

The “learn by doing” principle does produce results. It’s how some long-time bachelors who live alone become pretty good cooks. It’s how some folks who were not planning to become parents actually get pretty good at it. It’s how all of the plumbing fixtures in my house have been installed by the owner– three or four times each.

For those who want to do things that are pleasing to God, a completely opposite principle must operate. There has to be something else. If we try to learn how to please God by “trial and error” or “learning from our mistakes,” errors and mistakes are just going to to result in a tragic multiplication of failure. Mistakes and failures in efforts to please God are simply called “sin.” The result of the “learn by doing” approach to holiness is not a gradual increase in our knowledge or ability to please Him, but an inexorable increase in sin and a greater accumulation of His wrath.

God replaced the human principle of “learn by doing” when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world.

First, by perfectly doing everything  that was required for a God-pleasing life, Jesus initiated the new principle by making no mistakes from which He had to learn.

Then, by dying on the cross for the faults, failings, and sins of us imperfect humans who err and fail to please God, Jesus took the wrath for human imperfection and failing upon Himself, giving sin and human imperfection no more power.

Finally, He fully implemented the new principle by which sinful and mistake-prone believers in Him might come to do what is pleasing to God as He did.

What is that new principle? It is that by knowing Him, we might learn to please God not by a series of errors and corrections, but by God Himself filling us with the wisdom and understanding required to please Him.

In Colossians 1:9-10, the Apostle Paul elaborates the new principle at work in those who know Jesus and are operating under the new principle:

And so, from the day we heard [of your faith], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (ESV)

Paul says that he is praying to God, asking Him to fill his readers, as believers in Jesus Christ, with the knowledge of His will.
He knows that the knowledge of God’s will is not something that is “learned by doing,” but is instead imparted and implanted by the work of God. This knowledge is not partial or incremental. It does not come in gradual trial and error, as human wisdom and knowledge come. Rather, Paul says that they come from a filling by God.

Paul says that the wisdom and understanding needed is “spiritual,” which makes them different from other learning.
He knows that such spiritual wisdom and understanding come only when the God teaches (see John 6:45), and when the Holy Spirit fills those who trust Christ, guiding them into the truth (see John 16:13).

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will enable those who are filled to “walk in a manner worthy of of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.”
He knows that spiritual wisdom and understanding produce practical ability and actual “walking.” They cause “doing.” What is more, they do not produce mistakes or errors, but produce deeds and actions that are “fully pleasing to Him,” just as the deeds and actions of Jesus were.

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will cause us to produce “fruit in every good work.” 
He knows that every kind or sort of good action or behavior that might be done will be done as a result of this spiritual wisdom and understanding. Whether the “good work” is expressing genuine faith, exhibiting selfless love, resisting temptation to sin, helping the needy, encouraging the weak, or some other good work we might consider, that act is the fruit of this wisdom and knowledge. Only this wisdom and knowledge can produce such actions or “works.”

Paul says that such wisdom and knowledge will multiply and will increase.
He knows that the wisdom and knowledge of God grow, by the continual increased filling of the Holy Spirit of God. There is no need for stagnation. The wisdom and knowledge that start as a small seed will grow, expand, develop and mature.

Learning holiness is not like learning to drive. The ability to please God is not something we can learn by trial and error.  In holiness, practicing over and over what we are able to do on our own will not make us perfect. We cannot teach ourselves how to please God.

In holiness, we must desire and pray for the filling of God that alone will give us spiritual wisdom and knowledge. Then, and only then can we hope to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.”

We will not be completely filled in one second. Paul says that the knowledge of God will increase, which means it is not instantaneously complete. But, we must not lose sight of the truth that God and God alone is the source of the knowledge of God needed to please Him.

To be holy, we must learn from God. Only then, and only by that kind of learning, we can do those things pleasing to God. We cannot “learn by doing,” but must “do by (first) learning” …from God.



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News or Do’s

Do you remember how you reacted to the last big news story you heard? Do you remember your reaction to the news of the capture of Saddam Hussein? Do you remember your reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden? Do you remember how you reacted to the news of the attacks on 9/11?

Many people change their lives in reaction to news of a major event. For example, after 9/11, many of us became more patriotic. Others joined the military.  But, what happened on 9/11 actually occurred whether it made a person more patriotic or not. It happened whether a person joined the military or not. It is the truth.

We react to news, and that causes confusion. Very often, we mentally and emotionally combine facts with our reaction to them. The fact and the reaction may be so intertwined that they become inseparable.

Over time, the confluence of news and response has crept into Christian thinking. Indeed, some Christians, if not most, seem to have a confusion between the gospel and  our response to the gospel.

Jesus said to “repent and believe in the gospel” (in Mark 1:15) but some of us tend to act like Jesus said “repent and believe IS the gospel.” The gospel is the thing we repent because of and the thing we must believe. “Repent” and “believe” are verbs. The “gospel” is a noun. Just seeing it that way might make the distinction clearer.
Our response to the gospel is to repent and believe, but “repent and believe” is NOT the gospel. We must be careful not to confuse the gospel with the response we are called to make to it.

The gospel is the good news that Christ died and saved sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15). It is not about us in any way, except as the objects of the salvation He purchased by His death on the cross and His taking upon Himself the wrath due to sinners.

In the Apostle Peter’s words, in Acts 2:22-24, 32-36 (ESV) this is the gospel:

Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Then, after delivering the news, Peter tells his listeners what they need to do to respond to the news, in Acts 2:38-39:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (ESV)

Repentance and faith are reactions to the gospel of what God did in Christ. We must not combine the response that sinners make to the gospel with the gospel itself.


Because then the gospel becomes relative. It becomes about a sinner’s response rather than God’s salvation for sinners. If we mix up the truth of the good news with the reaction of people to it, we are likely to be focused on the reaction that we are hoping to see. We tell the story of what Christ did as if the only thing that matters is the hearer’s reaction. We bury the lead. We lose the truth in attempts to evoke a reaction, and may even find ourselves adding bells and whistles and chrome plating and free prizes in an effort to “close the deal,” rather than “speaking the truth in love.”

Like Christ, like Peter, like Paul, we are to call people everywhere to respond to the truth with repentance and faith, but we must be clear that the news is separate from what we call people to do with it. If we don’t recognize the distinction, we water down the truth and end up preaching a different gospel, one that pleases men rather than God.

If we are careful to stick to the gospel truth, then we can be sure that any reaction that comes is a genuine reaction to the gospel. The repentance and faith that come will not spring up because of our lofty words of wisdom or our own craftiness. They will be the work of the Spirit of Truth. Those who respond will be able to say with James:

“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” -James 1:18 (ESV)


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Whose Idea Was This?

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made? We all make them.

I have made some colossal ones. I’m not talking about sin (although, of course, I do that too). I am talking about rash decisions made in haste. In the past, I’ve turned down really great job or career opportunities to pursue really lousy ones. I’ve ignored people that I should have cared about, and cared about people that I should have ignored. I’ve gotten into really stupid debt. I even once bought a polyester leisure suit!

I’ve found myself in all kinds of situations and asked, “how did I wind up HERE, with THIS?” I have looked back often and thought, “If only I knew then what I know now, I would not have gotten into this.”

But, you know what the biggest mistake has been? Thinking that any one of my mistakes was not part of God’s design.

Our feeble minds sometimes forget that God is really, fully in control. Sin warps our view of everything. We view our lives as a series of events that we control. That itself is a mistake.

It is a mistake because, as Ephesians 1:11 says, God works all things according to the counsel of His will. (ESV)

Many people get married and later think that they have made a mistake. Studies show that about one-fourth of people who stay married regret their marriage, and (of course) that is not counting those who get divorced. Many marriages turn unhappy for one or both spouses. The “for better or worse,” ends up seeming to be for worse. One marriage partner or another is quite likely to think that he or she has made a tragic mistake.

Jesus encountered some of those people. Here is what he told them in Matthew 19:4-8 (ESV)

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Of course, the context of their question to the Lord was divorce, but notice what Jesus answers:
God has brought that man and that woman together!
We might think that we met our spouse through random events, or because of the match-making of a friend, or because of some computer web site. We may think that our marriage was merely our own idea. These are all mistakes.
God brought us together. No less power or authority is responsible.

That man or that woman to whom we are married was brought into our lives and made our spouse by God.

His purpose for that may have been to increase our joy , happiness, and pleasure. It may have been for our reproof, rebuke, or instruction. There is not a single verse in the Bible that guarantees that a married couple will live “happily ever after.” In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7:28 there is the promise that “those who marry will have worldly troubles.”

Nonetheless, it was His purpose and design that brought that particular person into our life, and His purpose and design is to keep him or her in our life.

If we acknowledge that, we can begin to live for the purpose and in the design that God intended. It may be hard. It may be the hardest thing we do in our entire life. In fact, no one of us can fully do it by ourselves on our own power. But if we are in Christ, we have the promise that God  will never leave us nor forsake us.

Do you know one prominent place where that promise can be found?

It is at the end of this passage in Hebrews 13:4-5 (ESV):

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”


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The Fruitful Blessing

Do you ever wonder what the blessing of God looks like?

We can sometimes overlook the true blessing of God, because we think it comes in some brilliant flash of light, or with peals of thunder and bolts of lightening. We might be lead by TV preachers to believe that the blessing of God manifests itself in only miraculous cures from disease or the spectacular acquisition of unimaginable wealth.

In reality, the blessing of God comes with few Hollywood-type visual effects. What is more, God’s blessing is manifested in things we might be prone to think of as “natural.” In reality, God’s blessing is His granting of abilities to do things or produce things that are impossible apart from His divine activity in and through His creatures.

In Creation, God blessed plants and animals with the ability to reproduce. (see Gen. 1:11, Gen. 1:24-25) He blessed the animals of the sea and air with the words “be fruitful, and multiply” (in Gen. 1:22). He blessed Mankind with similar words (in Gen. 1:28). He repeated the blessing to Noah and his sons after the flood (see Gen. 9:1, 9:7), and to Abraham when He called him (in Gen. 17:6).

Plums, puppies, and people don’t just happen. They are not the result alone of creatures “doing what comes naturally.” They are all the direct result of the blessing of God.

While we might think that the ability to produce (or reproduce) is “natural,” fruitfulness itself is the blessing of God. Whenever it is seen, He is at work (see Gen. 17:20, Gen. 28:3, Gen. 35:11, Gen. 41:52, Lev. 26:9, Deut. 7:13, Deut. 28:11).

This is true of physical fruitfulness, and it is likewise true of spiritual fruitfulness. While the ability to hear and understand the words of God might be mistaken as natural, they too are the evidence of God’s blessing and His work.

When Jesus taught the parable of the soils to His disciples, He explained that the gospel produces fruit only if it is spread on good soil (see Matt. 13:23, Mark 4:20, Luke 8:15), that is, if it is given to those who are blessed by God to be fruitful. Where the gospel does not bear fruit, the result is tragic (see Luke 13:6-9, Matt. 7:19, Matt. 3:10, John 15:2).

In Colossians 1, Paul speaks of the faith, love, and hope that God has produced in the believers at Colossae. Then, in verses 5 and 6, he says,

 Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, (Col. 1:5b-6, ESV)

Paul had already told them that he was grateful to God for their faith and love, and for the certainty of their hope (in Col. 1:3-5). Now, he tells them that their faith, love, and hope are the fruit of the gospel. When it came to them, God blessed them, making them into the “good soil” that Jesus talked about in His parable. Paul also says that the gospel is producing similar fruit, by the blessing and work of God, in the whole world.

Paul says that the faith, love and hope seen in the Colossians have developed in them “since the day you heard it (the gospel) and understood the grace of God in truth.” In this verse, Paul is stirring up in the Colossians (and in us) an appreciation for the truth that they have been blessed by God to do something that they otherwise could not have done.

If we, like them, have come to hear the gospel of Christ’s redemption, we are blessed by God. If we like them, have come to understand the wonderful working of God’s grace, we are blessed by God. If we have the fruit of that gospel, to even the least degree, and know the faith, the love, and the hope that the gospel implants, then that fruit is entirely due to the blessing of God.

Hollywood may try to convince us that, unless we hear the thunder and see the lightning, God has not worked, but that is simply a lie. If we find ourselves underestimating the miracle of truly hearing the gospel and actually understanding the work of His grace, we have fallen prey to the “father of all lies.”

Faith in Christ, and the genuine love and true hope that result, are the blessing of God. Do we really need anything more to give Him glory and praise and thanks?

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