YOU ARE MY SON, WHOM I LOVE

Recently I had the pleasure of a dad with his adult son coming by my office for a visit. I had known the dad for some time but hadn’t ever met his son. What was amazing to me was the glen in the dad’s eyes as he presented his son to me. He was obviously proud beyond measure of his boy and what he was doing with his life. I was thinking later about the meeting and conversation and it hit me that this is what every boy longs for from his dad. We want to have our dad look at us with admiration in his eyes and to say to a friend, “This is my son and I am very pleased with what he had done with his life.”

Think about another special occasion when a Father made such a statement about his son. Matthew records the story in Matthew 3:13-17. It all began with the story of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness a message of repentance and telling those who heard him to be baptized to have their sins forgiven. He promised the kingdom of God was coming soon. John was a powerful preacher and people were coming out into the deserted area to hear him preach even though it was far from a convenient trip to make. People came from all Judea and Galilee to hear him and to be baptized by him. When Jesus was thirty years old, he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. John resisted saying he needed to be baptized by Jesus rather than baptizing him. Jesus said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” John then baptized Jesus in the Jordan. It wasn’t for the forgiveness of his sins, since he hadn’t committed any sins. But to fulfill God’s righteous plan and prepare him for the mission given him by the Father.

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Remember this is the very beginning of Jesus ministry. At this point he had never preached a sermon, performed a miracle, healed a sick person or taken a stand against the religious hypocrisy of the day. For the last thirty years he had been at home in Nazareth serving faithfully as a son and brother. Jesus was the oldest child in a family of at least five boys and two girls but very possibly more than two girls. It seems likely that somewhere in his growing up Joseph, the father of the crew had died. Now, in reality he was Jesus’ stepdad, but the actual dad to the rest of the children. Joseph had been a carpenter and when Jesus returned to Nazareth to preach in their synagogue, Mark notes that the people said, “Is this not the carpenter?” indicating that Jesus had learned the business from Joseph and had carried it on after his death. We aren’t told why Jesus waited until he was thirty years old to begin his ministry. It could have been just the belief that he would have greater acceptance among the people when he was a little older. It could have been that Joseph’s death left the family in desperate need for him to stay and pick up the slack left behind in providing for the family and helping to bring up the younger siblings for the Lord.

Whatever the reason, at thirty he was baptized and God opened heaven to send the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to light on him, showing his acceptance and place in the godhead. But that wasn’t enough. God spoke from heaven to say to Jesus and the world around him, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” So, before Jesus even started on his ministry of preaching and teaching people about the gospel and the coming kingdom, God was pleased with him and wanted him and everyone else to know of his devoted love for him and how pleased he was with Jesus life, so far. It seems to me that there is a powerful lesson in this event. God didn’t wait to express his love, joy and pleasure in his son until he had fulfilled his mission. He didn’t wait until he had preached to the multitudes or until he had healed many who were sick or hurting. He shouted the message of love at the threshold of Jesus’ ministry. It is a lesson for father’s to not wait for their children to accomplish something amazing to express your love, joy and pleasure in their life.

But it has a deeper message as well. We all become God’s sons and daughters when we out of faith turn to the Lord in baptism to begin our life in him. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). When we begin our life for the Lord, entering his family and having Him as our Father in heaven and us as his children, his family, God loves us and claims us as his own. He is shouting to the world, “This is my son or daughter, whom I love and I am very pleased with them.”

One of the problems we tend to have as children of God is that we tend to think God will only be pleased with us and shout his love for us when we are able to do some big thing in the world in his name. Now, it is certainly true that God will express this same love later, after he had preached great sermons, healed multitudes of sin and performed amazing miracles. On the mount of Transfiguration God spoke up when Peter wanted to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. God stilled Peter’s voice by saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to him.” So God does show his love and pleasure for us as his children when we do something good in his name. But he also expresses his love and pleasure in us simply when we make our commitment of faith and dedication to him. When we out of that faith in the Lord are baptized into Christ and become his children.

Imagine the scene. You are there with God and He looks at you with love and says to Abraham, Hey, I wanted you to meet my son or daughter today. I am so pleased with him and their faith and commitment to me. I hope you will get to know them. God loves you for being his child. God loves me as his child, even though I haven’t done anything special. Amazing!

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WHY DID YOU COME

Have you ever gone out of your way to visit someone who was sick or even near death and had them respond to your visit with the question, “Why did you come?” Perhaps it is part of the whole thing of being a preacher that has led people at times to ask, why I’ve come when I heard they were ill or even the degree of their illness. Sometimes it is obvious when you enter a hospital room that it is frightening to the patient. On more than one occasion I’ve had someone to way, “Am I about to die?” If the preacher is coming to see me things must be worse than I thought.

I remember going to see a person who was obviously near the end of their life on this earth, but when I entered their home and was escorted back to the bedroom where the person was, the first thing that was said was, “Why did you come?” We had gone through a disagreement some years earlier about something at church. Honestly I don’t remember what it was and never really gave it much thought. But it was obvious this person had thought a whole lot about it and as they continued to talk it became clear that he felt that he had been so unkind during the last visit we had that there was certainly no good reason for me to come see him now when the end seemed to be very close.

When Jesus thought about his reason for coming into the world, he knew that most of the people didn’t see it the way he did or the way things really were. Since he came into the world with the very power of God at his disposal, it must have seemed to the people that knew him that he came to destroy his enemies. He had the power both to kill and to raise one from the dead. He had power to give life or take it. He was able to withstand every attack Satan could point in his direction. There was not a single illness nor injury that was so bad or person so far gone that he couldn’t heal their sickness and give them new life. It seemed to those who watched him and saw the power at his disposal that he had come to reign as king over everything. After he fed the crowd with a little boys lunch and then had the apostles to pick up what was left over, each of them had a full basket of leftovers. They started with one little boy’s lunch, fed 5,000 people with it and then had twelve basket’s full left over. No wonder the crowd began to talk about how they could make him their king.

But Jesus was clear on why he came. It wasn’t about some physical power or rule over the nations. In Mark 10:35-45 James and John were under the impression that Jesus was getting ready to start his reign as king. So they made their appeal to him that he would allow them to sit on his right and left hand when he came into his kingdom. Jesus explained to them that it wasn’t his to give and that they weren’t really prepared for such a place. When the other ten apostles heard what James and John had asked they were horribly angry at them for trying to take on this place of authority. Likely, each man in the group felt they were the logical one to sit on his right or left in his kingdom. He explained to them that such places would be given to whoever the Father had prepared for such roles. He explained to the whole group that it was the way of the Gentiles or the unbelievers to exercise authority over each other, not the way it was to be in the church. He pointed out that in the kingdom the greatest among them would be the servant or slave of all. Then Jesus made this statement that stands out. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus is king of kings and lord of lords. He is the first and the last, the alpha and omega. But he is a servant. He came into the world to serve and to make servants of all who follow him. When we picture following Jesus as being a success journey for rulers, we miss the point. One of the most amazing scenes in Jesus life on this earth was the night when he gathered with his disciples to eat the Passover supper. They were reclining at the table, but no one was about to admit they were any less than the others so that they would serve each other. Even though their feet were dirty and the thought of gathering to eat with their dirty feet sticking out is distasteful, they were ready to do so. Jesus arose, laid aside his outer garments, took a towel and a basin of water and begin to wash the disciples feet. He concluded by telling them he was their teacher and lord and if he as teacher and lord had washed their feet then, they ought to wash one another’s feet. His actions were an example for them to follow. Jesus came to serve.

But the ultimate of all service is to lay down one’s life as a ransom for many. When he went to the cross he took on himself the sins of the world and took on him the punishment for our sins, so we can be totally forgiven and given a new start, a new life in him. If Jesus, our teacher and lord left us such an example, we ought to be ready to serve, to give, to share with others to help them. If Jesus came to serve, then all who follow him have also come, not to be served but to serve.

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HE WAS FULL OF IT

It is very possible that in the next couple of weeks you will be sitting with family, probably either preparing to eat or after having consumed a great meal.  As you sit and talk, if there are young children running and playing, enjoying every minute of being with cousins and siblings, it may will be that someone will offer the comment about a young boy or girl, “They are sure full of themselves.”  Usually, we mean that are active, alive and running full throttle.  We aren’t surprised for a child to be full of themselves.  As a matter of fact it seems to go with being a two or three years old. It is when one reaches adulthood and is still full of themselves that we become concerned.  It might be worth considering in every life, “What are you full of?”

In John 1:14-18 the apostle John offered his account of Jesus coming into the world.  Matthew and Luke had given versions of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.  But John, who was writing about thirty years later offered a totally different approach.  “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.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This is he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”) 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 seen God: the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”  John had started his gospel account back in verse one by saying, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.”  He is speaking of Jesus, the Christ who came into this world as deity, sharing the same divine nature as God the Father.  But, he became “FLESH” and dwelt among us.  It is interesting that John, describing Jesus becoming a human, didn’t choose words like, “Man” or “human” but chose the word “flesh”.  As God he was Spirit.  But he took on human flesh and became a man with all the desires and challenges that go with being flesh and blood.  He felt pain, hurts, fears and loneliness like other people living in flesh. The reality that he was sinless demands that flesh not be seen as having sin in its nature.  He was flesh but sinless.

But it is in that flesh, that humanity, that John says that we see his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  Instead of his flesh hiding his glory, John said, it was there that we were able to look at it and be drawn to his glory.  But what was it that demonstrated this glory tied to the divine nature of Jesus?  John points to two things that so characterized Jesus that he could easily be described as FULL of these two virtues.  His glory stood out because it was easy to see his grace and truth, even in the flesh and blood body that he was living in now.  John said we receive from his fullness grace upon grace.  Notice again the point of fullness.  Grace and truth so permeated the heart and nature of Jesus that it was obvious he was full of these things.  When one looks back on Moses the great man of faith in the Old Testament one remembers that he gave us the Law of God centered around the ten commandments.  But when you look closer at Jesus in his flesh and blood body, you see that grace so fills him that it comes out his every pore.  

It seems to me that John has now laid out the theme for this book and what he hopes all of us see in Jesus right here at the beginning and from this point through the rest of the his gospel account he will give story after story and lesson after lesson from Jesus that continues to demonstrate this whole theme.  When he is preparing to bring his book to a close he will say, “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, that are not written in this book, but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ and believing you might have life in his name.”

From this beginning in chapter one, you could just about open to any part of John’s gospel account and see grace and truth standing out in the relationships Jesus developed. In chapter two, he, along with his mother and a few of the early disciples were invited to a wedding feast.  When the host ran out of wine, it seemed natural to his mother to ask Jesus to do something about it.  I have no idea what she expected him to do, but he solved the problem by turning water into wine.  You get the feeling in reading the story that most of the guest had no idea that the host had ever run out of wine or if he did what happened to solve the problem.  His grace saved a young bridegroom and his family from ridicule.   His truth was then presented as he went to the temple and saw that they had turned the house of God into a den of thieves and he took it on himself to cleanse the temple of these money changers and sellers inside the temple courts.  He helped a leader among the Pharisees to understand better how one becomes right with God by means of a new birth.  In chapter four he led a Samaritan woman with a spotted background to true worship of the Father.  It led to most of the Samaritan village being brought to faith.  Whether it was a man born blind, an invalid laying beside the pool longing to get in or raising Lazarus from the dead, the stories go on to show his grace and truth for all to recognize.  When John reaches the end of the book he takes lots of space to tell about the last days of his life on earth and his ultimate death on the cross.  He pictured the last supper with the disciples, but instead of focusing on the Lord’s Supper being instituted he pointed to Jesus washing the dirty feet of his disciples.  He declared that even with all their failures and one of them about to betray him for thirty pieces of silver, “Having loved his own who were in the world, beloved them to the very end.”   He challenged them of love each other as he had loved them.  That challenged still stands for every disciple of Jesus. Even as he foretold their failures to stand by him in the end, he told them not to be troubled but to believe in him.

His grace and truth stand out as he prays the longest recorded prayer from Jesus in John 17.  He prayed for God to keep them, to not take them out of the world but to protect them from the evil one.  He prayed that they would stay in the right way and for every disciple who ultimately followed the teaches of these apostles that they all might be one as he and the Father are one, so the world might believe that God had sent him.  He even prayed that all the disciples might ultimately be with him in heaven.  Grace and truth shined in all aspects of his life and in his death.

Think about it.  What if someone wanted to tell the essence of your life, what would they declare that you were full of?  

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WHAT A TREASURE!

Do You buy lottery tickets?  What about when the power ball contest reaches into the multi-million dollar range, are you tempted to go out and purchase tickets to get in on the possibility of winning?  How far would you be willing to go to obtain some huge treasure in your life?  I see these post on Facebook of some small cabin in the woods somewhere with the caption, “would you live in this cabin for a year for a million dollars?”  When you think of such treasures, one amazing thing is that when studies are done of those who win such huge amounts of money, the results are seldom good.  Most of the people within five years have lost the entire amount or declare that they are miserable and that the whole thing had been more a curse than a blessing.  I wonder why that would be the case.

Perhaps Jesus’ message that we ought not to lay up treasures on this earth but to lay up our treasures in heaven where they can’t be destroyed by the parasites of this world should be kept in mind.  

In Matthew 13 in the middle of several stories Jesus told about the kingdom of God there are two very short stories that tell us a whole lot about treasures and what makes them worth having.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for find pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Both these stories involve the kingdom of God as the great treasure in life.  That kingdom is the whole realm of people who make Jesus the king of their life and live under his standard.  The Bible had been promising the coming of God’s kingdom for a long time when Jesus came on the scene and took up the message of John the Baptist that the kingdom was very near.  He even challenged us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness so that other things we need might be thrown in for us.  But notice in our two stories that some people find the kingdom of God when they aren’t looking for it at all.  Some are like the man who happened upon a treasure hidden in a field.  He wasn’t out searching the field for treasures but simply, by accident, found it.  Many find the kingdom of God who aren’t searching for anything and don’t even realize their need for the kingdom until they happen to find it.  But others are like the man searching for fine pearls.  They are searching for the kingdom, knowing that something vital is missing in their life.  They may not even know about God but they know there is an emptiness in them and are longing to find something or someone who can fill that void.  So, when they find the kingdom, they know what they have found and its tremendous value.

Notice in the two stories Jesus told there is a common thread.  No matter how one finds the kingdom of God, if they are to possess it and become citizens of the the kingdom with Christ as king over them, it requires something from them.  The man who found the treasure in the field, had to go and find out who owned the property and then sell everything he had in order to purchase the field that had the treasure.  In our day the man’s actions would have seemed underhanded and taking advantage of the lack of knowledge of the owner, but in their day when people often hid treasures in fields and then died and no one knew the treasure was there, it was seen as the right thing to do to purchase the field and then own the treasure rather than simply taking it without going through the whole process.  The man who was searching and found the beautiful expensive pearl, had to leave the pearl and go home to sell everything he had to be able to purchase the pearl of great value.  Becoming a part of God’s kingdom demands of us that we be willing to leave our old life and ways behind us to become part of God’s kingdom.  Jesus called it a new birth or being born again to enter his kingdom.

The other thing that stands out in these stories is that after they had paid the price and now owned the field and the pearl they were filled with joy.  It was with joy that they went and sold what they had to purchase the field.  When the thought of entering the kingdom and what is required of me to be part of it, seems like too much to pay for us, we don’t grasp at all the value of the kingdom of the Lord.

This is the one kingdom that goes right on when this world and its wealth, power and treasures are completely wiped away.  In 2 Peter 1 as he described the life of a Christian in adding the graces needed to be like Jesus he said if we did that and made our calling and election sure we would have an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The writer of Hebrews in chapter 12 and verse 28 said we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be destroyed so we ought to serve God reverently and with awe.  

Think about it.  When we are willing to risk money and things to try to win a lottery that the actual chances of winning are slight, why would we be hesitant to make the sacrifice necessary to obtain the kingdom of the Lord that is of greatest value and you get the kingdom every time?

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GODLY REBELS

It is so easy to read the Bible regularly and suddenly notice something that really you had seen all along, yet it hits you in a whole new way, than it has before.  Usually when we think of rebels it isn’t with great admiration for their stance.  We can become so accustomed to going along to get along that any one who refuses to do so and takes a firm stand for what is right, seems out of step to us.  

In the first chapter of Exodus, the Israelites have been in Egyptian bondage for a long time.  They have been in Egypt for over 300 years now and we aren’t sure at what point leaders arose who didn’t know Joseph or appreciate what he had done for Egypt.  But somewhere down the line the Israelite nation was growing so rapidly that their numbers frightened the Egyptians and the rulers sought for ways to stop their massive growth.  It started with slavery that turned into brutality to try to wear them down.  When they kept right on growing in the midst of such, the Pharaoh made the decision to murder all the boy babies that were born in the land.  There were two well-known midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah.  The king of Egypt met with them and said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is girl, let her live.”  “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let he boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, ‘Why have you done this?  Why have you let the boys live?’ The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.  So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous” (Exodus 1:15-21)

This story will continue and tell of Moses birth and how his mother hide him for three months before putting him out into the Nile River in a basket where some of the Princess of Egypt’s servants saw him and rescued him.  From the time of the birth of Moses until God delivered them from the Egyptian bondage would be 80 more years.

But I want to focus on the midwives.  We are given their names, but really know very little beyond that about them.  We aren’t even told if they were Hebrew women themselves or if they may have been Egyptian women who had come to know and fear God.  What we know is that they were living very busy lives delivering babies among the Israelites who were growing with God’s blessing all the time.  Imagine being in their shoes for a little while.  They don’t have high standing in the country.  They are great servants but like the doctor who delivers babies today they were not likely well known personally and seldom appreciated for the work they were doing.  It must have been an honor for these working women to be called to come before the king of the whole land.  Under such circumstances most would want to agree with the king and simply honor him by doing whatever he said to do.  However, these women feared God!  That one thing changed their whole outlook on life.  It changed their sense of mission.  It led them to put being obedient to God so far above obeying the king of Egypt that there was no comparison in their minds.

I don’t know if they had to think about it or talked about the whole thing on their way home.  I don’t know if they went home to talk with family and friends about what had been asked of them or if their faith was so secure in God that it didn’t even take any such conversation for them to know what they had to do.  Fearing God and obeying God always go hand in hand.  They knew the Israelites were the people of God and that he was blessing them by the growth in numbers.  So, instead of saying to the king, “Sir, we respect you as king, but we have a higher ruler in our lives.  We worship the God who made the worlds and everything in it and as a result we cannot do that which would be abominable in His sight.”  Instead of making any speech about why or what they would do, they simply went on their way and refused to obey the Egyptian rulers.  They helped mothers give birth and spared the lives of both the little boys and little girls.

I’m sure they knew there was coming a time when they would be called to give an accounting of how they had failed to obey the king.  But they chose to do right and face the consequences later.  Of course the king called them to asked what was going on.  The boy babies were still being born.  Had they not obeyed his command?  They explained that the Hebrew women were different from Egyptian women.  They were vigorous and would often give birth before they could even get there.  SO, God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.”

Focus on the word, “SO”.  So God was kind to the midwives.”  Obviously he was very pleased with their actions.  Yet they had disobeyed the laws of the land.  It illustrates this fact, while obeying the civil laws is important, obeying God is far, far more important.  They didn’t need to carry banners declaring their actions.  They didn’t have to lead any marches against the authorities of the land.  They simply did what God led them to do and didn’t make a big scene out of it.  

Even though they disobeyed the law of the land,  even though they didn’t tell what was exactly true to the king with regard to the women giving birth before they could arrive, God blessed them and appreciated what they had done.  God is concerned about heart, motives and the will to do what He wants us to do.  There may be times in life when it will be necessary to disobey the laws of the land to please God and obey His laws.  There may be a time when it is all right to not tell the whole truth on a matter to show honor to God above all else.    These ladies were truly godly rebels and we are always in great need of more such ladies all the time.

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JUST A CHRISTIAN

Take a trip with me for a few minutes.  Let’s travel back in our minds to the middle of the first century.  Jesus had died on the cross and was raised from the dead on the third day.  Following His resurrection he spent 40 days teaching, preaching and telling about the coming kingdom.  Then he ascended back to the Father in heaven.  On the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 the church was established in Jerusalem.  3,000 people were added to the number that first day.  Then the church grew in leaps and bounds for the next few years.  To begin with it was just among the Jews and especially in Jerusalem.  But persecution arose against the early Christians and they were scattered about.  When they were scattered instead of being quiet about the gospel of Jesus they began to spread the message wherever they went.  Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them and many became disciples of Jesus.  He was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert to meet an Ethiopian Eunuch who was treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia.  He was a worshiper of God but didn’t know Jesus.  Philip went to him, taught him more of the truth of God’s word and informed him of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  He was baptized out there in the desert.

In time the church spread even to Gentiles, with Peter first being sent to the home of Cornelius a centurion in the Roman army who was a devout man who prayed to God daily and gave liberally to the people in need.  He and his family became followers of Christ.  From there some of the disciples went to Antioch where they preached to the Gentiles about Christ and many were converted to him.  The first predominantly Gentile church was established.  Barnabas was sent to minister to them and he invited Saul who had been converted to Christ to join him in the work.  It was there that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).  Many believe that it was first a name given out of derision to the people.  The Bible never says that.  It simply notes that this was the first place the followers of Christ were given that name.  Later king Agrippa would say to Paul, “Do you believe you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Paul responded that he would to God that not only Agrippa but all others also were like him except for these bonds.  Later in I Peter 4:16 Peter would say, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

What intrigues me is that here in this time, when the Bible was being completed, every time the word Christian was used it was used to describe one’s relationship with Jesus the Lord, Savior and Master of their lives.  They were disciples of Jesus.  They had accepted the challenge to follow him.  But, it is obvious from these uses of the word, “Christian” it wasn’t ever used in the way we tend to use it today.  In our time if one says, “I’m a Christian” they normally feel they must go ahead and describe what kind of Christian they are.  I don’t mean the kind in the sense of a good one or bad one, but in the brand of Christian.  I hear people say, “I’m a Baptist Christian”, “I’m a Catholic Christian”, “I’m a Mormon Christian”, or “I’m a Chuch of Christ Christian.”  Every such use of the word is a pathetic, unscriptural, divisive and ungodly use of the word.  When we put some other word with the word Christian we are declaring that we follow Christ only in the way this particular group teaches us to follow him.  By putting the group name ahead of His we indicate it is more important to be right with the church group than with Jesus whom we are to follow.

What if we actually went back to use the word the way it is used in the New Testament and in the way it was used in the first century?  What if those who are trying to follow Jesus dropped all their brand names and simply committed to following Jesus and declaring to the world that we are all Christians and let the message stop there?  It would mean we needed to spend more time learning what Jesus tells us to do and following His example than trying to learn what our church group thinks, believes or teaches.  We would really go back to Scripture to learn God’s will for us.  It would mean that the dividing lines between people that claim to follow Christ would fade away and become meaningless.  By the way, isn’t that exactly what Paul was pleading for in I Corinthians 1:10-17 when he reprimanded them for their division and declaring “I follow Paul”,”I follow Apollos”, or “I follow Peter.”  Some were even using the name Christ in the same divisive way by saying, “I follow Christ” as if to say that none of the others really did.  Paul’s challenge was, “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”  The answer to each of the questions was to be, “Absolutely not!”

The problem so often is that we have too many people who are trying their very best to get on the throne with Christ to reign alongside him and not nearly enough people who are ready to recognize that Jesus is king of kings and Lord of Lords.  He is seated now on David’s throne and is reigning over his kingdom. Remember Paul’s plea in Ephesians 3:21, “Unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”

I want to ask you today to prayerfully consider going back to the language of the first century and being just a Christian.  Not a particular brand of Christian, but just a Christian who is devoted to following Jesus in every part of life.  It will be different for sure.  It may even be revolutionary.  But one thing is certain, it will fit what the Bible teaches and the will of God a million times better than the notion of a hyphenated Christian of some sort.  

Oh God, help us today to realize our divisions, separations and efforts to grow by tearing down others who are trying to follow you as much as we are is doing all kinds of harm in the world.  Help us Lord to be simply Christians who are totally committed to following Jesus in every part of our lives.  I pray for your guidance and the help of the Holy Spirit to convict us and lead us in following Christ and serving You our Father in heaven.  Through Jesus we pray, amen.

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WRITING PRAYERS

Do you write out your prayers to God at times?  It intrigues me to notice how different my prayers are that are spoken to the Father and the ones that I write out.  In spoken prayers it is very easy to run down the same road over and over again every time we pray.  But in written prayers we tend to go in very different directions from one time to the next and they don’t tend to fit some mold.

It always amazes me to read the prayers of Paul for the different churches that he wrote.  Almost every letter will contain at least one prayer and most of them have more than one.  Sometimes the prayers are quite extended but in most cases the prayers will only cover two to three verses and get to the point quickly.  Such is the case in Philippians 1:9-11.  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”  Notice it isn’t pictured as though Paul stopped at this very moment to pray this prayer for them.  Instead it seems he is simply revealing to them the kinds of things he prays for them on a regular basis.  It would be like us telling our grown children or grandchildren, “These are the things I pray about on your behalf on a regular basis.  It wouldn’t mean that he used the same words every time.  But he wanted them to know the things that were on his heart when he prayed for the church in Philippi.

Haven’t you ever had someone say to you that they pray for you on a regular basis, perhaps even daily?  Have you ever wondered when you hear that message, what they pray on your behalf every day?  I suspect the church in Philippi that was very close to Paul’s heart, knew he prayed for them regularly.  But it made a difference for them to know what kinds of things he was praying for them.

He prayed that their love would just keep on growing all the time.  I’m certain he was praying that their love for God, for each other and for their neighbors in the world to keep multiplying.  He may even have thought of their love for each other in the church or in their families.  But he was praying that love would be growing constantly more dominant in their lives.  But notice he is specific about the kind of love he longs to grow in their lives.  It is a love that will bring knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best.  Let’s face it, most of the time when we talk about love it wouldn’t fit these parameters.  We tend to think of love as the mushy feeling that is better felt than told.  Paul prayed for a love that will abound to knowledge.  This is a love that is thinking, planning and leads to action.  It is a love that will develop in us depth of insight.    We might well use the word “wisdom” for this point.  It is that ability to take what we know and understand and use it to make the best decisions in our life.  So, what is the great purpose of this depth of insight in our life?

It is that we might have the discernment to know what is best.  Some of the older translations have, “to approve the things that are excellent.”  Don’t you love to be around people that have the gift of wisdom?  They just seem to be able to look at all the options in life and choose the best way to go.  Surely every parent wants to pray this prayer for their children.  It isn’t just that they make good decisions.  We want them to have the discernment to determine what is best and follow that route.  Notice he ties that discernment to being pure and blameless in the day of Christ.  Normally, the day of Christ refers to the time when the Lord comes again to receive his own.  The only way anyone can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ is if they have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus from their sins and are walking in the flow of Christ blood that constantly keeps us clean.

But notice that his prayer isn’t just for them to be clean in the day of Christ, forgiven of their sins and pure in God’s sight.  He also prays for them to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.  It is certainly our prayer for anyone we love that they will be pure and clean before God when they leave this world or when the Lord returns to judge his own.  But we also want them to be effective servants for God that are bearing fruit to His glory and praise all the time.  In John 15:1-8 Jesus described Christians as the branches that produce good fruit in the vine.  It isn’t the rotten fruit that comes when lack of attention or failure to keep the relationship tight with the vine.  It is the fruit that comes naturally in a life connected to Christ all the time. Our calling is to abide in him so his word can abide in us and we, like the tree planted in the best soil for the particular tree it is and that is pruned and cared for by the master regularly.  This kind of fruitfulness brings glory and praise to God.

It is one thing to get praise from others who love us about how well we are doing.  It is a totally different thing to have the praise and glory that comes from God for a life of faith and service to him that will not quit.  Would you join me in praying this prayer for some special people in our lives over the next couple of weeks?  As we enjoy the Thanksgiving season, what a special blessing it would be to pray this prayer for family, friends, children, grandchildren, fellow followers of Christ and even for those we don’t know as well in the world.  I believe it will make a difference for good.

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