Monday, September 21, 2015

Dwelling on the good stuff!

I'm pretty excited. I just got a reminder that God doesn't want us brooding over our failings. C'mon. How many of us find our failures distracting, playing them over and over in our minds like some kind of masochistic looping video? But it's totally clear that God doesn't want sinners who follow Jesus to worry about their sins! 

Yes, that's right! The writer of Hebrews helps us to see this as he explains how the old animal sacrifices weren't enough to make people perfect. He writes that if they could have made people perfect, then sacrifices would have ceased to be offered, "for the worshipers once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins" (Hebrews 10:2). So that was God's goal? That people would no longer be conscious of their sin?

Whoa. Wait a minute. Push pause. I sin. Daily. But this writer is inferring that God doesn't want His people conscious of their sins. He writes of a people who are purified by a better sacrifice that he's about to discuss - namely, Jesus Christ - and who are supposedly undistracted by the sin in their lives! Read on.

"And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man [Jesus], after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:11-14). 

So the reason God's people don't have to be distracted by a consciousness of their own failings is because Jesus' sacrifice has fully satisfied what God requires as a consequence for sins, and those who accept that sacrifice as being for themselves are considered "perfected" [Greek word: teleio, meaning to complete, to finish, to fulfill, to make perfect] even as we're still being "sanctified" [Greek word: hagiaz, meaning to be made progressively holy or purified]!

So then, even though it's pretty obvious that we're works in progress that are clearly still being made holy, this passage says that God considers believers in Jesus already perfect and complete! New creations! No wonder Christ's sacrifice means we no longer need to be conscious of our sins! There's no need to self-consciously beat ourselves up for sinning if God considers Christ's sacrifice as fully sufficient to account for our sins.

Certainly we want to be conscious enough of our behaviour to turn from sin when God makes us aware of it, but God's message to us in Jesus Christ is that there's no need to live in any conscious regret of our failings when God has declared us perfect before Him and is daily helping us to increasingly live that way as His Spirit works within us!

So rather than dwelling on our sins, God wants us celebrating and enjoying the wonderful work of life-altering grace He has accomplished - and is continuing to accomplish - in our lives!

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Friday, September 18, 2015

I love Garbage Day!

I enjoy garbage day in our neighbourhood. I really do. I really enjoy it. I get some sort of satisfaction from the thought of garbage that was once cluttering my house being thrown into a truck and taken away from me forever! Occasionally, albeit rarely, I get the opportunity to actually watch the workers throw my garbage onto the truck. It gives me a feeling of, “Ah! It's gone!” Tossed into that bottomless-pit-on-wheels that rumbles through my neighbourhood consuming everything people can throw at it, never to trouble us again!

Why is that such a thrill? I think it’s because there’s an innate desire in most people to be rid of garbage that's in our lives. And there’s a deep satisfaction felt when we get rid of it, completely and forever.

The foulest garbage that clutters my life is sin. Nothing else in my life is uglier and fouler smelling than sin. The Bible likens sin to filth: "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." (James 1:21, NIV).

The Good News is that we don’t have to do this by our own efforts. God made a way for us to be rid of that sinful filthy garbage of sin in our lives when Christ gave Himself up for the Church "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:26-27). When we turn from sin and turn to God, God takes away our sinful heart and gives us a new heart, leaving us clean – a new creation before Him. When this happens, there is no limit to the amount of garbage Jesus will collect from any individual. And He takes it all away forever!

Unfortunately, we tend to collect new garbage. It can feel extremely difficult to remain experientially clean in this sin-polluted world. But it’s God’s Word that helps us to keep garbage from accumulating in our God-given hearts. When James advised believers to get rid of moral filth and to humbly receive the word planted in them (James 1:21), he was calling on those who had already accepted God's word to humbly yield to it in the way they lived their lives. James explained what he means in the following verse: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22).

So he’s saying we can remain experientially clean by simply living right? Well, duh! Anybody knows that. But that's not too helpful for those of us who can’t manage to steer clear of a sinful act or attitude for even our first hour out of bed. That’s why I don’t think James was implying that receiving God’s word was the same as never experiencing the filth of sin in our lives again. Rather, I think James was focusing on our posture as believers. Are we postured to yield to God’s word or are we more inclined toward the garbage that tempts us in life? Do we prefer our ways or God’s ways? Are we more prone to willful pride or humble submission? When faced with a choice of sin or righteousness, James encourages us to humbly “accept the word planted in you.” In other words, cooperate with God’s truth – prefer it – and its roots will then go even deeper into our lives, making it easier and easier to live according to it. And if we blow it, we can be encouraged that every day is Garbage Day! We can confess our blunders to our merciful God and enjoy watching Him carry them away! What a cheerful chore Garbage Day can be!

The truth is though, my sense of satisfaction comes from more than just having my filthy sin taken away. It also comes from what I'm left with. Such as a conviction of who I am in Christ as a son who is totally loved and accepted by my heavenly Father. And God's Holy Spirit of truth living inside me, keeping me alert to new garbage in my heart while also helping me to create less garbage as he gradually makes me more like Jesus. And a spiritual family who helps me walk in the light and challenge me to walk in ways that are pleasing to God.

In the brief moment it takes for us to confess our sin to God and to those around us, our lives are cleansed of the garbage of sin and we have true fellowship with God and with one another! And in the simplicity of receiving and believing God's word of grace and truth, the cluttered rooms of our heart are swept clean!

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fun to Say - Incredible to Know

Some words are simply fun to say. A good example is the word, inconceivable. Give that one a try, putting particular weight on the third syllable. InconCEIVable!

Another word I like is, immutability. Try saying that one a few times. You'll find it kind of just rolls off your tongue... Immutability.

It means unchangeable. It's the characteristic of being inherently incapable of change. Think of something rock solid, weighing thousands of tons, like a mountain that's been there for eons, and you will still lack an adequate example of immutability. Even a mountain's shift of one centimeter a year disqualifies it from being considered immutable. The fact is, there is only one reliable example of immutability: God Himself.

Hebrews 6:17-18 says, "Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us" (NKJV).

This tells us that God's words to us are absolutely unchangeable, as is His oath or promise to us. And it's obvious that God is super eager for each of us to recognize this unparalleled immutability that is manifest in His character. We see this in the way He set out to show Abraham how changeless He was (which is the example Heb. 6:17-18 is referring to). God chose a doubly-abundant means of doing so when He not only spoke to Abraham of His plans for him and his descendants, but also confirmed those words with an oath. Why would Almighty God need to confirm His words with an oath? Because He wanted to "show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel." This is God in His mercy going out of His way to reinforce a point. He speaks and then He makes an oath as if to say, "I really mean it! I will not change My mind! You can count on the reliability of My immutability."

Hebrew 6:18 then tell us that it is because of God's incredible constancy that we can be greatly comforted in difficult circumstances and flee for safe refuge in the sure and certain hope that God's promises provide for us. Promises like:
  • We can "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16)
  • "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him [Christ], since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25)
  • "...with His own blood He [Christ] entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption [for us]" (Heb. 9:12)
  • "...the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, [will] cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14)
  • "...but now, once at the end of the ages, He [Christ] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26)
  • "By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10)
  • "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14)
  • "Then He adds, 'Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" (Heb. 10:17)
Isn't that encouraging?! So then, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23). And it is inconCEIVable that the God who promised all of this will ever change!

© 2015 by Ken Peters

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God's amazing world of "You See, I See"

Is it possible to feel stuck and yet be totally in the will of God? Is it possible to be in grave danger and yet in the safest place possible? Is it possible to feel caged and yet be completely unhindered?

Welcome to God's amazing world of "You See, I See." 

Take Acts 21-23 for example. Paul sees himself going to the temple to purify himself and pay for those who have taken sacred vows so that his enemies, the Jews, will see that he lives in observance of the law. This was the advice that the elders in Jerusalem had given Paul (Acts 21:23-24). Surely you'll be blessed if you heed the advice of the elders of your church, right? The next thing you know, Paul sees himself being dragged from the temple and beaten by a mob in the street (21:30-32), only to be arrested and bound with chains by the people who should've been protecting him as a Roman citizen (21:33)! 

Seems pretty bad. Paul had gone to Jerusalem with the hopes of then going on from there to Rome, and now he was stuck in the custody of a Roman authority that was bent on doing favours for the Jews just to keep the peace. What Paul could see from those Roman barracks must have appeared rather grim.

But what very slowly unfolded before Paul's eyes must have made it even harder for Paul to remain confident that his hopes of taking the Gospel to Rome would be fulfilled. After being sent to Caesarea for his own protection, Paul remained stuck in confinement there for two long years. It wasn't until Paul finally appealed to Caesar due to a governor's plans to send Paul back to Jerusalem to please the Jews that God provided Paul with a trip to Rome, courtesy of the Romans who had held him up for so long!

Can you relate to any of that? Do you too feel stuck - maybe in some dead end job rather than in some barracks, but still stuck - unable to pursue hopes you thought God had put in your heart, and those you thought would help you seem unconcerned or even unhelpful? Or do you feel that what you courageously offered to God in hopes of blessing seems to have backfired and left you stuck in some unintended consequences? Or is year after year passing you by while you wait for an opportunity to pursue hopes and dreams, all the while knowing that no doors are opening for you? Or at least that's how you see things.

But in God's amazing world of "You See, I See," God has a different point of view. As Paul waited in those barracks, the Lord came to him in the night and said, "'Take courage, for a you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome'" (Acts 23:11). Paul saw chains and enemies surrounding him, and saw two long years pass him by. But God saw an opportunity to have the Gospel clearly proclaimed to key leaders of the day, as well as step one of Paul's journey to Rome. God may have even caused the initial ruckus Paul endured resulting in his long confinement, just as He once caused Joseph's because God "meant it for good" (which Joseph certainly didn't see until in hindsight). Because God sees things differently than the way we see.

The story in Acts goes on and the ship God provided for Paul to get to Rome eventually hit a terrible storm. Once again, Paul's hopes were being threatened. But God sent an angel to speak to Paul, telling him, "'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you'" (Acts 27:24). Paul could clearly see the storm that threatened the lives of everyone on that ship including his own, but God made sure that Paul also saw what God could see: Lives saved and hopes fulfilled! This should remind us that we can't always rely on what our eyes see, and we will do well to seek God for what He sees when all seems lost.

Eventually Paul made it to Rome, but he was never freed before he was finally executed. How could that feel like hope fulfilled. Through earthly eyes, that has the distinct appearance of failure. But God doesn't see the way we see. The book of Acts concludes with these amazing words: "He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (Acts 28:30-31). We see a cage, but God sees no hindrances.

How did Paul manage to live in such unshakable hope in the way God saw his circumstances, despite bumping up against so many barriers and being delayed for so many years? The story reveals the answer: 
1. Paul was listening whenever God spoke to him.
2. Paul trusted God in whatever He revealed to him, despite the circumstances.
3. And Paul was committed to serving God at every stage and in every delay and despite every barrier on the journey toward the hopes that Paul felt God had given him. Paul's obedience wasn't dependent on the outcome of his dreams, but was a constant expression of the trust he chose to walk in as he trusted the One who put those dreams in his heart.

© 2015 by Ken Peters