Abiding in Joy

Speaking of our life in Christ, and His purposes on earth

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Rooted In Truth

(Be sure to read the blog entry before this one! This is really a continuation of those previous thoughts.)

What is truth?  That is the question Pilate asked Jesus (John 18:38).  It is also the question that many today ask.  Actually, just the night before, Jesus had been praying about truth.  He prays, “Sanctify them [His disciples] in the truth.  Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)  God’s Word is truth; nothing else is mentioned.  Only God’s Word is unchangeable, timeless, and applicable to every culture that has ever existed or ever will exist on this earth.

If we want to be truly sanctified, or made complete in Him, then we have to follow the path Jesus showed us.  There is no other way.  In John 15 we can see Jesus instructing His disciples: “If you continue [or abide] in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)  It is not by merely reading the Bible that we will be free and sanctified.  It is by abiding in His Word; it is by allowing it to saturate our lives;  it is by being rooted and established in His Word.  When we are rooted, that is, planted firmly, in His Word, then the truth and life of His Word will begin to fill and dominate our lives.  Our thinking and our desires will be dominated by this Truth.  Our choices and actions will be shaped by His Word.  The result is that we will be set free to be all God has destined us to be!  Without being rooted in His Word, we will never experience true freedom!  

I urge all those struggling, and those who are riding the emotional and spiritual roller coaster, to pursue the goal of being rooted and established in His Word.  This is not a one week or one month project.  It is a life-long commitment.

 

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Every Man Complete in Christ

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”    Colossians 1:28

It is obvious that one of Paul’s goals for the churches that he worked with was to bring every single person to a place of being complete in Christ.  He, along with his co-laborers, would do this by proclaiming Christ, admonishing, and teaching.  We are also told in the following verse that for this purpose he would labor and strive.  This was not just some passing interest for these early Christian leaders.  They saw this as the central part of their ministry.

So what does it mean to be complete in Christ?  If this is so important, why do so few Christians even understand what this means, much less make this a life pursuit?  The Greek word for “complete” is a word used in many other places in the New Testament.  It means coming to a place of spiritual maturity or wholeness.  While this involves a life-long process and certainly includes many aspects of spiritual growth, I have increasingly become convinced that a major part of this process means learning who we are in Christ.

Two very powerful words we see used over and over are “in Christ,” or sometimes “in Him.”  Scripture clearly states that those who have truly received God’s gift of salvation by faith are “in Christ.”  At Immanuel Fellowship (the church in which I serve as a pastor) we are currently going through the book of Ephesians on Sunday mornings.  After almost three months, we are still in Ephesians chapter 1!  The focus of this first chapter is looking at some of the ways we are in Christ.  We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.  We have been chosen before the foundation of the world in HimIn Him, we have been predestined to adoption as sons.  We have redemption through His blood in Him.  We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit in Him.  The list goes on and on. These truths may seem lofty and irrelevant to some, but actually, gaining an understanding of them can greatly affect our thinking and our lives today.  To put it another way, if we do not know who we are in Him, then we will constantly be tossed emotionally and spiritually all over the place.  Sadly, that is the state of so many Christians today.  We must learn who we are in Christ.

It is not just who we are in Christ.  We must also learn what we have in Christ.  We have been given so much!  Ephesians, for example, speaks of the “riches of His grace” and the “riches of His glory.”  In chapter three, Paul speaks of his call to preach the “unfathomable riches of Christ” to the Gentiles (verse 8).  The New Testament is filled with passages that describe the riches that we have in Christ Jesus.   Rather than being rich in Him, many Christians are spiritual paupers. No wonder the Church today lacks the power and the passion that she once had!  We have lost our bearings.  We have lost sight of who we are in Him, and what we have in Him.  To be sure, much of the blame falls upon Christian pastors and leaders who do not “labor and strive” to present every man complete in Christ.

Maybe I should mention one other thing.  It is not enough to know who we are in Christ, and what we have in Him.  Yes, it begins there.  But, in order to truly be complete in Christ, we must “appropriate” these things. That means that we allow these things to change our way of thinking, and we walk accordingly.  The result will be a transformed life that is honoring Him in our words, attitudes, and actions; it will produce power in our lives and authority in prayer and influence.  I urge Christian leaders and pastors not to be content with just preaching these truths.  Like Paul and his companions, we must  “impart” these truths into the lives of the ones whom we serve.  Admonishing every man and teaching every man suggests that this work involves personal relationship with people.  May we proclaim Christ, and may we admonish every man and teach every man, that we may present every man complete in Christ!

(If you would want to listen to any of the podcasts on Ephesians 1, you can do so by going to immanuelfellowship.podbeam.com).

Joy Inexpressible!

Some have asked me why name my blog “Abiding in Joy.”.  That is a fair question.  It was not just an impulsive idea.  My first choice was “Joy Inexpressible” or “Joy Unspeakable” taken from I Peter 1:8.  But these names and almost every variation were taken.  Actually, as I thought about it, perhaps Abiding in Joy actually fits better than the earlier choices.

For a major part of my Christian life, I have felt that one area God was trying to work in me as a life message was that of faith.  I first began sensing this when I was still single.  Reading books like Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler and Dr. Taylor’s biography of Hudson Taylor greatly impacted those earlier days.  Living by faith and walking by faith have remained constant themes in my daily life.  However, about three years ago, I believe God spoke to me that He also  wanted to work deep within me in the area of joy.  Since then I am constantly seeing in the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament, the many references to joy and rejoicing.   A very quick conclusion was that joy is to be a daily part of our Christian life.  And yet, if you are anything like me, it is easy to think of  joy as something that flows from our outer circumstances.

Here are a just a few things I have learned about joy:

1.    Nowhere in the Scriptures do we see joy being dependent upon outward circumstances.  Joy is therefore a quality that is to run deep within us, and should not be likened to happiness. Many times joy is spoken of in the context of difficult times or intense tribulation.  Joy is something that transcends emotions and circumstances.

2.    Biblical  joy is something so deep and so marvelous that the phrase “joy inexpressible” or “joy unspeakable” is used.  It cannot even really be described.  What human words could ever capture a joy that surpasses all tribulation?  I recently read a book about the characteristics of the persecuted Church.  Do you know what was the first quality mentioned?  Joy.  That cannot be explained in human words.  That is the joy He wants us to have.

3.    Joy is something that comes from the Lord.  It is listed as one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  As the Spirit controls our life, part of the fruit will be joy.  A careful study of John 15:1-11 will tell us that joy comes as we are truly abiding in Him.  Jesus refers to the joy that is to be in us as “My joy.”  His joy becomes ours, and is full, only as we learn to abide in Him.  That is one reason I like the name “Abiding in Joy.”  It implies that is possible only as we abide in Christ.

4.    Perhaps most sobering to me is to realize that joy is to be a distinguishing characteristic of the Christian.  We often blame our lack of joy on our personality type, or we think of it as something we cannot possess because of our past experience or background.  And so the Church today is filled with people who are gloomy, pessimistic, depressed, filled with heaviness, and certainly lacking in joy.  If we are following Christ, if we are abiding in Him, if we are walking in the Spirit, then we will have joy.

I know we live in a culture where true joy is almost non-existent.  Perhaps as we reject the notion and the excuses that say joy is not possible, then we can begin to be filled with joy.  We can learn to abide in joy.  And the world, who is desperately looking for something different in the Church, will begin to be attracted once more to the message of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 2:14-16 says that as we forsake grumbling and complaining, we will prove ourselves to be children of God.  We will become lights in a world full of darkness.

Personally, I know I have a long way to grow in abiding in this inexpressible joy.  But I do know that this what is God is calling me (and really all of us) to, and I know this is what I want in my life.  Let’s stop making excuses.  Let’s move forward into all that He has for us…….including abiding in joy.

The Word of the Cross

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”   I Corinthians 1:18

I suppose that if I had to restrict myself to only giving one message for the rest of my life, I would have to make it a message on the Cross.  The message of the Cross is certainly that which makes everything about our Christian walk come together.  If we leave out the Cross (which I am afraid we do so often), then our Christianity is immediately reduced to good ideas and nothing more.  But the Scriptures tell us of a life in Christ in which we can live victoriously and joyfully.  They speak of peace that surpasses all understanding, a life filled with purpose and destiny.  Our walk is to be a life in which we have a living relationship with God.  We can hear Him, we can follow Him day by day, and we can be guided by Him.  It is a life that is free from the guilt of sin, the power of sin, and all the ugliness that comes with all that.  Without the Cross, none of this is possible.  None of it.  Maybe this is why so many Christians do not experience all that God has for them.  The power of the Cross has been left out!

Often I get the feeling that some Christians are ashamed of the core message of our Christian faith–the Cross.  Paul tells us in I Corinthians 1 that the word of the cross is foolishness (some translations say scandalous) to many…… to those who have not had their eyes opened.  We should expect that talk about the cross, sin, forgiveness of sins, the powerful blood of Christ will make people uncomfortable.  But that is not a reason to shrink back from speaking.  This is also the message that will powerfully break through to the hearts of men and women.  The world around us is not looking for more good ideas about God.  People are looking for something that has power.  That is the message of the Cross.    We must not be ashamed of the Cross!

We are also told in I Corinthians 1:21-24 that the word of the cross is not just the power of God, but it is also the wisdom of God.  We are talking about, of course, a wisdom much higher and deeper than the greatest wisdom of this world.  Too often, we are seeking the wisdom of this world as if it were the only or best thing out there.  A life centered on the message of the Cross will lead us to that higher wisdom.  Let us not be ashamed of the Cross!

The message of the cross also has powerful implications for our daily walk.  When I begin to understand the meaning of being totally forgiven of all my sin……when I begin to realize that the blood of Jesus gives me access to the very throne of God (His presence)…… when I see that His death and resurrection impart to me a power to live out the Christian life, my life is transformed completely.  I begin to experience the meaning of truly abiding in Him.  I am filled with joy unspeakable (I Peter 1:8).  Let us not be ashamed of the Cross!

I was only nineteen years old when God began to open my eyes to the message of the cross.  I  read Watchman Nee’s Normal Christian Life and soon began to read other books on the subjects of justification, the blood of Jesus, redemption, and sanctification.  I began studying and even memorizing sections of the Scripture describing what Jesus did for us through His death and resurrection. Throughout the years, I have found myself continually going back over and over to the themes associated with the Cross…….and being refreshed and transformed by them.  Now, almost 40 years later, I am still fascinated by the message of the cross.  More than anything else, it has shaped who I am today.

This coming Sunday is Easter, or what I like to call “Resurrection Sunday”.  It is the day in which we are to remember how Jesus Christ died at the Cross and then was resurrected on our behalf.  Even though I love the idea of calling attention to what He has done for us, and taking a day to celebrate it, I also have sometimes struggled with the idea of Easter.  Why  celebrate this great event only once a year?  It seems like that by taking a “day” to do this, or even a “week”, that we are diminishing its importance or its greatness.  Our lives must be devoted to, and committed to, studying and reflecting on the word of the Cross…… every day of the year.

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