Timid ambassadors

In Corinth, rebuffed and frustrated by resistance to his teaching, Paul was encouraged by his Lord in a night vision, “Do not be afraid!  Speak out!  Don’t be silent!  For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to Me.” (18:9)  So Paul stayed there 1 ½ years, encouraging and teaching them.  It is comforting to me that, as bold as he was, Paul also had fears and required reassurance.  His frustration shows his human frailty.  I can identify with that.

I’ve read that courage is not the absence of fear but the character quality which allows us to do the right thing despite our fear.  It also helped for God to remind him that he was not alone;  not all depended on him.  For God had been working in the hearts of these Corinthians before Paul ever arrived, and many already believed.  Others were ready to be harvested.   We are not alone in ministry;  we are partners with the God of the universe, who goes before us!

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”                           2 Corinthians 5:18-20

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Lord, give me confidence and courage to carry out the mission You assigned to me.  Remind me that I represent You to people in my circles of influence, not in my own inadequate capacity, but in Your strength.  You have gone before me to prepare hearts receptive to Your truth.  I will not recognize who these people are unless I initiate spiritual conversation with them.  I will leave the results to You.

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Sin-expelling devotion

Jesus told the parable of the man healed of the unclean spirit who ended up in a worse condition than he had suffered before he was purged.  He had nothing to take the place in his life previously occupied by that spirit.  “And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”     Luke 11:25-26

In 1830 Thomas Chalmers spoke of The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, expanding on this theme.  He said that the best reformer of our life is not redoubled effort in overcoming our sinful patterns.  Rather, the best progress is made when our hearts are filled to the brim with the joy that comes from our close relationship with the Father who has adopted us.   

Charles Spurgeon also wrote of this phenomenon in his devotional Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden 1883.

Spurgeon begins by quoting a Puritan from the early 17th century, Thomas Manton:  “Old leaves, if they remain upon the trees through the autumn and the winter–fall off in the spring.”  Spurgeon elaborates:

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We have seen a hedge all thick with dry leaves throughout the winter, and neither frost nor wind has removed the withered foliage–but the spring has soon cleared them off. The new life dislodges the old, pushing it away as unsuitable to it.

In the same way, our old corruptions are best removed by the growth of new graces.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!”         2 Corinthians 5:17

It is as the new life buds and opens, that the old worn-out things of our former state are compelled to give up their hold of us. Our wisdom lies in living near to God, that by the power of His Holy Spirit all our graces may be vigorous, and may exercise a sin-expelling power over our lives — the new leaves of grace pushing off our old worldly affections and habits of sin.

With new converts, it is often better not to lay down stringent rules as to worldly amusements–but leave the new life and its holier joys, to push off the old pleasures. Thus it will be done more naturally and more effectively.

We have all heard of the expulsive power of a new affection. This new affection of love to God coming into the soul, expels love to sin!

Spurgeon prays:  Lord, let Your life in me, push off the relics of my former sinful self–that I may put on the new man, and manifest Your transforming grace!

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New citizenship; new King

In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, chapter 6 is such good news!  Paul’s logic is that, since we have judicially died with Christ, we should exercise the confidence that we are also dead (or no longer obligated) to sin and temptation.  It no longer has obligatory control over us.  We now have a choice – to choose right or wrong.  It makes no sense to offer ourselves back to our old master.

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He caused us so much harm and loss when we were under his dictatorship.  It is crazy to continue doing that!  I now have the choice to obey my New Master, my Creator, who knows what is best for me and always leads me in ways that are good and beneficial to me and productive for His kingdom.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.                              Romans 8:12-13 NLT

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His Simple Gift

A major theme in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is God’s powerful, elegant simplicity.  He makes earthshaking, epoch-defining restoration in the world we have ruined, through humble, simple principles, one individual at a time.  Although “the message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed to destruction, . . [it is actually the very] power of God.” 18  “God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom.”  He used His simple plan of salvation “to bring to nothing what the world considers important.” 21, 28

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This is the most important thing that will ever happen to anyone – “Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and He freed us from sin.” 30  He restored His errant creation back to His original design.  He did it, since we could not do it ourselves.  Forgiveness and eternal life are easily obtained; it is ours for the asking.  But we must receive His gift with empty hands, having given up all hope of ever earning His acceptance through what we do for Him.  As he says in this chapter, this path to eternal life does not appeal to most people in our world today, who prefer to think of themselves as being a significant part of the solution for the mess they are in.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it isthe gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”             Ephesians 2:8-9

” . . being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 3:24

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No longer a robot

Romans 6 tells me that I have died to sin when I died with Christ.  Often, I do not feel so dead to it.  Temptation and sin still can have a strong pull, urging me to live for myself and forget God’s design for me.  But translators tell us that, “Our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with” (6:6), means that this old body of sin has been rendered powerless by Christ’s crucifixion.  Sin can be likened to a toothless lion.  Or an evil king that has been dethroned and imprisoned, yet still barking orders to his former subjects, frightening them unnecessarily.   I can still choose to succumb to his orders, but I no longer have to.  I now have a choice.  I can choose to listen to Another Voice and follow the Good Shepherd.

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Chapter 7 reassures me that this means that I have died also to the Law, so that it no has jurisdiction over me.  I am no longer subject to its condemnation.  Christ has fulfilled all the requirements of the Law in my place;  I no longer have to do this to be right in God’s eyes.  Just as I have been forgiven forever, not according to what I have done, but according to God’s choice to punish Jesus in my place, so too, I can now only live a life that makes Him smile when I stop trying to perform in my own effort and let Him do what I cannot.

So I am no longer wringing my hands at not being able to do what I want to do, nor at not being able to do what I know is right. Christ has already lived my righteousness for me.  Dead to the Law, I no longer have to see righteous goals and tell myself, “That is what you now must do!”  Instead, I say, “O Lord, that kind of victorious, righteous life is beautiful!  I want to be like that!  You can make me like that!  Please do it for me!  I cannot do this on my own.  I trust You to make me like that!”

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Gifted to make a contribution

Exodus 31 records the Lord’s statement that He purposefully filled Bezalel with His Spirit, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts – such as were needed for the building of the portable tabernacle they would use during their wilderness wanderings, as well as all the accoutrements of worship.  In fact, God gave to all  the workmen on the project special skills for the accomplishment of this important work. This is in keeping with the gravity of the task — which would help the people of Israel worship in a reverent manner appropriate to the majesty of their King.

dreamstime_xxl_131671332.jpgThese are not spiritual gifts, such as are listed in the New Testament for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.  I believe that He likely gifts all people in ways that help them to flesh out the glory of God’s creation.  Believers in Christ are given specific spiritual gifts to build up His people to maturity and usefulness.   But I also believe God generously gives common grace to all creation to show off attractively the beauty and goodness of His creation.  This can manifest in harmonious social order, soul stirring music, beautiful buildings, lovely paintings and sculpture —  God gifts people he can use to make the world He created run as smoothly as possible, even presently shackled by the corruption of sin.  People are used by God in their spheres of influence, through artistic endeavors, their careers, hobbies, community involvement, and neighborhood contacts.

Thank You, Lord, for standing back with satisfaction as You created the world and saying, “Now, that is good!”  Thank You for letting us be a part of Your precious creation.  Thank You for gifting us be useful to You in making the world run smoothly.  Thank You for using flawed, broken tools like us.  Forgive us where we fail You.

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The Good Shepherd

Do you feel lost sometimes?  At times vulnerable and confused?  That is the way Jesus saw the multitudes around him, “distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.”   (Matthew 9:36)  He knows that some of the trouble we find ourselves in we have brought upon ourselves.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)  He knows our desperation.  But He feels compassion for us and welcomes our dependence, as He considers Himself our rightful Good Shepherd (John 10:11).  So He opens His arms to us in welcome.

His role as Shepherd-Messiah was prophesied from long past:

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“He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.”                Isaiah 40:11

This nurturing, protecting role is natural for Messiah, as it is what God the Father has done for eternity for those choose to follow Him:

I have cared for you since you were born.
    Yes, I carried you before you were born.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.
”                                        Isaiah 46:3-4

Thank You, dear Lord, for Your great patience, Your loving pursuit of me, for putting me on Your shoulder to carry me back home again, and Your faithful, tender care along the way.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”                     John 10:27-30

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