United with Christ in His Resurrection

If we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. (Romans 6:5)

If we (believing sinners) were united with Christ in His death, then it logically follows that we are/will be united with Him in His resurrection. If we are united with Christ in His resurrection, then we are united with Him in His life. If we are united with Him in His resurrected life, then we will be united with Him in His glory. What a glorious path is ours!

United with Christ in His resurrection we have conquered death with Him. We have overcome the separation from Life that our sinfulness deserves. Paul expressed his desire: “…that I may know…the power of His resurrection….” It is through that power alone that the enslaving grip of the sinful nature is cast off and a new nature takes root – a nature that is born of God – of incorruptible seed.

United with Christ in His life we are able to walk in newness of life. The old self-preeminent nature has been rendered powerless; the new restored image of God is now under development in the believer. We can practically realize this when we affirm in our lives the surrendered words: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. That speaks of all the benefits and fruit of a branch grafted into the fruit tree. The Father has made us alive together with Christ. That is intimate, vital connection with the One who is Life (he who has the Son has life). So, when Paul says to the Colossians, you have died, it is the same as when he says to the Corinthians, “…that those who live should no longer live for themselves.”  Christ’s life is devoted to His Father. As we abide in Him, so is our life devoted to reflect His character and take an active role in His purpose.

United with Christ in His glory is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. We were created by Him, and for Him, to be drawn into perfect fellowship and communion with Him. The glory that will be revealed in us is the revealing of the sons of God – the complete redemption of the whole person, body and soul.  It is that glory of which John speaks: “…we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.” John also recorded in Christ’s high-priestly prayer: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” Our glory will be our fulfillment in Christ, when we will be perfectly like Him and perpetually with Him.

Learning and Living

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (I John 1:1-3)

Children relish the thrill of piling up leaves and then hurling themselves airborne into the mountain of colorful crunchy foliage.

It’s time to rake leaves.

But (pause) with the thought of a backache and blisters – I’ll do it later. Wait, what’s this? A blower gathering dust in the garage! That changes everything – assuming I can get it running.

Imagine if I brag to my neighbor that I have a powerful leaf blower capable of accomplishing the arduous task of leaf consolidation in a fraction of the time with minimal effort compared to the twisting drudgery of dragging the rake. The neighbor, however, never sees the blower – only a yard with layers and drifts of decaying leaves that annoy him with every gust of wind. You can just hear it – “So where’s that blower you keep talking about?”

It’s one thing to say that you have a blower; it’s an entirely different story if you actually pick it up, learn it, and put it to practical use. This is how John approaches the spiritual things that we talk about. In order for there to be any vitality to our faith there must be a marriage of learning and living.

In the prologue to his first letter, the apostle begins right off the launching pad with this force: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you” – that’s learning; “…that you may have fellowship with us… the Father and His Son Jesus Christ” – that’s living what we’ve learned.

Having fellowship is not an ethereal state of being; it is the experience of interpersonal investments that yield comfort, joy and growth – the fruit of the Spirit, the mind of Christ, and much fruit that glorifies the Father. We can learn and talk about fellowship all day long, but just talking will change exactly nothing.

Get a blower in your hands – pile up those leave and bring joy.

The Mouth of the Righteous is a Well of Life

The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked. (Proverbs 10:11)

Imagine having to endure a week with no running water and no convenient source of water. Imagine having to even hunt for water. Common in Scripture is the imagery of a spring or a well as a source of refreshment in an arid land. Great would be the disappointment of a polluted spring or a dried up well.

We are surrounded by thirsty people and this proverb speaks of the mouth as a source of reviving drink. It is not just any mouth, however, but the mouth of the righteous. When the righteous opens his mouth, what comes out issues from a heart inclined toward God. God Himself is the “fountain of living water,” and as we drink deep from the river of His pleasures (Psalm 36:8) we become of source of refreshment to others. The mouth, more than just an organ of speech, manifests one’s character and disposition (Luke 6:45). Jesus painted a clear picture of this when He declared: Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

As the Christian speaks to another, what is described in this proverb is more than just positive air. The righteous speaks that which is morally strengthening, intellectually elevating, and inwardly reviving – words of encouragement, grace and hope because it comes from the nature of God which resides within. The antithesis: “violence covers the mouth of the wicked,” is to issue deceitful words that conceal the ambition of self-advantage – words that spew out of the polluted spring of self-preeminence. All such communication has its origin in the Father of lies.

We can glean from this proverb a clear exhortation and some profound encouragement. Judge every word you speak: does it proceed from the mind of Christ or does it betray a deep-seated selfishness? Remember this: your mouth is a powerful instrument to benefit others. Do not dam it up or let the well go dry. As you delight in the Lord, open up the floodgates and refresh your thirsty neighbor.

Be the Church

I am a child of God.

I belong to Jesus Christ through faith because of his sacrifice.

I am indwell with His Spirit to guide and empower me in obedience.

I belong to a chosen people to proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We are the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth, an intentional community of grace that loves God, demonstrated by loving people in a culture of discipleship.

I will let His word dwell in me richly.

I will draw near to God.

I will abide in Christ.

I will keep in step with the Spirit,

And I will live in the outflow to exalt Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

The High Calling of Motherhood

Today we acknowledge the role of mom as valuable kingdom work. Whether you have in the past or are now being "Mom" to your child(ren), your unseen sacrifices and struggles are seen and valued by the Lord. We recognize that you, as a mom, may feel undervalued, misunderstood and overlooked by a culture that applauds outward and visible contributions to society. So much of your work as a mother is hidden away in the unseen moments of grace with your children. As you bend up to pick up the thousandth crayon, or empathetically listen to your teen's woes you receive no applause. When you respond patiently toward a tantrum throwing toddler, or graciously shepherd feuding siblings no one says, "Way to keep your cool!" You sacrifice and struggle because of love, and loving others is kingdom work.

Know that your motherhood is valued by this church. You don't need to be involved in a million ministry commitments when you have your hands full nurturing several souls. We encourage you to give the small, the ordinary, and the mundane things to God and watch him bless and multiply your efforts. Thank you for sowing the seeds of God's love in the hearts and minds of the young in our midst. As a church developing a culture of discipleship we call upon a group of older women to rise up -- women who are available and willing to take a younger mom under their wing. A mentor is not someone who has all the answers or is a spiritual giant, but a friend -- someone who is willing to listen and love. Because really, all a tired mom needs to keep going is a listening ear, a good cry, and maybe some banana bread.

She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed.

Proverbs 31:26-28a (NKJV)

Walking in Step With the Spirit

We who are in Christ, God's objective for us is to transform us "into His image" - in other words - to make us like Christ in character and accomplishment of the Father's will. So we are reconciled to Him (like a broken branch reconciled to the tree) through faith based on the sacrificial, redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The purpose for reconciling us is so that we can relate to Him, walk with Him and enjoy Him - that is relationship.  So He is our means AND our end. "Of him, through Him and to Him are all things" (Rom 11:36). 

So walking with God - enjoying and loving Him - is our highest function. When that is reality in our lives it will manifest itself by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness... . Though we can enjoy the accompanying pleasureof these virtues, they are not intended just to make our lives more pleasurable, but they manifest the character of Christ through us toward others in fulfillment of the greatest two commands: 1) Love God, 2) love your neighbor.

So when we are walking in the Spirt and abiding in Christ (drawing near to God and delighting in Him as His Word richly abides in us) we will not fulfill selfish desires ("works of the flesh" - Gal. 5:19-21, cf. 1 John 3:6) but will manifest the character of Christ in the outflow of His Spirit (the "fruit of the Spirit - Gal. 5:22-23). The list of the fruit of the Spirit is representative, not exhaustive.  The list ends with "against such there is no law."  Follow this out to its logical conclusion: if everyone was walking in the Spirit all the time, laws governing moral behavior would be unnecessary. Such will be the state of eternity for us in heaven with our Creator/Redeemer.

Found in Him

A fundamental component of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ is to be found in Him that we may acquire the excellencies of Christ.  The apostle uses the phrase “found in” also in Phil. 2:8 speaking of the second Person of the Trinity who was found in appearance as a man. The meaning is to be recognized in reality by another. Jesus did not just appear as a man, He was a man recognized by others.  So for us to be found in Him takes our faith out of the realm of a private subjective notion into the sphere in which the regenerate live.

A key description of the regenerate is the term in Christ. Barnes says that this points to our union with Christ – that we are truly and intimately connected to Him. We are in Him as a branch is in the trunk of the tree.  There is a permanent dwelling which makes the branch naturally at rest, all the while drawing resources, growing and producing.  We could say that the branch is in its element in the trunk just as a fish is in its element in water – the Christian’s element is in Christ.  With numerous exhortations to abide in Him, the Christian’s permanent address is Jesus Christ my Lord. The regenerate may be at home, at work or traveling abroad; he may be healthy, sick, abased or abounding – but he is always in Him.  Motyer colors the apostle’s statement in saying, “The Lord Jesus is a dwelling so attractive that Paul cannot bear to be away from home.”

To be found in Him, biblically, is an affirmed position, and it is the loftiest of human ambitions. When we ask, “Found by whom?” we will recognize this not as just a warm devotional thought, but as profound doctrinal truth about our essence and purpose with implications about our submission and habits.

Specific Knowledge

Paul’s statement of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ leads us to understand that there is no better option. This statement could be made with authority and confidence because of his experience. Paul’s knowledge was intellectual and rational, but it was more. His knowledge of Christ was experimental, meaning he spoke of His relationship (experience) with a person – The Person. And such knowledge was superior to any other that may compete.

I remember being attracted to a young lady in college with whom I was casually acquainted. During one summer we both traveled in a small group representing our Bible college to various churches around the country. After spending ten weeks driving 13,000 exhausting miles in a van and experiencing common stresses, pressures and joys of such an itinerary, my knowledge of this young woman was much deeper than before.  There was no question – I thought she was the best… so I asked her to be my wife.

It is of this kind of knowledge that the Psalmist invited: “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” It is a knowledge that goes beyond intelligence to the level of experience – relationship. Wuest describes Paul’s knowledge as “the knowledge he gained through the experience of intimate companionship and communion with Him.” Yet Paul never seemed complacent with his knowledge of Christ and always craved more interaction.

Now the apostle is not speaking of the surpassing worth of knowledge in general. He speaks of a very specific knowledge. There are many arenas of knowledge, but one specifically is infinitely superior to them all – the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Much is wrapped up in that name contingent upon His essence, His person, and His work from creation to redemption to regeneration. Who is Jesus Christ? He is, as Paul would affirm, the infinite, personal, loving Creator, Redeemer, Reconciler, and Intercessor. So, as Motyer explains, “the bare mention of Christ has been filled out over the years of experience of him, so that it is now the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” 

The last two words are telling. It was to this supreme Person that this well-educated, highly successful, driven man had wholly resigned himself. Much as Thomas, kneeling at the feet of the risen Jesus Christ cried out: “My Lord and my God!” it was an unequivocal recognition of and surrender to – it was absolute devotion. Nothing else mattered if it did not have something to do with Christ.  It is through this surpassing specific knowledge – of Jesus Christ my Lord – that you and I acquire the perfections of Christ.

We Have Much to Consider

How do we move forward in a culture that is increasingly devoid of a moral compass? The new morality is guided by the basic "virtue" of celebrating everyone's personal inclinations and identifications regardless of any objective standard. We are being told that deviant behaviors should be encouraged and supported. The issue is that the point from which these behaviors deviate can no longer be identified. Everyone is now the arbiter of their own morality. But is this so different than the environment in which the church was birthed? What an opportunity for the church to shine against the background of darkness. Every person must still be viewed as created in God's image and under the love of God as demonstrated in the cross. What each person needs most is reconciliation to God, transformation by His Spirit, and rescue from the bondage of sin through surrendered faith in Christ. 

Our role in this is to demonstrate the love of Christ through bold compassion without celebrating or supporting the sin. What is paramount is that our engagement with the world is with grace and truth. Our interactions should never be based on personal feelings or opinions, but on God's character and purpose communicated with the mind of Christ. What people want to know is can you be kind and respectful to someone with whom you disagree? In this area some Christians have fallen short. We need to ask ourselves if our conversations (especially social media) add fuel to the fire of the perception that Christians hate people who don't see things our way. What sacrifices are we willing to make in view of the bigger picture of building bridges with compassion in order to plant seeds of truth? What is more important: a normal day with its comforts, or investing in messy lives for the sake of the gospel? Let's reconsider the call of Christ to take our cross daily in order to follow Him.

Surpassing Worth

When would a man give up something of great value to himself? When he finds a superior replacement. Today we speak of upgrades: a devise to wear on the belt that has ten more functions than just a phone; a newer, classier automobile; or replacing veteran teammates with faster, more powerful ones. Eventually just about everything needs replacement.

In His shortest parable, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven in terms of “upgrading” to something superior: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matt. 13:44).  The cost of obtaining what is superior is letting go of what is inferior. It was with this understanding that the apostle Paul affirmed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil.3:8). In terms of success in his day, Saul of Tarsus was the poster boy. He had reached what every young man would dream of – prestige and position, with lion-sized passion to match. But these are the things Paul would brush aside like street litter if hanging on to them would in anyway obstruct his experience with Jesus Christ. The word he used to describe it is huperecho (to have over) which here is translated “excellent,” and in other places, “better,” surpassing,” “higher,” and “supreme.”

The excellency of the knowledge of Christ can be measured two ways; by its quality and outcome, and by contrast to what is inferior. Paul’s statement could be paraphrased: What value is there in anything absent the knowledge of Jesus Christ? At a time when Jesus outlined the cost of following Him (i.e. letting go of the inferior) many decided that was too great a cost and no longer walked with Him. When Jesus asked the twelve if they too would leave, Peter responded To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Paul echoes Peter here – there is no better option. This is superior – by far the best.