Tuesday, May 19, 2009

THE WAY OF WORSHIP


“Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

I think the phrase, “for My sake” beautifully encapsulates the concept of “God-Centeredness” – a subject which I have previously begun to address, for I believe it to be both foundational and prophetic for the Church. (See "God-Centeredness" blog) The Fall of Humanity has been a fall into self-centeredness, and this self-centeredness is the greatest hindrance to God-Centeredness. I have also written that The Way of the Cross is God’s way of displacing our self-centeredness to move us back in the direction of God-Centeredness. (See "The Way of the Cross" Parts I-IV blogs) In this present article, I will focus on what the Holy Spirit has been dealing with me about regarding the phenomena of our seeking to “save” our lives while the Lord encourages us to “lose” our lives. It is obvious that it takes faith to “Let go, and let God.” – that is, to “lose our lives”. What may be a little less obvious is that we “seek to save our lives” because of unbelief. It is that “unbelief” that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me about in my own personal life and what I hope to communicate to you here.

“FOR MY SAKE”

“It’s not about you; it’s all about God.” Unfortunately this statement has almost become clichéd, but in its reality, it portrays a truly God-Centered perspective for our Christian faith. It’s a sad fact that we can travel very far along on our spiritual journey and still be trapped in “It’s all about me.” Typically we’re not aware of this until the Spirit of Truth Who “desires truth in our innermost being” (Psalm 51:6) removes the veil from our hearts and minds. When we do embrace the reality that “It’s all about Him”, we come to the place where we see God for Who He is and see ourselves for who we are – Creator and createes. Then, and only then, do we begin to understand and find our place in HIS story and how our lives can “serve the purpose of God in our generation”. (Acts 13:36)


SEEING THE “UP-LIFTEDNESS” OF GOD

We lived and ministered in South Africa for 13 years, and during this time I became very good friends with a Brazilian who was pastoring a Portuguese-speaking church in Johannesburg. He would regularly have me come to minister in his church there, and over the years, we became very close around the Person of Christ. He eventually returned to his homeland and planted a church in the Rio de Janeiro area. Five times, he arranged month-long ministry itineraries for me in Brazil. It was in 1995, during one of these missions, after ministering to a church in Pau Grande, a town outside of Rio, the local pastor invited us to travel up the old road towards the city of Petrópolis on a mountain overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. The purpose was to meet and pray with a man who had been living alone in a hut on the mountain for a number of years praying for Rio de Janeiro. After meeting the man, it was suggested that we separate on the mountain, pray individually, and then re-group and pray together.

As I stood on a large boulder and looked out on the panorama of Rio de Janeiro below, the opening verse to Isaiah 6 emerged from my spirit into my mind:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1) 

I immediately knew that this wasn’t necessarily pertaining to Rio de Janeiro. What the Holy Spirit was speaking was being spoken to me. The simple message was this: “Isaiah has seen Me ‘high and lifted up. You haven’t.” I did not feel “put down” by the Lord. It just seemed that He wanted me to see something I needed to see. Then these words came up from my heart: “You have seen very well the falleness of Humanity - and this is necessary and good. But you also need to see the ‘up-liftedness’ of God.” I knew what He meant: I had clear insight into the fallen human condition - sin and its pervasive and tragic consequences in the lives of people. It had repeatedly pierced my heart for 33 years on 4 continents. I knew well the theological and experiential “death (which is) the wages of sin”. But I hadn’t sufficiently seen the “up-liftedness” of God – His redemptive power over sin and death. I hadn’t received sufficient revelation or personal experience of this in my life and ministry. Indeed, this had a limiting effect on my life and ministry. The effect had been specifically on my faith – and “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

FAITH

I need to explain what I mean by “faith”. I believe my understanding is based on what is conveyed throughout the scriptures of the Bible. The Greek word translated “faith” in the verb form (for faith is an “action” word) is pisteuo, which means to believe, to trust, to depend upon, to lean upon. Therefore to “grow in faith” is to grow in dependency. Biblically, the object of such reliance is God, not self. This is expressly why Worship, and also the Way of the Cross, displace our self-centeredness and move us in the direction of God-Centeredness. When we do not have sufficient faith (reliance) in God, we tend to become self-reliant, and also begin to place our reliance on people, places and things. Unconsciously, we begin to fall into the trap of “seeking to save our lives”.

I have to admit that 15 years after that experience on the mountain in Brazil, I cannot say that this deficit in my faith has improved. In fact, it seems that in the years I have been back in the States I have seen more of my own falleness and brokenness, more of the falleness and brokenness in the lives of those I love, as well as in the society around me. The Holy Spirit has begun to make me acutely aware that I still need to see the Lord’s “up-liftedness” by showing me even more clearly how my faith, life and ministry has been limited by this lack. The details are too deep and pervasive to try to communicate here. Suffice to say, I have come to a personal spiritual crisis point. As the father of the demonized son said: “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) As the apostles asked the Lord: “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)

Recently I saw the 2008 film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley stage play Doubt: A Parable, which starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn and Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius. I highly recommend the film. I attended a Catholic church school in the ‘60s, and I would say that Shanley set the story in a 1964 Catholic church school in New York in a very authentic way. Hofffman and Steep portrayed their characters excellently. Without giving away the story line, both characters had a crisis of faith – doubt – based both upon their own shortcomings, but also upon their ministry experience of the human condition. We might say, their faith had become “jaded”. One of the descriptions the Thesaurus lists under the word “jaded” is the very apt phrase - “world-weary”. In the character portrayals, I think Shanley and the actors ingeniously brought out some deep truths regarding “doubt” or incomplete faith. In the case of the Catholic priest, the natural outlet for him was to give a sermon about “doubt”. As it turns out, his weakness of faith was the root of a serious sin. In the case of the Catholic nun, her “doubt” is finally admitted to in the powerful closing scene of the film. But near the end of the film, one begins to realize that it was because her faith was almost gasping for its final breath, that she was driven to single-handedly work and succeed at exposing the sin of the priest – seemingly quite without the help of God. And that’s the point! If you don’t believe God can or will do it, almost out of necessity, you are driven to do it! If you don’t have faith in God, you find yourself struggling alone against the sin and death in this world! That will make you “world-weary”!

I long to be able to say like Isaiah: “I saw the Lord, and He was high and lifted up.” And like Job who said: "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You.” (Job 42:5) Think about all that Job went through – typifying the consequences of the brokenness of Man. But also think of the “the outcome of the Lord’s dealings” with Job. (James 5:11) The culmination of the Job story is that God had brought him to a spiritual place – Job came to the place of seeing the Lord – “high and lifted up”. It is there that we begin to have the “faith that overcomes the world” (I John 5:4) – namely, faith in God’s redemptive power over the sin and death that pervades human existence.

THE WAY OF WORSHIP

So, what will “help our unbelief”? What will help us see the “up-liftedness” of God? This is what the Holy Spirit has shown me – it’s really nothing new – it is something very foundational: Worship. By worship, I mean recognizing and responding to the worthiness of God. It can be said that “Seeing” is the first part of worship – that which precedes and precipitates the second part, which is Response. Certainly throughout the Scriptures of the Bible when someone “sees” the Lord, the immediate response is worship. (Genesis 35:7; Leviticus 9:24; II Chronicles 7:3; Matthew 14:33; Revelation 7:11, 11:16, 19:4)

An excellent form of worship is to reflect on the names and attributes of God through Bible teaching and /or small group discussion, with praise and thanksgiving to God for Who He is. There are good books on the names and attributes of God. Lists of God’s names and attributes are also available on the Internet. {The Names of God, Andrew Jukes (Kregel); The Attributes of God, Arthur W. Pink (Baker); Knowing God, J.I. Packer (IVP); The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer (Harper Row)} But the following excerpt from the Westminster Confession of Faith gives a wonderful introduction to the concept of seeing and worshiping God for Who He is:

“There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.” (From Chapter 2 of the Westminster Confession)

Undoubtedly, when we see God for Who He truly is, our faith will be truly strengthened.

TRUTH: AN ATTRIBUTE OF GOD

Recently, we attended a training conference equipping us to lead small groups in the The Truth Project. The Truth Project is a Christian worldview curriculum presented by Del Tackett of the Focus on the Family Institute. I found it to be more than a series on the Christian world view – it is truly a series on a God-Centered world view. The series is founded upon and begins with Truth as an attribute of God.

Jesus said: “I am … the truth .…” (John 14:6) “…truth was realized through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) Jesus said to Pilate: “…For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." (John 18:37) Jesus promised that His true disciples would “… know the truth and the truth (that is, the Son Himself) would set them free.” (John 8:31-32) His Spirit is named “the Spirit of Truth”. (John 14:17) And the Spirit of Christ still today “rides on victoriously for the cause of truth….” (Psalm 45:4)

It took us a few days by car to travel to this conference. I had plenty of uninterrupted time to “dump” on my wife about how terrible I was feeling spiritually under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But I also managed to share with her what the Holy Spirit had and was speaking to me from the passage in Isaiah 6. What I poured out to her were actually the seeds of this article.

In the opening moments of the first training session I was impacted like I haven’t been impacted by the Spirit of the Lord for many, many years. Del Tackett was using that passage in Isaiah 6 as the introduction and basis of The Truth Project! As I sat through the excellent teaching for two days, “I saw the Lord high and lifted up”, my spirit quivered in my belly, I worshiped the Lord in silence and tears. I’ve had a fresh touch from the Holy Spirit. “He has made known to me the path of life”, (Psalm 16:11) and I am committed to the pursuit of seeing and worshiping God.

We have a small group meeting in our home for The Truth Project series.
For information contact:

Bill Furioso, Pastor-Teacher
Phone: (585) 747-3906
E-mail: AtChristsTable@rochester.rr.com

Website: www.AtChristsTable.org
Blog: http://AtChristsTableMinistries.blogspot.com

Sunday, May 10, 2009

THE WAY OF THE CROSS - Part IV

REVIEW

We can make this summary thus far:
The Way of the Cross is defined as “self-denial” for the glory of God. In that the Way of the Cross entails a type of suffering contrary to the natural self, like Jesus, we must “learn obedience from the things we suffer”.

The Scriptures reveal that those who have come into Christ are destined to rule and reign with Him in the age to come. And in order to rule and reign with Him, and not contrary to Him, we need to learn how He rules and reigns – and that is with self-denying love. And so, if we learn the Way of the Cross, that is, if we suffer with or like Christ, we will also learn the self-denying love by which He rules and reigns. Our motivation for walking the Way of the Cross is not only to be able to rule and reign with Christ in the age to come; but both in the here and now and throughout eternity, to be able to know Him through the “fellowship of His sufferings” and thereby be conformed to His image.

The Scriptures speak of both “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “our cross” ; and that “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a pattern for “our cross”. The Lord’s self-denying love is a pattern for our self-denying love. This is a supernatural, transformational work of the Holy Spirit in our lives which conforms us to the image of Christ, as we “follow in His steps” on the Way of the Cross.

Some of the ways in which Jesus left us “an example for us to follow in His steps” on this Way of the Cross are:

DENYING HIS WILL for the glory of God

DENY THE WILL OF HIS LOVED ONES for the glory of God

DENYING HIMSELF OF PEOPLE’S ACCEPTANCE for the glory of God

DENYING HIMSELF BY ALLOWING HIMSELF TO SUFFER AT THE HANDS OF SINNERS for the glory of God

DENYING HIMSELF BY NOT OPENING HIS MOUTH FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

ASPECTS OF THE TRUE CROSS

There are certain aspects “Your Cross” which will help us recognize the true Cross in our life situations. The first of these is:

“YOUR CROSS” IS PRIMARILY FOR “YOU”

“Your Cross” is of benefit primarily to you. It is not primarily for the benefit of someone else – like an unsaved loved one for example. Only “The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” has the God-given power to save someone. “Your Cross” does not have the power to save anyone. It is written in Psalm 49:7, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him.” While our walking the Way of the Cross can help bear witness to Christ and reveal the love of God in Christ, it is wrong to think that our walking the Way of the Cross towards or on behalf of another can, in and of itself, bring that person to salvation. This mistaken idea is sometimes referred to as a “Messiah Complex”. If the Lord presents an opportunity to walk the Way of the Cross in the context of our relationship with someone, it is primarily for our benefit. Again, that “benefit” is “to conform us to the image of His Son”. “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” Much, actually everything, that happens in the life of a believer is intended by God to press you into deeper relationship with Him. So, the Way of the Cross is something that is taking place between you and the Lord. It’s possible that the other person involved may never even be aware of “Your Cross”. After all, even with regards to Jesus, Who “died for all”, not everyone has given recognition to “the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

“YOUR CROSS” IS SEASONAL

I share the following from my personal experience: Ecclesiastes 3:1 reads: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Shortly before being taken down from the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” There is a season for “Your Cross” – a particular time for God’s particular purpose through a particular application of the cross. In a particular area, “Your Cross” will not go on indefinitely. God’s particular work in you will be “finished” for a particular season. The Lord may “revisit” an issue again later, in order to do a deeper work in that area of your life; but you will find there will be seasons in His application of the cross of that area. So, while the Way of the Cross is definitely an ongoing lifestyle, God’s particular purpose in a particular application of the cross is seasonal in that sense. Our experience should not be: death upon death, upon death, upon death. Our experience should be: crucifixion to resurrection life, crucifixion to resurrection life, crucifixion to resurrection life. The reason I am attempting to communicate what I believe is the way God deals with His children is because Satan deals with us differently, and we need to be able to tell the difference. When we allow God to have the Way of the Cross in our lives, frequently Satan will follow in God’s footsteps” with a “counterfeit cross”: After God has brought an end to His work of the cross in a season, Satan will try to continue on with a counterfeit work bringing suffering and sorrow, which God has not sanctioned. This is how we can distinguish Satan’s counterfeit work from God true work of the cross: God always allows for our free will choice to deny self for the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation; whereas, Satan violates our free will through an imposition of the work of an evil spirit, always in an attempt to demolish, rather than transform self. This leads us to another aspect of the true cross:

“THE WAY OF THE CROSS” IS VOLUNTARY

The cross was not really imposed upon Jesus – He CHOSE to deny Himself for the glory of God. This is what Jesus had to say on this issue in John 10:17-18 (in the Amplified Translation): “For this [reason] the Father loves Me, because I lay down My [own] life--to take it back again. No one takes it away from Me. On the contrary, I lay it down voluntarily. [I put it from Myself.] I am authorized and have power to lay it down (to resign it) and I am authorized and have power to take it back again. These are the instructions (orders) which I have received [as My charge] from My Father.”

There was a time when the Jews attempted to kill Jesus before the Father’s appointed time for His crucifixion, and Jesus “passed through the midst” of the angry crowd – He CHOSE not to deny Himself when it was not for the glory of God. Yet, as He hung on the cross, the Jews mocked Him saying, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”; but He CHOSE not to. We always have the CHOICE TO CHOOSE TO OR CHOOSE NOT TO deny ourselves. We always have the CHOICE TO CHOOSE TO CONTINUE denying ourselves, or to CHOOSE TO STOP denying ourselves. Jesus said, “(YOU) TAKE UP your cross daily …” This is not something imposed on you. This is voluntarily embracing opportunities to deny yourself for the glory of God. And this takes us to the last aspect of the true cross I have to offer here:

THE WAY OF THE CROSS IS DAILY

“Take up your cross DAILY…” As we said, the Way of the Cross is a lifestyle. EACH DAY is literally filled with opportunities for us to voluntarily “take up our cross” – to voluntarily stay on the cross – to voluntarily deny ourselves for the glory of God. If we embrace these opportunities, DAILY the Holy Spirit will be able to transform us; so that more and more, we will have the same self-denying love nature as the Lord. EVERY DAY of this life is filled with opportunities to learn how to rule and reign with Christ in the age to come.

THE WAY OF THE CROSS - Part III

REVIEW

We can make this summary thus far:
The Way of the Cross is defined as “self-denial” for the glory of God. In that the Way of the Cross entails a type of suffering contrary to the natural self, like Jesus, we must “learn obedience from the things we suffer”.

The Scriptures reveal that those who have come into Christ are destined to rule and reign with Him in the age to come. And in order to rule and reign with Him, and not contrary to Him, we need to learn how He rules and reigns – and that is with self-denying love. And so, if we learn the Way of the Cross, that is, if we suffer with or like Christ, we will also learn the self-denying love by which He rules and reigns. Our motivation for walking the Way of the Cross is not only to be able to rule and reign with Christ in the age to come; but both in the here and now and throughout eternity, to be able to know Him through the “fellowship of His sufferings” and thereby be conformed to His image.

The Scriptures speak of both “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “our cross” ; and that “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a pattern for “our cross”. The Lord’s self-denying love is a pattern for our self-denying love. This is a supernatural, transformational work of the Holy Spirit in our lives which conforms us to the image of Christ, as we “follow in His steps” on the Way of the Cross.

“AN EXAMPLE FOR US TO FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS”

We will now look at some of the ways in which Jesus left us “an example for us to follow in His steps” on this Way of the Cross:

JESUS SET AN EXAMPLE FOR US BY DENYING HIS WILL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

Jesus prayed to the Father: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." Jesus set an example of denying our human will for the glory of God. We read in Matthews’s gospel:

“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.’"

Peter wanted something contrary to God’s will: Peter wanted to see Jesus alive, over-throwing the Roman government, and being seated as King over Israel - with Peter seated right next to Him. Peter even said, “God forbid...”, like he was speaking God’s will. But Peter’s will was actually contrary to God’s will. Jesus called him “Satan”, which means “adversary”, because his will was going against God’s will. And the reason this was so was because Peter’s heart and mind were focused on himself and seeing things from a human point of view, rather than from a God-centered point of view.

Along with denying our own will when it was contrary to God’s, Jesus also instructed us to deny the will of our loved ones if it stood in the way of God’s glory. Again in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

So we see that walking the Way of the Cross can bring a sword – not peace – in family relationships. This happens when the will of our loved ones being exerted in our lives goes contrary to the glory of God in our lives. We are then forced into making a choice on who will be Lord in our lives – our loved ones or Christ. If we choose our loved ones, we deny Christ’s Lordship and are “not worthy of Him”. If we choose Christ and find ourselves at this departure with our loved ones, we are indeed following Jesus on the Way of the Cross. And He promised that if “for His sake”, we temporarily – or permanently – lose this familial part of our soul-life , we will find something in place of it, which God Himself has given as a blessing that comes with His will being done.


JESUS SET AN EXAMPLE FOR US BY DENYING HIMSELF OF PEOPLE’S ACCEPTANCE FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

Jesus said, “I do not receive honor from men.”

He also said: "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”

The apostle John said: “…even His brothers did not believe in Him.”

And listen to what His own family had to say:

“But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’”

The Scripture speaks for itself: Jesus had to deny Himself of people’s acceptance for the glory of God; and if we walk the Way of the Cross, so will we. This is what Luke wrote about the acceptance of others in light of the cross:

“You are in for trouble when everyone says good things about you. That is what your own people said about those prophets who told lies.”

Or as a paraphrase version puts it:

"There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.”

JESUS SET AN EXAMPLE FOR US BY DENYING HIMSELF BY ALLOWING HIMSELF TO SUFFER AT THE HANDS OF SINNERS FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

Probably nothing describes this better than Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Christ as the Suffering Servant.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”


Later, the author of the Book of Hebrews wrote:

“… consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

And he desired to encourage the Hebrews to continue on the Way of the Cross when he wrote:

“… remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

JESUS SET AN EXAMPLE FOR US BY DENYING HIMSELF BY NOT OPENING HIS MOUTH FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

Again, this was succinctly stated in Isaiah’s prophecy:

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”

In his epistle, where Peter makes reference to Isaiah’s prophecy, he also brings forth something more for our instruction:

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously….”

Here, Peter brings out the fact that “while being reviled”, Jesus “did not revile in return”, “He uttered no threats”; but rather, kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously”. Through His example, we can see that keeping silent is intimately related to trust in God – that is trusting God to “do the talking” for us”, if He so desires. God also may decide to also keep silent. But, we can trust in that which Isaiah prophesied said:

"If anyone fiercely assails you it will not be from Me. Whoever assails you will fall because of you. Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and brings out a weapon for its work; and I have created the destroyer to ruin. No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me, declares the LORD.”

Yes, to keep silent, in the midst of criticism or accusation is yet another example that Jesus set for us in walking the Way of the Cross.

THE WAY OF THE CROSS - Part II

REVIEW

We have looked at WHAT the Way of the Cross is, as defined by Jesus Himself in Scripture. The first mention of “the cross” in the Bible is spoken by Jesus Himself:
“And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also].”

According to Jesus, Way of “The Cross” is self-denial. In another Scripture , Jesus also instructs us that “The Cross” is “for the glory of the Father”. And yet another aspect of “The Cross” is that it is “daily”, as Jesus said that we were to “take up our cross daily and follow Him.” The Way of the Cross is a daily life style of self-denial.

In discussing WHY the Way of the Cross, we concluded that our essential spiritual need is a change from a self-centered to a God-centered point of view; and that this “change” is theologically referred to as repentance. The Greek word translated repentance is: metanoeo . It is a combination of two words: meta, which means to change; and noeo, which means to perceive. Fundamentally, we need a change of perception – we need to change our point of view – from a self-centered to a God-centered point of view. And the Way of the Cross has been provided by God to accomplish this work in fallen humanity.

By looking at Scripture, we have also considered that the Way of the Cross is the only way God does things. The “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross” are perfect expressions of the very essence of God’s nature, which is self-denying love.


SUFFERING, RULING AND REIGNING

Now, as we continue with the question of WHY the Way of the Cross, we see that the Scriptures reveal that those who have come into Christ are destined to rule and reign with Him in the age to come. In order to rule and reign WITH Him, and not contrary to Him, we need to learn HOW He rules and reigns. And we know from Scripture and experience that He rules and reigns with a self-denying love. If we are to rule and reign with Him, we are to learn this self-denying love, which is so contrary to our self-centeredness. This is something that we must learn to obey; and this “learning to obey” presents suffering to us. It is even said of Jesus that, “although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered”.

A man named Paul Billheimer wrote effectively concerning these concepts. In his book, Destined For The Throne, he discusses our calling to rule and reign with Christ; and in the sequel, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, that through the Way of the Cross, we learn the self-denying love which will enable us to rule and reign with Christ. Billheimer refers to the Cross as “the throne of the universe”.

The apostle Paul expressed the desire to know Christ “and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” This “fellowship of His sufferings” is a participation in, a sharing in, the sufferings of Christ. And Paul mentions twice in his epistles that if, through these sufferings, we learn self-denying love (the Way of the Cross), we will be glorified with Christ and reign with Christ:

“And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

and …

“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure (suffering), we will also reign with Him….”

We can make this summary thus far: The Way of the Cross is defined as “self-denial”. In that it is contrary to self, the Way of the Cross entails a type of suffering. Since self-denial and suffering are contrary to our natural self, we must “learn obedience from the things we suffer”. And, if we learn the Way of the Cross, that is, if we suffer with or like Christ, we will learn how to rule and reign as He does – that is, with self-denying love.

In Galatians 6:14, the apostle Paul said:

“But may it never be that I would boast, except in THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, through which (the Cross) the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

This is quite a statement, but suffice for now to point out that he referred to “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” – that is, Jesus’ cross. But Jesus referred to OUR cross when He said: “…let him deny himself, and take up HIS CROSS daily, and follow Me.” Yet, in saying “follow Me”, He was also saying that THE LORD’S cross is a pattern for OUR cross. The writer to the Hebrews confirms this in three places in his epistle:

1) “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As “Author and Perfecter of faith”, Jesus is our pattern in this process of “enduring (suffering) the cross” in order to rule and reign.

2) “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect (bring to maturity) the Author of their salvation through sufferings.”

As “Author of our salvation”, Jesus is our pattern in this process of suffering that brings us to God’s glory.

3) “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected (brought to maturity), He became the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”

As “Author of eternal salvation”, Jesus is our pattern in this process of “learning obedience by the things we suffer and being “perfected” (brought to maturity).
Jesus is our pattern in this process – The “process” is the Way of the Cross. And this is the operating principle in the process:

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ ) are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

In other words, as we see Jesus as our pattern in the process of the Way of the Cross – seeing His self-denying love , the Holy Spirit will spiritually transform us into His image. The LORD’S cross will act as a pattern for OUR cross. The LORD’S self-denying love will act as a pattern for OUR self-denying love.

The apostle Peter wrote:

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”

There are a number of ways Jesus left us “an example for us to follow in His steps” on this Way of the Cross. We will be looking at each one in some detail, but for now will just list them:

Jesus set an example for us by DENYING HIS WILL for the glory of God.

Jesus set an example for us by DENYING HIMSELF OF PEOPLE’S ACCEPTANCE for the glory of God.

Jesus set an example for us by DENYING HIMSELF BY ALLOWING HIMSELF TO SUFFER AT THE HANDS OF SINNERS for the glory of God.

Jesus set an example for us by DENYING HIMSELF BY NOT OPENING HIS MOUTH for the glory of God.



Sunday, January 25, 2009

THE WAY OF THE CROSS - Part 1

THE WAY OF THE CROSS - Part 1

The two topics which have been on my heart are “God-Centeredness” and “The Way of the Cross”. These two topics are very much connected. We have discussed “God-Centeredness” and found its antithesis to be “Self-Centeredness”. It is this “self-centeredness” which the “Way of the Cross” addresses. While it is more than this, the Way of the Cross is God’s solution to self-centeredness. I say it is “more than this” because self-centeredness is a human problem which originated at the Fall, while the Way of the Cross is the outworking of the Divine Nature, and therefore, an eternal principle.

But, why is it that we are naturally self-centered when we were actually created to be God-centered? Let’s begin at the beginning where it all began. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Book of Genesis, we read about the Fall of Man. I will paraphrase the story: God said, “I have given you a paradise here. There is the Tree of Life, and there is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I would like for you to eat of the Tree of Life, but not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course, in order for you to love Me, as I have defined love, I have given you a free will; and you can disagree and disobey Me.[1] But, from My point of view, it would be a good thing for you not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I have the Knowledge of Good and Evil and I have created you in My image and likeness. You have been created to be LIKE Me, but not AS Me. The difference is this: As God, I have the Knowledge of Good and Evil and I can handle it - you can’t.”

Then along came the Adversary – the one who hates us, and wants to steal, kill and destroy us. He said to Eve: “Sure, God said that He loves you and wants the best for you, but He must be holding something back from you and Adam, if He won’t let you eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Come over here and just take a look at this tree from my point of view: This is beautiful food that will make you wise.” So Eve took a look at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And from her point of view, this looked like a good deal. So, she and her husband ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In so doing, they in as much said to God: “Lord, thanks very much for this paradise, but we feel that if we can just decided for ourselves what we think will be good and evil for us, we will be able to make an even better life for ourselves.”

We see the results of their choice in the same chapter: they realize they are naked, and now feel like they cannot stand before the Lord, and try to hide from His presence. In the next chapter we see that their son, Cain, kills his brother, Abel. When God confronts him about this, his response is: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In others words, he was acting out of his self-centered point of view. Well, as they say: “The rest is history” – the history of Humanity’s hopeless attempt at living independent of God.

Our essential spiritual need is a change from a self-centered to a God-centered point of view. This “change” is theologically referred to as repentance. The Greek word translated repentance is: metanoeo[2]. It is a combination of two words: meta, which means to change; and noeo, which means to perceive. Fundamentally, we need a change of perception – we need to change our point of view – from a self-centered to a God-centered point of view. And the Way of the Cross has been provided by God to accomplish this work in fallen humanity.

I’ve long taken note of the list of characteristics the apostle Paul gives in his letter to Timothy describing people who are living in the last days.[3] The list begins with “lovers of self”.[4]
I do think this characterizes our generation. The Church and those who lead it are far from being exempt. Yet, the displacement of self-centeredness to God-centeredness is a defining characteristic of Christ and therefore of true Christ-likeness. But because self-centeredness is so intertwined in our fallen human nature, what is required is that we be regularly reminded of the message of the Way of the Cross asking the Holy Spirit to apply it afresh to our lives.

What Do We Mean By “The Cross”?

But what exactly do we mean by “The Cross”? The first mention of “the cross” in the Bible is spoken by Jesus Himself:
“And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also].”[5]

Jesus is “the Author and Perfecter of faith”[6] and He defined “the cross” in terms of “denying self”. According to Jesus, a second aspect of the definition of “the cross” is that it is “for the glory of the Father”. He said:
“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name " Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."[7]
One insidious danger associated with desiring to walk the Way of the Cross is falling into the trap of taking pride in our self-denial. This does not glorify the Father, but instead, ironically, leads to self-glorification. This type of spiritual pride is in direct contradiction to the Way of the Cross.

A third aspect of the definition of “the Cross” is that it is “daily”, as Jesus said that we were to “take up our cross daily and follow Him”. That is, the Way of the Cross is not some kind of single special act of spectacular sacrifice which may even bring popular notoriety; but rather, the Way of the Cross is a daily life style of self-denial – usually in ways that may go totally unnoticed except by God.

We need to make a distinction between the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross”: The “Work of the Cross” is Christ’s sacrificial work on the Cross as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the World”.[8] The message of the “Work” of the Cross is directed to the unconverted – the “old man”.[9] The “Way of the Cross” is Christ’s example which He gave to “any person wills to come after Him…and follow Him.[10] That is “cleave steadfastly to Him, conform wholly to His example”[11], and “take the same road with Him that He takes as a habit of life”.[12] The message of the Way of the Cross is directed to the “new man”.[13]

WHY The Way Of The Cross?

Why is the “Way of the Cross” necessary? It is God’s way. From eternity past to eternity future, it is the only way God does things: In Revelation 13:8 it is written:
“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”[14]
From this verse we see that both the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross” were established in God’s heart and mind, and in God’s plan and purpose from before the beginning of the world.

Also at the end of the Book of Revelation, in the new heavens and the new earth, in the midst of the New Jerusalem, we see “the throne of God and of the Lamb”.[15]

God’s eternal plan and purpose was accomplished only by the Lamb through the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross”. In his vision into eternity, this is the truth the apostle John saw and heard declared by angels, the living creatures and elders at the throne in heaven:
“I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."[16]

The apostle John also wrote this in one of his epistles:
“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[17]

Why the “Way of the Cross”? It is God’s way. From eternity past to eternity future, it is the only way God does things. This is so, because both the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross” are perfect expressions of the very essence of God’s nature - His self-denying love.

[1] Humankind is free to love or not love God. Jesus said: “IF YOU LOVE ME, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) Many would ask: “Why would God create humankind knowing that they would fall into sin and suffer the sorrowful consequences of sin?” Because He freely chose to create and love us, He wanted us to freely choose to love Him, even at the risk of our choosing not to, for He had a plan of redemption already in place before the fall into sin. (Revelation 13:8, Ephesians 1:3-6)

[2] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible # 3340 and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.
[3] II Timothy 3:1-3
[4] II Timothy 3:1-3
[5] Luke 9:23 The Amplified Bible. The Amplified Bible was the first Bible project of The Lockman Foundation. It attempts to take both word meaning and context into account in order to accurately translate the original text from one language into another. The Amplified Bible does this through the use of explanatory alternate readings and amplifications to assist the reader in understanding what Scripture really says. Multiple English word equivalents to each key Hebrew and Greek word clarify and amplify meanings that may otherwise have been concealed by the traditional translation method.
[6] Hebrews 12:2
[7] John 12:27-28
[8] John 1:29
[9] Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9
[10] Luke 9:23
[11] The Amplified Bible
[12] The Wuest Expanded Translation
[13] Ephesians 2:15, 4:24; Colossians 3:10
[14] New International Version. Now, there are alternative translations for this verse. Some are communicating that it was the “names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” from (before) the creation of the world. Others, like the NIV, are communicating that it was the “Lamb slain” from (before) the creation of the world.[14] I favor the later. Admittedly, both views are logically problematic, requiring a worldview and faith in spiritual realities existing before empirical human history. There is an interesting phrase in Hebrew 9:14 which I think could be seen to give added support to this concept of “the Lamb slain from the creation”: “… how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” ( Hebrew 9:14) “… through the eternal Spirit (He) offered Himself”: The simple understanding is that Jesus was able to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This sacrifice was taking place through the agency of the Holy Spirit. That can mean a number of things – one of which is that this sacrifice was taking place in the spiritual dimension. And because it was taking place through the eternal Spirit, it could have very well been taking place in “eternity past”, or “from (before) the creation of the world”. This concept is also supported in I Peter 1:19-20: “… but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” In these verses, the apostle, Peter, is clearly stating that the Lamb was foreknown before the creation of the world. So from the Scriptures we know that Christ existed before the creation of the world, and that He was foreordained, if not “slain” - before the creation of the world. So, the Lamb “became flesh”, came into the world, and was physically slain during human history; but there also seems to be the spiritual reality that He was slain in an eternal, spiritual dimension “from (before) the creation of the world”.

[15] Revelation 22:1 & 3
[16] Revelation 5:1-13
[17] I John 4:9-10

GOD-CENTEREDNESS

GOD-CENTEREDNESS

I’ve had a particular topic on my heart. As I’ve tried to “get it on paper”, I have found it quite difficult knowing where to begin with this topic. It seems “inseparable” from sub-topics and related topics. The topic is “God-Centeredness” – particularly, God-Centeredness vs. Man-Centeredness in the Christian Life and Ministry of the Church. If I were to ask you “Where should I begin?”, it seems certain you would say, “Well, obviously, begin with God (rather than Man).” In turn, I would ask, “Why is that so obvious?” The answer is our subject matter.

In order to address the topic of “God-Centeredness”, we need to investigate God’s intention – His plan and purpose – in creation. And in order to properly understand this, we need to see things from God’s point of view. And in order to have God’s point of view, we need to adopt an eternal perspective. I don’t think it should be difficult to acknowledge that we all tend to be Man-Centered rather than God-Centered, see things from a self-centered point of view rather than God’s point of view, and give much more thought to the affairs of this life than eternity. Therefore, we would also need to ask, “What can be done about changing all this?” Or better, “What has God provided as a means of changing our tendencies?” The Biblical answer would be – the cross – not only the message of the cross, but also the way of the cross – a rare topic for the present generation (and the subject matter of another message).

So let’s “stack” the topics, as it were:
Ø The Divine Perspective - Seeing from God’s Point of View
Ø The Divine Intention - God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation
Ø God-Centeredness in the Christian Life and Church
Ø The Divine Rectification - The Way of the Cross as God’s Solution to Self-Centeredness (which we must save for another message)

The Divine Perspective
Seeing from God’s Point of View

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.”[1] I believe we can understand Solomon to be saying something like this: “It seems like there is a purpose to creation[2], and although Man cannot totally understand it now,[3] God has created him such that it is his very nature to want to know and understand God’s eternal plan and purpose in creation.” The Amplified Bible says it this way: “He also has planted eternity in men's hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy]….” The Young’s Literal Translation actually offers a hope for some “satisfaction”, as it were, even during our time on earth. It reads like this: ”… that knowledge He hath put in their heart without which man findeth not out the work that God hath done from the beginning even unto the end.” However, I believe that in Ecclesiastes, Solomon was speaking a perspective on a life lived apart from God. But I also believe that God does want us to understand His Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation. I believe this simply because He has revealed it in the Scripture: In Ephesians 1:4-5, the apostle Paul states: “Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.”[4]

In this passage, the phrase “before the world was made” shows us that in order to properly understand God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation, we must see from the Divine Perspective – we must see from God’s Point of View – that is, from an eternal perspective. God’s perspective is an eternal one. Man’s perspective is temporal. The Scripture[5] tells us that what we see is “temporal”, but what we don’t see (God and the things of God) are “eternal”. “Temporal”[6] means enduring for a while, for a season. If we are needing and wanting to know where it all came from and where it is all going, we need an eternal perspective – understanding that which was in the heart and mind of God before creation, and will remain after the earth passes away.[7]

Along with this eternal perspective, Seeing from God’s Point of View requires our agreeing with and submitting to God’s perspective on things. We must “sit where God is sitting”, as it were, and look outward and “see what God is seeing”, in order to understand things from His point of view. This puts God where He rightfully belongs in our lives – in the center. God’s point of view on things is given to Man by God’s Spirit in God’s Word, the Bible. If we agree with and submit to a Biblical perspective on things, we will have a God-centered point of view and not a Man-centered point of view. This is absolutely necessary to understand God and His Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation, which plan and purpose also include our personal lives. We can therefore appreciate the apostle Paul’s Spirit-motivated prayer for the Church: “We are asking God that you may see things, as it were, from His point of view by being given spiritual insight and understanding.”[8] The “spiritual insight and understanding” are the eternal truths given to Man by God’s Spirit in God’s Word, the Bible.

The Divine Intention
God’s Eternal Plans and Purposes in Creation

The Divine Perspective - Seeing from God’s Point of View – shows us something crucially important: The Divine Intention - God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation goes way beyond meeting Man’s needs. Firstly, God does not exist for Man (Man-Centeredness); Man exists for God (God-Centeredness). Secondly, the Divine Intention - God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation – goes back before time – before the creation – before Man fell into sin in the garden – and before the Father sent the Son to this earth to redeem Man from sin. Does it sound right to you, that God created Man so that He could redeem him from sin – end of story? Was that God’s eternal plan and purpose? Don’t we just know in our hearts that our God had something much better than that in His heart and mind?

Let’s look at Paul’s words again: “Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.”[9] The Divine Intention - God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose is to have A FAMILY OF SONS IN THE SON. While redeeming us from sin was necessary for God to fulfill the Divine Intention, it is not His eternal plan and purpose in creation. And if we only have this Man-centered / Needs-oriented perspective – that God’s main pre-occupation is in redeeming, saving, healing, and blessing Man, then, not only have we missed the Divine Intention, but our understanding of the whole of the Christian life, the mission and ministry of the Church will all be askew with a self-centered perspective.

So, the Divine Intention – God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation was to “make us his children” — a family of sons in The Son – “THIS WAS HIS PLEASURE AND PURPOSE.” In Revelation 4:11, we see that around the throne in heaven it is being declared: "You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created."[10] From this Scripture passage we learn that God created MAN BECAUSE IT GAVE HIM PLEASURE.

The first question and answer of the Westminster Catechism[11] is this:
Question 1: “What is the chief and highest end of man?” (That is, “What is the purpose of creation?”)Answer: “Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”

So we see that God created Man FOR HIS PLEASURE, and intends for Man to have his source of pleasure in God. We also see, at least from the point of view of those who were in the Westminster Assembly, that God is “Number One” – that is, “It’s not about you.” It’s all about God. Again, God does not exist for Man (Man-Centeredness); Man exists for God (God-Centeredness). We get this indication in the Scriptures right from the beginning: Genesis 1:1 reads: “In the beginning, GOD ….” Yes, everything began with God – not Man. Scripture teaches that everything comes from – has its source in – God. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 11:36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. [For all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.] To Him be glory forever! Amen (so be it).”[12]
God-Centeredness In The Christian Life And Church

In Psalm 14:2 David wrote: “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.” I believe that in Exodus 19:4-6 God told us what it is that He wants Man to understand: He set us free from the bondage of this world and “bore us on eagles wings, and brought us to Himself…. to be a special treasure to Him”[13]. He did this because He has always desired to have a people who would be “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation”. In other words: God desires a Church - that is, a people set apart from all other people - who would minister, not only to one another, but primarily to Him – a people who are His “special treasure”. In Ephesians 1:18 Paul wrote that God has “an inheritance in the saints”. Listen to some of the various translations[14] of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1, verse 11 about the Church:
· “we were made a heritage”
· “we were also made His inheritance”
· “we have also been chosen as God’s portion”
· “we were also made God’s portion”

I think we have to admit that, in contrast to this spiritual perspective, the humanism that pervades our times has changed the focus of the modern Church’s theology, spirituality and ministry so that it has become less and less God-centered, and more and more Man-centered. Evangelicals and Charismatics enjoy talking primarily about what God has done and will do FOR MAN. Some Liberals remind us about what should or must be done BY MAN. While Pentecostal and Holiness traditions major on what God has and still desires to do IN MAN. None of this is wrong – it is just OFF-CENTER. It is Man-centered, instead of God-centered. Whereas, in his various epistles to the churches, the apostle Paul puts forth a very God-centered perspective:
· “For FROM HIM and THROUGH HIM and TO HIM are all things.”[15]
· “For BY HIM all things were created…all things were created THROUGH HIM and FOR HIM.”[16]
· “…HIM, FOR WHOM are all things and BY WHOM are all things.”[17]
· “…FROM WHOM are all things, and we exist THROUGH HIM.”[18]

We also have the personal testimony and exhortation of Paul and his co-workers: “For the love of Christ compels[19] us, having concluded this, that One died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him Who died and rose again on their behalf.”[20]

In the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae, I believe he establishes a foundation for a God-centered, rather than a Man-centered church ministry – An approach to ministry where the Church focuses on loving and ministering firstly to the Lord rather to itself; and the Lord, Who is love, in turn ministers to the people – both sovereignly, as well as, through one another. We have already mentioned verse 9 from the J.B. Phillips translation: “We are asking God that you may see things, as it were, from His point of view by being given spiritual insight and understanding.” Now look at verses 17 and 18: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also the Head of the body, the Church; and He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place (or “the preeminence”[21]) in everything.” The Greek word, proteuo, means to be given first place in rank and influence. “He is before all things…” The Greek word, pro, means He is above, superior in all things.[22] “In Him all things hold together.” The Greek word, sunistano, means are held together, are sustained. When is it that a marriage, a relationship, a church do not hold together? When we do not allow Christ to be the Head – when we do not give Him first place or the preeminence.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that ministering to the many needs of people is wrong. What is wrong, from a Biblical perspective, is when ministry to people comes before ministry to God, when the goal of being held together with one another comes before being held together in God, and when the desires of people occupy first place on the agenda, when it is the Lord Who should have the preeminence.

So, from a Biblical perspective, it is without question that we absolutely need to have:
Ø The Divine Perspective - Seeing from God’s Point of View
Ø The Divine Intention - God’s Eternal Plan and Purpose in Creation
Ø God-Centeredness in the Christian Life and Church
It does not so much depend upon our own abilities to attain to and develop “spiritual insight and understanding”, but upon our humility and willingness to forsake Self-Centeredness for God-Centeredness. But since we unfortunately tend to be Man-Centered rather than God-Centered, we need to ask, “What has God provided as a means of changing our tendencies?” The Biblical answer is the cross – not only the message of the cross, but also the way of the cross. This will be the subject matter of the next message: The Divine Rectification - The Way of the Cross as God’s Solution to Self-Centeredness.
[1] Ecclesiastes 3:11
[2] See the preceding verses 1-10 in Ecclesiastes 3.
[3] Although, the Young’s Literal Translation puts it differently:”… that knowledge He hath put in their heart without which man findeth not out the work that God hath done from the beginning even unto the end.”
[4] Good News Translation
[5] I Corinthians 4:18
[6] (Greek) proskairos: Strong’s # 4340
[7] Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33, II Peter 3:10-13
[8] Colossians 1:9 The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips
[9] Ephesians 1:4-5 The Good News Translation
[10] New Living Translation
[11] In 1643 when the Long Parliament of England called the Westminster Assembly to produce the Westminster Confession, it also asked for a directory of "catechising". The Catechism was completed by the Westminster Assembly in 1647. It was then adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1648 and by the Presbyterian Synod of New York and Philadelphia in 1788.
[12] The Amplified Bible
[13] New King James Version: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
[14] The Logos International Study Bible: Thomas Nelson, 1972.
[15] Romans 11:36
[16] Colossians 1:16
[17] Hebrews 2:10
[18] I Corinthians 8:6
[19] NKJV
[20] II Corinthians 5:14-15
[21] NKJV
[22] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible # 4253 and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.

CHRIST-CENTEREDNESS


Scripture Readings:
· Psalm 16
· I Corinthians 1:10-18
· I Corinthians 3:1-13

I Corinthians 1:10-18 & I Corinthians 3:1-13

Two of the Scripture readings above are from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I’d like to speak a bit about the context in which we find these passages: Paul had planted a church in the city of Corinth[1]. He wrote two letters to the people of this church – both in the same year – about 55 AD. The first letter was written in the spring while Paul was in Ephesus, and the second letter was written just before winter while Paul was in Macedonia.[2] He wrote this first letter in response to a letter he had received from the Corinthians which was requesting his counsel on a variety of subjects.[3]

At the beginning of chapter three of his first letter, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are unspiritual and immature, incapable of receiving and understanding even the most basic teachings of the Christian faith. The reason he gives for this description is the fact that they are divided into factions concerning various ministers of the gospel - specifically Apollos and himself. Paul then uses an analogy to say that he planted the church, and Apollos came afterward to water it, but that the church was God’s field, and it was, in fact, God Who was in charge; and that God was using His servants as tools in the cultivating of His field.

Paul then changes his analogy from a field to a building and says that Jesus Christ is the Foundation of the Church. He also says that, “according to the grace of God which was given to him”, he was a “wise master builder”. There are those who are builders, those who are master builders, and those who are wise master builders. Paul was a “wise master builder” who laid the Foundation of Jesus Christ which others built upon.

Paul then warns that we should “take heed” how we build upon that Foundation – the Greek word means to intentionally and earnestly contemplate how we are building upon the Foundation of Jesus Christ[4]. Paul says that we need to “heed” this because God will test the quality of each man’s work by fire. And through this testing by fire, it will become clear as to the quality of what was built by the man’s ministry.

Paul said that Jesus Christ is the Foundation of the Church. We may know that as a Biblical statement; but do we really have understanding of its meaning and implications? In my experience of preaching in hundreds of churches to thousands of Christians on four continents, I have found that very few Christians really understand the meaning of this profound truth that Jesus Christ is the Foundation of the Church.

What does it mean that Jesus Christ is the Foundation of the Church? In Matthew’s gospel[5], when Jesus asked His disciples “Who do you say that I am?”, He was asking: “What is your revelation of Me?” “How are you going to relate to Me?” When Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”, Jesus said that revelation can only be received from His Father Who is in heaven, and that JESUS would build HIS Church with those who had that revelation of Him – with those who had that relationship with Him. THAT is the Foundation of the Church. If that Foundation is not laid, the church is built upon shifting sand. If there is a crack in that Foundation, the entire building is endangered. The building is absolutely and utterly dependent upon that Foundation. The building can never exceed the Foundation. The church can never go beyond the measure of its revelation and relationship with Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, we find the epistles of the apostles. Does everyone understand what an epistle is? An epistle is the wife of an apostle. J Seriously, an epistle is a letter of instruction to the church. When we survey the epistles in the New Testament, I believe we find that the apostles addressed problems in the early churches - and they did have their problems – and that ultimately, the apostolic answer to any problem was always a fresh revelation of Jesus. In Proverbs 29:18 it says: “Where there is no revelation”[6] “the people are unrestrained”[7], or “the people perish”[8]. The Hebrew word means that the people are “out of joint”, “divided”, “dispersed”, “scattered”, “severed”, or cut off.[9] Therefore, we must have a revelation of Jesus. For Paul also said: “Certainly, we live, move, and exist because of Him.”[10]

In the Letter to the Hebrews, which may well have been written by Apollos[11], the writer tells us to “fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith”.[12] What does this mean – “He is the Author of our faith”? Have you ever thought of it this way?: Jesus is the One who invented Christianity. Jesus was the first Christian. A Christian is supposed to look like the Jesus of the Gospels. As you may know, the label “Christian” originally meant a “little Christ”. A disciple of Christ is a “Christ-follower”. Jesus is our model. His life is a pattern for ours, individually and corporately. His ministry as recorded in the Gospels was a blueprint for the mission of the Church.

What does it mean that He is “the Perfecter of our faith”? Jesus is the One Who brings our faith to “maturity”, “completeness”, and “perfection”.[13] And, He will bring the Christian story to its final chapter.

Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is also the Head of the Church[14]. What does this mean? Christ is in charge, His Spirit is the CEO, His Book is the final authority for faith and practice. This is the way Paul explained to the Colossians: “…He is the Head… that in all things He may have the preeminence”[15]

In the opening lines of his Letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of “the gospel of God … concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord…”[16] For Paul, the good news was all about Jesus. At the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians, which we have been discussing, Paul said: “While I was with you, I decided to deal with only one subject – Jesus Christ, who was crucified.”[17] For Paul, it was all about Jesus. It should be the same in the Church today. It’s all about Jesus. It’s not about US. It’s not about YOU. It’s all about Jesus. Certainly, Jesus is concerned about YOU; and Jesus is concerned about US. However, we, the church, are to concern ourselves with JESUS. In his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, Paul said: “Our love of Christ controls us … having concluded this, … He died for all so, that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him, Who died and rose again on their behalf.”[18] Paul’s love for Christ controlled him. His love for Christ controlled his life and ministry. For Paul, it was all about Jesus. Hopefully, for each of YOU – for US – it will also be all about Jesus.

Psalm 16

My wife, Frances, is a wonderful cook. Usually, when she has finished cooking a meal, rather than serving the meal kind of “family style” - putting pots and bowls of food on the table for everyone to serve themselves - she is actually a bit more elegant. She prepares the individual dinner plates in the kitchen, placing portions of the food on each of our plates. Then she carries the plates from the stove and places them on our table. If I am really hungry, I may actually help her - just in order to get the food there more quickly. When the plates are set in place at the table, we sit down, and thank the Lord. But before we actually begin eating, there is something I am in the habit of doing: I compare the size of the portions on each of our plates. For example, in the case of baked potatoes, I will actually take two potatoes in hand; and I have become quite good at quickly evaluating the weight of each potato. And then I will place the largest potato on my plate. I will also look at the cut of meat on everyone’s plate, evaluating the total density of each. And I will then ask that the largest piece of meat be switched over to my plate. Now, for Frances and family, all this seems to be a bit greedy on my part. But as the head of the household, I feel that I should be entitled to the largest portions.

This story, which I have just told, is unfortunately true. I wish I could say that I am this way because I was raised as a child during the Great Depression, but that actually would not be true. Actually, I have shared this with you just to introduce a key word in Psalm 16 - and that word is “portion”.

Psalm 16 was composed by David; and in this psalm, he is expressing that the Lord is his “portion”. Let’s consider some particular verses in this psalm. In verse 5, I believe David states the theme of the psalm: “O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup….” The Amplified Bible reads: “The Lord is my chosen and assigned portion….” Sometimes we get to choose our inheritance; sometimes our inheritance is assigned to us. In both cases, David’s inheritance was the Lord. In another of his psalms, David addressed the Lord as his “portion in the land of the living”. I believe this refers to what we call our “lot” in life – what has been served up for us in this life as it were – our portion in this life. Sometimes we get to choose, and sometimes we just receive what life serves up to us. But in either case, we can make the Lord our “portion”. If we do, the results will be the blessings, which David speaks of in Psalm 16:

In verse 2, “(David says) to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you’."[19] That is: “Without You, I have no goodness to offer”; and “Without You, I have no goodness in life.” The Lord is David’s one and only good thing in life. Now, David, as king of Israel, had, in fact, an abundance of good things in his life. But, David realized this: Not only was the Lord the Source of all this goodness, but also, he realized that when he received the Lord as his “portion”, his “portion” contained all the goodness of the Lord.

In verse 3, David says: “As for the saints who are on the earth, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight." Or as a modern translation put it: “Your people are wonderful, and they make me happy.” We can understand David to be saying this: “I think that God’s people are wonderful, not because they are so excellent, but just because they are God’s people. God, Who is my ‘portion’, is wonderful; therefore I delight in His people.”

In verse 5, David tells us that the Lord is his “cup”. In Psalm 23, his best-known psalm, David says that his ”cup runs over”[20] – that is, he is blessed to overflowing. He also says that the Lord “maintains his lot”. In other words, the Lord determined his “lot” in life – what had been served up to him in this life – his portion in this life – and David was happy with his portion. He said in verse 6 that “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.” The “lines” are the boundary lines in the land God promised Israel for an inheritance; and the lines have fallen in “pleasant places”. The Lord Himself was David’s inheritance; and this was “pleasant” for David - David was happy with his portion.

Another blessing is mentioned in verse 7: The Lord gave David wise counsel. The manner in which this counsel was given speaks of an intimate relationship with the Lord: “My heart … instructs me in the night seasons.” The old English words are: “my reins instruct me”. The Hebrew word is literally translated “kidneys”, because the Hebrews believed that the control center of the will and the desires were hidden in the kidneys. In other words, in the solitude of the night, God was able to speak to David in his “heart of hearts”, and influence his innermost being.

In verse 9 David states that his “heart is glad”, his “glory” (a Hebrew figure of speech for “soul”) rejoices”, and his “flesh” (or his body) “rests in hope”. In verse 11, he says: “You will show me the path of life.” – that is the “abundant life” Jesus spoke of. And, David says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” The word “presence” is a good translation, but the Hebrew word literally means “face”.[21] When our relationship with the Lord has an intimacy of “face to face” communication, we experience a deep joy in our hearts and lives.

There is another thought to consider: It may be at times when, for various reasons, all the trappings and supports in our personal and church lives are stripped away, and we come to the realization that the Lord is, and always has been, our portion in this life. When David wrote Psalm 142 and referred to the Lord as his “portion in the land of the living”[22], he was hiding from Saul in the in the Cave of Adullam – hiding in fear of his life; and in that life situation acknowledged the Lord as his “portion in the land of the living”.[23]

Then, there was another man of God later in Israel’s history – Jeremiah. Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jews conquered. Listen to Jeremiah’s Lamentation as he sits in captivity for seventy years: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, therefore I will hope in him."[24]

We have spoken of the Lord being our portion in our personal lives. What are the implications of our saying “the Lord is our portion and our cup”? When we gather together as His Body, what is it that we come to receive? What is it that we come to give to others? What is the portion we come to receive? What is the portion we come to give? What is it that we should focus on making our portion? The Lord is our portion. Is this not what it means to be “Christ-centered”?

Let us pray as David prayed: “Lord, we have no good apart from you."[25] Without You, we have no goodness to offer. We realize that You are the Source of any goodness we may have to offer. But, since we make You our portion, we have an abundance of goodness to offer people, because our portion contains all the goodness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

[1] Acts 18:1-17
[2] I Corinthians 16:5-8 & II Corinthians 2:13, 7:5
[3] I Corinthians 1:11, 7:1, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1
[4] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: “heed” (Greek – blepo): page 299.
[5] Matthew 16:13-20
[6] NIV
[7] NASB
[8] KJV
[9] # 6514 from the primary root, parad, # 6504, Strong’s Concordance
[10] Acts 17:28 God’s Word Translation
[11] First suggested by Martin Luther, and favored by many scholars today. Like the author, Apollos was skilled in the O.T. Scriptures. (Acts 18:24).
[12] Hebrews 12:2
[13] (Greek) teleiotes, # 5047 Strong’s Concordance
[14] Ephesians 1:22 & 4:15, Colossians 1:18, and I Corinthians 11:3 & 15:27
[15] Colossians 1:18
[16] Romans 1:1-3
[17] I Corinthians 2:2 God’s Word Translation
[18] II Corinthians 5:14-15
[19] English Standard Version
[20] Psalm 23:5
[21] Hebrew: paneh: face. The plural form paniym is used here. Strong’s Dictionary of the Words of the Hebrew Bible.
[22] Psalm 142:5
[23] NIV / NASB Study Bible
[24] Lamentations 3:21- English Standard Version
[25] Psalm 16:2 English Standard Version