“Wanting Which Kind of Longer Life-Before Death or After Death?”

The affluence of our culture has produced a plethora of opportunities that most of those who have been born into this world are not even remotely familiar.  One opportunity that we have before us is to live a longer life and not just longer but one that is healthier and supposedly happier.  We are bombarded by retailers who have products, programs, or drugs that will enable us to capture our loftiest aspirations of life.  When watching television (by the way, this will not likely produce a longer life!), one is bombarded with advertisements about these kinds of goals.  There has been such extensive medical research done that we now know better than ever before how to get more and more out of the human body and mind.

Yet, we must ask ourselves the counter-culture question-Is this the gospel lifestyle?  Sacrifice what you can to gain the healthiest, longest and perhaps happiest life possible?

In Mark 8:34, according to Jesus, the life of following Jesus begins with the command-“let him deny himself.”  While this command alone seems impossible enough, Jesus continued to explicate what this entailed with two more commands that we “take up his [our] cross and follow me [him].”  Denial of one’s desires that are not congruent with the Master’s and being willing to suffer anything out of obedience for the King is the demand and goal of life as defined by Jesus.

Jesus never held out or promised a longer life on earth by following Him-quite the contrary!. Yes, the fourth of the 10 commandments promises that honoring one’s parents can lead to long life on earth (Deuteronomy 5:16). Yes, this command and promise is carried over by Paul in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:3).  However, Jesus also foretold that there will be occasions when even a father will have his child put to death on account of following Christ (Matthew 10:21).  The hope of a believer is not living longer before death. Rather, the hope is living after death forever with Christ (Philippians 1:21).  The greater testimony of the New Testament regarding the promise of salvation offered to sinners destined for eternal death is eternal life. Those who obey the gospel call of Jesus, no matter what earthly losses they may incur (home, family, land, or even their life) on behalf of Jesus, will most assuredly receive “in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).

Yes, it would be a gracious and kind gift of the Lord to give us long life and to use that life for his gospel purposes.  But a longer life ought never to be the final goal.  The surrendered life; the joyous obedient life; and the narrow life is the fixation for the believer.  Purposefully and sacrificially trying to live a longer life on earth will distract us from the life demanded and promised by Jesus.  We cannot make sacrifices to live longer on earth while seeking to make sacrifices in obedience to the gospel call of Jesus.  You cannot seek a long life on earth and the Lord Jesus without ignoring and contradicting the lifestyle demanded by the gospel call of Jesus.

The apostle Paul’s labors, imprisonments, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, lack of food, and the constant dangers  from people and the elements of weather and certainly threats placed on his life would not be recommended by most doctors for living a long life (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  Our lives are not to be kept but to be given away in love for others and surrender to Christ.

A great prayer that would model Jesus and Paul would be the prayer of Jim Elliot.  He wrote this prayer in his journal while in college in 1948.  “God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee.  Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine.  I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.”

May the Lord give us full days of true living for him and may we count every day a gift of grace, not to be demanded or idolized.

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Raising “Athletes”

We live in a sports-crazed society where people intertwine their hearts with a superstar or with a certain team.  Indeed, we love the competition of “athletes.”  In the book, “When Children Become People: TheBirth of Chidhood in Early Christianity,” the authors (O.M. Beeke and Brian McNeil) point out that John Chrysostom wrote that Christians need to bring up their children as “athletes” (Greek-αθλητες) for Christ (p. 164).  This was in accordance with Ephesians 6:4-“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (ESV).

It seems that many parents are driven to make their kids be αθλητες in many different arenas such as sports, music, drama,  education, etc.  Parents and the children can make great sacrifices of time, energy, and money in order ot become “champions” in one of these arenas of competition.  Yet, the greatest area of competition for Christians is the arena of being a devoted follower of Christ.  What sacrifices are parents and children making for the sake of the gospel being instilled and promoted in their lives?  What is being sacrficed in order to live a gospel-centered-drivne life for the cause and glory of Christ?

Our Christian children as αθλητες can become champions in the varoious arenas of life, but if they are not primarily being raised first to be a champion for Christ, then all of the other sacrifices are “rubbish/garbage” (Philippians 3:8). 

We must communicate through words and deeds that Christ comes first before everything else-…”that He migth be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18).  Our priority is Christ, not other. When it comes to the other opportunities, we ought to tell our children to always strive to do their best , not for themselves, but for Christ.  They ought to do their best at basketball or violion lessons and be a champion in those, not for themselves, but for Christ.  We ought to tell and help our children do quality homework, instead of just getting it done because we are seeking to be champions, doing all things in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17).  Homework and studying are not done for teachers, parents, grades, but only for Christ. Mediocrity and shoddy efforts in any area of life do not honor the name of Christ.

Parents, let us all labor together in the gospel and grace of Christ, not for mediocrity or “just getting by”, but let us seek to be and to raise αθλητες for Christ.

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Here We Go Again!

I saw the other night on a news channel that some Christian-type group is declaring that Christ is going to return on May 11th, 2011.  It is a pleasing, God-glorifying passion to anticipate and hope for and in the coming of the Lord, but how these kinds of Scripture-defying and Son of Man-defying predictions must grieve our Father (Matthew 24:36, 44, 50).  Rather than predicting when we will see Christ we ought to be preparing to see Him. 

One way that we prepare ourselves is by not only loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but loving “all.”  The apostle Paul, know for his ejaculatory prayers, prays in I Thessalonians 3:11-13 that the love of Christians would increase “for one another and for all.”  This increase in love will not only great benefit those who are recepients of our love (Titus 3:8), but will provide crucial preparation in seeing our Savior’s face-”and for all so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 

 Loving others in the name of Jesus results in the our Father’s work of preparing our hearts in holiness so we are enabled to welcome and rejoice in seeing Christ rather than buckling in fear.  As we love and serve “all” that we have opportunity, our heavenly Father, in his great love, will transform our hearts in the process and thus prepare us with a holiness that Christ will be pleased when he sees us.  May it be and may He come!

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The Glorious, Eternal Service of Christ

    One of the characteristics of Jesus that sets him apart from all other rivals is his humiliation.  His condescension in not only leaving heaven and coming to earth as a baby born in such humble circumstances is amazing but also his entire ministry of reaching and loving sinners.  Of course, there is no greater humiliation for our Lord than his submission to the torture of a cross and the carrying of the wrath of an infinitely holy God towards sinners (Romans 3:21-26; Philippians 2:5-11).  As Christians, our hearts ought to be full of wonder in consideration of how the Preeminent One has chosen to serve us and become humiliated before the world for our salvation. 

 Yet, the humble condescension of Jesus for us as His people is something that is not only in salvation past but will continue on forever into salvation eternity.  When Jesus returns to retrieve his people who have faithfully served in his likeness, he will take them to his glory and become their servant–”Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and hae them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37). How can it be that Christ will forever lower himself as a common servant toward us and serve our needs?  Where are the prophets of the so-called gods who will take upon themselves the clothes of a servant and serve their followers like a common servant? 

    Christ as our faithful high priest, who always lives to make intercession for us, is the one who will always be our claim and standing place for our residence and inheritance of heaven.  By his humble shedding of blood for our sins and by him continually serving us and mediating to us the grace of God for sinners, we will forever have a place in his glory (John 17:24).  Rejoice sinners who are saints by God’s grace; for the glory of Christ is for him to be your servant of God’s grace forever! 

Brethren, We Have Met To Worship

Let us love our God supremely, let us love each other, too;
Let us love and pray for sinners, till our God makes all things new.
Then He’ll call us home to Heaven, at His table we’ll sit down;
Christ will gird Himself and serve us with sweet manna all around

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Being Precise About Christ

I am working on James 2:1-13 for this week’s sermon. The Greek of v. 1  reads Αδελφοι μου, μη εν προσωπολημψιαις εχετε την πιστιν του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου της δοξης.  An interesting exegetical issue is to determine the use of the genitive της δοξης.  Peter Davids in his commentary on James in the NIGTC series lists 4 possible options (p. 106).  Της δοξης could refer to:  1. την πιστιν–“the glorious faith.”  2. κυριου-“faith in our Lord of glory Jesus Christ.”  3. Ιησου Χριστου-this would be an appositive usage resulting in “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory.”  4. της δοξης-this would be a genitive of quality resulting in “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”  Options #1 and #2 are most popular with the translations.  The ESV and the KJV take option #3.  The NIV and the NLT take option #4. 

Without being dogmatic, Peter Davids adopts option #4 even as he admits that it is an awkward construction.  With not as much study by myself as David has assuredly put into this issue, I would like to suggest that #3 should be given stronger consideration.  Davids thinks that this appositive understanding of the genitive  does not reflect the kind of titles that were being used of Jesus at this period of time. Yet, would that have necessarily precluded James from using “The Glory” as a title of Jesus?  Could James have used this title on the basis of the overall teaching he had heard from his half-brother Jesus?  Could James be intimating a higher Christology here about his half-brother than what is traditionally recognized? 

Jesus is called in John 14:6-“The Way, Truth, and the Life.”  In I Samuel 15:6, we are told that “the Glory of Israel will not lie or have reget” (ESV).  The New Testament has many references to Jesus and his glory.  When Jesus returns as the reigning Son of Man, he will do so “with great power and glory.”  The background of this Son of Man reference is typically understood as Daniel 7:13.  We are told in 7:14, that “dominion and glory” were given to him.  As followers of Jesus, we are to be “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  For more references, see 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 1:3; 3:3 among many others.

James is against favoritism in the church of God because it violates the 1)faith of our Lord Jesus and 2) and the Glory or the Glorious One.  It is contrary to the character and nature of the one whose teaching, life, death, resurrection, which are integral to his glory, to pick favorites in his church.  His “faith” given to us in the Scriptures (“faith” is an objective genitive) and his “glory” are the standards by which the followers of Christ are to govern their behavior.

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