What Does It Mean to be Spiritually Blessed?

Have you ever heard someone say, “I am so blessed?” Maybe they received some good news or something exciting happened in their life. What does it mean to be blessed by God. I think sometimes we associate it with our circumstances but the Bible points to it being so much bigger and deeper than that.

In Paul’s introduction to the church in Ephesus he praises God by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

What does he mean that those in Christ have received every spiritual blessing? In the next 9 verses Paul describes what he means. He was in prison and could have started by giving insight on his difficulties but instead he starts with praising God for the blessings he has received. His blessings were not about his circumstances or anything to do with his present difficulties but all about his spiritual life.

The Apostle Paul describes the spiritual blessing that the Christian receives are these four things:

  1. To be chosen into adoption of the family of God (Ephesians 1:4-6).
  2. To be redeemed by the blood of Jesus who is rich and lavishes his riches upon us (Ephesians 1:7-10).
  3. To receive an inheritance which is built in the hope of Christ all for the glory of God (Ephesians 1:11-12).
  4. To be sealed by the promise of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Paul is desiring the great work that Jesus did through his sinless and perfect life, sacrificial death, and amazing resurrection. Look at how those who are in Christ are truly blessed. He uses different verbs to describe salvation such as being adopted, redeemed, receiving an inheritance, and being sealed (assurance).

The Christian must remember that God is not holding out on you. He has given you the greatest gift, the spiritual blessing that is found in Christ alone. When we think about this great work this should bring about praise like Paul who praised God for this spiritual blessing.

For more you can listen to the sermons on Ephesians

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

Whenever I go to the beach I find myself always wanted to build sandcastles. I think I even build them when the kids aren’t with me.  

We get to the line of the water where the waves come in and we start building sand forts. We want to see how long can we keep the water from coming in and destroying our creation. We build the walls thick and high. We make motes of water and other ditches for the water to have to pass through. We spend hours building and having fun.

Sure enough it takes just one good wave to knock over all that hard work. I am glad that what we make is not like real life or maybe it is. What we try to do for protection fails in comparison to the one who is called a Might Fortress. The Bible has a lot to say about God being our fortress. In fact, just in the first section/book of Psalms 35% of the use of God being our fortress in the Bible is found in that section of Scripture.

Background:

Psalm 46 was a victory song that Israel would sing. It was one of many that the army would sing after defeating the enemy. You can picture Israel looking at the battlefield, being victorious, and singing this song to God.

Psalm 46 also inspired Martin Luther to write one of his most famous hymns, A Mighty Fortress is our God in 1527. This hymn has been called the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” It was pressed on him so much that even inscribed on his tomb is this phrase.

God is Our Fortress even if there is Cosmic Trouble

In the first few verses of this Psalm we see how God is our fortress even when there is cosmic trouble. The Psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3).

Right away we are introduced to God’s attributes of his protection and power. He is present to help when we need it and in him there is safety.

As you keep reading, the picture that is described is not a fun one. In fact, it would be very troubling to see mountains that you have looked on for your whole life all of sudden move into the sea and disappear. This definitely would grab your attention.

Is God Your Fortress?

I ask myself is God my fortress? Or, do I believe this to be true? What if there was this cosmic chaos going on? What are some things that I trust in that if they were immediately gone would shake me up? Would it be my retirement? Would it be the government? Is it in my health, healthcare, medicine, or doctors?

This is a reminder to me that God is my fortress even during uncertain times, even in cosmic chaotic times. As a follower of Jesus Christ I am reminded that God is for me (Rom 8:31). I need to remind myself this truth frequently and I hope this is a good reminder for you too!

Can We Reach the West Again?

We live in a post-Christian America. To some, it would seem that the “good ol’ days” of Christian values have been tossed out the window of progressivism. Timothy Keller wrote this booklet, How to Reach the West Again. He communicates the problem while giving the answer by looking at what we can learn from the early church in how it reached its culture. 

Keller, as usual, writes in a way that is convicting but not demeaning of Christians today. This short read is something that I would encourage every believer to read. We live in a culture where there seems to be a mass exodus of leaving blue states to go to red states or withdrawing from culture. The question that needs to be asked is how can we best share the gospel in our country that is less Christian? Today we can find more and more people who have never stepped foot in a church. We find more and more that have no understanding of God and his law (the ten commandments). More and more many look subjectively at what is right and wrong. 

Keller points out that the gospel we know needs to be shared will need to be lived out. It is something that will take time as believers build relationships with nonbelievers. It is going to take intentionality as we pursue relationships in pointing to God’s grace and mercy. Believers need to be faithful in life and integrity in public spheres, it is going to require us not to withdraw from culture but to live in it and be different.

Faithful in Life

Keller gives the example of how God told Jeremiah and the Israelites in Babylonian captivity about being part of the culture. God tells Israel to seek the peace of the city—plant gardens, build houses, and seek its prosperity (Jeremiah 29). Keller writes, “we can still serve people, be good neighbors, and be involved in culture while being faithful and open about our Christianity.”

In reading this, I was challenged with something that was taught to me. It was that the thought that Christians should be the best in every sector of life. They should be the best artist, creators, musicians, educators, and leaders. Keller writes, “[The] expansive vision for Christian influence in every area of human life, not because Christians are dominant there, but because they are faithful there.” By believers being faithful servants to public witness. The church needs to be a place to help train and e what it looks like to live out our Christian beliefs in the workplace.

In it for the Long Haul

The early church knew and understood that the gospel changes us. They also knew that it was a marathon more than a sprint. It would take time. It would take work. Therefore, their commitment was until the Lord took them home.

Today, Christians must look at the road ahead for them in reaching the west again as a commitment that will take time and work just like the early church. Being faithful and not frustrated. Being willing to spend time and being humble. Reflecting Jesus and dying to self. It all matters.

If you get a chance to get a copy of How To Reach The West Again I hope you can spend some time thinking through what Keller presents.

What Does Pray without Ceasing Mean?

I wanted to get better at running. Mainly is that I never could run for long distances and wanted to challenge myself. I could sprint but would burn out pretty quickly. There are two older gentlemen at our church that love running and they invited to join them. I did it and they blew me out of the water. 

Part pride and part realizing that men who are older than I could outrun me caused me to want to get better at running. I started to run, more and more and finally was able to run the farthest that I ever did without stopping. I started to research more on what I needed to do to build endurance. I looked at what were some healthy ways to push myself without injuring myself.

Like running a long distance takes some time to build up to, so does having a healthy prayer life. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessolanica a list of Christian disciplines. These come out almost like Tweets. He writes, “Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 These 5:16-18).

Sandwiched in these verses we read to pray without ceasing. What does that mean? As a simple definition it means to invest oneself in regular extended and strenuous prayer.

To invest oneself in regular extended and strenuous prayer

Where does it start?

Prayer as a Lifestyle

First, it requires us to look at prayer as a lifestyle not just a spiritual discipline. In fact there should be no separation from prayer and being a Christian. Christians should pray. A. W. Pink wrote, “Prayer is not as it is an attitude-an attitude of dependency on God.”

R. C. Sproul said, “Prayer is not optional for the Christian; it is required.” With that, one must not compartmentalize prayer as just a spiritual discipline but as it is constantly casting oneself in total dependency upon the Creator who is sovereign over all.

Understanding that prayer is dependency upon God, it helps in understanding that prayer is asking God to help us to know and do His will.

Prayer as Priority

Second, we must see prayer as a priority to that of being a Christian. To the early church it was a priority. There are many references where we see the first church praying.

  • After Jesus ascended to heaven and commissioned the church to be witnesses and to wait for the Holy Spirit they went to the upper room and prayed (Acts 1:8, 14).
  • We see that the early church devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, fellowship breaking of bread, and of prayer (Acts 2:42)
  • Peter was going to prayer in the temple as an opportunity as God healed a man (Acts 3).
  • Through prayer God used that to communicate with Peter and Cornelius bringing about the Gospel going to the Gentiles (Acts 10).
  • The church met and prayed for the release of Peter from prison (Acts 12:5).
  • The church prayed and asked God for direction on where and who to send out as missionaries (Acts 13:2-3)

If it was priority and consumed so much church life, then wouldn’t prayer be important for the believers today? I wonder what it would look like if prayer was a priority for the church in America. Where we cast our whole selves before Him and realizing who we are in light of who God is. A. W. Tozer said, “Prayer at its best is the total expression of the total life.”

Let us strive to not only make prayer a priority but also the lifestyle of the Christian.

How Do We Live Post-Resurrection?

We just celebrated the reason why we gather as a church like many churches around the world. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is why we preach, why we have faith, and why we are no longer in our sins ( 1 Cor 15:12-21). 

This miraculous work means that Jesus paid in full for our sin through his life, death, burial, and resurrection. This is the greatest news that we would ever hear or know. We need it all, you can not separate one part from the other! One author puts it so well, “Man’s burden of sin and shame is loosed by the cross but then consumed by the empty tomb.”

As we celebrate this great truth, what does that mean in how live today? 

Understanding the Tension

There is a tension of living in a post-resurrection part of history. We have the already but not yet tension. Already the work has been done in Christ but the final blow to evil is not yet (Rev 20:7-15). God’s kingdom is already here but not yet here in its fullness. 

We have Good Friday and we have the resurrection but there was still Saturday, the day in between those days. There was that tension between Savior’s death and the unknown for the disciples (though Jesus said he would rise again from the dead). 

The post-resurrection Christian is like living the Saturday of events between the already but not yet. Christ rose and is alive; we now await the not yet. There is still anguish and despair in this in-between but what we await in the not yet of glories forevermore (2 Cor 4:17). We live in the tension of enduring in this world yet not being of this World. 

So we await even with this tension of the already but not yet with what the author of Hebrews directs us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2).

The Resurrection Changes Everything

There are a few events in my life that has changed me forever. Getting married to my best friend Alyssa. Another is having three wonderful children (parenting in and of itself changes you). Being exposed to some amazing aspects of God’s creation that will stick with you forever.

But all of these still fail in comparison to how the resurrection changes everything presently and eternally.

John Calvin wrote this very powerful result of the resurrection:

He was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life, so that my him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune.

So the believer does not live to fight for victory, they fight from victory. The last few verses that are in 1 Corinthians 15 are

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.   But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57

The resurrection means that the Christian has gone from death to life; from enemy of God to a child of God; from being spiritually blind to being able to see. This changes everything!

We Are the Church

As a child, I was taught this rhyme. It went like this, “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” This rhyme involved your hands and fingers being used to display the people, steeple, etc. Maybe you remember this one or have taught your children?

That rhyme describes the church as a location or a building. Which is true. We can give a friend directions in finding where our church meets but this is just a location not a definition of the church.

I started a new series called Church Blueprint, my desire is to point out that the church is not a location but a people. Professor Gregg Allison defines the church as, “the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit.”

The church is the body of believers (Christians) coming together in a local gathering who are united in Christ. Even today, though we are not gathered together as we are different homes and jobs, we are still the church. 

When you leave your local congregation on Sunday morning, you are still the church.

When you wake up in morning you are still the church.  When you go shopping, you are the church.

We are the church!

I am so thankful for the church. Ultimately the church is the gospel made visible. May we be the visible representation of Jesus to the world, our community, and our neighbor!

Contentment in a Discontented World

Can we be content? Really! Can one really be content today?

We live in a world that seems to be discontent. There are reasons one can be discontent with conditions socially, politically, and even materialistically. Progression and reform are used intermittently to point to the need for change and that the mass is not content.

Wanting change and being content can be possible. One can desire justice and still be content with outlook. What I mean is that contentment points to something deeper inside us.

The Apostle Paul would say someone can be truly content. He wrote to the church Philippi, ” Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11 ESV).

Paul would emphatically say, “Yes, you can be content!”

What is it?

To be content can be defined as having a peaceful acceptance of where God has providentially placed you. Contentment is more than being at peace with what you have, it means that you rest in God’s sovereignty with his timing and where he has placed you.

The Apostle Paul points to content as something that has been learned (4:11). This was not learned by reading a book. He is pointing to learning from experience. One doesn’t have to read much of the New Testament to see that Paul faced quite a few difficulties (see 2 Cor. 11:24-28).

Contentment is Contrary to Us

By nature, we grumble and complain about things, some more than others. Paul continues to tell the Philippians that he not only learned to be content by experience, he knows the secret to it (Phil 4:15).

The secret to contentment is that it is not found in us. Discontentment is more up our alley. God does not like grumbling or complaining as we see from Israel’s wilderness journey (see Exodus 16 and Numbers 11). God actually called those who grumbled and complained rebels (Numbers 17:10).

This is serious! Our discontentment is really rebellion against God. Our discontentment questions God’s providence and provision. It rejects his sovereignty overall.

In fact, whenever we find ourselves grumbling and complaining (like Israel), that should be warning lights that we are not pursuing holiness.

If contentment is contrary to us, then how does one become content?

Contentment is Found in Christ

Paul learned how to be content because he experienced many different challenges but that is not how one becomes content. The secret to be content was not in himself but it was in the one who strengthens him (Phil 4:13).

Paul writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). This verse is well-known. The context reminds us that Paul was not flippantly shouting that he can do everything even unimaginable things. He was talking about enduring and being content in all circumstances because it is not in himself but in Christ.

This verse points to the strength that Paul has to do everything according to the will of God for the glory of God.

His contentment regardless of the situation was in Christ!

Can someone genuinely be content? Yes! They must find the riches that are in Christ, they are MORE than enough (Phil 4:19-20).

Reflection and Perspective

When it is the end of a year I like to take some time and reflect on all that transpired. This year for sure will go down as one to always remember. The danger is that we can reflect and have the wrong perspective. 

I am reminded of the prophet Habakkuk who was around during an interesting time in Judah’s history. He prayed for God to turn Judah’s spiritual heart around. They were neglecting God, worshipping false images, not taking care of the widows and orphans, and the list goes on. 

Continue reading “Reflection and Perspective”

Joyful Endurance

I have never tried to run a marathon and I don’t have a strong desire to do one in future. But like all sports, it requires one to build endurance.

Did you know as a Christian we need to have a spiritual type of endurance to finish well?

The Apostle Paul writes, “I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13). Paul was focused on Christ as he ran his race with endurance to the finish line. 

The word Paul uses for “press on” reflects complete concentration or focus. Just like an athlete competing where their focus is unbroken. They are not distracted with what is around them but their attention is solely on the prize of winning or completing.

It Matters How We Start and How We Run To the Finish Line

As a Christian it matters not only how we start the race, but how we run it so we can finish well. Like Paul, we must have this laser focus on what God has called us to do. What is that exactly? It is looking to Jesus, it is proclaiming the gospel, it is enduring in this life.

Church, let us run this Christian race well. The only way we can endure is because Jesus endured for us.  The author of Hebrews writes, “Let us run this race with endurance that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Though it is is Hard- It is one of Joy

It is my prayer for you and for me that we would joyful endure until the end where the Father will say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).

Yes, the Christian will face troubles and trials. Yes, it will be moments of affliction (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Cor 4:17-18). But, there is joy (James 1:2-4)! This joy is found in Christ. This joy is given by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). This joy is eternal and supernatural. This joy endures until the very end!

I would rather go through the afflictions of this world as I know the joys of Christ than to be untouched from affliction while missing the riches that are found in Christ. That is true misery.

Side by Side

Many years ago my wife and I went on a little kayak adventure in Hawaii for our honeymoon. Before we left to get to our guide the instructor gave instructions on how to hold the paddle, how to paddle, and for those who are sharing a kayak how to row together. He said, “this is called the divorce maker for some.”

Alyssa and I kind of gave an awkward laugh and off we went. It was beautiful! Sea turtles, tropical fish, eating pineapple on a secluded sandy beach. It was time to head back to where we started but the weather changed. It was windy, the water became really choppy and it was tough going. The instructor even said if he knew it was going to be this bad we wouldn’t have gone out!

We quickly learned what the instructor meant when he called the tandem kayakers divorce makers. We were striving to make headway against the wind but we kept hitting our paddles together. I quickly was getting frustrated and my new bride saw it.

We finally got back, tired, seeking forgiveness from one another, and so relieved that it was over. It was a trip that left a mark on us as it was many years before we went kayaking again.

I share this illustration to show that in the same way for the church that there can be a lot of gospel work but if we are not working in unity- we are just like Alyssa and I working hard but not getting very far in the kayak. You can actually start working against each other. 

Striving

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi to stress the importance of unity, “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). Unity was something that Paul addresses a few times in this short letter (1:27; 2:1-4; 4:2-3).

The word that Paul uses for striving would be used similar to an athlete, especially wrestling, where one is straining or working hard to win. Instead of wrestling against one another, the Christian strives together.

Christians have the same task- making disciples (Matt. 28:19).

Christians strive together against sin and the devil (Eph. 6:12).

Christians strive together to be gospel lights to this world (Matt 5:14-16).

Already United

Paul wasn’t telling the church to do the work to be united. Because of Jesus, believers are already united together (Rom. 12:5). So in one sense he was saying, remember that you are one in Christ so strive together in unity!

Christian, remember that you are already united because of Christ. Guard that unity. Since the times are so turbulent, even more so, we need to guard our unity. Jesus is greater and bigger than our political affiliations. Jesus is greater than anything we have uncommon with one another. Let us remember that!

Busy Striving Together and Not Bickering At One Another

There seems to be a lot of bickering among Christians, especially on social media these days. What is being bickered seems so small in comparison to kingdom concerns. My hope and prayer for our church is that we will be busy striving together where we won’t have time to bicker at one another.