Christ’s Astounding Treasures

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8)

Jesus’ treasures are real and substantial. But to be honest, it often seems like I partake of them less than I could. Why do I have junk instead of gold? One reason is the tension between the vastness of what God has promised and the time and effort and perseverance I need to appropriate and build treasure into my life.  

A look back at Israel’s conquest of the promised land sheds light on what’s needed.

At first, we see the great triumphs described in the book of Joshua:

So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:43-45)

The Israelites’ entrance into this promised land parallels what happens when we  enter Christ’s kingdom:

 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.(Titus 3:5-7)

But this triumphant passage is only the start.  Looking at the Israelites again, we see that they got a warning that despite how much territory they gained, God left some enemies in the land as a test:

“…I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. (Judges 2:22-23)

Would the Israelites persevere and drive out those enemies? Unfortunately not. They got complacent; and that lackadaisical attitude really came back to bite them, eventually leading to their downfall. Their best efforts weren’t enough.

And that’s what we’re being warned against !

We are euphoric about a new life in Christ with all the tremendous changes that are included. He has rescued us from sin, death and the devil. But we must still overcome the pockets of resistance and sin in our lives, pressing on towards maturity. 

We have the power to achieve something the Israelites were unable to complete. Is that because we are so super spiritually great ? Have we mounted a holy pedestal of perfection? Not at all. No, we are free to admit that our best efforts aren’t enough.

We desperately need what the Israelites did not yet have : the power of Christ’s Holy Spirit  working inside of us. That power does not guarantee an obstacle-free  ride to perfection, but when we decide  to persevere, we will indeed make great progress towards maturity.

As we mature, we grow more skillful at distinguishing  slop from gold. We learn to be increasingly quick at exchanging the slop in our lives for the  gold of  the boundless riches of Christ !

Out for Revenge?

With God we will gain the victory,
    and he will trample down our enemies.
(Psalm 60:12)

David wrote several Psalms that anticipate how his enemies will get their just desserts. Even so, he never said “revenge is mine.” Because he knows God is the one who will take care of it and pay back.

I had a real problem with a harsh boss I called “the Nazi” when I worked in IT. Looking back, I was wrong to keep fretting about her unfairness. I lost sight of God’s truth: “I will take care of it.” Yes, God always takes care of it; sometimes it’s in this lifetime; other times it won’t be until eternity.

 (Ironically, after I retired, my former colleagues informed me that the harsh boss was marched out of the door by security due to being caught stealing from the company!)

I bet David would have been rooting for my boss to get a quick comeuppance. But I am asked to have a different attitude: Like David, I am to rely on God to set things right, but unlike David I am called to live at peace with my enemies in the meantime. This command is binding for all who believe:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

Here is a command Jesus makes that is even harder:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44)

Yes, Jesus commands something from us that goes beyond what was asked of David: Love your enemies. Be peacemakers even when people have done us evil. Some are impatient with God for dilly-dallying. But God has a great reason for the delay!

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

How should we react?

Even though we know that the day of reckoning is coming, we can be glad that, so far, God is delaying it. Why?  We now have time to give people a loving warning. We yearn for them to repent. Jesus makes an offer: Repent and believe in me. We are wooing people to freedom and bidding them to accept Jesus’ offer of entering Shalom before it is too late.

Jesus’ Heart Monitor

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

This passage always seemed vaguely menacing to me. After all, the deeds listed sound so good and spiritual. Aren’t they all things that God loves seeing done? So what is wrong? Do we need to be scared that Jesus would say ‘I never knew you’ to us, after we thought we were living for him?

Here’s a clue: We know that Jesus says he wants us to put his words into practice. And there is a way we can know we are on the right track as we try to do that. When I go running, I like to wear a heart rate monitor to track my level of effort. And Jesus has given us a spiritual heart monitor.

How does that work? First, note that all three of the activities in verse 22, prophesying, exorcizing and healing, are activities that are done in public. But that means there’s a huge danger that they can become public displays that draw attention to the doer rather than to Jesus!

The Beatitudes give us a remedy for this risk: they focus not on what we are doing but on our heart attitude. Look at this one especially:

 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.(Matthew 5:8)

It’s far better to be doing quiet stuff that few people see while having the right heart attitude, than to do flashy visible stuff with the wrong heart attitude.

So now we see that Jesus kicks out people who seek after self-glory rather than his glory.

Do you ever wonder whether you are seeking his glory or your own glory? Sometimes it is hard to distinguish.  But the mere fact that you are even bothering to wrestle with this issue, admitting that it might be a problem, is a great sign that you are on the right track.

We press on with good deeds, not worrying about publicity or recognition. Inviting Christ to keep working in our hearts leads to an excellent result: At life’s end, Jesus welcomes us into his kingdom, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant!

Busywork or Fruit?

I love the online Bible commentaries of Bob Utley[1] and refer to them often in my personal study. He takes scripture 100% seriously as God’s word, but he is not a dogmatic follower of any theological system. He inspires me to reexamine my own interpretations; sometimes he leads me to change my mind. And when I disagree with him, he at least inspires me to examine why I believe what I believe.

I recently read a comment he made saying that forgiveness and mercy are the most important measures of growing Christian maturity. That struck me because I have always been curious about how you measure Christian maturity.

Unfortunately, maturity is too often measured quantitatively. You show you are mature by racking up the right totals of ministry activities and volunteering for things. But then you are never sure what the right total is. You might think you are doing OK, only to have someone tell you “You should be volunteering more!” Driven by guilt, you then put in even more volunteer time. Does that increase in quantity mean you are more mature … or that you are afraid of what people think and get bullied into doing things?

Another bogus Christian maturity measure is the quantity of Bible knowledge. Someone has memorized a mass quantity of Bible verses. And taken plenty of Bible courses, obtaining more knowledge of each book in the Bible than just about anyone. But has that created maturity…or just arrogance?

So I love that Utley is saying that the measure of Christian maturity is qualitative. And certainly forgiveness and mercy are important qualities. After all, what good is it if I am busy doing virtuous deeds while silently seething, replaying various grudges in my mind, and not releasing them and bringing them to the cross?  Or if I have very harsh feelings towards those who don’t participate in ministry things the way that I do?

That said, I’d like to make Utley’s point a little wider, by bringing in the fruits of the spirit. These fruits are all great qualitative indicators of maturity that grow in our own lives and allow us to encourage people instead of laying guilt on them.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

Looking at these fruits has been beneficial during the pandemic. Since the quantity of stuff to do is being cut back, then the quality of what’s going on in my heart, head and brain is laid bare. A good opportunity to replace any slop there with fruit!