The Pastor’s Pen

Lincoln writes to encourage and build up God’s people with God’s Word.

Life Beyond Measure

When the Bible speaks of eternal life, it’s not merely referring to longevity of years, or of never ending spiritual life. No, the phrase “eternal life” is laden with implications critical to Christian faith. In John chapter three, Jesus enlightened Nicodemus, who was Israel’s lead teacher, how he could see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Jesus informed this enquiring Pharisee that unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Poor Nicodemus, his lifetime of religious achievements counted for nothing, and he didn’t understand what it meant to be born again. He was outside of God’s Kingdom and therefore without eternal life. His religion had failed him badly!

As part of Jesus’ answer to perplexed Nicodemus’, Jesus explained, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). Drawing from Nicodemus’ knowledge of Numbers 21:9, Jesus shows that He would be lifted up to crucifixion in order to save the lives of everyone who would look to Him believing to be saved from the eternal condemnation of death resulting from personal sin.

Nicodemus now had gospel truth to work with, which, by the way, he later put into practice following Jesus’ crucifixion, leading him to bury Jesus (Jn 19:39). So, eternal life, entry into God’s Kingdom, occurs when a person attaches their dependant belief to Jesus, realising that Jesus had their sins placed in His body upon the cross by God, and their punishment from God for their sin was taken by Jesus. The sinner confesses their sinfulness in repentance, turning from disbelief to belief. Faith reaches out to Jesus as the only possible source of forgiveness and cleansing of sin. It is this specific belief that initiates God’s gift of eternal life.

Having believed in Him, (you) were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14). While God often uses our circumstances and struggles in the lead up to salvation, it is belief alone in Jesus as forgiver and Lord that actions salvation. The instant authentic belief occurs, never ending spiritual life is granted. Simultaneously, God the Holy Spirit moves into the life and body of the new believer, sealing the permanency of His irreversible regeneration.

The inheritance of eternal life and the certainty of heaven is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, galvanising this irrevocable gift until we transition from earthly mortality to heavenly glorification (1Co 15:42-44). This spectacular gift is all of God, planned from eternity past and enabled by Jesus’ substitutional death and resurrection, then actioned by the Holy Spirit. Every step leading to salvation, with the subsequent blessings, were purposed for the praise of His glory. As redeemed sinners, we are the earthly expressions of praise, declaring the excellencies of Jesus Christ.

For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses – as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honour than the house itself (Hebrews 3:3). The only appropriate response to all that the LORD graciously does for the saved, is to think, speak, and live worship. Eternal life’s ultimate purpose shall reach its zenith when we join the heavenly hosts saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing! (Revelation 5:12). May we today, walk in worship of God’s gift of eternal life, which really is life beyond measure.

Everyone Loves Grace

It’s a word we don’t hear often in society unless it’s used as a name. However, occasionally we hear the term “grace period” when referring to additional time that is granted to complete a task or fulfill a commitment without incurring penalties.

In the spiritual realm, grace speaks of the undeserving love of God towards people who have no relationship with Him, no interest in Him, and prefer to live isolated from Him. In other words, God focuses His loving grace upon people who do not want His grace and happily live without any understanding of Him.

The apostle Paul spoke openly of grace in his life. In 1 Timothy 1:13, Paul admitted that in His pre-Christian life, he was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. Everything about Paul’s life displayed his indifference to, and hatred of Jesus Christ, even though he was a religious man. So, we could hardly blame God if Paul was taken off any list of favourites. But that’s not what happened. Paul continues in verse 13, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. While grace and mercy are similar, mercy focuses more on compassionate love, while grace focuses on love in spite of the recipient’s unworthiness.

Then, in verse 14, Paul says the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly. Appreciating God’s mercy heightened Paul’s awareness of his unworthiness and God’s grace in loving him. This is why Paul could say, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst (1Ti 1:15).

Our appreciation of grace’s beauty increases as we think of how grace saved us from God’s wrath, keeps us secure from judgement, and shall deliver us to heaven. God’s grace is like the ground under our feet and the glue that keeps us stuck to the LORD through both the sweet and sour times of life.

Grace empowers us to embrace His love in exchange of our old and less than pure affections. Grace strengthens our resolve to filter out old voices from a past lifestyle when they speak loudly. Grace energises our desire to walk away from the place of temptation looking instead for those places and friendships which advance Christlikeness.

It’s good to pray like David; Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace (Psalm 86:6). God’s response to such prayers begins by locking our attention onto the fact that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Therefore, focusing on the character and work of Jesus Christ is essential to experiencing His power in our lives. This involves an intentional exchange in our affections, in how we allocate our time and personal resources. But most of all, it’s a deliberate and ongoing shift of our deepest desires, from being self-oriented to being Christ-oriented. This monumental shift of our passions is fuelled by faith in Christ, and stubbornly leans upon His grace to keep the forward movement of our hearts towards Him (Eph 2:8-9).

While this redirection of our hearts began at salvation, it continues over our entire lives in  God’s transformative work. Which Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into his glorious image. God’s grace works over time, bringing the heart and mind changes needed within us. Everyone should love grace, as grace patiently implements God’s love, bringing   Him glory, and His blessing to we who don’t deserve it.

Worthy of your attention

For the most part, the world does not consider Jesus Christ to be worthy of their attention, let alone their belief or acknowledgement, other than blasphemy. The apostle Paul tells how his life was radically transformed from this worldly state in Acts 26, when Christ met him on the road to Damascus. Intrinsic in Paul’s salvation was Jesus’ revelation of Himself and His calling of Paul to a life in His service. In Acts 26:16-18, Jesus stated this to Paul. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness… I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

It’s no wonder that Paul was compel as a man possessed by the living God to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). This heavenly calling was not unique to Paul and Peter, but to each believer in Jesus Christ as Lord. This is why Peter’s words were addressed to the whole church in general (1Pe 1:1). Like Paul, Christians have within them the God given capacity to assist those who are blinded to the truth of Jesus, to provide the biblical information needed by them to correctly understand Jesus.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Like Paul, in our pre-Christian life, we were not interested in Christ. However, it was God who illuminated a right understanding of Jesus in our innermost place of decision making, our heart. From there, faith empowered by knowledge pervaded our lives, and Jesus was understood to be Lord. Now, instead of spiritual darkness, there is the light of Christ.

It’s not surprising then, that Satan works hard as the god of this world… to blind …the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Make no mistake Christian, unbelievers, which we all were, are not simply operating independent from God, they are blinded by Satan to the glorious truth of Jesus Christ. Spiritual ignorance of Christ is not only inherited from our parents, but is influentially supported by Satan and taught by the world.

John 1:9-13 explains it this way. The true light (Jesus) that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus Christ is worthy of every person’s attention, and especially of those who profess faith in Him. In reality, there is no such thing as a Christian who is not interested in Christ as Lord. A tough reality which calls for our attention. It is good for us to sharpen our focus on Christ daily and to share Him with others regularly. Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name (Hebrews 13:15).

Working next to others

Church life, as with family and employment life, requires coexistence with others. It’s inescapable, the church is comprised of many different people, existing and operating as the body of Christ. Therefore, as members of this diverse body, we do things together; worship, pray, fellowship, eat, serve, make disciples, etc. Working together is central to most of our activities as Christians. It takes work with effort, to pull it all together, functioning as a healthy family of God, operating in unison for His common purpose.

As Nehemiah describes how Israel went about rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah chapter 3 records some revealing phrases; “next to him,” “next to them,” and “after them.” A few words which  communicate much about the attitude and actions of a large work force. Nehemiah makes his point even stronger by repeating these phrases approximately 30 times in chapter 3 alone. While there are many lessons to be learnt from Nehimiah, a few catch my attention today.

As Nehemiah was God appointed, and assigned by the King as leader of this rebuilding project, he unashamedly informed those who opposed him that the God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build… (Neh 2:20). Opposition strengthened their resolve to get on with the job God had set for them. They had both a spiritual mandate and determination to carry out God’s will. Nehemiah 3:1 tells us that Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they started the building project. As soon as stage 1 was done they consecrated it to the Lord. Spiritual leadership set the standard and ensured everyone knew this project was God’s work.

Then we have the first use of the statement, and next to him; that is, next to Eliashib the high priest, the men of Jericho built (Neh 3:2). The labourers followed the working spiritual leadership of Eliashib. Nehemiah wisely joined with Eliashib to head this massive project. These 2 men first bonded in doing God’s work themselves, then in calling others to follow them by working with them. Of necessity, everyone had to sacrifice fierce individuality to operate as a unit. This was the only way God’s rebuilding project could ever succeed. This huge work force, from priest to rubble carrier, along with all the required support people, worked together. They worked next to each other, in close proximity to one another, one after the other in the structured  chain of operations needed for their single minded purpose – get the wall rebuilt.

The spiritual leadership and building principles implemented by Nehemiah and Eliashib were simple enough, yet they required the typical everyday labourer to join in and make it happen. Otherwise, the wall would remain nothing but a pile of useless rubble. This is a timeless principle for all of God’s people in all of God’s work. God’s people must work in single minded close proximity with one another to accomplish God’s purposes.

The apostle Paul requested this of the Philippian’ church. Paul wanted to hear that they were  standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents… (Philippians 1:27-28). While God’s opponents will always try to divide and separate God’s work force, God’s people pull together. Unity is powerful when it begins in our hearts and minds with soft humble attitudes towards one another.

May this principle be true in each of our lives today, as we seek to serve side by side in harmony for the common purpose of Jesus’ gospel, beginning in our own local church congregations.

God of Rescue

Israel’s 400 year enslavement under Egypt and their subsequent deliverance offer us numerous important lessons. Among these, a significant quality of the Lord that would have resonated with Israel at that time was Yahweh’s role as the God of rescue.

Exodus 2:23-25 reads, During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.

God permitted Israel to remain enslaved in Egypt far longer than they thought necessary (400 years). Yet a full rescue of the entire nation came precisely when Yahweh appointed it. Not a moment too late.  The man God used for the rescue mission was Moses, a man Israel neither recognised, nor wanted as their saviour. So it was, and remains today, with Jesus. Many fail to recognise Jesus Christ as their  Saviour and miss their only opportunity of rescue from the power of sin and the coming wrath.

Today, Israel remains in the safe hands of their divine rescuer. As Paul asks and answers in Romans 11:1, has God rejected his people Israel? By no means! …Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27).

Through Moses, God used methods of rescue that neither Israel nor Egypt, in their wildest dreams, would ever have imagined. The Lord displayed His power and His determined will through the 10 plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 7-12), until Egypt finally released Israel. What’s more, Yahweh performed Israel’s rescue without asking their permission or getting them to contribute. In the end, Israels’ rescue through the divided waters of the Red Sea became Egypt’s’ judgement, drowning their entire army as they pursued Israel (Exodus 14).

For God, Israel’s rescue was personal, resulting from the covenant He had made with Israel’s forefather Abraham, then confirmed with Isaac and Jacob. When Israel called out to be saved from Egypt, God knew them as His covenant people, therefore divine rescue was inevitable.

While others watched God’s rescue of Israel with hatred, for those being rescued, the Lord’s deliverance was life changing and irreversible. There was to be no going back to Egypt’s enslavement, even though some later wanted that. So it is today, for those who put repentant faith in Jesus Christ, others may not understand, some may ridicule you or even cut you off. But rest secure, from God’s perspective, there is no going back.

As Christians, we have entrusted our lives to Him who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Galatians 1:4). It’s important for us to view our relationship with God through Jesus, to be our daily rescue from the sin that took Jesus to the cross on our behalf in the first place. As recipients of such grace, we are to have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23). Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore (others) on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Through Jesus Christ, God is still the God of rescue.

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