Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

by Tim Howe 

In 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 the apostle Paul expresses his gratitude for the Thessalonians' concern for him and for their partnership in the ministry he has been involved in. 

Paul shares in the first three verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 how they give thanks to God always for all of the Thessalonians, constantly mentioning them in prayer. You’ll notice that he emphasizes the fervency of his gratefulness three times. He says, all and constantly in one sentence to bring attention to the fact that he is extremely grateful for them. Paul goes to lengths to tell his readers how much he thinks of them. In the same way, I am thankful for so many people in my life that have continuously demonstrated love to my family. We always thank God for all of you constantly. There is no halfway in our thankfulness for you. It is complete.
          His thankfulness is for more than just warm happy thoughts on behalf of the Thessalonians. He appreciates their actions not just their sentiments. Paul does not say that he appreciates their “faith, love and hope.” These are clearly the central tenets of the Christian Faith and Paul would have been right to point them out, but Paul goes even further. He says that he is grateful for their work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope. Faith, love and hope are what motivate a Christian to serve. The actions are work, labor & endurance. Paul is grateful not just that they have faith in God, but that their faith has caused them to change the way that they live.
Paul expresses the reason they live this way when he commends their “steadfastness” of hope. Steadfastness of hope is not the maintaining of a wish, but it is confident expectation. It is not wishful thinking, but holding onto an assurance that God is doing something.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 Paul changes his focus from appreciation to affirmation. He has expressed very well the ways in which he is grateful for the Thessalonians.  Now, he goes on to affirm them. When faith & love are evidenced in word and deed, when hope enables endurance, we have cause for joyful thanksgiving and an obligation to affirm fellowship.
Beginning verse 4, Paul affirms eight different things about the Thessalonians. He affirms that:
(1) God had chosen them which was indicated by the fact that God’s    
power was evident among them.
(2) They were people of deep conviction.
(3) They tried to imitate Paul in seeking after godliness.
(4) They welcomed the gospel in joy even under much affliction.
(5) They carried the gospel to others, eventually to far away places.
(6) They served as an example for others; they had a good reputation.
(7) They served the Living and True God; they had a vibrant faith.
(8) They were waiting on the Lord Jesus, with the same sort of
          expectant hope that he commends them for in verse 3.
 On Thanksgiving, may you be affirmed in each of these areas as well. 
Work to...
          Make the Power of God is evident where you are.
          Be people of deep conviction.
          Be imitators of the Lord.
          Welcome the Gospel to new places.
          Personally carry the Gospel to others.
          Have a good reputation.
          Serve the Living and True God.
          Wait for Jesus.

May God Bless you all this Thanksgiving

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What is Authentic Faith

by Timothy Howe

What does it mean to be an Authentic Christian to you?

Please respond below by posting a comment.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Only Jesus Could…

by Timothy Howe

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.                          John 17:1-15

In the chapters just before John 17 Jesus had just participated in the Passover Meal with His disciples and shared His poignant message with them about the importance of staying rooted in Him. Next, He offered a beautiful the prayer on their behalf in John 17. That prayer began with the verses above, which begin with a declaration about who he was.  

The hour has come…

Jesus was preparing Himself and His disciples for the events that were about to take place. These events would be terrifyingly horrific. They would lead to almost all of His disciples either betraying or abandoning Him. Jesus was left alone to accomplish the task for which He came. And this was fitting because Jesus could accomplish this task - none other and by no other's help. 

Only Jesus could fulfill the demands of the Cross because...

He was worthy. 
Verse 1 tells us that Jesus prayed to receive glory for the Father. This might was based on His personal worthiness. The theme of this entire passage centers on Jesus’ request for the Father to glorify Him. Jesus has been obedient to the Father in His ministry and now requests that God will glorify Him.

He glorified God.
Jesus' worthiness came in part on account of His glorification of the Father. Jesus constantly brought glory to the Father through his teaching, acts of service, healing ministry and love for all people. His goal was to give God glory in all things. When we take a closer look at Jesus’ request for the Father to glorify Him, He asked the Father to glorify Him so that He can return that glory back to the Father. This dance of bringing glory to the Father and the Son began before God created the world (17:5), continued while Christ was on the earth (17:4) and will once again resume once Christ is reunited with the Father in heaven.

He held all authority.
Verse 2 tells us that Jesus possessed all authority. He had power over all things. Colossians 1:17 tells us even all the universe is held together by His authority.  

He offers eternal life.  
Jesus was more than just a great teacher. He offers us more than a moral example for how to live our lives. Jesus gives us eternal life. And he defines what it means to have eternal life, “knowing the one true God and Christ whom He sent.” Eternal life is so much more than living forever in the hereafter. It was knowing God here and now.

He accomplished the work of God.
Jesus accomplished the work that the Father had given Him. He was obedient even until death on the cross. He did what He was supposed to, unlike us. 

He was Divine.
Returning back to the theme of the exchange of glory between the Father and the Son which God began before the creation of the world, this passage grounds our theology in the person of the Father and the relationship between Him and the Son. The purpose of the Passion Week is to expose the Son for who He is, the obedient, Son of God, both capable and willing to satisfy God’s justice on earth, while simultaneous pointing to His own divinity. Proper Christian theology recognizes the relationship between the Father and the Son as opposed to only recognizing the aspect of Christ’s ability to live a righteous life.

The hour has come… 
     for Jesus to ascend onto a cross. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Seven Victories in Triumphant Atonement

by Timothy Howe

Gerry Breshears gave a lecture titled “What is the Gospel” in Mill Valley, CA in January, 2011 in which he shared thoughts from Acts 2 about God's revealing role in contrast to humanity's responding role with regards to the gospel. He also shared the eventual results of the gospel. I have contemplated on one of those effects of which he spoke - the triumphant atonement of Christ on the cross. 

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.        Colossians 2:13-15

Atonement simply means to have things made right. You have likely heard the simplified definition of the term which breaks the word down into “at-one-ment” which indeed captures the essence of what atonement does. It makes us at one which someone with whom there was previously a fractured relationship. When we speak about atonement, there are many aspects on which we can focus our attention. Two clear examples are propitiation (payment for sins) and expiation (removal of sins). Today, I want to focus our attention on the triumphant aspect of the atoning work of Christ. Simply put, Triumphant Atonement means that Christ has given us victory.

Christ provides a Triumphant Atonement through 7 victories.

1. Christ defeated death
Verse 13 offers us great hope as result of the work of Christ - We have been made alive. When Jesus died on the cross, God raised him from the dead. When we believe on Him, they same victory over death is offered to us. In the garden, death entered the world in two ways. Physical death became an eventual reality in the life of humanity. Spiritual death was an immediate reality. Faith in Christ reverses that curse. Faith in Him means that we are made alive spiritually immediately, and that we will live physically forever, in a new home.  

2. Christ defeated guilt
Death is not the only thing that Jesus defeated on the cross. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus defeated both death and sin. The passage we have seen in Colossians 2 elaborates on various aspects of sin that were defeated. First, Jesus takes away all our guiltiness. We have been forgiven of all sins. You are guilt-free. Your wrong-doings are not held against you by the Lord.

3. Christ defeated accusation
In addition to being guilt-free, the charges against us are gone. In a court trial a defendant can hope for a couple of possible outcomes. One is to be declared "not guilty." Another is to be have the charges dropped altogether. In the court of God, for those who possess faith in Jesus, the accusation is gone. All legal indebtedness is cancelled. There is no record of debt. The list of wrongdoings is non-existent. Rather than having the charges dropped, it is as if they were never filed in the first place. Suspicion of guilt is gone. More than that, the code that makes sin sinful, the Law, that which brought the charges in the first place, is also obliterated. So, the next time the Accuser whispers into your soul all the past wrongs you have done, shoo him away with the promise that record of my debt which stood against me with its legal demands has been cancelled by the blood of Jesus.

4. Christ defeated sin’s hold
There is yet more good news that comes to the believer as a result of the work of Christ on the cross. Yes, our sins are removed. The indebtedness is gone. But so is sin's sway over us. Jesus nailed it to the tree. He dismissed it from our lives. Paul explains that we have been set free from bondage to sin. So, if we have been set free, let us live like it. Yet too often, I see devout followers of Christ living under the influences of the fallen nature, not the redeemed one. If our sins and our sin nature have been nailed to the tree, why do we wander over to that tree and ply them from that blood stained beam and return them to a place of control in our lives. Leave them be. Live free!

5. Christ defeated powers.
Verse 15 starts of simply. He disarmed the rulers and authorities. What is Paul speaking about here? This world consists of more than just the natural realities that we can observe. Though they are limited, there are powers that are not in agreement with the will of God. Paul is reminding us that they are indeed limited and that even they recognize the ultimate authority of Jesus. When temptations are at their greatest, when habits seem to possess undeniable control, when our all too-human impulse overtakes our better sense, in those moments, know that Christ defeated these powers and offers His authority for personal self-control and victory over the evil around us.

6. Christ defeated shame.
Paul continues his assault on the powers and authorities in the next phrase. I want to look at it in a slightly different way. Part of the task of the Evil One and his minions is to constantly bring accusations against us to cause doubts, fear and shame. The defeat of these powers by Christ eliminates our shame. He reversed the curse and now instead of holding the guilt against, us exposes the evil powers. Our former shame will be their eternal shame. That with which the evils powers sought to indict us will stand for all eternity accusing them.

7. Christ defeated Evil.
Christ has won the victory. He has triumphed over the evil powers. Christ defeated the Evil One. Our faith is not some pie-in-the-sky, hopeful wishing that one day things will get better. The victory has already been attained. Will we live accordingly then? Many people do not see this victory because too many of us do not live in it. We too often exhibit a defeated life. 

Today, I implore each follower of Jesus,
 Because of the triumphant atonement of Christ…
Claim victory over death.
Claim victory over guilt.
Claim victory over accusation.
Claim victory over sin.
Claim victory over powers.
Claim victory over shame.
Claim victory over Evil.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Triumphant Faith: The Object of Our Faith

by Timothy Howe

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.                              Colossians 2:8-12

The Basis for Triumphant Living
Last week I wrote about living triumphantly. Knowing that we have already experienced the One who is the Cause for victory in our lives should give us great confidence even as the world around us seems to dissolve. What is the basis for this triumphant living, however? What is the foundation by which we can we expect victories in our lives? Faith. Faith in the triumphant work of Christ gives us the potential for victory in our lives. Accordingly, I will call this Triumphant Faith. But let's be sure of one thing. The faith itself holds no power. The power of our triumphant faith rests solely in the Object of our Faith - Jesus the Messiah. Let's examine the Colossians 2:8-12 passage by passage in order to see just how we build a Triumphant Faith.

Build a Triumphant Faith by grasping these 5 realities.

Grasp Captivity to Christ
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Paul makes it clear what is the foundation to our faith - Christ. In the previous blog I noted that Paul made a clear distinction beginning in Colossians 2:6-7 between the traditions of Christ versus the traditions of men. The phrase as you receive the Christ Jesus the Lord (2:6) refers to a specific understanding of the origins of truth as they are found in Christ Jesus. Here Paul contrasts that with the refusal to be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition. What does this mean? Does this mean that a follower of Jesus rejects philosophy and learning? By no means. What it means is to guard ourselves from any teaching that captures our attention and desires from the truth of who Christ is and what Christ wants for our lives. Paul is warning us to be captivated with Christ and not anything of this world. I can sit on the edge of my seat as my baseball team is challenging for a chance to go to the World Series. I should be captivated in the same way to see how the Lord is working in my life. 

Grasp Divinity of Christ
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

As one devotes himself or herself to the traditions of Christ, the next step is to recognize just who this Messiah was. The above passage is but one that indicates that Jesus was something more than just a man. He was Divine. Colossians 2:9 explains that Christ was the full expression of the Divine present in human form. People have a hard time comprehending this because it is so foreign to us. But it is the foundation for the work that Christ did on the cross. It is the foundation of His promise to send the Holy Spirit. It is the foundation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And it is the foundation of a triumphant faith that leads to a triumphant living.   

Grasp Authority of Christ
10b and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

The recognition of Jesus' divinity helps us to understand what sort of authority he possesses. The above verse makes clear that Jesus is the head of all rule and authority. His authority extends from the events in history to the machinations of the cosmos. Though He has permitted free will and the inevitable consequences that result, He is still ultimately in control. This should not only provide us hope in the difficult times, but also confidence that things will turn out well for His kingdom sake. Nothing, I repeat, nothing catches Him by surprise. The cross was not "Plan B." This was part of the eternal design to demonstrate the need for a person to die to self in order to gain the kingdom of God.

Grasp Unity with Christ
10a and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

In the previous section we noted the ultimate authority of Jesus. Now comes an exciting, if not startling, realization. Paul states that we have been filled with Christ. We have been unified with Him. His authority becomes a shared authority by extension. We have the ability to overcome the trials and tribulations of this world because He overcame the trials and temptations of this world. This does not mean that we will avoid difficulties. Neither the Bible nor church history indicates that to be true. Anyone who teaches that being a follower of Jesus means only good things are headed your way are not teaching the Bible faithfully. But what it does mean is that we possess the same authority that Christ did. How is this possible? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our faith is a triumphant faith precisely because we know that we live in the triumphant power of Christ. 

Grasp Vitality from Christ
12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Unity in Christ means that we are living in Christ. The Apostle Paul pointed out that we are made alive in Him as we believe in Him. As He was raised from the dead, so too are we. We trust in an eventual and eternal resurrection from our mortal death. Yet even now we are offer a resurrection of a different sort. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that when Christ died on the cross he defeated two things - death and sin. As we believe in him and are united in Him, we also have these two areas defeated in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteous. My question is "So, why do we so often continue to live as if sin ruled our lives not victory?" Living in Christ means that you have been set free. Live triumphantly by possessing a triumphant faith that you are victorious. 

Build a Triumphant Faith by grasping...
     Captivity to Christ
     Divinity of Christ
     Authority of Christ
     Unity with Christ
     Vitality from Christ

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Triumphant Living: The Fruit of Our Faith

by Timothy Howe

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.     Colossians 2:6-7

If you are a follower of Christ, you have been given the opportunity of a life full of triumph, not defeat. Yet, I watch many Christians live life just the oppositely, as if there life is one constant defeat after another. Many times people seem to be defeated by quite minor things in this life. The key to living triumphantly is looking beyond mundane and seeing the bigger picture of what is really happening all around us. Part of claiming the victory that we have in Christ is discovering and living out the purpose God has for each of us. 

Every Christian can experience Triumphant Living 
by carrying out these 5 pursuits.

Discover God’s Purpose.
Receive the Truth
The phrase as you receive the Christ Jesus the Lordrefers to a specific understanding of the origins of truth. Paul explains that our hopes are fond in the traditions of Christ, not the traditions of men. This refers to the teachings of Christ and about Christ. If we want triumphant living, we must trust in God’s wisdom, not in man’s wisdom. I believe that God has a purpose for every person. That purpose gives direction and meaning to each purpose. God's purposes are eternal in nature and always beneficial for the long run. Discover this purpose for your life to begin living triumphantly.

Embrace God’s Purpose.
Walk in Truth
The next phrase in this passage, so walk in him, demonstrates that it is not enough to know about God's purpose, but we must embrace it and live according to it. Christ gave the disciples His purpose, found in the Great Commission. As He did so, he also gave them His authority. This means that what He calls us to do, He will empower us to do. It is up to us to accept and live in this purpose. 

Cultivate God’s Purpose.
Grow in Truth
It is not easy to walk the same path that Christ did. He was perfect and we are not. That is why the apostle taught that we must remain rooted and built up in him. We should cultivate God's plans and ways in our lives so that our lives conform to His will. A plant with deep roots will withstand storms and live out the purpose that its seed intended. If you want to succeed and live out God's will for you life, cultivate the deep spiritual roots in your life that will offer you the best chance for that success. These start with the spiritual disciples of prayer and scripture study. If you want to grow solidly in Christ, you must grow in Him, not just go by His name. Read John 15:5 ESV below:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 

Nurture God’s Purpose.
Remain in Truth
Once you have set deep roots, do not let them die. I have grown many vegetable plants in my garden. Once they have set roots and then begin to grow, I continue to water them. Why? If I do not they will wither and will not produce fruit. You set spiritual roots by the simplest spiritual disciples, but nurture them with a life style that is categorized by these and more disciplines, such as fasting, scripture memory and meditation, generosity, etc. By doing so, we will be as Paul stated, established in the faith, just as you were taught. 

Celebrate God’s Purpose.
Rejoice in Truth
God works out His purpose in us as we are rooted and growing in Him. We are enabled to celebrate this. Paul declares that those who are established in the faith are also abounding in thanksgiving. Why do we celebrate? Because instead of uncertainty and doubt, we possess direction and find meaning in our lives and service to the Lord. This should cause an outflow of gratitude to God 

So, today will you...
     Discover God’s Purpose for Your Life,
     Embrace God’s Purpose for Your Life,
     Cultivate God’s Purpose for Your Life,
     Nurture God’s Purpose for Your Life,
     Celebrate God’s Purpose for Your Life?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Proper Boasting

by Timothy Howe

We are approaching Easter. This season offers the most hope. The Resurrection of our Lord gives us hope. He conquered death and he offers us that very same victory. But we must never forget that the victory came with a price, a price that we did not have to pay. Anything we have as followers of Jesus, any gain we have received, any benefit that we have procured, any hope that we cling to has all come about on account of his work. None of it is as a result of our efforts, our strengths, our righteousness, our goodness, our wits, or our good works. It is all on account of Him.

That is why the apostle Paul state, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14 ESV)

Isaac Watts’ hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross was likely inspired by this verse. It is a favorite at this time of year. May it speak to you.

          When I survey the wondrous cross
          On which the Prince of Glory died;

Our Savior paid a terrible price. Jesus, who descended from the realm of Glory itself, allowed His broken body to be affixed to that cruel instrument in humiliating fashion, an instrument that can rightly be renamed “wondrous” as a result of its association with Him.

          My richest gain I count but loss,
          And pour contempt on all my pride.  

Our greatest endeavors measure up very poorly compared to His work on the cross and the result that we receive from it. We may think that we have achieved something in this world, that we have demonstrated some goodwill towards fellow humans, or that we have shown real self-sacrifice, but there purpose reasons for personal pride are insignificant aside the wondrous work on the cross.

          Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
          Save in the death of Christ, my God;
          All the vain things that charm me most,
          I sacrifice them to his blood.

Our sole boast should be in the death of Christ. His death and subsequent victory over it transformed the ignoble cross into the greatest hope for humanity. Let us put down the world’s charms that so easily tempt us and fortify our grip on the eternal wealth that His blood has secured us.

          See from his head, his hands, his feet,
          Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
          Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
          Or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Jesus forever bears the mark of our sin – our penalty pierced his flesh. Yet, in that terrible moment when our just due was laid on Him, His words were “Father, forgive them.” His flowing blood demonstrated simultaneously the love and justice of the Father reminiscent of Psalm 85:10, where God’s steadfast love and faithfulness meet; where righteousness and peace kiss each other (from the ESV) .

          Were the whole realm of nature mind,
          That were an offering far too small;
          Love so amazing, so divine,
          Demands my soul, my life, my all.

We cannot repay His glorious work, even if we should possess all that there is to take hold in this universe. What can we offer Him, then as a result? Ourselves. We can offer Him our lives, as His devoted disciples.

May God bless you with Michael W. Smith's rendition of this hymn below.