Surprise!

Wait no passage this week?

No, for the first time I would like to just share something that happened, to give praise and honour to my God and king.

Last night at 6:00 PM I had a 2500 word post written from my sermon work for this week.  I had wrestled very hard with it all day.  However, all day long I had this feeling, like a stone in my inner parts, this sinking feeling that something was wrong.  Somehow I was missing the mark.  Of course, in my typical work hard ignorance I just kept moving forward.  However, after my beloved wife read over my post my sinking feeling only grew worse.  As she read it and told me some of the errors I was filled with dread.  As soon as I sat down at my computer I had realised that I had completely missed the point of the text.  After 2 days of working very hard on this sermon this is a nerve wracking thing to have happen.  Of course, it is intensified by the fact that I must drive 6 hours on Saturday morning to get to the church I am preaching at in Gisborne.  Which is made worse by the fact that in New Zealand it is 7:27 AM on Saturday.

However, God is amazing, God is great and he always provides what we need in our time of ignorance and sin.  His grace!  In the space of one and a half hours I went into my bedroom (my temporary study) and after much prayer the Spirit of God showed me where I went wrong and gave me a sermon to bring on Sunday.  I did not deserve this, it was my own ignorance that got me in this problem.  But if God ever acted in accordance with what we deserved not one of us could stand!  God acted out of his loving grace to me. Now my spirit and mind are on fire with the sermon that will be brought to his people tomorrow.

May God forever be praised and lifted up.  For he alone is worthy of all glory.  For he alone is the provider of all grace.  For he alone is the great merciful King.  For he provided us with all we need in his Son.  May God bless his Ministers as they all prepare, may his Spirit go forth mightily with his word, may his people be fed, and sinners brought to repentance.  Amen.

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Where are Your Sights Set?

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Colossians 3:1-4, ESV)

Where are your sights set?  What is important to you?  Where do you spend your time?  What do you love the most?  When facing important decisions what motivates the outcome?  How you answer these questions is very important, because although in life there are many different things that you can set your sights on, it boils down ultimately to two options.  You either set your sights above – the things of Christ – or below – the things of the world.  Reader, because of what Christ has done, you must set your sights above.

In Colossae the church was suffering with strange teachings coming in from outside.  The teachings were leading to legalism and asceticism.  The problem was that the people had stopped setting their sights on the things of Christ and had started focusing on the things of men.  In response to this Paul teaches the believers at Colossae that because of what Christ has done for them, they have no reason to be taken in by these earthly teachings. Instead they should be focused on the things of Christ and therefore they have no reason to give in to legalism.  We face similar problems in the world don’t we?  Albeit a bit different.  We have people telling us that we should embrace homosexuality in the church, we are told that our views on men and women are archaic, we are told to embrace the ideologies of the age.  But also as individual Christians; we are told to work more, to spend less time with our families, to drink, to take drugs, to give more, to spend more, shall I go on?  Ultimately reader, if we give in, and we set our sights on things that are on earth we are denying what Christ has done for us and it is for this reason that we must set our sights on things above.

What does it mean to set our sights on things above?  It means that everything in our life, every action, thought, attitude, judgement, everything is adjusted by Christ’s perspective.  We live out every aspect of our life from Christ’s point of view.  It is not merely to think a certain way, but its also not about being obsessed with ‘heavenly things’ like the age old question of how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.  It is about devoting serious effort to realise and strive for the things that Christ wants.  It is living out the reality of what Christ has done in us.  King David understood this very well, he said in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”  All David wanted above all other things – remember this is the king of a nation who could have anything – was to dwell where God was, to be near his presence.

In this passage Paul tells us that there are three things that Christ has done, three reasons that we must set our sights above; (1) because we died with Christ, (2) because we rose with Christ, and (3) because we will be revealed with Christ.

The first reason we must set our sights above is because we died with Christ.  In vs. 3 Paul says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  It may seem like a bit of a contrast to say that you have died and yet your life is hidden.  However, one must remember that the death of the believer in this sense is the same as in 2:20, “with Christ you died”.  It is a spiritual reality, when Jesus died on the cross in our place, we died with him spiritually, we died to the world.  If we have died to the world, then it is necessary for us to set our sights on heavenly things.  It is necessary because we are dead to the world, how can we set our sight on things that we are dead to?  It is like a prisoner wanting to enter jail after finishing his sentence!  You have left, do not return!

Being hidden with Christ is the beautiful promise that between our spiritual death and our physical death (or Christ’s return) God has hidden us with Christ, that is hidden us away safely to be stored.  Nothing can come and take us away, we cannot ‘unhide’ ourselves and a thief cannot break in and steal us. F.F. Bruce makes a very poignant illustration in his commentary in this regard,  he says that there is a widespread belief in many cultures that a persons life is bound up with some external object, some “life token”.  This object, sometimes actually referred to as “life”, is hidden away in the belief that, so long as it is preserved, no harm can befall the person.  You see, for us, our life token is Christ. Our life token has been hidden away in God and as long as our life token is hidden away safely, our souls can never perish!  What a beautiful promise.  If we are hidden in God, surely our sights should be set the place where we are hidden!

The second reason we must set our sights above is because we rose with Christ.  Look at vs. 1, “If then you have been raised with Christ”.  Not only is it necessary that we set out sights above, but it is also possible. You see, death severed the power of Satan over us; it destroyed the chains which kept us in the world.  The resurrection re-established those chains.  We are chained to a new master and Lord, one greater then the first, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are chained to him in Heaven and therefore we are enabled and empowered through his resurrection and through his Spirit to live a life worthy of the calling of God.  To live a life with our sights set above.

Important note to realise at this point is that if we are raised with him, and are chained to him as our Lord, then we have no right to claim individual right of opinion.  We cannot attempt to withhold aspects of our life from Christ, he has right of claim over every square inch, every dot, every iota.  Whether it is your sports, work, social life, your love for animals, trees or pottery.  Every part of your life Christ has his claim on, and you have no right to say, ‘ahh I will stop that when Christ returns’, Christ’s stamp on you cries out ‘NO!’ for the reality of the resurrection has already begun!  We live life now as spiritually alive people, not as spiritually dead people, even if the ultimate consummation has not yet occurred.

The third reason we must set our sights above is because we will appear with Christ. In vs. 4 Paul states that, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in Glory.”  I stated before that we are still awaiting the final consummation, the final realisation of the spiritual reality that we enjoy now.  This is why we can set our eyes above, it will happen!  One day Christ will appear and when he appears, since we find our life in him, we will find our appearance in him.  This is not up for debate.  Interestingly in Greek Christ’s appearance is written in what is called the aorist tense, a past simple action.  Paul often does this when he writes of something in full assurance that it will happen.  He is so sure it will happen that he writes as if it already has!

We can get a lot of hatred in this world for a life lived with its sights focused on the things above.  We look very different to the world, we focus not on selfish endeavors but seek to do what Christ wants.  Because of this we receive rebuke, hatred, persecution, and for many death.  Yet, dear sufferer for Christ, one day when he returns; everyone in history will see the rightness of your decision, all will see that you acted in accordance with Christ, and your actions will be vindicated before them.  They do not understand now, but one day they will fully understand why we are strange, why we are different.  And on that day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

I started by saying that either your sights are set above or below, so let me ask you, which is it for you?  Are your sights set on the things of Christ or are the fixed on the things of the world?  Because if you have died with Christ, and you have been raised with Christ and if you will appear with Christ then your sights must be set above.  We who are set aside by Christ are called to seek higher things then this earth, because we have a destiny far higher and greater then this earth.

Heard about the Islamic State? Do not be alarmed!

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of the birth pains.  (Matthew 24:6-8, ESV)

There will be wars, do not be alarmed!
There will be rumors of wars, do not be alarmed!
There will be earthquakes and famines, do not be alarmed!
There will be mass executions, do not be alarmed!
Women will be abducted, do not be alarmed!
Children will be forced to fight, do not be alarmed!
Suicide bombings will take place, do not be alarmed!
Civilians will be beheaded, do not be alarmed!
Terrorist attacks will happen, do not be alarmed!
There will be bombings and torture, do not be alarmed!
DO NOT BE ALARMED?!  As Barnhouse said on the eve of WW2, “These are either the words of a madman or they are the words of God.  God, unless Jesus is God, these words are the most horrible that could be spoken to men who have hearts that can weep and bowels that can be gripped by human suffering.”  Men and women are dying, do not be alarmed? Nations rage at each other, do not be alarmed? Families are left with out home, do not be alarmed? Christians are dead or fleeing for there lives all over Iraq and Syria, do not be alarmed?  How can Jesus say such a thing?  Why should we not be alarmed?  We have every reason to be alarmed do we not?  No, for if we are alarmed by what we see going on in the world it means we are not trusting God.  What Jesus is declaring to us is that we have no reason to be alarmed because God is completely in control of the events going on around us and the events to come.  This passage teaches us that; we must trust in God, because he is in control of history.

There are two points that I would like to consider, firstly we must trust in God, because he is in control of the beginning.  Jesus states that, “These (that is war/rumors of war/earthquakes/famines) are but the beginning of birth pains” (vs. 8). What light does the imagery of birth pains bring to us?

(1) Birth pains are inevitable.  Anyone who has given birth before knows what is coming.  There is no avoiding it, there is no way to get the baby out (in a natural way) with out going through birth.  One cannot skip over it and one cannot avoid it.  The same applies to the events of history, we may ask why, why, why Oh God?  But his reply is the same as the midwife to the mother who cries why must I go through this?  There is only one way to get the baby out and there is only one way to have Christ return, the world must go through the events its creator has planned events.

(2) Birth pains are painful.  I have yet to ever speak to a women who has said ‘Ah the moments before labor are really enjoyable I did not feel anything!’  I vividly remember watching my wife go through it and I cannot say it looked like an enjoyable experience.  The same truth applies to the events of history that we must pass through, they are painful.  There will be all sorts of atrocities committed, but ultimately we know that it is for our good and for the glory of God (cf. Rom. 8:28-39).

(3) Birth pains worketh good.  If one considers all that happens during the early stages of birth pains it becomes apparent that it is a good thing, though painful.  In fact I know of a woman who went into labor without any prior pain or warning and the baby was born extremely quickly.  She went into shock because of it.  The build up is part of the bodies way of dealing with it.  The same applies with history, the world has events that must unfold in order for it to be prepared for Christ to return.  If it was possible and Christ was to come early then all sorts of things would be missed, if Christ had come 100 years ago all of us would have missed out on life and therefore, eternal life!  Remember what Peter said, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

(4) Birth pains fluctuate.  When pains first commence they are not the most intense from the get go (as a rule).  They come and go slowly intensifying over time.  The same is with the world, the world is in tumult at one time and relatively quiet at other times.  But history is slowly journeying forward towards its goal.

(5) Birth pains are uncontrollable.  Who of you that have had children had the ability to control the pains?  Sure you could dull it with medication, but can you stop the birth pains?  The same is true of history, though humanity tries its best to dull the pain of war, famines and earthquakes, do we ever succeed?  No.  For the only one who can control it is the same only one who can control birth pains, the creator and sustainer of the universe.

Dear reader, there is one simple fact, from the time of Christ’s ascension till now the world has been in the beginning stages of the birth pains of labor.  It is not going to change, it is not going to get easier, it is not going to go away.  We must face it, the question is how are you going to face it?  Will you obey your Lord and trust in God?  He has commanded it, trust in him, because he is in control of history and he is good!  Someone once said, “In times of crisis, Christians should be the calmest people on the block,” why?  Because we serve the one who is ordering all of these events to unfold.

The second point I would like to consider is that we must trust in God, because he controls the end.  If all we have said of the beginning so far is true, then all must also equally be said of the end.  Surely if we must trust in God in the beginning we must trust in God all the way through till the end!  Jesus says to us in verse six, “this must take place, but the end is not yet.”  If the end is not yet then it goes with out saying that there will in fact be an end.  The beginning of birth pains pointed out one very obvious fact, something is coming!  This is probably one of the most comforting thing for those that suffer during the beginning.  What we face in history can at times be horrible, just as birth can at times be the death of a mother.  But, what is the consummation of all the history of the world, Christ will return!  One day, all of this suffering, war, strife, earthquakes, famines, ebola, terrorism, all of it will end.

Look at verse thirty one, “He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  If you are a follower of Christ, this is you, I do not know what you are going through right now, but whatever you face, this is you.  One day, your God will send back your Lord Jesus and his angels will gather you to be with him forever!  If ever you had a reason to trust in the difficulties of history it is this, Jesus wins.  It may seem grim, it may look bad, but Jesus wins!

But reader, if you are not a follower of Christ, let me warn you, look at verses thirty, “Then will appear in Heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory.”  Reader, he shall come, there is no doubt, one day when all of the events of history have been completed, the Son of Man will come, he shall appear like a flash of lightening, like a thief in the night.  And woes be for those whom he does not know!  If you are reading this and you do not know Christ and he does not know you, I urge you, no, I beg you before it is to late, cry out to him now, run to him and seek forgiveness for he will turn none away.

When we see everything going on around us in the world; famines, ebola, terrorism, Islamic State, Ukraine…it can be all to easy to give in to despair.  However, Jesus Christ, the God man, the Lord of History, the one whom through all things were made and whom through all things are sustained cries out to us, ‘You must trust in God! Do not be alarmed!  For God is in control, he is the alpha and the omega, he has ordained all that will pass in the beginning and has planned the end to come.  Run to him and experience the peace that surpasses all understanding even while amongst the most terrible circumstances.  Reader, trust in the God and put off all alarm for he is in control.