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Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...

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Pulling the Pieces of Life Back Together

Thursday, 12 March 2009 14:25 Published in Blog
Colossians 1:9 "We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask tha tyou may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." In Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, he asks that the Lord might fill them with “knowledge.” The word Paul uses for knowledge is epignosis. Some of us may have heard about gnosis meaning “knowledge.” We get English words like “prognosis” from this root. But what does epignosis mean here in Colossian 1:9? We usually say that epignosis means full knowledge or a more thorough knowledge. Sometimes you’ll hear a pastor say it means knowledge verified/learned by experience. These all are true, but have always seemed to me to be vague and elusive. One study tool I have, however, clarifies the meaning by explaining that epignosis means to know something even better than I knew it before. It quotes another source as saying “It is bringing me better acquainted with a thing I knew before; a more exact viewing of an object that I saw before afar off.” Thus, epignosis is broader and deeper than gnosis because epignosis goes from knowing a bunch of random parts to seeing how they all fit together (Trench, 285).

In Colossians 1:9, Paul prayed that the Colossians might be “filled” with wisdom and spiritual understanding. Paul’s prayer here is not that they would gain an encyclopedic, academic knowledge of theology, languages, history, etc. But rather, that in gaining such knowledge, they will understand, with spiritual wisdom, the life-implications of what they have learned.

Looking back over writings from my early days of being in Christ, I am struck by how much I “knew” and yet didn’t really know. My Bible College term papers contained a broad understanding of God’s Truth, but they did not contain the maturity or wisdom to see how those truths connect together with life, and more importantly, those early papers lack a certain soul-commitment to the depth and meaning of what I wrote about. Since their truths had yet to really affect my life, I did not cherish them either. Verses were for sparing not for obeying.

A few years ago I met a contemporary version of my former college-self. A man briefly came to our church who had been to a Bible college. He wanted to discuss our church’s stance on a particular matter. But while talking, I had the strong sense that I was talking with myself from my college days—more caught up with arguing over words than living in submission to Christ.

God’s word explains and clarifies life and reality—and its gems can be studied and examined and discussed and contemplated. But in the end, if we really believe what God says, then we will live His truth and only then will we begin to gain “epignosis.”

Wisdom: Skill for Life

Friday, 13 March 2009 14:23 Published in Blog
Colossians 1:9 Colossians "We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding..." In this vese, Paul prays that the Colossian believers would gain wisdom in spiritual matters. This wisdom here is imparted by God to those who are close to Him. My family and I have been reading through the book of Proverbs for quite a while. We have seen that the Hebrew concept of wisdom largely meant skill—it was often used of a technical or artistic ability. In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is the skill of living life well; being able to live out God’s principles in a fallen world. It is sound judgment, the capacity to understand a how God’s Word relates to the days of our lives. One seminary friend defined wisdom as “knowledge rightly applied.”

This developing life-understanding is not something we can just force into being, rather it is something that God provides to His obedient and submissive children who seek to learn His ways. Wisdom for life takes time to learn and develop.

As a child, my dad and I used to build all kinds of model airplanes and boats. These days, if I was to build a balsa-wood model airplane with my son (we have yet to, but he’ll be old enough in a couple of years; Legos will have to suffice for now) but if we were to build an airplane, he may want it build it and fly it on the first day (and balsa-wood airplanes do fly!). But the reality of the project requires time and progression.

First the pieces must be cut from the sheets of wood. Then carefully the fuselage must be positioned together, held in place with string and glued. The glue will take time to cure. The wings will need to be fully constructed and cured before they can be attached to the fuselage. Once the body is assembled, then it must be covered with a tissue-paper and coated with a syrupy glue, strangely called “Dope”. Lastly the plane is ready for painting and decorations. The process takes time—many hours of work over many days. Each step is vital and cannot be skipped. Some steps require a specific order, some can be done in any order, but all steps must be fulfilled to complete the plane.

Building a model airplane is an apt analogy for growing in wisdom. As I mentioned, the Hebrew concept of wisdom largely meant skill and was routinely used of technical or artistic skill, ultimately point to God as their source. They took time to master. The tradesmen would learn processes, materials, and apply discernment between what is acceptable versus what must be reworked. Likewise, spiritual growth does not come over night. It requires persistent commitment to diligent pursuit of Christ. Spiritual truths must be learned, certain steps must be taken. Often ideas must be understood before they are ready to be connected with other ideas and applied to life.

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians to grow in spiritual wisdom was a prayer of blessing—that they would live life well, that they would be skilled in apply God’s word to their lives, that they would have the joy of obedience and the grace to endure whatever life would bring their way. This wisdom does not come overnight, but when it comes, truly the Christian is ready to take flight.

Knowing God's Will and Purpose for Our Lives

Wednesday, 18 March 2009 14:20 Published in Blog
Colossians 1:9 "For this reason we also, form the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."

So often, when we think of “God’s will,” we ask ourselves the question, “What does God want me to do right now? Should I marry this guy? Should I move to this town?" With sincere motives, we want to live out God’s plan for our lives.

While I think it is important that we pursue obedience to God plan for our lives (and it’s vital to our own joy and happiness), Paul’s point in Colossians 1:9 at the beginning of this post is to seek to understand God's overarching purposes rather than His specific plan.

In verse 9 above, Paul prays that the Colossian believers would grow in the knowledge of God's "will". The word Paul uses for “will” is the Greek word thelamatos. Louw and Nida’s excellent Greek dictionary explains that thelamotos means “intended” or “purpose.” This is not the typical way many believers think of God's will. When lots of people read about “God’s will” they have a knee jerk reaction that may not always be warranted. Thelema (the word for will in 1:9) speaks to the "purpose" of something. There's another Greek word, boulomai, that speaks to the "plan" of something. Boulomai is the word for “will” in the sense of God’s intentions and plans and directives. Since Paul uses thelema rather than boulomai, his prayer is that the Colossian beleivers might grow in understanding God's intentions and purposes for their lives.

So often, Christians get off track because they are not living according to God’s intentions or purposes but rather for their own. They might do Christian stuff, but for the wrong reasons. And since their motives are misdirected, when they do not find what they are looking for, then walk away confused, discouraged or even bitter. This tragic result stems from being focused on doing the wrong things or with the wrong reasons. The Lord never promised to blessed everything we do (even if the stuff we do "for" Him) just those things that conform to His purposes and plan. Until we understand this, we will be spinning our spiritual wheels.

Two clear examples come immediately to mind:

First, it is common for people to come to God in order to fill their heart with peace. This is understandable; life is hard and they want reduction in the pressure. So they come to God and pursue Him for the purpose of gaining inner peace. The problem with this is that God is not a spiritual genie here to grant our "three wishes." Rather, He is our Lord. God’s purposes in our life is for us to live in fellowship with Him and submission to Him—and only as we are rightly aligned with Him, will we find true, lasting, enduring peace. When a person elevates peace to the ultimate purpose of living for Christ, they have gotten the cart before the horse.

Another example of misunderstanding God’s purposes is in the case of why many people come to church. So often, people come to be inspired or motivated or touched. Again, if we are right with God and in fellowship with Him, we will be inspired and motivated at the clear teaching of His word. But that is not why we come to church. We come to worship and serve Him. That is the primary purpose. Personal inspiration is way down the ladder.

What is most tragic about these two examples is that when people replace God’s true purposes with their own misguided purposes, the net result is usually that they don’t find what they were seeking. They come to church and don’t feel inspired, they follow God and don’t feel peace. They came to God with the wrong purpose and end up not finding the blessings they sought. Tragically, if they had just surrendered to God’s purposes, they would have received these blessings and so many more.

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is a worthy prayer for us all: that with ever-growing spiritual wisdom and understanding, we might live according to God’s purposes for our lives—that our walk might be worthy of Him, that we would see the fruit of His Spirit in our lives, strengthened with His strength, filled with His joy—and these come as we surrender to God’s purposes for our lives.

The Ultimate Status Update

Tuesday, 05 May 2009 14:18 Published in Blog
“Aw, gee, I’m not good enough!” It seems like that little phrase comes up in every “you can do it!” TV show out there. You’ve seen the cliché plot countless times: little Johnny wants to join the baseball team but his dad is harsh and overbearing and tells him he can’t do it (dad also has male-pattern baldness, bags under his eyes, wears greasy undershirts and hasn’t showered in a week; and we’ll learn by the end of the show that he was a victim of his bad dad too). As the show moves along, you watch as Little Johnny’s insecurity blinds him from seeing his own, latent super-baseball skills within him. Yet, along comes a mysterious, wise, non-parent who is into eastern mysticism. With a little coaxing from this wise guide, Johnny discovers the major league player within. At the end of the movie, even dad comes around and is seen proudly smiling in the stands as his son hits a grand slam in slow motion. Thanks to that wise, mystical guide, little johnny will do just fine. His status update has gone from insecure loser to victorius champion.

I suppose that this plot is encouraging and inspiring, and I do want any little Johnny out there to know that he can do pretty much anything he sets his mind to. But we tend to extrapolate this premise to God and apply a “You can do it” attitude towards our relationship with Him. Yet in reality, the reality that such TV shows usually ignore or deny, is that we have real spiritual problems that can’t be resolved by “you can do it!” platitudes. It’s not that eastern mystical guide had solutions that Christianity doesn’t. I’ve explored all kinds of new age mysticism in my days before Christ—budhism, spiritism, upsidedown meditation-ism—they all failed completely to bring the “inner peace” they promised or to bring me to a close, truly peaceful relationship with our holy creator. And I’m not alone in giving up on other religions. Many other people in my church have tried similar avenues—we have former yoga instructors, natural food shop workers, acid-droppers etc. who would likewise say that those pursuits are truly unsatisfying and insufficient to restore us to God.

But Colossians 1:12 speaks to what is sufficient to bring us into communion with the Lord. Colossians 1:12 says, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” I want to focus on one little word that has major, major, major implications for our spiritual lives: “qualified.” Paul says in this verse, that God has qualified us to share with God’s people. Now, this is the ultimate status update! Something major has happened; we are in fellowship with God! We’ve made the team, we’re going to the big-leagues! And what’s more, this verse teaches HOW we have been qualified, “giving thanks to the Father WHO has qualified us…” It’s not us who has done it, but God who has done it for us. It’s not that we meditated and found the one-hand-clapping-monk within, it is God Himself who has done something which “qualifies” us to be with Him.

The word “qualified” comes from the Greek word “ikanos.” It was often used of “enough” like having enough oil, or enough time for some situation. When used of people, it speaks of being adequate for something. The teaching of this verse is that we ought to give thanks to God because formerly we were NOT qualified, and therefore NOT bound for heaven. Ephesians 2:1-3 says we were dead in our trespasses and sins and children of wrath. This is the state of all people without Christ. But now we are qualified, and since it was God who has qualified us, we ought to give Him praise, thanks and honor. The idea behind this word is the heart of the entire Bible. It speaks to our relationship with God, our separation from Him, and how without His work in our lives, we are unqualified to stand before Him.

I found it interesting as I studied the Greek in this passage that when this word qualified/ikanos is used in other places in the New Testament, it speaks of people and their standing before God. What struck me was that often, it highlights the person’s LACK of qualification. For example, in Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says he is unworthy (same word “qualified”) to tie the Messiah’s sandals. He was not worthy even to be a servant in the kingdom of Christ. Likewise, Paul says he is not qualified to be an apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:9 –most translations render this “not worthy”. In Matthew 8:8, there is an account of the Gentile centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant with just a word from a distance, without actually coming to the leader’s house. The centurion reasoned that Jesus should not come to his house because “I am not worthy” (again, the same word “qualified”). Even this gentile leader understood that in comparison to Christ’s glory and holiness, he was unqualified to have Christ enter his home. In his gut, he knew that he, like us all, was unworthy of the presence of Christ in His domain. He was unqualified. This is the state of all people before God and you can tell when God is working on a person’s heart because they begin to sense this fact, and begin to seek a solution to it.

Yet because of the common, well-meaning “you can do it” milieu of our day, the average guy on the street talks about God as his copilot and that he “communes” with God in nature. Having been one who has made these exact statements before coming to Christ, I can attest from personal experience that these are the words of a person driven by wishful thinking and not a true relationship with the God of the universe. They are like a person who eats McDonalds every day and convinces themselves that they are eating steak dinners at the Ritz Carlton; there may be a degree of satisfaction, but it’s based on self-deception and error.

Now what we’re talking about here might seem like a distinctly Christian perspective and perhaps a bit harsh. But the early Christians prophets were Jews who has converted to Christ and God was showing them how this principle of our unworthiness to have a relationship with God was on nearly every page between Genesis to Malachi; especially in God’s teaching about the temple/tabernacle system. The Temple and Tabernacle structures were built so that people might worship and walk with God. Yet the worshipper had to go through rooms within rooms before he would get to God’s presence. Certain rooms were only available to the highest, most holy, most purified priests—and only on one day a year.

The whole Jewish tabernacle/temple structure stood as an object lesson to teach each generation of Jews that there were major divisions between them and God. God wasn’t their “buddy” nor was He their “copilot”. Instead, God was their holy creator that had perfect standards for those who would seek Him; those standards were purity and perfection. He declared that people had to match His righteousness in order to have fellowship with Him (“Be holy as I am holy” Leviticus 11:44). Thus, each sacrifice was a bloody object lesson proving to each Jew that he was impure before God; that his sins were a rotten stench that needed to be covered by the pure innocent life of the animal who had not sinned. Without such covering, the person was “unqualified” to have a relationship with God.

But here in Colossians 1:12, we see the clear declaration that something has changed in our standing before God. There is a fantastic status update! Like the centurion in Matthew 8:8, we were unqualified to have a relationship with God. Our sins rose up like a stench before God. We were the full expression of Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hidden His face so that He does not hear.” Like in Ephesians 2:2-3 we were “dead in our trespasses and sins…and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” But now, according to Colossians 1:12, something has happened in our relationship with God. Something has happened that we have been transferred from the realm of being under God’s judgment to the realm of being in fellowship with Him. We have become qualified. Somehow we have become sufficient before God. Somehow in Colossians 1:12, we can now call Him “Father”.

The crucial point to understand here is that this change in our standing has not come from anything we have done. Like Isaiah 64:6 says, “all of our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” Our personal acts of “righteousness” are like filthy rags before God and don’t have anything to do with this change of status. The answer comes from Colossians 1:12, it is God the Father “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Our adequacy can only come from God. The same sentiment is taught in 2nd Corinthians 3:5 which says, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God…” The point that needs to be made here is that without God working in/through Christ in our lives, we are simply inadequate to have any fellowship/relationship with Him.

So how did this transformation take place? The next verses in Colossians tell us how this whole thing comes about. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Our salvation is a rescue mission for our souls where Christ has redeemed us and provided forgivness of sins. This is the ultimate change, the ultimate status update! Let me try to explain this further.

Several years ago, I had a lengthy and productive conversation with an open-minded Jewish gentleman. During our conversation, I pointed out that the sacrificial system of his own chosen people, the ancient Jews, underscored the need for holiness and perfection. Like most people, when this man heard that God calls us to perfection, his natural response was that no one is perfect, therefore God must look past our sins and let us into heaven. Over the next hour, I had the privilege of explaining to him from his own scriptures, that just because we cannot attain perfection, this does not give us the freedom to lower God’s standards, especially when the Lord is so clear that HE hasn’t lowered them at all! In fact, the sacrifices he learned about as a child were intended to teach this very point—God requires perfection and we have sinned over and over. On his own, this man came to the conclusion that if God does require perfection (he admitted his own scriptures taught this) and if we are not perfect, how can anyone have hope to be with Him in heaven!?

It was at this point that I was able to explain to him the beauty and necessity of the cross, especially in light of what the Old Testament teaches about sacrifices. The Old Testament sacrificial system was a gigantic object lesson instituted by God to teach each generation of Jews about their sin, their separation from a holy God, and the need for perfect purity to be with Him. The sacrificial system taught each person that he/she personally had sinned and needed forgiveness, cleansing and covering. Sin and separation touched them all. All those sacrifices were God’s way of showing individual people that if they were to have fellowship with Him, their sins needed to be fully covered by perfect purity of the life (blood) of one who had not sinned. I clearly remember seeing the light go on in this man’s mind, and him saying with a pondering nod, “I’m beginning to see the math of what you’re saying…”

Now, within the Jewish system of sacrifices, there is the nagging question of ‘Why lambs and goats?’ Sure, a lamb might be perfectly pure, but how does it cover a man’s sins? To any of us, a sacrificed animal seems inadequate to take the place of a man. This ultimately pointed to the cross where a true, pure substitutionary sacrifice was performed. A man had to die to offer his life as a substitute and covering, man who had not taken any part in our rebellion against God. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 says, “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin (Jesus was innocent), to be sin on our behalf, that we might receive the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus, who was innocent, took our punishment and gives us His rightouness.

In the powerful biographical movie, To End All Wars, this notion is demonstrated in the contexts of a group of POWs in a Japanese concentration/labor camp during World War II. The movie is based on a true story. In the movie, one main character leads an insurrection and attempted escape. They kill a guard or two. When the leader is caught, he is sentenced to death. At the moment of execution, another main character steps in, the chaplain of the camp, and offers his own life as a substitution. Imagine if the chaplain had offered a goat—“I know he killed a couple of guards and led an uprising, but here’s a goat, kill it instead!” That wouldn’t do. Imagine if the chaplain had taken part in the rebellion; he would have been worthy of death too. But this chaplain was the most beloved prisoner in the camp; he actually led a movement of prisoners to improve their labor and service to their captors. In a sense, he was more than worthy to take the place of the insurrectionist. So the innocent-life-for-a-guilty-life exchange was made. Now this was a true story, and the Japanese literally crucified the chaplain on a cross and let the rebel leader live. The Japanese would not accept a goat or any other animal on behalf of the insurrectionist. The substitute had to be a man, one who was innocent of the insurrection and who was wonderful and beloved enough to satisfy the requirement of full punishment.

Now God is not an evil prison guard, in fact, God is the chaplain satisfying the righteous requirements of His perfect justice which classifies all of us as rebels deserving death. Christ, who was God in the flesh, gave Himself for us. This sacrifice had to be given by God. If someone was going to sacrifice Himself in place of the whole world, he had to be more than a man, indeed he had to be infinite to satisfy an eternal justice that extends forever and lasts forever. Likewise, if God were to send sinners and rebels to Hell, it is exceedingly righteous of Him to have undergone such wrath Himself, to experience the judgment He places upon others while also providing a shield for those who come to Him for covering. Only this would satisfy the eternal courts of justice and righteousness. Only this would make it possible to make us perfectly pure before God. Only this would qualify us to stand with God.

So our status has changed thanks to Christ’s sacrifice for us, if we are in Christ. But there is another aspect of our status that needs to be updated—our spirit/soul. Before Christ, we were dead in our spirit. We may not have known it, but it is evident in the things we chased after—that we found pleasure in the dead things of this world. Several years ago, I was in the morgue of General Hospital in Los Angeles (the one the TV show was based on). This room was narrow with a giant refrigerator along one whole wall. Inside of it, were dozens of people stacked back and forth, foot to head, wrapped in thick yellow, semi-translucent plastic. It was as creepy as it sounds. Aside from the gunshot wounds and the morgue-guy confirming they were all dead, there was the undeniable fact of the plastic. They were all wrapped up in plastic, like potroasts in the freezer. And what was immediately apparent was that they didn’t mind being in the plastic. If they were alive, they would have been frantically thrashing about, crying to be free. But these people just sat there, dead, unmoving, content to be as they were. In the same way, spiritually dead people don’t thrash about in their own sin or the sin of the world. They are not suffocated by it. They are not clamoring to get out of it. They are content to lay there in it. They are content because they are spiritually dead.

And this points to the other status update in the believer’s life. God Himself enters our own soul and infuses His life into our dead spirits. He fundamentally transforms our dead, corrupt spirits into new life in Him. Without Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins, forever to wallow in this miserable, impure, suffocating existence. For me, this is a huge point—it is an awful thought for me to spend eternity as I am now—full of petty self-interest, bitterness, envy, irritability. I would hate to spend eternity as ME! Yet without Christ, we are doomed to be in this state for all eternity. But Christ offers us His Spirit in our souls, to give us new life now and will one day transform our sinful souls to be like Him, without the presence of sin.

Going back to Colossians 1:12, this is why we can give God such resounding praise. We have received this inheritance and we are sanctified, qualified. We come to give God thanks because it is not something we do ourselves to make us fit and able to enter heaven. There is nothing we can do on our own, as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “this is not of works so that no one can boast.” This sanctification, as explained in Philippians 3:3-9, only comes by faith in Christ. God has done everything for us to receive Christ’s perfection, and the vehicle by which we know it has happened is through faith.

When the Bible speaks of faith, it speaks of repentance of sin and falling before God. It speaks of one who has looked to God, His holiness as well as His mercy, and who looks to Christ, His perfection and His sacrifice, and that person sees their need for salvation—not just from the punishment of sin in Hell, but also the presence of sin in this life, and that person calls out to God for forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s a complete surrender to God and His will with a heart to no longer walk in the world or the old ways, but to walk with Him. And when this person comes to God with true faith (faith that is given to them by God in the first place—Ephesians 2:9), God, who is rich in mercy and forgiveness because of what Christ did on the cross, God transfers that person from the kingdom of darkness to His own kingdom of light, He forgives them, and He places His Spirit within them and He guides them through this life into His presence in eternity.

Why faith and not works? Because it is impossible to have perfectly pure works. Even our most righteous deeds are still so tainted with sin that they in themselves are worthy of sending us to Hell (Isaiah 64:6). Thus, because of mixed motives, we are utterly incapable to saving ourselves. If God were to leave all this up to us, we’d all be in Hell forever under His wrath. Yet, thankfully, God loves us and wants us to be with Him. He truly wants us in heaven and has truly made a way for us to be with Him. Thus, when we enter heaven, we will see that our qualification was all of God and nothing of ourselves. In heaven, there will be no boasting about our own righteousness, for we cannot boast (Ephesians 2:9). It will be perfectly clear that our redemption and salvation was all of God and none of us. There will be no posturing about exalting ourselves, but rather the grateful and thankful exaltation of Christ and Him alone!

Now that is the ultimate status update: Russ Brewer is qualified to spend eternity with God because of Christ’s love and sacrificial death in his place. May God’s grace do likewise in your life as well and He will if you call out to Him for mercy and forgiveness and to work this status update in your life as well.

Final note: Alright, now I know that was long writeup, thanks for reading to the end. I sort-of promise (I’ll at least try) not to write these this long in the future. Feel free to link to this and “share” it with your Facebook friends. Thanks and have a great day!

Living with Grace and Poise

Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00 Published in Blog
In Philippians 3:3-12, Paul has just outlined what true righteousness and maturity *does* and *does not* look like. Yet in light of all that it is, Paul says “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead...” Looking at that phrase "I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it..." Paul is saying that after considering his life (mulling over who he is and what God has called him to be) and seeing how much more he had to go, Paul was totally sure that he had not even come close to the spiritual levels of which he speaks.

It takes spiritual eyes and spiritual maturity to know how much further we have to go in our growth in Christ. Two men who have taught me much about walking with the Lord, Ken Holladay and George Teichroeb, both used to frequently mention how much more they needed to grow in Christ--and yet, they were light-years ahead of me spiritually.

This reminds me about a recent conversation that I had with my daughter about ballet. She was lamenting that she her class (which, btw, has their recital today!) still had so much more they needed to improve. My response was that her saying this showed me something: that she was getting better. I explained, that in seeing how much more there was to go, what she demonstrated that she was beginning to understand true ballet skill/excellence, she understood what it looked like and what it took. Knowing what ballet excellence really required, she could see that her class had not reached that level. I reminded her that when she was taking ballet as a little girl, she had no idea what made for good ballet, she was just happy to dance around for a while. I was proud that she was growing as my little ballerina.

This totally corresponds to living for Christ. When we first start out, we think we’re doing great because we gave up drinking and smoking and now we come to church once a week. As we grow in Christ, we think we’re really doing fantastic because we come to church *twice* a week and read our Bibles every day! It’s only as we taste and see the purity and calling of God in our lives that we begin to sense just how much God is calling us to—not “much” in terms of activity (the immature misunderstand this) but much as in terms of “being” – being a person who is in fellowship with Christ moment-by-moment, not chasing after the things of this world, not ruled by the flesh, and rather living out what it means to be a citizen of His kingdom and a member of His family. This grace and poise comes as we are filled with the Holy Spirit and learn to walk in surrender to Him. While there certainly are “doing” aspects of being mature in Christ, the unskilled ballerina only knows to kick up her legs and prance around, whereas the mature dancer does so with grace, poise and excellence. May you live today for Christ with increasing maturity, maturity that produces grace, poise and excellence.

Love in Christ, Russ

P.S. Men, don’t get too hung up on my ballerina example, okay?

Walking in Fellowship With God

Tuesday, 11 August 2009 14:11 Published in Blog
I have always believed that our fellowship with God is entirely from his working in our lives. It was he who knew us before we were born. It was he who called us and chose us. It was he who absorbed our disobedience and rebellion upon himself as he hung on the cross and removed our sin. It was he who orchestrated the circumstances by which we call out to him for forgiveness. It is he who gives us the renewal that comes through a relationship with him. It was he who placed us in the right church to have fellowship with others who know also him. It is he who gives us spiritual understanding to make sense of his word. It is he who walks with us and guides us through life’s confusing maze. It is he who protects us and strengthens us in life’s stormy waters. It is he who will lead us across the threshold of death into his glory and presence. It is he who will be our light and joy for all eternity.

These concepts were further underscored during the last couple of mornings in my time of personal worship and prayer. I’ve been reading 1st Corinthians for the umpteenth time and in this particular go-over, I’m struck by the force of Paul’s insistence that all that we are is all of God. In his opening address to the Corinthians he identifies the intended audience. In chapter 1, verse 2, Paul describes the readers as “saints by calling”. They were (and we are) in Christ only by his calling; there is nothing we have added or done that we might be in Him. We were called off the path of the world over to join him on the path which he is on. We were called from fellowship with darkness to fellowship with the light. It was all of Him and nothing of us.

This idea of God calling us into fellowship with him is further underscored a few verses later in verse 9 where Paul writes, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is God Himself who brings us into fellowship with Christ. It is God himself who leads us into deeper, purer fellowship in Him; especially as our hearts and minds are renewed and what we think/feel about the world is increasingly reflecting his perspective. Likewise, in verses 24 and 30 and 2:14, Paul explains that this calling produces a change within us. We are no longer confused by scripture, incorrectly seeing it as a set of religious aphorisms, but God’s instruction manual for life. Once we are in fellowship with God, suddenly we see the Bible for what is really is: the word of life, the wisdom of God—for life in the here and now as well as life in the hereafter.

Lastly, in 1:26, Paul challenges the Corinthians to “consider their calling.” This is one of several appeals in scriptures to each of us that we might pause in the flurry of life and give thought to our relationship with God. Have we truly met God and been transformed in that meeting from lawbreakers to law abiders? This change can only happen by God, but we can look and see his fingerprints in our life. There is the implicit expectation that in examining our calling some will see that indeed, we were called out of the world into fellowship with Him and we will give even greater praise and thanks to our heavenly Father. Yet others will see that this calling is not true of them. Perhaps they thought that knowing God meant being “spiritual” when in actuality such “spirituality” might actually mean further rejection of the true Lord of the universe and submission to his word. Paul’s hope was that in considering our calling, if we realize we do not know the Lord of the universe, then we would call out to him for mercy and forgiveness to be restored to his holy presence. Then, once reconciled to him, we might walk in close, personal, joyful, fellowship with Christ.

Reasons to Have A Dog

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 14:10 Published in Blog
Having had our yellow lab, Zeke for a year now, I’ve jotted down some reasons why it’s been so good for our family to have a dog. What are yours?

Ordinary Reasons:
a.Unconditional love
b.They’re cute
c.Protects the house
d.Playmate for kids
e.Keeps the kitchen floor clean
f.Foot warmer
g.Fertilizer for the grass (In many cases. In some cases, dogs are bad for the grass).
h.Conversation piece.
i.Good, wholesome laughter.

Extra-Ordinary Reasons:
a. Teaches us to care for another by considering their well-being. Dogs need food and water daily; that teaches us regular responsibility. Dogs need trips to the vet and the occasional flea bath. That teaches us about having to break out of the routine on behalf of another.
b. Dogs teach us about trust and the need to be trustworthy.
c. Dogs (or at least our boy Zeke) can be natural pacifiers, as in, they don’t like conflict between family members. More than once, our dog has rushed to the person who'se upset and seems to be saying, “Let’s not do this, can’t we all just be friends and get along?”
d. Dogs need regular exercise and as we take them on their daily walks, we see that we need to get outside too. These quiet walks can become natural times of renewal for our soul as we commune, in our solitude, with the Creator of the dog as well as the plants and animals we meet along the way.
e. Dogs need a disciplined, orderly life. Otherwise they are frantic and out of control. They need peace and joy in their home, otherwise they are sullen and aloof. Dogs serve as barometers indicating the quality, order and structure of our own life. Perhaps their hysteria is a reflection of what’s going on in the soul of our home.
f. Dogs are unable to talk, yet they have good days and bad days. This teaches us to consider the emotions and well-being of another, even when that other is not able to communicate what they are thinking or how they are feeling.
g. Dogs are lovable, sweet, and lots of fun. But tragically, in nearly all cases, they will die before us. Loving them teaches us to love another despite the understanding that one day that other will cause us great pain in their departure.
h. Dogs are wonderful greeters when you come home at night. They are reminders that the home is not about beds and books and appliances and things, but about life and love and kindness and service and joy.

My Letter to the Editor Reqarding Suicides

Thursday, 24 September 2009 14:08 Published in Blog
Here's a letter I wrote yesterday to the newspaper. They interviewed me yesterday for a story about the school's response and I decided to bang out a few of my thoughts that I didn't get across clearly on Monday's meeting:

The recent tragedies in our community have caused many of us to pause and search our souls. Out of the confusion we have become increasingly more certain that life is a privilege and blessing. It is a precious gift of God, a possession to care for and cherish. We value life and are puzzled by those who seemingly do not.

Many people are examining where we are at and what got us here. Over the recent days, I have spent countless hours talking with many people. I often hear people searching for silver-bullet solutions to a problem that is too complex for any single cause, nor a single solution. Consequently, opinions abound and bombard us from every direction. People try to place the blame on schools, on parents, on society. Each accusation rings insufficiently hollow. Rather than bringing clarity, each competing idea/suggestion/speculation further adds to the din of confusion.

I realize that I am stating the standard pastor’s line, but I believe the answer lies in the Lord and our turning to him. He has written the manual on how we ought to live. He has written the manual on how we are to interpret the world. He has written the manual on how to handle life’s joys as well as disappointments. For thousands of years, his word has been the supreme guide for millions of souls—many of whom were facing even greater death, despair and defeat. His word can be the guide for us today.

This suggestion is not just another silver-bullet solution because the Bible speaks to every aspect of our complex lives. The Lord—his presence and power and wisdom—is only a page away. When we open up the Bible and begin to read it with the will to obey, we too will find that the merciful Lord will begin to mend our broken hearts.

God is in the business of redemption. He has redeemed His people by His son. He can redeem this situation by His grace. If we turn to Him, we will indeed find the refreshing waters of the Living Lord that sooth the anguish of our weary souls.

Grace and Peace,

Russ Brewer
Associate Pastor
Grace Tabernacle
2014 Main Street
Lake Como, NJ 07719
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Advent Calendar / Daily Discussion Questions at Christmastime

Saturday, 05 December 2009 14:06 Published in Blog
We have a wonderful family tradition that I thought I'd share with you all. Many years ago, we bought one of those advent calendars which is a beautiful wooden box with 25 doors and cubbie holes. We put in each cubbie hole some candy/trinkets and the following scripture passages. Each night we read a passage and discuss it with our kids. They love it and daily implore us, "Can we do the doors now?"

Here is the scripture that I've arranged, including some discussion questions. These verses starts with sin, our need for a Savior and then the prophecies of Christ. It then procedes to the traditional stories of Christ's birth. It culminates on 12/25 with the ultimate meaning of Christ's birth, which was His subsitutionary death on our behalf. This tradition been a joyous blessing to our home, I hope it might bless your home this holiday season.

1.The account of where sin began and the first promise that God would one day send a Savior: Genesis 3:13-19 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Discussion Questions: What are the consequences of sin? What does this promise to the first family tell us about God and His sovereign plan?

2.The Future Destiny of those without a Savior: Revelation 20:11-14 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Discussion Questions: Why do we need a Savior? What is the ultimate destiny of those without a Savior?

3.The Future Destiny of those with a Savior: Revelation 21:1-7 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

Discussion Questions: What eternal blessings are promised to those who have the Savior?

4.God’s Savior would come through the Jewish people: Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Discussion Questions: What does this promise to Abraham tell us about God’s sovereign plan? How do you think Abraham would have felt hearing that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants?

5.The Savior would be a descendant of Judah: Genesis 49:8-10 (NASB95) 8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. 9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? 10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

Discussion Questions: What is a scepter? What does the scepter symbolize? What does this promise tell us about how all people will one day treat this coming King?

6.God’s Savior would rule upon a David’s Eternal Throne: 2 Samuel 7:12-16 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me…16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’”

Discussion Questions: How long will the Savior’s throne last? What will his relationship be with God?

7.Prophecy of the Savior’s coming: Micah 5:2-5 2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren Will return to the sons of Israel. 4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth. 5 This One will be our peace.

Discussion Questions: When did the rule of this Savior begin? What will he do with His people?

8.Prophecy of the Savior’s Birth: Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Memorize as a family) 

Discussion Questions: What does Immanuel mean? (God with us). What are the implications of that?

9.God’s Savior would work in Galilee: Isaiah 9:1-2 (NASB95) 1 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.

Discussion Questions: What is the great light that this verse is talking about? What does it mean that He will shine upon the people of Zebulun, Naphtali, and Galilee? Was this fulfilled in Jesus’ life?

10.Luke’s account of Jesus’ Birth: Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s birth, the aged cousin of Mary] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, the Angel Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Discussion Questions: What do we learn about Jesus from the Angel Gabriel? How does this fit with the prophesies we’ve already learned?

11.Gabriel’s explanation of how nothing is impossible with God: Luke 1:34 Mary said to the angel Gabriel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And the Angel Gabriel said, “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Discussion Questions: What did Mary mean by calling herself a bondslave of the Lord? Are you a bondslave of the Lord? In this verse, what is impossible with God? When we are facing serious troubles in our own lives, what is the relationship between us being a bondslave of God and His working out the solution?

12.Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Birth: Matthew 1:18-25 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Discussion Questions: What are we being saved from? In what way are we enslaved to sin? Did Jesus come to just save us from the penalty of sin, or does this speak of some how our relationship or love of sin also changes? Are you still enslaved to sin?

13.The Birth of Jesus Fulfilled Prophecy: Matthew 1:22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Discussion Questions: What does Immanuel mean? How would you have felt if God told you that you would be the parent of the Son of God? Would you obey Him?

14.Mary goes to visit Elizabeth: Luke 1:39-45 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And Elizabeth said to Mary, “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

Discussion Questions: What does it mean to believe? What does it look like to believe and trust God? How have you believed and trusted Him?

15.Mary’s praise of her Mighty God: Luke 1:46 And Mary said to Elizabeth: “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. The Lord has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. The Lord has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.” And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

Discussion Questions: What are some truths that Mary tells us about God? What do these truths mean to Mary? What do we learn about God from her words?

16.Luke’s Account of the details: Luke 2: 1-3 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Luke 2:4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Discussion Questions: What was a manger like? Why did God send His mighty Son to be born in a manger?

17.The Angel visits the Lowly Shepherds: Luke 2:8-14 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Discussion Questions: Why did God send an angel to the lowly shepherds, the grimiest guys in society? What does this tell us about the person love and care God has for all people?

18.The Shepherds Visit Jesus and Praise God: Luke 2:15 -20When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Discussion Questions: What were the people’s response to this new born baby? What should our response be? What can we do to glorify and praise God today or tomorrow?

19.The Magi follow the Star: Matthew 2:1-6 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”

Discussion Questions: What does it tell us when wise men, magi, come far distances to meet and know this baby? What lengths should we go through that we might know this Savior?

20.The Maji Visit Jesus: 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Discussion Questions: Upon coming to Jesus, how did the Magi respond? Why would that be an appropriate response to Jesus? When was the last time you have fallen to the ground to worship God?

21.The Lord tells Jesus to Flee: Matthew 2:13-15 Now when the Magi had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Discussion Questions: What does God’s warning to Joseph indicate about His plan for Jesus? What would have happened if Joseph had ignored God’s warnings? Do people ignore God’s warnings about life today? What happens?

22.Herod Kills the Babies of Bethlehem: Matthew 2:16-18 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.”

Discussion Questions: What does this verse indicate about the evil that is in men’s hearts? What evil was in Herod’s heart? How should he have responded to the news of Jesus’ birth? How do people still respond in this kind of way to the birth of Jesus?

23.Joseph and Mary move to Nazareth: Matthew 2:19-23 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Discussion Questions: Sometimes God has to move us in order to bring us to the place where He is going to do mighty works through us. Is there any place in your life that has to change so that God can work in you and through you?

24.Announcement of the Birth of the Savior: Isaiah 9:6-7 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore!

Discussion Questions: What are the names of Jesus here? What does each one mean? How are these true for you and your relationship with Jesus? For instance, is He your Prince of Peace and what does that mean?

25.The Purpose for the Coming Savior (prophesied 700 years before Jesus’ birth): Isaiah 53:2-12 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

Discussion Questions: How has the Savior saved us? What did He do in our place (vs 5)? What was God’s response to the death of His Son (vs 10-11). According to verse 11, Jesus’ death justified many; has His death justified you? If not, call upon Him to save you and take your place before God in God’s judgment of your sin.
Want to find a great Christian Quote? Here's an excellent resource!

Afflictions: God's Furnace to Refine Us

Saturday, 31 July 2010 14:03 Published in Blog
Jeremiah 9:7 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do, because of my people?”

Verse 7 comes in the midst of a section about the great affliction that God’s people were undergoing. In a preceding verse, verse 5, the prophet Jeremiah explained that the people had become weary with life. They were weary like many of us are weary. The word “weary” meant physical or psychological weariness. It was used of the weariness of a runner (Jer 12:5). Also used of weariness of adultery (Is 16:12). It was often used in situations where the author was saying, poetically, that there is an excess of sin so great, that it has caused the weariness of the person or society.

And in this passage, the Israelites were weary from too many pagan advisors, they were weary from too much sexual immorality, they were weary from too much deceit and deception. Their weariness came as they pursued exploits that did not feed or strengthen the soul, but rather that which took from them and drained them of spiritual and emotional energy.

And yet, we also see the loving, compassionate response of God in the midst of His people rebellion against Him. God who is good and kind and loving and merciful does not want to see His people weary from their sins. Their sins are an affront to Him, but they also harm the people. And like so many other occasions, when God says “don’t” He’s really saying “Don’t hurt yourself.”

And so even though the entire society was on a freight train towards destruction, God has not forsaken His people. He could have left them on that runaway train, but here in this passage, He loves them too much to let them chase after that which would harm them both now and forever. He loves them too much to silently watch as they chase after false gods of the day who could not save, restore/refresh the soul or give eternal life. So God wisely and justly goes about the process of refining them so that their heart is pure and dedicated to Him, the true source of joy and peace.

The word “refine” is the Hebrew word “tsarap”. Tsarap meant to smelt or refine (CHALOT, 311). It meant to separate the dross from gold or silver by fire and to purge away the impurities (Gesenius, 719). Tsarap was used for gold and silversmiths as they were refining metals before working them into fine vessels. Various aspects of the refining process are vividly used for judgment on and purification of sins: blazing furnace, bellows etc… God seeks to remove from His people all wickedness and sin so that they can endure His holy presence. Oftentimes, God refines us in the furnace of affliction (Is 48:10). The righteous person endures God’s refining without questions in Him (TWOT, 1972b).

The process of sanctification looks very much like the process of metallurgy and refinement. Through heat, the ionic bonds between disparate metals is broken. Like substances begin to cling together and dross begins to form. This dross is not a new product, it was always there, just bonded with the gold so that the luster of the gold was dimmed. Now it is separate, free floating within the molten metal. And now in a globular form, it can be scooped up and thrown out.

Likewise, in our own soul—there are patterns of sin so ingrained in the core of our being that we (and perhaps others) don’t even know that they are there. Patterns of beliefs, responses, desires, methods—all which are at odds with the Lord’s pure, kind, righteous ways. These impurities hinder and hold back our forward growth in Christlikeness and so often we don’t even know they exist. Yet God does and they dim the luster of our radiance of Christ, they dim our joy, they dim our impact in this world. So in each of our lives, God is in the process of refining us so that these disparate “metals” will break apart and become evident to us, so that we might confess them, forsake them, and appeal to the Holy Spirit to remove them from our souls.

I heard the other day that a metallurgist was once asked how he knew when all the impurities were gone. He replied he knew the metal was perfectly pure when he could see his own face in it’s reflection. Beloved, God is removing the dross from our life, so that He can see His reflection in us.

Our response to God during times of affliction ought to be grateful acceptance of the adversity which we are facing, knowing that it is either judgment from God which we must endure, refinement from God which makes us more holy, or it is sovereignly allowed by God that we might be vessels to bring Him glory. Within each possible reason that lay behind the affliction, there is a good and pure purpose for which we can thank and praise God.

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