Sunday, June 30, 2013

Glimpses of Glory...

On February 7th 2006, I was privileged to be present at the Pastor’s Conference at First Baptist Jacksonville Florida to hear Dr. Jerry Vines’ final sermon called “Glimpses of Glory.” Dr. Vines is one of my heroes and I have to say his sermon from Exodus 33:17-23 has to be one of the greatest messages I've ever heard. In that text, Moses asked God if he could see His glory. God said Moses would not see God’s face, but He would hide Moses in the cleft of the rock while God’s glory passed by. It wasn't a full view of glory, just a glimpse of the back of God’s glorious countenance. There were about 12,000 people who heard this wonderful preacher extol the glories of God and we were moved to tears contemplating the glory of God.

In my quiet time readings, I've been tracing the theme of God’s glory and in 2nd Chronicles 7:1-3, we see one of these glimpses of glory. The occasion was Solomon’s dedication of the completed temple and when Solomon finished praying, fire came down from Heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and sacrifices and the glory of God filled the temple to the extent the priests couldn't even enter the temple. The people were prostrate on the ground and worshiped and praised God saying over and over: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”

In the early hours of the morning the other day with coffee in hand, as I read of this glimpse of God’s glory, I was trying to wrap my mind what it would be like for God’s glory to fill our worship center some glorious Lord’s Day in such a way it forced us out into the parking lot and we fell on our faces in worship as a thick cloud of smoke and fire enveloped us as it happened to the children of Israel. How incredible would that be? How scary would that be? How awesome would that be? Obviously the context and the occasion helps us understand why God’s glory would appear in that fashion at that time. But I think there are some other things that allowed the Children of Israel to see a glimpse of God’s glory that incredible day.

First, they recognized this house belonged to God and they gave it back to Him freely. Sure they had given sacrificially of their gold and silver, their labors, skill and craftsmanship to make the temple a reality. But there was no doubt it belonged to God and the emphasis was not on this beautiful building, the emphasis was on the God who would meet them there in worship. It was by the grace of God and His power and might that delivered them out of bondage and established them as a nation in the first place, so they understood clearly it was God’s house.

Secondly, I believe it was their posture before a holy God. The people and the priests had followed God’s instructions explicitly in humble obedience, they sanctified themselves to be holy and set apart, they confessed their sin and came together as one (2nd Chron.5:11-14); King Solomon’s humble prayer of dedication of what this house of God was for and what He asked God to do there prepared them to see a glimpse of God’s glory.

Finally and most importantly, it was simply God’s gracious favor, His goodness and mercy that endures forever as the people expressed repeatedly; that allowed them to see a glimpse of His glory. If God doesn’t lower Himself to us, we’ll never get a glimpse of His glory.
So what? Obviously here on earth we may not see such a dramatic display of the glory of God on a Lord’s Day like the Children of Israel experienced that day but that doesn't mean you and I can’t have a glimpse of His glory every day if we look for it. As I've meditated on the glory of God, I can tell you I've seen glimpses of glory this week.

I saw a glimpse of God’s glory radiating in the eyes of our students and chaperons who served at M-Fuge in Philly as they led worship and shared what God did in them and through them last Sunday. I saw a glimpse of God’s glory in the love our students and chaperons have for one another.

I saw a glimpse of God’s glory in the faces of two believers coming up out of the baptismal waters as I declared over them “We are buried in the likeness of His death, we’re raised to walk in the newness of life!” Oh the joy to see the glory of God in two new disciples of Jesus Christ!

I saw a glimpse of the glory of God at the bedside of one our faithful men who most likely is in his last days on earth. To see this faithful saint speaking of the Lord’s faithfulness to him and the hopes and dreams he has for his future, however brief it may be, gives me a glimpse into the glory of God.

I saw a glimpse of the glory of God reading through a number of sermons shared with me by a faithful saint whose father ministered for the Lord Jesus as a pastor for 60 years. Having the life’s work of a faithful preacher of God’s Word at my fingertips; hearing the voice of God speaking through the pen of a man of God who obviously “rightly divided the word of truth” shows me glimpses of glory!

I see glimpses of glory in faithful saints who continue to serve and praise God even when they are struggling with their health and the myriad problems and difficulties of life. Serving their Lord Jesus with joy and gladness shows me glimpses of God’s glory.

I see the glory of God in my own life with peace that passes all understanding in the midst of difficulty.  As I write this, one of my daughters is in the hospital having seizures with no apparent explanation to this point. The calm assurance that God is in control shows me glimpses of glory that I can’t express with words.

Glimpses of glory are all around us when we walk by faith and not by sight and we choose to look for the glory of God as it passes by. The old hymn says “Oh that will be, glory for me, glory for me! When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me!”  Let me encourage you to look for glimpses of glory, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Monday, June 3, 2013

That they may be one...

In John 17 we have an extensive prayer that Jesus prayed shortly before His betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. Some have called this the true “Lord’s Prayer” because we see Jesus clearly in His role as High Priest interceding for His disciples. In vs.1-5, Jesus began by praying for Himself that He would bring glory to His Father and that through His work, the world would know the Father. Then in vs. 6-19, Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples as they were to take the Word of God into the world, telling people about Jesus. Jesus said in vs. 11 “…keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” Jesus concluded His prayer in vs. 20-26 praying for every disciple, “those who will believe in Me…”, “that they all may be one.” (vs. 20-21).  Twice in His prayer, Jesus used the unity of the Father and Son as an example of what that unity should look like.

Why would Jesus pray for unity among His disciples? He answers the question for us in vs.21-23 saying “that the world may believe” and “that the world may know you sent me.” In Jesus' mind, a key factor as to whether His disciples would fulfill their mission of introducing the world to God through faith in Jesus Christ was completely dependent on the unity of those disciples as they went about that work. Jesus had seen His disciples arguing about greatness previously so He saw fit to pray for the unity of all His disciples. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is continuing to pray for His disciples and I am certain He continues to pray for unity among His children so we can fulfill our mission. Satan knows unity among believers is dangerous for his evil cause and he will use any and all means to try and bring disunity among the disciples of Jesus Christ. He works hard at promoting strife, division and dissension among the people of God to keep them from doing the work of God effectively.

How do we maintain unity in the family of God? I think there are a number of key factors that will guard unity in the body. First of all it is imperative we simply stay connected to Jesus and His mission for us. In John 15, Jesus used an illustration of a vine and branches. He is the vine and His disciples are the branches. He said if we abide in Him we will bear fruit, but if we don’t abide in Him, we can do nothing and we certainly won’t bear fruit. Jesus also said pruning is sometimes necessary among believers in order for fruit to be produced. Clearly Jesus desires for His children to produce fruit. When Christians are connected to Jesus, abiding in Him in prayer, personal Bible Study, personal & corporate worship and service, they will be fruitful and unity is present because believers stay connected to Jesus and His mission for us.

Secondly, unity in the body occurs when we have a loving & humble attitude focused on others. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2 what this kind of humble attitude looks like in the body of Christ. He said “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but for the interests of others.” Paul then used Jesus as an example through His humble submission to God the Father by going to the cross.  We can preserve unity among the body by assuming the posture of a bond-servant and ministering to the needs of those around us in the family of God as well as the world around us. Paul’s analogy of the function of a human body in 1st Cor. 12:12-31 is very helpful as to how we are to function together as one even though there are many parts to the body as there are many members of the church who have different, but complimentary roles. He goes right into a discussion about love from 1st Cor.13 because sacrificial, Agape love is the glue that holds it all together – Jesus’ love for us, our love for Jesus and our love for one another as the body of Christ.

There is a sure unity killer among the body of Christ we must be aware of; plain old gossip. I believe gossip is the most effective tool Satan uses to bring about disunity, cause confusion and hurt people in the body of Christ. The Scriptures warn repeatedly against gossip in its various forms. Proverbs 16:20 tells us: “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.” Proverbs 26:20 “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” Christians can and should squelch gossip in any and all forms by not lending an ear to it and by refusing to participate in the rumor mill. We can squelch gossip by encouraging people to go directly to someone “they have an issue with” and offer to go with them to resolve the issues according to Matt. 18 and Matt. 5:23-24. By doing so, Satan will not be allowed to gain a foothold among us as he fights against the work God has called us to do as a church body.

I am thankful for the “Tri-unity” of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Their unified and amazing plan to redeem sinners like me only became reality because they worked together in their complimentary roles as God. Jesus’ prayer for unity was echoed through a little chorus often sung in church in years past – “Make us one Lord, make us one! Holy Spirit, make us one! Let your love flow, so the world will know, we are one in you.” That is my prayer, from my little corner of the world to yours…