Posts Tagged 'Exceeding Abundantly Above'

Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 6

Unlike this fellow, the believer's strength comes from God.

Unlike this fellow, the believer’s strength comes from God.

Thoro Harris was an amazing man who lived a fascinating life at a time when most black Americans didn’t. Born in 1874, Mr Harris would grow up to become not only one of the most prolific hymn and gospel song writers in American history– he wrote the lyrics for 587 songs, the music to 107 songs – but he was also a publisher of hymnals – publishing 16 hymnals. Oddly enough, even though we know him through his hymns, at the time he lived he seemed to earn a living selling books and handbooks door-to-door in Chicago, playing the organ in different churches, and he even bought a bed-and-breakfast, which he ran for some time, which is still in business today. You probably have some of Mr Harris’ hymns in your hymnal, and if you don’t, you probably sing some of his songs. He wrote “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” which has endured for generations and seen many incarnations, from his classic version to smooth jazz versions and even a beat-driven rock arrangement! But the lyrics to one of his hymns carries the thought behind this series, “Exceeding, abundantly above.”

Are you trusting Jesus,
All along the way?
Does He grow more precious
To your heart each day?
Are you His disciple?
Test His Word and see,
He will give the Spirit more abundantly.

For His matchless favor,
Magnify the name
Of our gracious Savior
Who from glory came;
Let the saints adore Him
For this wondrous Word,
Sealing our redemption thro’ the crimson flood.

Come to Him believing,
Hearken to His call;
All from Him receiving,
Yield to Him your all;
Jesus will accept you
When to Him you flee;
He will grant His blessing more abundantly.

More abundantly,
More abundantly,
That they might have life
And more abundantly;
More abundantly,
More abundantly,
That they might have life
And more abundantly.

“More abundantly.” That’s the only way God blesses His people. God does everything in a big way, including blessing us and answering our prayers. So far in this series, we’ve looked at five things God has done for us in a big, big way, “exceeding abundantly above” what we expected, according to Ephesians 3:20. They are:

• Romans 5:20 and Philippians 4:7. God has provided abundant grace to save us, which resulted in a life of abundant peace between God and man, and man and the world around him
• Isaiah 55:7 tells us that God has provided abundant pardon to forgive our sins and wash away our guilt.
• Psalm 36:8 speaks about God being our ultimate source of satisfaction.
• In John 10:10, Jesus talked about the kind of life that results in a personal relationship with Him: abundant life.
• Abundant joy was what Paul wrote about in Philippians 1:16. The joy that is available to any and all believers is objective – it doesn’t depend on your circumstances.

Whatever it is you need, God provides in absolute abundance. God is not a cosmic Scrooge who gives “just enough,” or “barely enough” of anything. Nor does any believer have to beg God for what he needs. Jesus talked about this many times during His earthly ministry, and one time He laid it on the line and said this:

“Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open. If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not! And if you hard-hearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them? (Matthew 7:7 – 11 TLB)

In his letter to the church at Colosse, Paul wrote about another side to this “exceeding abundantly above” aspect of God’s character:

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… (Colossians 1:11. TNIV)

The word “abundance” isn’t in that verse, but the idea of abundance is – abundant power, which is available to any believer. Let’s take a look at this idea in context, and it all begins with a mixed up picture of Jesus.

A mixed up picture of Jesus

Paul, the man who wrote a joy-filled letter to the people in Philippi, wrote a serious letter of spiritual combat to his friends in Colosse:

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 2:1. TNIV)

During this time, Paul was engaged in spiritual combat against one of the most formidable enemies of his life: Gnosticism. This was a strong, strange mixture of Jewish, Oriental, and Christian beliefs and practices. Paul didn’t call this weird religion “Gnosticism,” but that’s what we call it today and believe it or not, it’s alive and well in America and the Western church.

It’s a very subtle heresy that cleverly paints Jesus as not quite enough to be man’s Savior. It’s not that Gnosticism seeks to eliminate Jesus from the scene, but to say that you need a little more than just Jesus. Back in Paul’s day, Jesus was viewed by these heretics, not as the Son of God, but at a created being, greater than man but less than God. Today, in some churches, this element of Gnosticism isn’t taught or even believed, but the idea that He isn’t enough is. These churches today, like those of Paul’s day, stress the externals of religion – things like works of righteousness, ritualistic and repetitive observances, legalism, adherence to a list of do’s and don’t’s – plus Jesus Christ as the way of salvation.

To Paul, the notion that you need something in addition to Jesus to be saved and stay saved was unthinkable, and it should be to you too. This heresy ignores Paul’s firsthand knowledge:

I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:17, 18. TNIV)

That’s Jesus talking to Paul, and Jesus’ words bear witness to the truth: All anybody needs is Jesus; nothing and nobody else is needed. Man hates that, which is why the heresy of Gnosticism persists to this day. You’ll find virtually every denomination riddled with it. This dangerous heresy threatens the purity of the Christian faith and it was ripping the Colossian church apart at the seams. Paul took the matter in hand and met with Pastor Epaphras to deal with it. Among other things, he said this to the pastor:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form… (Colossians 2:8, 9. TNIV)

Did you catch what Paul thought was a threat to the church? Things like: “human tradition.” In other words, a church constitution and “books of order” which may have their place, should never take the place of the Word of God or get in the way of the work of saving souls. “Elemental spiritual forces of this world” is a mouthful, but whenever you hear about churches engaging in worldly pursuits, no matter how worthy those pursuits may be, those churches are dabbling in the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” Jesus was not of the spirit of this world, and we shouldn’t be either. The church of Jesus Christ exists not sign up voters or raise money for a pet shelter or teach modern environmentalism, but to teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Period.

What the church needs

What the Colossian church needed, and indeed what we need today, are not new-fangled, hybrid philosophies of ancient heresies, but to live in the power of the God. This was the apostle’s prayer for his friends:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives… (Colossians 1:9 NIV)

Notice the very first thing Paul prayed that his friends would receive: knowledge. But not just any kind of knowledge. The Greek word used here is epignosis, which refers to a kind “super-duper knowledge.” This was what the false teachers claimed to have had, but Paul makes sure we understand that knowledge of the highest order is knowledge of God’s will and that only comes from the Holy Spirit – you can’t learn this kind of wisdom from a school or seminary, or from a Bible teacher or preacher. The wisest man on earth is the one who knows what God’s will is personally, and that can be any and every Christian because that is wisdom from the Spirit that dwells in all believers: the Holy Spirit.

Human wisdom – pagan wisdom – is ritualistic, legalistic, dealing in fantasies.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16 NIV)

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. (Colossians 2:18 NIV)

People have always been attracted to the bondage of false teachings and they inexplicably shy away from the freedom of the Spirit. Strange indeed.

…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God… (Colossians 1:10 NIV)

Paul’s second request was that his Colossian friends should be pleasing to God. Now, that doesn’t mean what you may think it does. In the context of Paul’s reason for writing this letter, “pleasing God” means that they will stop bowing down before man – the false teachers – and trying to please them, but rather that they would pay attention to God’s will and obey that, even if it goes against what man says or wants.

His third request was that they “bear good fruit.” No Christian is mean to live a static life. We should be alive and vibrant and sharing their faith. Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches, meant to bring forth fruit. This is linked to the third petition: “growing in the knowledge of God.” There are no static Christians, either behaviorally or intellectually. We ought to be Christians all day, everywhere we go, not just when we’re in church or on Sunday’s. And our knowledge of God should be growing all the time, as we read, study, discuss, and live out the Word of God in our lives.

That brings us to Paul’s fifth request and our sixth “exceeding abundantly above” of this series:

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… (Colossians 1:11 NIV)

“Strength and power” in abundance, or as Paul put it here, “according to his glorious might,” is available to all believers. Just think about that for a moment. All the “strength and power” you’ll ever need is linked to God’s “glorious might.” Do you realize what that means? Spiritually speaking, you can be potentially as strong and powerful as your Heavenly Father! “Strength and power” are not ginned up in you; they come from the Holy Spirit in you.

And you’ll need that “strength and power” in order to live out your faith with “endurance and patience.” No Christian ever needs to be confused, depressed, discouraged, or discombobulated. We have access to the ultimate source of power that will keep us living on top of our circumstances, not under them.

In Paul’s brief prayer, look at the terms he used: “all wisdom and understanding,” “every good work,” “please Him in every way,” “all power,” “great endurance and patience.” What a breathtaking view of what the Christian life can be, if we would learn how to tap into the “exceeding abundantly above” promises of God!

Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 5

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We serve a God who loves us. He loves us so much that He did this:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16, 17 TNIV)

God gave us Jesus to save us. But God’s giving didn’t begin or end with Jesus. God has always been giving to people. To the lost, He gives ample opportunities to get saved. To believers, God gives so much more. He meets all of our needs, both temporal and eternal. So far, we’ve looked at some of the things God has provided us with in abundance:

• In Romans 5:20 and Philippians 4:7 we learned that God has supplied abundant grace that has resulted in abundant peace between us and Him and between us and the world around us.
• Isaiah 55:7 told us that there is abundant pardon available from God. No matter who comes to God for forgiveness of sins, God is able to do just that in abundance.
• Only Jesus satisfies the needs of every human heart, according to Psalm 36:8.
• And thanks to the abundant life Jesus talked about John 10:10, believers can be living today lives full of heavenly power and blessings.

No matter what it is you need, God is able to provide more than what you are asking for. He’s not a cheapskate when it comes to blessings! The world, on the other hand, is also generous, except in reverse. While God gives good things in abundance, the world gives the opposite. For example, there’s plenty of strife in the world. There’s conflict everywhere. And there’s misery. For most of us, our lives feel like what Louis Armstrong sung about:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory hallelujah!
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
Oh, yes, Lord
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground
Oh, yes, Lord
Although you see me going ‘long so
Oh, yes, Lord
I have my trials here below
Oh, yes, Lord
If you get there before I do
Oh, yes, Lord
Tell all-a my friends I’m coming to Heaven!
Oh, yes, Lord

Talk about depressing! Oh, yes, Lord. The thing is this: That’s not how God wants you to live, and He has made it possible for you live in a state of abundant joy for your whole life, regardless of your circumstances.

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:26 KJV)

That’s what Paul wrote, and he meant it. But just what did he mean? Let’s take a closer look at this “exceeding abundantly above” provision.

The church at Philippi

Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been called the “Letter of Excellent Things,” mainly for it’s excellent content, which is so positive and uplifting. Some twenty times, Paul used terms like, “rejoice,” “thanksgiving,” “be content,” and “praise,” none of which are dependent on outward circumstances. In fact, Paul wrote this upbeat, cheerful letter from prison, uncertain of his own future!

The city of Philippi was named after Philip, father of Alexander. The great battle between Brutus and Octavian was fought here and shortly after that, the mighty Roman Empire was born in 42 BC. It was a long-time military outpost, with an obvious and strong military presence. The citizens of Philippi were all Roman citizens and therefore enjoyed all the rights and privileges that came along with that citizenship.

Speaking of citizenship, the ethnic makeup of Philippi was diverse indeed. Greeks, Romans, and Asians all lived in relative peace, and each of their religions and philosophies were respected. In fact, Philippi was a city steeped in superstition and mythology. Given the city’s strategic location and their propensity toward all things supernatural, it’s understandable why Paul wanted to start a church there, which he did on his second missionary journey, around 52 AD.

The Jewish presence in and around Philippi was practically nil; not enough even to support a synagogue. That meant Paul had to change his church-planting routine, and instead of spending time in the Jewish community, he did the next best thing: He went to a prayer meeting, held down by the lake.

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:13 – 15 TNIV)

Lydia was convert number one. After her, a slave girl converted to Christianity, which got Paul and Silas thrown into prison. You know the story. Our two intrepid church planters started singing hymns and praising God and they were set free from their imprisonment by a supernatural earthquake. The head of prison, who saw the power of God, became convert number three, as well as members of his family.

At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:33, 34 TNIV)

And so the now-famous Philippian church was born. A fascinating aside was the makeup of the congregation. Lydia was a pure capitalist – a somewhat wealthy business woman who was Asiatic. The one-time slave girl was Greek, and she represented the lower, working classes. The jailer was a Roman and he represented the middle class. Truly, this church exemplified the power of the Gospel to attract and to save anybody:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26 – 28 TNIV)

Persecuted and poor

We know that while the church at Philippi was spiritually solid, they were a persecuted lot, largely on account of their association with Paul:

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:7; 28 – 30 TNIV)

Not only were the Philippian Christians persecuted, but they were poor. And yet, they were one of the most generous churches Paul had ever encountered in his journeys:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own… (2 Corinthians 8:1 – 3 TNIV)

Notice what Paul wrote, because it’s surprising. The Philippians’ JOY had combined with their POVERTY to make them GENEROUS. That’s the exact opposite to way the world operates. It says you can’t be joyful if you’re poor. It says poor people can’t be generous. No wonder the world is miserable! It runs contrary to the way the Kingdom of God runs in every way. Jesus gave us the Kingdom precedence in Matthew:

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16 TNIV)

Everything in the Kingdom is upside down compared to everything in the world! Really, though, in the Kingdom, everything is right-side-up; it’s the world that’s messed up.

Paul’s state

Paul wrote this positive, upbeat, and cheerful letter from prison.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12 TNIV)

There’s that whole upside-down-way of looking at things again. You’d think that being thrown into prison would stop your evangelistic efforts. But, no! The exact opposite happened – being imprisoned helped to spread the Gospel even more! Dr Luke, Paul’s personal physician, friend, and traveling companion, tells us what Paul was going through at the time he wrote this letter.

When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:16; 30, 31 TNIV)

He was stuck at home, unable to leave, yet that didn’t stop him from sharing the Gospel. Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes the least contrary thing stops us from leaving the house and even just coming to church, never mind actually doing something of value for God! A headache…a tickle in the throat…a phone call…all those things keep us from the Lord, yet here was Paul, imprisoned in his own rented house, finding a work-around for his imprisonment! What a guy!

For their part, the Philippians were concerned for Paul and wanted to see him released but Paul had learned to be content and to do the best for His Lord in whatever circumstances he found himself. In fact, Paul was willing to die for Christ and he didn’t view that as a bad thing!

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 TNIV)

The man’s whole life was wrapped up in Christ, in witnessing for Christ, in fellowship with Christ, and the goal of Paul’s life had become making his life a channel through which others may come to know Christ as Savior. Now, not everybody has that goal in life. For the businessman, a happy life may be wealth. For the slave, hard work and suffering. For the philosopher, more knowledge. For the soldier, victory and fame. For the ruler, a kingdom.  But for Paul, as it should be for all believers sold out to Jesus Christ, death should be seen as gain. To die would mean ultimate freedom – freedom from whatever it is that binds you from living a full and fulfilling life. It would mean deliverance from yourself – your pain and suffering. Far from an evil thing, because of the Cross, death has been turned into a way for believers to experience the new life of freedom and abundance that comes from being completely like Christ.

Yet he was willing to stay and work for the Lord, and that gets us to our fifth “exceeding abundantly above” provision, that of joy. Paul was convinced that he would be released from his prison (he was) and that he would see his friends again (he did):

That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:26 KJV)

The “abundant rejoicing” would be occasioned by Paul’s freedom. The greatest source of joy for the Philippians would be the answer to their prayer! Is it yours? Do you rejoice and experience abundant joy when your prayers are answered? Or do you barely notice? Here’s the problem. You and I frequently pray with a worldly mind. That is, we pray for things to happen the way we think is best. That may not be bad or sinister, by the way, but it may be worldly. Remember, the Kingdom of God doesn’t operate like that. In God’s economy things appear to be upside down to us, but really they’re right-side up. So sometimes, while it may appear that your prayer is either going unanswered or it is answered in a way differently than you prayed, God is answering it the right way: The way of the Kingdom. So you should rejoice no matter what. Later on in this letter, Paul got to the point:

Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 TLB)

The Message, a quirky version of the Bible if ever there was one, translates this verse slightly differently:

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! (Philippians 4:4 MSG)

Revel in God, no matter what. Determine to be full of joy regardless of how you feel. An amazing thing happens when you start rejoicing when you’d rather not: you will feel happy. The Philippians were full of joy when the world said they shouldn’t have been. Paul was joyful when the world thought he should have been miserable. How do you feel?

Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 4

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In Ephesians 3:20, we read this:

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us… (TNIV)

That’s really a remarkable verse when you think about what Paul is saying about God. Whatever it is you need, God is able to supply it, “exceeding abundantly above” what you may ask for. So far in this series, we’ve considered a few things God has done and is doing for us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Among them:

• God has supplied abundant grace (Romans 5:20) to make peace between God and man, and man and the world around him – the peace that transcends all understanding.
• God has provided abundant pardon (Isaiah 55:7) to forgive any sinner that comes to Him in faith.
• Total satisfaction is available to every believer no matter what the circumstances of his life may be because God supplies it in abundance (Psalm 36:8).

Living life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is “easy living under the Son” because God cares for us He makes sure we have what we need to not only last us through all eternity, but to make this life worth living. That brings us to our next “exceeding abundantly above” provision, and it’s found in the Gospel of John:

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 KJV)

“Abundant life” is why Jesus Christ came to us. Not only life, but abundant life is what He brought us. There are all kinds of ideas floating around as to what Jesus meant when He spoke these words. Let’s look at them in context and you’ll be amazed at just what Jesus meant when He spoke about “the abundant life.”

At the beginning of John 10, Jesus is seen speaking to an audience made up of His disciples, a formerly blind beggar, some Pharisees, and other hanger’s on.

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1 TNIV)

That’s a slightly confusing thing for us to read, but to the Pharisees who heard it, Jesus’ statement must have cut to the quick. You and I don’t see too many shepherds around, but shepherding was a part of life in Judea and those listening to Jesus were very familiar with shepherds and sheep pens. This verse, and the parable that follows, was really directed at the Pharisees in the group and the once-blind beggar, whom Jesus had healed back in chapter 9.

Two kinds of blindness

Jesus and His friends were walking along and they saw a man who had been born blind. That’s an important designation; he didn’t become blind through an accident or an illness, he was born blind.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1, 2 TNIV)

That question reflected a common way of thinking during Jesus’ day which said that the sins of the parents were passed on to their children. Think about that for a moment. What a cruel image of God the Jews had at this time. The assumption that God would punish a child for things their parents may have done is so out of character with what we know about God. But, here it is. It’s what the Jews believed and it’s what Jesus’ disciples believed – in spite of their relationship to Jesus, their minds remained locked in their habitual way of thinking. But Jesus set His friends straight:

Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3 TNIV)

This man born blind and his parents, Jesus explained, were both victims of a sin-cursed society in which, sadly, often the innocent suffer right along with the guilty. Yet, earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus and His disciples encountered a lame man, whom Jesus healed. Later on, He met up with that man and said something interesting to him:

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14 TNIV)

Yes, sometimes illness and sickness may be related to your sin or your sinful choices and lifestyle, but not in the case of the man born blind. This fellow was born blind because he was born into a sin-cursed and sinful world. Sometimes there is absolutely no connection between the misfortunes of a person and his own sinful condition. Truth is, good people are often the victims of a sick, immoral society through no fault of their own.

But God can take a bad situation and turn it around. God was not behind the blind state of this man, but he could certainly be rescued and restored to wholeness by God. That’s why we pray for people; that they may be healed and God be glorified.

And so our Lord healed the blind man. But because He did it on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were convinced the miracle didn’t happen. The implication was that the formerly blind man was lying. The Pharisees in this story are a perfect illustration of the modern American who thinks he knows everything and if something happens outside his ability to explain it using the knowledge he has, he dismisses it out of hand. The arrogance of human beings hasn’t changed much from Jesus’ day to ours!

The religious types quizzed and verbally abused this poor fellow about his healing, but he never backed down. In frustration, he said something truly remarkable:

If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:33 TNIV)

Here he was, an uneducated member of the great unwashed mass of society making one of the most profound statements ever. If Jesus were not a Man from God, then He couldn’t have worked His miracles. To this man, it was simple. His physical eyes had been opened by the power of God, but his spiritual blindness was also healed. All of a sudden, he knew something about Jesus that the Pharisees didn’t, or that they wouldn’t accept.

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:34 TNIV)

That’s right. They threw him out of the temple. Essentially, the man born blind had been healed by Jesus and that got him kicked out of his religion. Oddly, that was the second best thing to happen to him. Religion does nothing good for anybody.

Our Lord is a compassionate Savior. He knew what had happened to the man He healed, and Jesus seeks him out and we read this interesting exchange:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35 – 38 TNIV)

This formerly blind man, who had made that stunning declaration about the Man who healed him, didn’t recognize Jesus because when Jesus healed him, he was blind! But just look at the remarkable faith this man had: He was ready to believe without having seen. Now that’s faith.

For this man born blind, his healing marked the new beginning of a new personal relationship. Gone were the old relationships with his impotent religion and heartless family; he was now committed to Jesus Christ. He was now part of a new society, a new family.

Christ, the Shepherd and the Gate

That’s the background to chapter 10, and that’s why Jesus told this parable:

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:1 – 5 TNIV)

That’s a parable that has a couple of applications, but the one we’re interested in the obvious one. Christ is the Shepherd of the flock of God. He is also the “doorway” through which one passes to become part of the flock of God. Nobody can become part of God’s flock any other way. You can’t climb over the wall. You can’t sneak in. If you want to be a sheep under God’s care, then you must pass through Jesus Christ. For His part, Jesus a few chapters on states explicitly what He’s saying here implicitly:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 TNIV)

That’s essentially what Jesus is getting at here in chapter 10, except that He’s using a parable. Why didn’t He just come right out and say it? Because Jesus is trying to prove a point: the Pharisees, the very people who claimed to have all this spiritual insight, were in fact the ones who were blind. They didn’t understand the what Jesus was saying. Why should they? The Pharisees were confident of their own position; they were proud of their knowledge and of the influence they had over people. They had such an elevated estimate of themselves that they couldn’t see the truth of what Jesus was saying: They were the thieves and the robbers; they were the ones stealing – or trying to steal – God’s sheep.

The thief – the Pharisees – had tried to discourage the man born blind by verbally harassing him and abusing him. That’s how all false shepherds treat sheep. They aren’t kind. They aren’t patient. Given a chance, false shepherds would just as soon kill a sheep than help it. But not Jesus; not the Good Shepherd.

And all that background brings us to our fourth “exceeding abundantly above.”

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 TNIV)

The thief (false shepherds, the Pharisees) come to take life, but the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ) came to bring abundant life to the sheep under His care. The whole purpose of Christ coming to earth was to give life. John got exactly what Jesus meant, and when he summed up his Gospel, he wrote this:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 TNIV)

God’s purpose and plan are to not only save man from eternal death and destruction but to give man a good life in the here-and-now. That’s not insignificant. The Good Shepherd wants His sheep to experience the best that life has to offer. That’s what the “abundant life” is all about. It’s not that God wants you rich and good looking, but the new life we have in Christ is just that: a new life; a better life; a life filled with hope and optimism; a life of possibilities; a life of joy, peace, and contentment. You can’t find that outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. All manner of false shepherds are trying to get you to follow them by offering you what only Christ can deliver. You don’t need a false shepherd. You just need the Good Shepherd. You need Jesus Christ.

Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 3

Roxette_19025

Swedish pop duo Roxette made a fortunte out of telling a generation to “listen to your heart,” which is the worst advice ever in this history of advice.

The title of this sermon series comes from Ephesians 3:20 –

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us… (Ephesians 3:20. KJV)

By the end of this series, we will have looked at what Paul was really saying to the Ephesians in that verse, but for now, we’re using the words, “exceeding abundantly above” as a springboard to discover some of what God does for us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” That’s really a phenomenal thought. God’s provision is way, way beyond what we need. He never gives us “just enough” but always more than we could imagine.

We’ve already discovered that God, through His endless grace, has provided us with “peace that transcends all understanding.” God’s grace is abundant, according to Romans 5:20, and through that grace we are at peace with God and the world around us.

We also found out that there is no accumulation of sins so great that God cannot pardon, because God’s pardon is abundant, according to Isaiah 55:7.

This time, courtesy of Psalm 36, we’ll be amazed with the fact that the satisfaction God gives is given in absolute abundance – exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.

They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. (Psalms 36:8 | KJV)

What the heart is really like

We’ve often heard people say things like this, “He has a good heart.” If you believe the Bible, then you know that’s not true of anybody. Psalm 36 paints a grim picture of the human heart. It is wicked. It’s hard to believe, but the Bible is never wrong. Jeremiah, the so-called weeping prophet, wrote this concerning the human heart –

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 | KJV)

Perhaps that’s one reason Jeremiah wept so much; he knew what people were really like. People are not “born good.” We are born sinners. Nobody is a “blank slate.” We are all born with the distinct slant to sin. That baby doesn’t stand a chance without Jesus Christ.

Psalm 36 is “a psalm of David.” He wrote it, and if anybody knew the human heart, it was King David. David knew people better than he knew himself. Bible scholars refer to Psalm 36 as a “wisdom psalm” that contrasts two ways of life: the way of wickedness and the way of wisdom.

Verse one is a declaration of the state of those without God –

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:1 | KJV)

That’s an awkward way to translate the Hebrew, so let’s read it in a more reasonable translation, the NIV84 –

An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:1 | NIV84)

Well, that’s slightly better but it’s still a bit murky. The new and improved NIV might give us a clearer sense of what David was trying to get across –

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Psalm 36:1 NIV)

That nails it. David, a godly man, has a message “in his heart” concerning the state of the godless. Previously, we noted that the heart is wicked and can’t be trusted. How can we trust what David wrote, if that’s true? David was a redeemed, though imperfect, man. God holds the cure for the wickedness of the human heart.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10 | NIV84)

That was the David’s prayer and God’s will. David had a re-created heart; a new heart that sought to serve God. So we need to pay attention to what David wrote here; it’s coming from a pure heart. The wicked are sinful and they do not fear God at all. David doesn’t have in mind the atheist here. Here’s his opinion of the atheist –

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. (Psalms 14:1 | NIV84)

That’s the atheist. He’s a fool who never gets anything right. But here, David has in mind the average person, who’s not an atheist. He’s probably a decent citizen, believes in God, but doesn’t have a relationship with Him. He sounds like the average, hapless American, who believes in God but lives like he doesn’t. This person is worse than the atheist, because while he acknowledges the existence of God, he disregards Him completely.

That’s why he’s wicked. He believes in God but doesn’t honor Him in the way we lives. Paul would write this to the Romans –

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11 | NIV84)

From there, he quotes a bunch of Old Testament verses, including what David wrote here in Psalm 55. People without Christ are not righteous, they have no understanding, they don’t seek God, and they have no fear of God. That’s the real state of the human heart. We say sentimental things like, “follow your heart,” but that’s just awful advice. You should never, ever follow your heart. A heart without Christ is wicked and can’t be trusted.  And if you “listen to your heart,” as Roxette counselled, you’ll always find yourself in big trouble.

The folly of living without God

Here’s the big problem with people who believe in God but don’t have any kind of a relationship with Him:

For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. (Psalms 36:2 | NIV84)

That’s right. If that doesn’t describe the average American, nothing in the Bible does! “I’m not so bad,” they say. “There are plenty of people worse than I,” they tell themselves. The problem is, that’s not how God sees people. Matthew Henry in his classic commentary on the Bible had this to say about what David wrote here:

They are self-destroyed by being self-flattered; Satan could not deceive them if they did not deceive themselves.

He right about that. Humans beings can talk themselves into anything, justifying even the vilest of sins. And this cuts to the heart of the problem of people – “good people” – who believe in God but are not born again. In the very core of their being they are wicked because they prefer to listen to their hearts rather than to God. The result is a blasphemous attitude and lifestyle. It is blasphemous to run around claiming to believe in God yet live as though He doesn’t exist.

God’s perfect character

From the wickedness of human beings, the psalmist turns to the incredible character of God.  The whole tenor of the psalm changes at verse 5. Now the mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice of God are brought in sharp focus.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. (Psalm 36:5, 6 NIV)

Now, look very closely at what David is saying these verses, because while it is poetry, the theology behind the words is profound and limitless in its scope. God’s attributes – His love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice – literally sustain the universe! God preserves man and beast alike.

Elsewhere in the Psalms, we read similar statements –

The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. (Psalm 135:6, 7 NIV)

If you don’t like the poetry, how about this verse over in the New Testament –

He [Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17 NIV)

Yes, Jesus Christ is the Superglue that binds the material universe together. Without His sustaining power, we’d blow apart. We serve a God that is much more involved in His creation than most people imagine. Remember the wicked person David began this psalm describing? He imagines that God is afar off in the far flung corners of the universe someplace. He sees God as an “absentee Landlord.” Sure, they believe in God, and believe that somehow, in some way, He created everything, but that now He’s gone. He’s away “resting.” These people with the wicked hearts, don’t see God as bad or evil, just as irrelevant because – to them and their deluded imaginations – He’s not involved in His creation. But they’re wrong.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7 NIV)

This is one of those verses that must be read with the overall context of the psalm taken into consideration. The privilege of God’s protection is extended to the godly only. Not just anybody may enjoy this “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings!” Only those who know Him as He knows them may. This verse, and others like it, are often wrenched out of context and appropriated by people who have to regard for or relationship with God. They – the aforementioned wicked people – should expect nothing from Him. The godly alone have access to God’s presence and His house, as noted in verse 8 –

They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. (Psalm 36:7 NIV)

Would you expect to find a wicked, ungodly person in the house of God? Of course not! Therefore, the abundance of His house, including protection, is reserved only for those who go into God’s house. That brings us to the point of this third “exceeding abundantly above.” True satisfaction is available only to those who are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The metaphors of food and drink in verse 7 represent all the blessings of God, both material and spiritual. Through God and God alone may you receive all that you need to get along in this world and the next. The believer who thinks otherwise – and there are plenty of those – and seeks satisfaction outside of God will always be miserable. And the non-believer who thinks they can get what is promised only to believers will also be miserable.

Yes, human beings are strange indeed. Both believers and non-believers want to live the good life, yet both believers and non-believers go about it the wrong way! Believers want what they shouldn’t have and non-believers want what they can’t have, and both are miserable until they finally understand that they’ve been lied to by their hearts their whole lives. Remember how this whole thing began?

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Psalm 36:1 NIV)

Far too many of us follow our deceiving hearts without so much the tiniest bit of consideration that in doing so we might be offending God. No wonder so many Christians are living hollow, unsatisfied lives. If you’re a Christian, you’ll never find what you need outside of God. Never. But what God gives you, He gives in abundance. A good New Testament commentary on this psalm may be found here, in the words of Jesus –

But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12:31 NIV)

 


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