Dressed for (Spiritual) Success

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It’s Saturday morning. I’m sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt. If it was a workday or Sunday, I would be wearing clothes appropriate for what my day holds. Today it doesn’t hold much more than house chores. But one thing I wear every day is the armor of God. Each piece has a distinctive purpose, but I’m thinking about one specific piece this morning.

In Genesis 4, when Abel and Cain brought offerings to the Lord, Abel’s offering – “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” – was pleasing and accepted by the Lord. But Cain’s offering – a stingy gathering of some of his crops – was not. Cain became angry – murderously angry. The Lord confronted Cain and told him, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (v. 7). In essence, God was telling him doing what is right is a means of protection for you, but if you do not do what is right you are wide open and sin will take you. You know the rest of the story: Cain lured his brother out into a field and murdered him out of jealousy.

You and I have the same protection as believers in Christ. We are made right because of Jesus’ righteousness – He bestows it to us as a guard against sin. We take possession of it when we “put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:13,14). Sin is still “crouching at the door,” ready to pounce.  But the righteousness of Christ protects us. Those who do not have this covering of righteousness – or have access to it and do not utilize it – are unprotected and vulnerable. They are sure to fall, just as Cain did.  

Sin cannot go where Christ’s righteousness abides. The breastplate of righteousness protects us from sin. But only if we take it as our personal protective armor. Every piece is important – but the righteousness of Christ protects our most vulnerable place, our heart – the seat of our confidence in our standing before God. When we fail to put on Christ’s righteousness, our hearts are wide open for the onrush of sin.

Are you dressed, Beloved?

Hebrews: Jesus in the Flesh

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Paul Harvey told a story about a man who didn’t believe in the incarnation – the humanity – of the Son of God. Sitting home alone after sending his family to Christmas Eve services, he heard thuds in his living room. Looking outside he saw that it was snowing and a flock of confused birds had flown into a large picture window in an apparent attempt to find shelter. He was concerned for them and remembered the warm barn where his daughter sheltered her pony.  He opened the barn doors and tried to shoo the birds in, even spreading breadcrumbs as a trail for them to follow but they remained huddled and frightened. He realized that they were afraid of him! They didn’t know that this huge creature was only trying to help them find warmth and safety. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” Then he understood why God sent His Son in human flesh.

The author of Hebrews said, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity . . .” (2:14a). John said, “The Word [meaning the Son of God] became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14). Why? So that he could make God known to us (see John 1:18). Jesus came as one of us so that He could express God’s love and care to us – so that we could hear and understand that the Father only wants to save us. Jesus became a man so that He could lead other men to His Father and to eternal life.

He also came “so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (14b). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).  “Every promise God has made is “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20, paraphrased).

 Jesus became like us that we might become like Him. Holy. Righteous. Sons and daughters of God. Victorious over the devil. Not just in heaven but today and every day of your life. Beloved, this is your heritage in the family of God.

Does God Even Notice Me?

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When her cousin Elizabeth blessed the Baby in her womb, Mary broke out in praise. Luke 1:46-55 is called “The Magnificat for the first words of her song: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” – “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Her reasons run from individual to worldwide – all declaring His faithfulness.

She said, “He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant”. (v. 48) The NLT renders this “He took notice of His lowly servant girl.” Mary was just one more girl living in a poor Judean village – she had no wealth, no status, no theological or religious education – but the Lord God of Heaven and Earth “took notice” of her.

I wonder if you feel unnoticed, overlooked, or disregarded. Day after day you do the thing – care for your family, work a long day at your job, pour over the books as you study, sit with sick loved ones (or maybe not-so-loved ones), wipe noses and bottoms (your own littles or someone else’s), clean floors and dishes. Maybe you come home to a quiet empty apartment every day, or to kids looking to you alone to meet their wants and needs. You are probably wondering how to stretch a little money a long way and when you will ever get a break. Does anyone see you? Does anyone care?

Yes, Beloved – God sees you and God cares. Mary could praise the God who took notice of her – a lowly servant girl in a poor village. This is the same God who was named “El Roi” – the God who sees me – by a pregnant Egyptian slave girl on the run in the desert. She named her son “Ishmael,” which means “God hears.” And He is the very same God who sees and hears you – every tear, every sigh, every lonely, exhausting night, every whispered prayer for help and strength. You are not unnoticed dear one – the God who created you, who sent His Son to die for you, is mindful of you. He loves you. You are precious in His sight.

Hebrews: Adam, David, and Jesus

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is the Son of God, superior to the angels, worthy of worship and service, and is the eternal King of heaven and earth. Now the author of Hebrews is going to show us a different and unexpected side of Jesus – His human side.

Hebrews 2:5 says, “It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.” Angels have an important place in God’s hierarchy, they have power and authority in the present world, even over men. But in the world to come, that will change. He goes on to quote David from Psalm 8. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.”

I suggest that you read the entire Psalm to understand that David is speaking in tones of awe. Even though God would not permit him to build the Lord a temple, He promised to “build a house” for David, meaning his son would follow him to the throne and build God’s house and his descendants would always rule in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:11-16). In Psalm 8 David is amazed at the goodness of God to him personally and to mankind generally. After God had created the heavens and the earth, He fashioned a man – Adam and set him “a little lower than the angels” with glory and honor. But sin brought him crashing down. Still, God loves His fallen creatures and works in and through them to accomplish His will. Throughout this Psalm, David marvels at the majesty of God.

Coming back to Hebrews, the author noted that “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (v 8 ). This has a dual understanding. First, God had given man dominion over everything He had made. Man was to rule over the created world. Earth was intended to serve man, but since the fall the physical world is under a curse and nature is often man’s enemy (see Romans 8: 19-22). Then, God’s plan of the ages will bring everything under the authority of His Son. Oh, what a day that will be when everything is set right again! But we’re not there yet. We’re still in the grip of a fallen world. It’s easy to lose hope and think that evil will always have the upper hand.

“But we see Jesus . . .” (v 9)

Jesus is . . .

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“We’re New Testament people, we don’t need to read the Old Testament.” “I just want to know about Jesus, so I’ll stick with the New Testament.” Ever thought or said anything like that? I’ve heard it many times. As Christians – Christ’s followers – we are focused on only what Jesus did and taught.  But the Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  Check it out:

In Genesis, He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.

In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.

In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.

In Deuteronomy, he is the Great Prophet to come.

In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of sin.

In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.

He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.

In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.

He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Restorer of broken walls in Nehemiah.

He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.

He is the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.

In Isaiah, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.

In Jeremiah and Lamentations, He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.

In Ezekiel, He brings life to dry bones.

In Daniel, He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.

In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.

In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk, and in Zephaniah, He is the God who is mighty to save.

In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

Beloved, if you want to know Jesus, read the Old Testament. He is all over the place.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

God is moving . . .

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The Bible is a full-circle story – from Genesis to Revelation and points in between.

In Genesis 11 men, in their ego and disobedience, determined to build a tower “that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). In response to their pride and sin, the Lord confused their language so that they could not complete their ego-driven building project and He scattered them across the earth.

Now jump ahead to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the believers and they “began to speak in other tongues” (v. 4). Because of the season, Jerusalem was filled with Jews from many different countries and suddenly they could hear and understand the Gospel – in their own language. God was moving . . .

Our final destination in Scripture is Revelation 7:9 where “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lamb. The throne room of heaven will ring with Christ’s praises – in every language – languages that came to be because God had to punish man’s rebellion and sin.

God has been working throughout human history for one purpose: the glory of His Son. Every moment, every action, every life is leading us to this scene. Imagine the beautiful sound – praise to the Lamb of God in every tongue known to man.

So what does this mean as you struggle through your day? The same God who is in control of human history is also in control of your life. Nothing, not even your foolishness and failure, is wasted in the hands of the One who holds it all. And just as a multi-language song of praise will fill the heavens, all things in your life will all come together in a beautiful, multi-color picture of God’s glory and grace. Beloved, God is moving . . .

Hebrews – The Son of God

I’ve decided our Hebrews study will be twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays. I don’t want to rush this rich book.

The main subject and star of this amazing book is Jesus. There are lots of heroes in Hebrews – we’ll get to those later, but there is only one who commands the whole book. His name is Jesus. And the first thing we learn about Jesus is that He is the Son of God and as the Son, he is “the radiance of God’s glory . . .” (Heb. 1:3a). Jesus doesn’t just reflect God’s glory – His majesty and brightness – He shares it. Because He is God. He has always been fully God and fully divine, even when He was also fully man. It’s one of those mysteries that theologians have pondered for centuries. I can’t explain it either, but the Scriptures are clear on it so we will take God at His Word.

Jesus is also “the exact representation of His [God’s] being”. (v. 3b). The image the writer drew is of an “engraving or carving that is a precise reproduction in every respect.” People often remarked about how much our son favored his Dad, and now how much our granddaughter favors her Daddy.  In the south, we would say that Jesus is “the spitting image of His Daddy.” But it’s not a physical resemblance. He has His Father’s mind and heart and spirit – because they are one. While there are many ways that my son resembles his Dad, there are also many ways that he does not – that he is “his own person.” There are no differences in God the Father and God the Son except Jesus’ human body while He was on earth. At the core of both, they are exactly the same. Even down to His sustaining power and His Word. Paul echoed these thoughts, saying that Christ “is the image of the invisible God . . . and in Him, all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15, 17).

 Jesus said to His disciple Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Old Testament is chock-full of God’s call to “know the Lord your God.” Because to know Him is to believe in Him and love Him – forever. Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Joh 17:3).  In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, Beloved, you need to know the truth. There is a God. If you want to know Him, you will find Him in Jesus.  

Hebrews – God speaks

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Hebrews is one of the most challenging books of the Bible for contemporary Christians. It is full of references that would be familiar to a Jewish-Christian congregation but less so for you and me. To grasp the author’s original intent, we will be dipping frequently into the book of Leviticus to understand the many references to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Don’t worry, it won’t be boring!

The most prominent subject in Hebrews is Jesus.  His Name – and names (more than twenty) –  and roles are the core of this message. There are also significant warnings we’ll discuss, warnings that may not sit too comfortably with the 21st-century church. But we will be faithful to the Scriptures and will sprinkle no sugar on the text to make it go down easier.

Hebrews opens with the reminder that God has been speaking faithfully for a very long time.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” (Hebrews 1:1). The forefathers would be Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants – the earliest generations of the Jewish people who would become the nation of Israel.  The prophets were men like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the rest. 

In the days of the first humans, God communed and communicated with Adam and Eve, “walking in the Garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). Wouldn’t you love to hear those conversations? I like to imagine God telling them about how He created all the things they saw as they walked. I wonder if they laughed together over the platypus? But then along came a snake with an apple and the gentle conversations were over. From then on, the Lord God had to talk about sin and death. And, thankfully, redemption. The Bible tells the story of our Redeemer. With every word in the Scriptures,  God spoke about His Son, and then “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:2a – emphasis added). And what the Son speaks is important. At the transfiguration, while Peter was rambling about booths, a bright cloud surrounded them, and “a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.’” (Matthew 17:5). (When we finish Hebrews, we’re going to study the Red Letters.) John opened His gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” . . . “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).

This study of Hebrews is all about what God said in His Word – the Bible – and through His Word – Jesus. Are you ready to hear the Word of God speak, Beloved?

Why the Old Testament Still Matters

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Reading the Bible is paramount for the believer who wants to live and walk as Jesus did – after all, that is the purpose for our salvation – “to be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:27). I’ll bet you have started trying to read through the whole Bible and found it to be more challenging than you thought. Especially in the Old Testament – especially in Leviticus! What do all those old rules and sacrifices and rituals have to do with us as New Testament believers? EVERYTHING!

The entire Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ. He fulfills every promise and completes every command. In Genesis He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan. In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage .In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice. In Deuteronomy he is the Great Prophet to come. In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of the sin. In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer. He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel. In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple. He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Rebuilder of broken walls in Nehemiah. He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs. He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon. In Isaiah He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant. In Jeremiah and Lamentations He is the Man acquainted with sorrows. In Ezekiel He brings life to dry bones. In Daniel He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of HIs people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment. In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem. In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy, the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk and in Zephaniah He is the God who is mighty to save. In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

When you read the Old Testament, always look for Jesus, He is on every page, in every verse. Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

Of Septic Tanks and God

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My son says that I can take anything and find a spiritual application to it. I suppose that’s so but it’s because I see God in everything. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Nothing exists that He did not create with His powerful word or fashion with His divine hand. If he could somehow cease to exist, which He will not, everything in heaven and earth would also cease to exist. So yeah, I see spiritual things in everything and every situation.  

There is this spot in my yard that is especially lush and green. You city people won’t understand, but the country folk know that this is where the septic tank sits.  The “contents” of the tank become fertilizer for the soil so that the grass and bushes in the immediate vicinity are “nurtured.” How can I find a spiritual application in a septic tank?  In God’s hands, the crappiest parts of our life often become the most fruitful for the Kingdom. Ask Joseph whose horrible brothers sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt where he was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. There, he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who promised to remember him to the Pharoah but promptly forgot. Until two years later when Pharoah had a dream and the ex-prisoner remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph not only told the Pharoah the meaning of his anxious dream but how to resolve the problem that the dream was prophecying. Impressed, Pharoah appointed him to the second-highest position in his kingdom and Joseph saved the lives of the Egyptians and became very wealthy in the process. He also saved the lives of his family – including the brothers who had betrayed him. And in doing so, he saved the lineage through which the Savior of all mankind would come.  Had Joseph not made it to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah – however harsh the circumstances – there would be no nation of Israel, no Jewish people, no Jesus, and no salvation for you and me.  Joseph told his brothers, “ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).

Beloved, if life feels like a septic tank right now be encouraged. God has a way of taking the crappiest things and bringing unexpected good out of them.