God is Here!

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“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14)

When you look out at the night sky you are looking at the handiwork of God – sparkling stars scattered across black velvet –  dancing in honor of their Creator.  The deeper man looks into outer space, the more he sees God at work. The mountains towering from the earth are grander than any human-built skyscraper and stand as a strong, silent witness to the God who ordered them to rise. The rising and setting of the sun and the moon powerfully declare the God who said, “Let there be . . .” From the towering Sequoias to the delicate Johnny-Jump-Ups, all of nature testifies of its Creator. And so do you.

 When you look in the mirror you are looking at the most powerful testimony to the existence of the Creator. Every cell in our human bodies bears God’s signature. The intricate inner workings that are occurring in your body are amazing – and you aren’t doing anything to make them happen. They are following a prescribed pattern written by their Creator.  Did you know that there is a digestive enzyme in your body that is only needed when you introduce lactose – milk sugar – into your system. It is produced by one specific DNA protein which just quietly hangs around until it is called into duty. When you drink a glass of milk at breakfast, your body signals that little protein to take its place and start producing the enzyme that breaks down the lactose for digestion. When the work is done this little dude goes back into its dormant state until you have cheese on your sandwich at lunch and ice cream for dessert after supper. Isn’t that incredible?! I know I didn’t give a “scientific” explanation there, but the point is – there is far too much intricacy and complexity to the human body – and to all of creation – to think this all happened by accident! Every breath we take, the beat of our heart, our brain waves, and the DNA that makes our bodies work all declare His praises. How can we think we are anything less than the work of a wonderful Creator?

You, Beloved, are a walking, breathing, testifying witness to the existence and creative power of God – without saying a word.  He not only fashioned you with His own hands, but He also put His image in you so that the whole world knows – God is here!

Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Are You Sure About That?

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I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So I did. I added and added and added and . . . well you get the idea.  I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about doctrine on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on other’s thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid ground? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). As Christians come under fire in the coming days, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe, and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know and be convinced of the truth.

Have Faith

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What does it mean to “have faith?” And in what is our faith to be placed? In a culture with a thousand different philosophies, how can we know what to believe?  For the Christian, faith is what we believe about God and about what He has said through His Word, His Son, and His Spirit.  God spoke two distinct things about Jesus: that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:17), and that God has given us eternal life through Him (1 John 5:11).  Faith that honors and pleases God holds those two professions as truth. True faith stakes everything on them.

When I say I have faith in God, I am not making a statement about my assent to the truths of Christianity; I am making a statement about the truthfulness of what God has said about Jesus Christ.  I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth, lived a perfect life, died bearing my sins, was buried, and rose to life.  When I say that I believe in Jesus, I am putting all my hope and confidence in God’s power to save me as He has promised.  That is why “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  I cannot see Jesus with my own eyes, nor have I ever seen heaven.  But I believe that He is the risen Lord and that His sacrifice is sufficient to save me and give me eternal life.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are blessed in every way; for this life and life eternal.  You are blessed because you stand on the confidence of God’s testimony, not on the traditions of men.  You are blessed because “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:10). But for us who believe, “we will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).  Our faith will be made sight and our hope in Christ will be confirmed.  In the chronicles of heaven, our names will be recorded among the great saints of human history, and we will be commended with those who pleased God by their faith.  Oh, what a blessing it is to believe!

Under the Sun

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Several years ago we lived in a run-down trailer in a dismal area.  Every day I drove past a very affluent neighborhood filled with fine houses and mini-mansions. By the time I go home, I was so depressed. Then I got to know a woman who lived in one of those grand homes, and she was miserable. It blew me away. She had everything, and it wasn’t enough. She thought she should have more. I thought about her this morning as I read Ecclesiastes 2.

Solomon had it all. The most powerful king in the ancient world, he had women – 700 wives and 300 hundred concubines. He built houses for himself, planted vineyards, made gardens and parks, owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem, amassed silver and gold, acquired slaves and singers – he said, “I denied myself nothing . . .” (2:4-19). He sought wisdom and was considered the wisest ruler in the land. (2:12-15). Yet for all he had and all he did, he surmised, “everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:10).

Solomon’s mistake was that he chased after everything “under the sun” (2:11). That means he pursued the world and his own pleasures. There is nothing more meaningless than that. In fact, Solomon uses the phrase, “under the sun,” 27 times – always about some pointless, fruitless, useless activity of man.

God has been driving home one main point for me for several years: it’s all about eternity. This life is a blink, a moment, a flash. Eternity is – well – eternal. It’s forever and ever and ever. It’s the only thing that counts. What does inconvenience mean if someone gains eternal life? What does persecution mean if God is glorified? What does it mean to struggle or be harassed in light of heaven with Christ Jesus? What does a mansion, a Corvette, the latest high fashion, or the best vacations gain you in eternity? Not a thing. But humility, kindness, endurance, patience, love, faithfulness – these have great value in heaven.

I know the world’s glitz and glitter are tempting, and the faithful life in Christ can seem dull in comparison. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Invest your life in eternity Beloved. “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last” (C.T. Studd).

An Unpopular Jesus

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The great philosopher John Lennon once remarked in the mid-sixties, that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”  Christians took great offense at his statement and the Beatles’ albums were burned and smashed to pieces. It was an inflammatory statement, but the truth is, Lennon was probably right. In the fifty years since, he has been proved right with any celebrity, sports star, or politician you want to name. Even in the church, Jesus is not the most popular figure in the world, at least not the Jesus of the Bible. There are variations of Jesus – the political Jesus (we’ve seen a lot of him lately), the social justice Jesus (he seems to be the one most folks like) the anything-goes Jesus, and on and on.  

The Jesus of the Bible is at the same time humble and exalted. He is gentle and fierce. He is gracious and confrontational. He accepted women with bad reputations and chastened the religious leaders who are lauded for their (self)righteousness. He is unpredictable and yet He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But He never was popular – the same crowd greeted Him as Messiah, shouted for His crucifixion. Throughout human history far more have rejected Him than accepted Him. He may be worshiped in small bands but He is scorned in the public square. But one day . . .

The Bible says that  Jesus will come again, splitting the sky and riding the clouds like a wave. And every eye will see Him. Every person will know exactly who He is. Because God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name. One day, that name will ring out -across the universe, and then “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Every knee. Every tongue. 

Yes, you will bow and you will confess. Will it be an act of delight that you have practiced often in worship and praise, or will it be one of shock and horror, when you realize Who you rejected.  The choice is yours now, Beloved. Are you ready?

God Doesn’t Make Watches

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“I’ll see you in heaven,” I said to my Mom as peace fell over her still face. It’s the same thought I had when I got the call several weeks ago that my brother had passed away. For the believer, to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Truly, I envy them. I long to be home – eternally home. But it occurred to me that I never have to tell Jesus, “I’ll see you in heaven.” Yes, I will “see” Him in the sense that I will, like my mother and brother, gaze into His face in heaven. But I am not separated from Him at all. Over and over in Scripture, He promised, “I am with you,” and I know that He is.

There was a theory espoused in the late 18th century called “the Watchmaker Analogy.” Just as watches are set in motion by watchmakers, after which they operate according to their pre-established mechanisms, God created the world, set the laws of nature in motion, and then sat back on His heavenly throne to watch it all unfold without His regular involvement unless there was a catastrophic need to intervene. (2020 would be a good time.) It allowed for theism – the belief in the existence of a Creator – and evolution – the natural process of selection – to coexist without firmly standing in one camp or the other.

That’s not the God of the Bible, nor is it the God of my life. The God I know is not sitting back with disinterest, He is actively engaged in the world and even in the minute details of my everyday life. He is passionate about His creation and especially about His children. Recently I cried to God over hard stuff in my life, and He assured me of His ever-watchful eye and His hand poised to act at the right moment.

This life is hard. It’s doubly hard when you think you’re alone. It is comforting to know that the God who promised His presence to Abraham and Moses and Joshua and David and the Apostles and Paul has also promised to be present and active in your life as well. Beloved, you don’t have to wait for heaven. God is with you now, today. He is El Hayyay – the God of your life.

Give the People What They Want

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Perhaps two popular songs of the ’70s and ’80s with the same title could be the anthem of this age: “Give the People What They Want,” was recorded by The O’Jays in 1975 and The Kinks in 1981. Both songs portray the power of popular opinion and its ability to sway leaders to bend to the masses. It fits the culture of the day perfectly, as a megaphone and a social media account are all you need to start a fire-storm and demand change. But it’s not a new concept by any means.

Paul warned Timothy to guard against such pressure and always be bold in keeping the truth of God’s Word before his congregation. “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). Almost every New Testament writer touched on the issue of false teaching and the demands of people with “itching ears.” But it goes back even farther still.

The obstinate nation of Judah told the prophet Isaiah: “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (30:10-11). The people didn’t want to hear what God had to say because it conflicted with what they wanted to do.

Human nature hasn’t changed much has it? As Christians, we have an unpopular and even “offensive” message. The more we speak it the more the world attempts to shout us down with accusations and condemnation. So what are we to do? Speak it anyway. Live it anyway. Didn’t the Lord warn us: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)? We should rejoice, as the apostles did when they were persecuted for proclaiming the Name of Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Beloved, disgrace, rejection, abuse, and disdain are not something to avoid if it’s for the Name of Jesus – it is something to celebrate. Let’s not worry about giving the people what they want. Let’s give them what they need. A Savior.

Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.