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: The Atoning Work of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

Last night I let my granddaughter play in the bathtub with washable paint. When it was time to get out she looked around and announced, “I made a mess!” I replied, “Yes, you made a pretty mess, but we can clean it up,” as I grabbed the pop-up wipes. She wanted to help clean up, but with her still paint-covered fingers she just spread the red paint even more. I had to clean her up before we could finish cleaning the bathtub.

The author of Hebrews identified yet another reason that God sent Jesus to earth – “That He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17b). That’s not a common word in the non-Jewish church today, but it’s the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross by which our sins are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot for which I need forgiveness. I am grateful to the depths of my soul for God’s mercy on this wretched sinner. But atonement provides even more. It also allows for reconciliation between God and sinners.

I unknowingly did something awful to a friend once. It broke her heart, and when I realized what I did it broke mine too. I begged for her forgiveness and she gave it, but she said she could never be my friend again. I was forgiven but still shut out. Atonement provides both forgiveness and reconciliation. Through Jesus, you and I are clean before God and we are welcomed as His beloved child.

We’ve made a mess of our lives with sin, and like Joy in the bathtub, the more we try to clean ourselves up, the bigger the mess becomes. Only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash away all our sins and allow us to stand before God in a righteous state. I love the definition of “atonement” that I heard in a children’s sermon: “at one ment.” Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are “at one” with God – as we were “me[a]nt to be.”

Beloved, are you at one with God?

I am Not a Fan of Jesus

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Celebrity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fans.

Jesus had many fans.  People flocked to Him and hung on His every word. They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  I am not a fan of Jesus. Before you count me out as a heretic, let me tell you who I am.

I am a follower of Jesus.  Yes, I want to be near Him, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because He is peace.  He is hope.  He is wisdom and power.  And He is Life.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identified himself as a “bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1). The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus. He is my Teacher. He teaches me how to walk in righteousness.  He teaches me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends are there after the show.  I love just spending time with Him Monday – Saturday in His Word and through His Spirit.

I am a witness of Jesus.   Jesus saved me, redeemed my life, and gave me a place with Him in heaven. He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

I am a worshipper of Jesus. I will spend the rest of my life and all eternity giving Him the praise and honor He deserves. To be a fan of Jesus falls far short of what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Beloved, don’t just be a fan of Jesus. Be His follower and servant and disciple and friend and witness and worshipper. In other words, let Jesus be your everything.

From Broken-down to Beautiful

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The white car sat forlornly on the side of the road, pushed out to the edge of the property. The tires were missing and its front end was buckled from some sort of impact. I passed it every morning on my way to work – it’s wasn’t a pretty sight. That is until one midsummer morning when I noticed that green vines were beginning to curl out from the crumpled hood and around the back end. Day by day the vines progressed taking over more and more of the broken-down car. Then came the flowers – bright blue blooms swarming over the vines and covering the car until it became a mound of morning glories. That old broken-down wreck was now a beautiful sight to behold. Every morning as I passed that spot, I looked over at the lovely mound of flowers, their faces lifted to the sun and I smiled.

Your life may feel like a wreck today. It may be a series of circumstances you couldn’t control or choices you made yourself, but there you sit – broken, pushed aside, going nowhere. Oh, my friend, God specializes in bringing beauty from ashes – (Isaiah 61:3). I know it’s true because He did it for me. He took this broken-down woman with nothing to offer but pain and foolishness and made my life “a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (61:3b). He took on all my sin and shame and gave me His holiness. He washed me clean, dressed me in robes of righteousness, and gave my life meaning, hope, peace, and Joy.

If you will allow Him, He will do the same for you. He will cover you with the precious, blood of His Son Jesus and His love will turn your broken-down life into a garden of splendor – a thing of beauty.  And every time you look at yourself you’ll smile at what God has done.

Hebrews – Jesus is Eternal

Milky way over the desert of Bardenas, Spain

We’re trying to teach our two-year-old granddaughter to recognize colors so we identify the colors around her – trees are green, Nana’s car is red, her toy truck is blue. We go over and over the colors because repetition helps her learn. It’s no different with adults. The writer of Hebrews uses that same teaching technique to drive home the point that Jesus is greater than everyone and everything the Jewish people revere.

Here he goes back to the very beginning of creation when God “laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands” (Hebrews 1:10). For thousands of years, men have gazed in awe at the specks of light piercing the night sky so far away. We have looked up at the peaks of mountains and observed as far as humanly possible the depths of the oceans with wonder. His creation is marvelous and beautiful.

But, said the author, “they will perish . . . [God] will roll them up like a robe; like a garment, they will be changed”(v. 11-12). He said that creation is like an old overcoat that will one day be discarded for a new one. But the Lord will “remain the same and your years will never end” (v. 11, 12). The eternal Creator who spoke this heaven and earth into existence is will be present in the new creation. While everything around Him will change, He will remain the same.  Why? Because there is no need for Him to change – He is perfect. Creation was marred by the sin of man (Rom. 8:20-21) and so it cannot remain in the perfect and eternal Kingdom of God. It is the same for you and me, imperfect people cannot dwell with the King, but God made a way through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son to make us fit for His Kingdom.

Once again, the author returns to the subject of angels vs. the King of Kings. He said, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (vv. 13-14). Jesus is the Sovereign King, the angels are His servants. He sits upon the throne, they bow before it. When all of creation has been rolled away, Jesus remains. And reigns.

Hebrews: Jesus the King

The British royal family has had quite a struggle in the past several years. Being royalty doesn’t always guarantee that everyone will behave well and be happy. Because every member of the royal family is a sinner, just like every “common” human being in the world. This is why the author of Hebrews points to the heavenly throne of Jesus as further proof of who He is. “But about the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God,  your God, has set You above Your companions by anointing You with the oil of Joy.’” (vv. 8-9).

These verses are taken from Psalm 45, a wedding song, and they depict the ascension of Jesus to His take His throne. Yes, Jesus is a king, but He didn’t become a king at the whim of humans. Remember the scene at the royal palace when Pilate mockingly called Jesus a king? The Jewish religious leaders replied, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:1). The people refused Jesus as their king, but it didn’t change who He was because it was God who enthroned and anointed Him.

And what made Him worthy of an eternal throne? He “loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” A lot of kings and queens have come and gone through the ages, some were very good, some were rotten to the core, but none loved righteousness – the standard of God – but Jesus. And none went to the lengths to exalt righteousness that He did. Other kings make laws that demand and enforce a measure of civil behavior, but Jesus gave His life that men might be right before God. There is a huge difference between behaving well and being righteous. It’s an eternal difference.

Everything that earthly royalty is not, Jesus is. Holy. Divine. Humble. Perfect. The author of Hebrews wants us to understand that He is the only hope we have for eternal life and real Joy. He rules over a never-ending kingdom. Beloved, does He rule over your heart and life?

Don’t Decorate Your Life With Jesus

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I love roosters. I love their colors. I love how they strut. I love to hear their “cock-a-doodle-do! I love the life they represent – rural, peaceful, simple. Oh, I’ve never had a rooster. But I love them. For decoration. My kitchen and dining room are an artistic barnyard with figurines and pictures of roosters all over. I love how they look and the peaceful feeling they inspire, but that’s the extent of my connection to roosters.

Paul lamented people who go through life “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). People who love the idea of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus and the wisdom of Jesus. But they don’t know Jesus. He talked about “weak-willed women who are  . . . always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (v. 6, 7). As a Bible teacher, I’ve seen this too many times. Women – and men – who, like the Greeks in Athens, love to listen and talk about the latest ideas, but nothing takes hold in the soil of their hearts. They can sound Christiany and they post great Jesus memes, but there’s nothing of substance and no fruit growing in their lives.  They like the peace and love that Jesus talked about, but they don’t want the righteousness, holiness, and suffering Jesus also talked about. My heart breaks for them because they are only deceiving themselves.

Friend, I don’t want you to follow me – I want you to follow Jesus. I don’t want you to take my words to heart – I want you to take The Word to heart. I want you to put your own roots down deep into the rich truths of Scripture and grow and flourish with sweet fruit. I want you to love Jesus and the Word because you have a real relationship with Him. Beloved, if all you ever do is decorate your life with Jesus stuff, my ministry will have been in vain. I want you to know and love Him with all your heart and mind and soul. I want you to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19). The life of Jesus.

Are you sorry for your sin?

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The Apostle Paul had such a heart of love for his fellow believers. He prayed for them continually, asking for God’s blessing, favor, light, peace, Joy, hope, wisdom, and power. He encouraged them in the face of great opposition and persecution, even from his own prison cell. But one thing Paul did not do was coddle them in their sin. He called out their squabbling, arrogance, greed, gluttony (ouch), selfishness, and especially their sexual immorality. He would have none of it among God’s people. He was quick to chastise the Corinthian church for tolerating – and even applauding – gross sexual sin among the believers (1 Cor. 5).  He would be appalled at the church today. He later wrote, “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:8-9).

Paul boldly pointed out their sin in all its ugliness and they were deeply convicted and greatly sorrowed. Have you ever been truly sorry for your sin? Have you ever let the Holy Spirit convict you to the point of grieving for your offense before God? Or have you let the world soothe you with mushy half-truths about love and tolerance? Let me give this to you straight – God loves you, but He does not tolerate sin. He convicts and chastens His children (Hebrews 12:6). That’s how you know He is your Father. The point of this chastening is not just to make you feel bad about yourself (which is how the world spins it). God calls out our sin so that we will turn away from it and turn back to Him. “Godly sorry brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (1 Cor. 7:10).

Let me get very personal. Is there a cherished sin in your life – one you just don’t want to let go of? It may be something “big” like stealing from your job or sexual sin, or it may be something “small” like bitterness or – gulp – gluttony. Take off your worldly glasses and listen to what the Spirit says about it. Beloved, the tug on your heart is godly sorrow. It’s your Father calling you to repentance. Calling you to wholeness. Calling you to Joy.

Is He Lord?

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I had a t-shirt that got me into trouble in middle school. It wasn’t racy or low-cut or provocative – it was what it said. No, it didn’t have profanity on it or racist comments.  It said, “As long as there are pop tests, there will be prayer in school.” By my middle-high school years, faculty-led prayer had been banned from schools for ten years. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. Fifty-nine years later we are reaping the consequences of that decision. Deadly, horrific consequences.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Anne Graham Lotz commented, “for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.” What fools we have been.

But we were not the first to tell God to leave us alone. The Old Testament Prophet Amos tried in obedience to deliver the word of the Lord to the people but they told him, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (Amos 7:16). In other words, “Shut up and leave us alone.” And so God did. He told them, “The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). They had said, “We don’t want to hear from you, God,” and He gave them what they wanted – silence from heaven. For four hundred years. Years of great oppression and persecution and struggle.

You and I can’t plead for God’s help in a crisis and then reject His holy and righteous ways when they rub against our “freedoms.” And I’m not just talking on a big, national scale – I’m talking about our every day lives. The missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.” You and I have to be all-in. What say you, Beloved? Is He Lord or is He not?

It’s Time to Grow Up

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I grew up a church kid.  I was on the cradle roll, became a Sunbeam, then a G.A. and on up the church ladder I went. I never lacked for instruction. From my earliest childhood, I heard stories about Jesus. About angels, shepherds, and wise men. About the mean old devil in the wilderness. And oh, the miracles: blind eyes opened, thousands fed from a few loaves and fishes, walking on water and calming storms. And of course, I learned about the cross and the empty tomb. I heard them all and believed they all were true. But I still didn’t believe in Him. It took many years and a lot of patience on God’s part for me to go from stories to faith.

The author of Hebrews implored his readers to move beyond the milk of “elementary teachings about Christ” and feast on solid food like mature Christians. It’s interesting that these “elementary teachings” are “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:2). Here’s what shocking: he said their lack of spiritual maturity was because they are “slow to learn” (5:11). Does that mean that they were struggling with these rudimentary issues?  No. The word “slow” means lazy. They hadn’t put forth any effort to learn. They’d been content with “elementary” knowledge rather than graduating to the deeper teachings of the faith.

I would say that the vast majority of folks sitting in the pews today don’t have even an elemental grasp of the basic tenets of the faith. So, if the Hebrew Christians were considered “slow to learn” because they only understood “elementary teachings”, what does that say about the church in our generation? We’ve become content with a “preschool” faith. Bible stories and psychological “Bible” studies and a religion of the new holy trinity – me, myself, and I. That’s not going to help us in the days of persecution that are on the horizon.

Are you ready to put the bottle down and dig into some solid spiritual food? I’m going to dedicate Monday’s devotionals to dig into the book of Hebrews in the days, weeks, months ahead. Beloved, grab a fork (and your Bible) and join me at the table. Let’s sink our teeth into something satisfying.