The King is Coming!

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In the first-century world, before a king came to visit one of his cities, the call would go out to prepare the roads on his path – to make the way level and straight and free from any possible danger. When God prepares a people for a great move on His part, He always calls them to make themselves ready by repentance – confessing and turning away from sin, and consecration – setting oneself apart exclusively for Him. “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Lev 11:44).  Before Jesus began His earthly ministry John the Baptist was sent to “Prepare the way for the Lord, [to] make straight paths for him” (Mark 1:3).   John was calling for the people to prepare their hearts for the Lord by repentance and consecration. He declared a clear warning of the coming wrath of God – but you might be surprised to know his comments were aimed directly at the “religious leaders.” 

Christians have pleaded with God for a great move of His Spirit in the world.  We want Him to “do amazing things among us.”  But are we hearing the call to prepare the way for Him?  Are we heeding the call for repentance?  Am I carefully examining my life for habits, desires, laziness, distractions, and selfishness that serve as a quiet rebellion against God?  Are our lives straight paths for the King? Are we consecrating ourselves unto the Lord?  Are you willing to let go of everything that draws your heart away?  Are you getting rid of the things that compromise your testimony and drag you into the world?  What T.V. shows, movies, music, magazines, and websites need to go to make your heart ready for the Lord?  What attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, rights, and worldly influences do I need to turn from in order to be used for the Kingdom of God?

I believe God is getting ready to do a great work in the world.  But it will require His people to will set everything aside and prepare the way.   That means wholehearted devotion to Christ and an unwillingness to compromise with the world.  I also believe a great battle is coming in this nation; the lines have already been drawn in our culture and our courts.  Only people with pure, consecrated hearts will be able to stand firm in the face of it.   Beloved, how will you get ready?

Hebrews: The Tabernacle

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Lovely Lane Chapel at Epworth by the Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia

I love church buildings. I visited some beautiful, ornate cathedrals when I lived in Germany.  My late brother’s high school graduation was held in one in Worms. I didn’t see him walk for his diploma because I was looking at the intricate carvings and high, soaring ceilings. I met for a weekly Bible study in a church with incredible wood beams that always spoke peace to me.  I worked in a church in Florida with beautiful stained glass windows. I loved to sit in the sanctuary and watch the light cast colors across the room. But the church I fell in love with was a small chapel in Georgia on St. Simon’s Island called “Lovely Lane Chapel” at Epworth by the Sea. It is an unassuming white building in the traditional style of the late 19th century set on the banks of the historic Frederica River. But when you open the doors and step inside the all-wood interior will take your breath away. It is an impressive work of architectural art. But it’s just a copy and shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven (Hebrews 8:2, 5).  St. Peter’s Basilica and the pre-fire cathedral at Notre Dame, even the gold walls of Solomon’s temple pale in comparison to the divine original.

Likewise, the ministry of the priests who served in the temple in Jerusalem was significantly less than that of Jesus Christ, the great high priest. The writer of Hebrews pointed first to the gifts and sacrifices presented by generations of human high priests (8:3-4), and later we will see why those gifts and sacrifices fell short of the perfection the Law and the Law-giver demanded. But Jesus’ ministry “is superior to theirs” (8:6) because the gifts and sacrifices He offered were superior.

Jesus’ ministry did not happen in the earthly tabernacle and the sacrifice He offered was not given to a diety shrouded in smoke and incense. Jesus went personally before the Lord with His own pure blood.

Ornate buildings and animal sacrifices don’t make men holy. Neither do programs and weekly services. None of these satisfy the demands of a righteous God. But there is a way. It’s through the better tabernacle and the better offering – through Jesus, the Son of God, the Great High Priest, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Who takes away your sin, Beloved. He will make you holy.

The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

The Church Jesus Loves

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“God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:22

Yesterday I wrote about the influence of the world on the church and how the church today has drifted away from God. That is on every member and every leader because we do not go to church, we are the church, and as the people go, so goes the church. But there is hope.  Jesus didn’t establish this band of believers and walk away. He is intimately connected with His church.  

Scripture says that the church is the living, breathing Body of Christ in the world.  And because He is holy, His Body is holy. Look around you today when you gather for worship.  These are holy people.  Not because they wear the right clothes or say the right things, not even because they serve or usher to teach or sing.  They are holy because as Hebrews 13:12 says, “Jesus… [made] the people holy through His own blood.” A congregation of people who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ makes up a holy church.

The church is also the Bride of Christ.  Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s promise still stands as we wait for that glorious day when our bridegroom will come and take us home.  This is the picture behind Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.”  Do you see the beauty in the church being called the Bride of Christ?  The church is to be making preparations for that glorious day when the bride comes face-to-face with her adoring Bridegroom.  Listen to John’s description of her: “[She] shone with the glory of God, and [her] brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.” (Revelation 21:11) 

Jesus loves the church and will never give up on her – on us. Together with all the saints past, present, and future, we are His holy Body and His beloved Bride.  Let’s get ready for our glorious wedding day.

Blessed Be The Name of the Lord

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I remember when “cool” was a temperature, then it became a word of affirmation. Sometimes it’s used to describe someone that is aloof – but it also describes someone who is fascinating. Then again, the weatherman said a cool front is passing through this week. And don’t forget about Paul Newman’s movie “Cool Hand Luke.” I think I’ve confused myself here. But consider how important words are. Words we used in the past are now banished because they are deemed demeaning and offensive. On many college campuses, some words are forbidden because they might “trigger” an emotional response of fear or anger. Yet today, words that were once spoken in reverence are spat out like curses.

Consider how our culture uses the words “Lord,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy.”  Yet they identify the Righteous Creator and Sovereign King of the universe. Tradition says that in the medieval days when monks were transcribing the words of the Bible and they came to the Name, they would leave their table, wash themselves, get a new quill, write the Name then break the quill. This was to ensure that they did not approach the Name of God in an unclean state and that the pen that wrote the Holy Name would never be used to write something profane. That may be a bit over the top, but oh, that we still venerated the name of God!

One of the ten commandments says: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Exodus 20:7). When we speak these designations of God as mere words in anything less than reverence we are misusing God’s name and identification. When we say “Good Lord” it should only be to praise Him, not register frustration. “Oh my God!” should be spoken as a prayer, not an exclamation of surprise or excitement or – worse – disgust. “Jesus Christ” is the name of the Son of God and our Savior, and is not to be spat out like a curse. And “Holy” is the highest description of the Lord God, and should never be joined to farm animals, bodily functions, and sexual slang.

Yes, our words carry meaning. Beloved, let’s consider carefully the words we say and use our mouths to speak of our God and Savior in the reverence due them.

A Hill to Die On

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Bible teacher Beth Moore (I know, she’s a lightning rod right now) said that there are spine issues and rib issues in the church. Meaning, a broken rib is painful and uncomfortable but is not usually life-threatening. But a broken spine can cause paralysis and even death.

There are points we debate in the church that are rib issues. They are really not the mountains we make them out to be.  And the enemy uses those issues to cause a great divide in the Body of Christ and bring scorn on her witness in the world.

But then there are matters we confront that are spine issues. They are hills worth dying on and spiritual truths that must not be left up to debate or cultural interpretation.

One of the most crucial is that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and has complete authority over the church.

In the past, the church argued over matters of doctrine. Was Jesus both fully divine and fully human? Was He even the Son of God or just a holy man? Was His resurrection bodily or only spiritual? Today, the hottest issues are homosexuality, abortion, and the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to God.

But all these are only symptoms of a more severe, more deadly disease – disregard for the Word of God.  At the very root of all these debates is the question of the authority of the Scriptures.  Every discussion the church enters should ask the question: “What does the Bible say?”  And we must align ourselves accordingly. Peter said that the Scriptures came to men from the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21). If the church is approving of or teaching things that disagree with the Scriptures then that is very much a spine issue. That will cause great damage to the Body.

Okay, but what does that mean for you and me in our daily lives? We also must submit to the authority of the Bible. In matters great and small, the Word of God must have the final say. In your thoughts. In your choices. In your words. In your marriage. In your home. In your relationships. In your job. The Bible is not just “the Good Book.” It is the holy words of the holy God of heaven and earth. Beloved, it is your life (Deut. 32:47).

The Name of God

“Oh my God!”

I drew a deep breath, put on a big smile, and turned around to face her.

“Oh, you know Him too? Isn’t He wonderful? Aren’t you glad He is your Father!”

The shocked look on her face told me I was right – she didn’t know Him as Father. She glared at me, “What are you talking about?!”

“You were calling out the name of God, so I assumed you knew Him like I know Him – as my Heavenly Father.”

“You’re crazy! It’s just a word!” she muttered as she walked away. 

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He opened with reverence and worship: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,” (Matthew 6:9). Jesus was teaching them and us that the name of God should always be treated with the holiness that is due Him.  When the Lord gave Moses the Ten commandments He included reverence for His name: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Ex. 20:7). The name of God is His essence and identity, it declares Him as great, mighty, powerful, exalted, and deserving of worship. And when it is combined with profanity, misused as an expression of surprise or disgust, or used to deceive and manipulate it is a personal affront to Him. Likewise, the name of Jesus Christ is never to be spoken in any manner that denies His holiness and righteousness.

When I was in school I was teased horribly over both my first and last names: Dorcas Beegle. Every day I was greeted with “Here comes Dorky Dorcas, the beagle dog!” followed by a chorus of barking and howling. It hurt. They were making fun of my name, but their words felt like a personal attack on me. When we misuse the name of God, we think we’re only speaking words, but we are attacking God’s character. When my classmates teased me, I would hide in the bathroom and cry, but God says that He will hold accountable anyone who misuses His name.

And while we’re at it – please do not misuse the word “holy.” It is the word that most defines God. Jesus shed His blood to make unholy people holy. It is not to be combined with profanity, bodily functions, or farm animals. It should also always be used with reverence. So, no more “Holy cows! okay?”

Beloved, how does God’s name and the name of His Son roll off of your tongue?

What Do You Think…

“What do you think…” Matthew 22:42a

What are thinking about right now?  What should I make for supper? What is that noise in the engine of my car?   What are my kids up to now?  Every moment, a vast number of thoughts are running through your mind, many you are not even conscience of.   Did you know that your thoughts make up who you are?  Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (New King James Version) Your attitude, beliefs, words, and actions are all the culmination of your thoughts.  Perhaps it is time to think about what we are thinking about.  I think there are at least three important thoughts we need to consider.

We should think high thoughts of God – When Jesus asked the question we see in our key verse, He was speaking to the Pharisees.  He asked them specifically “What do you think about the Christ?” The fact that He was addressing the religious leaders of His day makes it all the more important.   These learned men spent their days pouring over the Holy Scriptures, the very words that not only described Christ, but were inspired by His very Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)  Yet they still missed the essence of who Jesus was – they could not see that He was God.  Because they did not have the right thoughts about God.   Their image of God was cast in their own minds from their own image.  They had a very human view of God.  I wonder if Jesus were to ask the same of you and me, how we might answer.  Truly, it all depends on how we think.  We are to have a high view of God. We are to think of God as He has described Himself in His Word. Leviticus 19:2 is God’s most important self-declaration: “Be holy, because I, the Lord Your God, am holy.”  When we think of God, we must first and foremost think of His holiness. Jeremiah 9:24 gives another high view of His attributes: “I am the Lord, who exercises … righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:24)  The Lord is righteous in all His ways. He has also testified to His might and power: “I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1).  Jesus identified Himself as one with God when He said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) It is only as we think rightly of God that we can see Him as He is – Holy, Righteous, and Mighty; the Way and the Truth and the Life.

We should think loving thoughts of others – In addressing the question of (again) one of the Pharisees, Jesus reiterated the Greatest Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He then added a new wrinkle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39)  In addition to thinking high thoughts of God, we are to think loving thoughts of others.

Paul expounded on Jesus’ words in Romans 13:9 when he wrote, “Whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He is simply stating that when we regard one another in love, as Christ has commanded (John 15:12), we will never think of lying, cheating, envying, stealing from or harming others in any way.    He says we are to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10) and adds that “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”  How would your life and mine be changed if we thought of others with honor and brotherly love?  How would their lives be different if we sought the good of others before our own?  Paul said that we have a “debt to love one another.” (Romans 13:8) It is a responsibility that we bear as Christians to express love to others – it is the commandment of our Lord and Savior, who showed His love for us on the Cross.

 Lastly, I believe God would have us think true thoughts of ourselves.  One of the hardest things for us to do is to think of ourselves as God does.  Perhaps that is because the world and Satan continually works to focus our thoughts on what is wrong with us.  The message of the world is that we are terribly flawed if we are not the right height, weight (especially weight), or body shape. If we don’t have the right hair style or perfect white teeth, if we don’t drive the right car, have a successful spouse or brilliant children, we are of no value.  If that weren’t enough to destroy our sense of worth; Satan works on the flaws in us that others cannot see – flaws that we know are there.  He taunts us with temptations, then ridicules us because we succumb to that same temptation.  He continually reminds us of every failure, every wrong thought and every harsh word; and when we grieve these terrible things about ourselves, he drags us even further into the pit by insisting that in God’s eyes we are worthless.

But God wants us to know that Satan and this world are liars.  He wants us to think of ourselves as His Word declares: We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), “accepted by Christ” (Romans 15:7), “the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians5:21), “chosen , holy and blameless before God” (Ephesians 1:4), “redeemed and forgiven” (Ephesians 1:7), “God’s workmanship, created to produce good works” (Ephesians 2:10), “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8), “chosen of God, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12), and “made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10). The ultimate evidence of your worth is the same evidence of God’s love for us – “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18, 19)  The truth is that Christ thought so highly of you and me that He gave the most valuable thing He had to redeem us – He gave Himself.

Philippians 4:8 is a great lesson in how to manage our thought life, we would do well to put these principles into practice. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

Holy Father, High and lifted up, please keep my mind focused on praising You, loving others and thinking rightly of myself.  Transform my mind Lord to think thoughts that please You. Amen

What Kind of Servant Will I Be?

 “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.  If a man cleanses himself from the later, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

How do you want God to use you? What kind of servant do you strive to be?

I’m not asking what you think you should do in the Kingdom of God, because, in truth, the Lord is more interested in who we are than in what we do.  He has given us, as His children, gifts and talents that He wants us to use in service to Him.  But we can have an influence in how God uses us with the gifts He has given.  In the verses above, Paul is writing to his disciple, Timothy, a young man who has great potential as a servant of Christ.  In his first letter, the older Apostle reminds Timothy about “the prophecies once made about you.” (1 Timothy 1:18)  Paul is now advising him to become a vessel worthy of God’s gifts and calling.

I think Paul’s message is very important for us today.  He describes items in a grand home, probably a palace – made of different materials for different purposes.  He describes some as crafted from gold and silver for “noble purposes” – and the word “noble” means honor, value, respect, specialness and cost.  Picture an elegant vase that sits atop the Master’s table, spilling over with beautiful and fragrant flowers, or perhaps the Master’s own goblet, polished to a rich luster by His own hands as He drinks from it each day.

The opposite word he uses is “ignoble,” a quirky sounding word that means dishonor, disgrace, shame, common use, and is actually a combination of the word noble and the modifier: “negation,” which means that “ignoble” is a term that negates everything that is noble.  When I was a very little girl, I recall visiting my grandmother who lived in little more than a shack in North Alabama, with an outhouse in the backyard, which fascinated my older brothers. (Boys!) At night, Granny would put an old pan under the bed; she called a “chamber pot,” so we would not have to wander out into the dark night to get to the outhouse.  I think you get the picture.  That is the image Paul is painting by using the word “ignoble.”

A vase on the master’s table or a chamber pot.

What makes the difference?  Paul says we do: “if a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes.”

Again, looking at words here, “cleanse,” has a very clear and definite meaning: “to clean out, get rid of,” with the root meaning of “clean and pure.” Paul says that only by clearing out everything that is “ignoble” can we be useful to Master and prepared to do any good work. This is the same idea we get from the writer of Hebrews who said “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” (Hebrews 12:1) Whether we clear it out or throw it off, we must rid ourselves from everything that trips us up or renders us unfit for God’s good work.

King Hezekiah called the Priests and Levites (those who served in God’s Temple) to “Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the Lord. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary.”  (2 Chronicles 29:5) “Consecrate” means “to be holy, sacred, to set apart as dedicated to God; pure, innocent, free from impurity.”  God, called the Temple servants to cleanse themselves – more than just taking a bath, it meant to cleanse their hearts where impurity had taken root.  He also called them to cleanse the Temple, to remove everything that had been allowed to accumulate there that defiled its holiness.

Get this: we are God’s Temple.  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (I Corinthians 4:16-17-emphasis mine) As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit, His very Presence lives in us.  That same Presence is what made the Old Testament Temple “The Temple.”  Not because it was declared by Solomon to be so, but because God’s Presence was there.  Otherwise it was just an ornate and beautiful building.  It was God’s Presence that made it the Temple, and it is God’s Holy Spirit that makes us His Temple.  Holy. Sacred. Pure. Dedicated to God.

What in your life and mine threatens to hinder us and make us useless to the Master?  Disobedience, laziness, worldly entertainment, pride, bitterness, relationships, selfish desires, profane words, attitudes, envy, or perhaps a sin we refuse to turn away from?  When we look seriously at our lives what will we find, and what will be do about it?  Nothing is worth giving up God’s purpose for us.

How do I want God to use me? I want to be a vase displaying the beauty of His creation. I want to be a goblet of polished gold in the Master’s hands.  I want the Spirit of God to fill me, just as He filled the Temple.  And that is God’s desire for you. Let’s decide today to be consecrated and available for God’s noblest purposes.

 Holy God, I am Your servant and I want to be useful and useable in Your kingdom.  Please reveal in me anything that will hinder You from using me for Your glory.  Amen