This is Huge!

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Sometimes I can read a verse a hundred times and on pass 101 something clicks and blows my mind. Last night was #101 for Hebrews 5:14. The writer had been admonishing his readers for refusing to grow up in their faith and take in the rich, nourishing “meat” of biblical truth. They were satisfied to know just enough to ensure their salvation. “What’s wrong with that?” you may ask. “Isn’t that what Christianity is all about?” The core of Christianity is the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But for the spiritual babies among us, and for this “mature” teacher, there is something huge that we’ve been missing.

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Pay attention to “by constant use have trained themselves.” Remember that the writer had declared that they were lazy and undisciplined in their spiritual growth. He was urging them to consistently and vigorously “exercise” in the Word of God. For what purpose?” And this is where I have holy goosebumps. “to distinguish good from evil. “Yeah, yeah, that’s good.” But wait, there’s more – and the only reason this caught my attention is because I wrote a school paper recently that made this very point.

Go back to the Garden of Eden, and Genesis 3 where Eve is having a foolish conversation with a serpent who said, “God knows that when you eat [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge good and evil] your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). And it happened just as he said; they ate and they suddenly knew things they’d never known – evil things. But it was knowledge they could not bear for they did not have God’s divine capacity, in knowing good and evil, to distinguish good from evil. There’s a difference. That’s why I am so excited about this verse. Hebrews 5:14 says that by consistent, disciplined training in God’s Word we can distinguish one from the other.

 “Good and evil” is used only five times in the Bible – four of which appear in the Fall narrative. “Good from evil” only appears once in the entire Bible – right here in our key passage. Do you see it? This evil knowledge that was unleashed on the human race by Adam and Eve’s sin can only be brought under control by consuming and applying the Scriptures diligently and purposefully.

In my spirit, I am standing on a table shouting: “YOU CAN OVERCOME EVIL THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD!” You can and you must or you will forever struggle with the sinful nature you inherited from the first sinners. This is huge! This is life-changing. I implore you, take this to heart. Pick up your Bible Beloved, and be set free.

Rock the Boat!

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When I read in the Scriptures about the early church, I’m jealous. They had such an incredible experience witnessing “many wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 2:43).  I long for the sense of purpose and community that they had: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v.42). They met daily and “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God (v. 46). And He blessed them greatly: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47). What an exciting, fulfilling time to “belong to the Way” (9:2). Even the community outside of the faith appreciated them, “they enjoyed the favor of all the people” (47).

Well maybe not everyone.

After healing a man who had been crippled from birth, Peter and John proclaimed the gospel to the astonished crowd.  A great number of people believed and that angered the Jewish authorities. They questioned the apostles who then boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus to them. They commanded Peter and John to stop teaching in His name. Their response? “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20). Later they arrested and flogged them. Remarkably, they rejoiced at their mistreatment “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (5:17-41)

How very different from our modern, western culture, where religion is regarded as a personal preference and not a life-giving entity. In the US the battle cry is “separation of church and state,” and in our workplaces, schools, the public square, even among our peers, we are told to keep our religion to ourselves. Unlike the bold apostles, we do it because we don’t want to rock the boat. But true Christianity is all-or-nothing. It spills over into every aspect of our lives because “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We’ll gladly take the scorn of the world for the Name. Besides, it’s only going to get worse, not better. Beloved, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s time to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.

What Do We Do About Sin?

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Because you trust me as a Bible teacher, I want to tell you that sin is not an issue in my life. I want to tell you that, but it would be a lie. Yes, I belong to Jesus, He has saved me and redeemed me and continues every day to transform me into His image. He has done such a work in my life where sin is concerned. But like every other human being, I was born with a sinful nature and sinful desires – perhaps different from the things that tug at you, but sin is a real and present danger for me just as it is for you.

How do we handle our bent towards sin? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Recognize sin for what it is and don’t make excuses or exceptions for it. (Psalm 51:3)
  2. Keep God’s Word close – in your hands, in your mind, and in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
  3. Keep God closer. (James 4:7-8)
  4. Keep sin at a distance. Don’t put yourself in positions you know lead you into sin – whether places, events, movies, T.V. shows, websites, or even people. Take the way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  5. Repent when you do sin. (Acts 3:19).
  6. Pray. 

The prayer I find myself returning to again and again is: “Lord cause me to love you so much that sin has no appeal to me.” I came to that prayer while meditating on Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” I realized that if God is my delight, then I will desire only Him and that is a desire He is more than willing to fulfill. And if God is the delight and desire of my heart, I will take no delight in sin and will instead be repulsed by it because I love God with all my heart. And if I love God with all my heart there is no room in my heart to love sin.

I know I have a very long way to go before that is the reality of my life. Sin still beckons to me.  But this is my prayer – and the desire of my heart. Beloved, will it be yours too?

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

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Leviticus is the Old Testament book that holds all the laws of worship, community, and purity for the nation of Israel. It was all very clear to the Jews of that day – and very burdensome. But to a twenty-first-century western reader, it makes no sense. What does a bunch of antiquated rules have to do with New Testament Christians? But there is much value in reading Leviticus – the key is to read it through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Jesus designated ‘love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39).  And the writer of Hebrews drew from Leviticus to describe the person and role of Jesus Christ. Studying Leviticus gives us a deeper devotion to Jesus, helps us grasp the holiness of God, and teaches us how to live daily as Christians.

It also enables us to see sin as God sees it – and reveals the true cost of our redemption through the death of His Son. Leviticus sets the sin of man in stark contrast to the holiness of God and reveals the only resolution: blood, and not just blood from a pricked finger, but the blood of death. Here is what I find most compelling. Repeatedly, the Lord graciously allows sacrifices for “unintentional sin” – that is sins that were committed inadvertently. But not so for intentional sin. “Anyone who sins defiantly . . . must surely be cut off from his people; his guilt remains on him” (Num. 15:30-31). To be cut off from the community meant also being cut off from any hope of atonement for his sin. He would forever stand guilty before God.

Now view this through the lens of Jesus Christ. He who was perfectly sinless sacrificed Himself for sin – but not only unintentional sin – His blood covered every sin of every person for all time.  “He sacrificed for sins once for all when He offered Himself” (Heb. 7:27).  That means the sins we “stumble into” and the sins we choose with our eyes wide open. Jesus paid it all.

There’s great hope for you and me in that statement. When Jesus died, He took every single sin to the cross and to the grave and when He rose again, he left our sins forever buried. All of them. I pray that means something to you. Beloved, nothing you’ve done is too much for the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Be Encouraged

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Encourage. Mirriam-Webster says it is: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope, to attempt to persuade, to spur on. The word is found in the Bible fifty-four times, fifteen in the Old Testament and thirty-nine in the New. God’s people have always needed encouragement. They have faced exile, enemies, slavery, the consequences of their sin, persecution, oppression, prison, beatings, and death. The New Testament writers encouraged the persecuted first-century Christians with two facts:

  1. Jesus Christ is alive. Paul said simply, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thess 4:14a)
  2. Jesus Christ is coming again. “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 16-18).

I can blow sunshine in your face all day long, but nothing will encourage you like “these words.”  The living Lord Jesus is coming again. That is the hope that has sustained every persecuted Christ-follower and every martyr for more than two thousand years. The truth is, we still need this same encouragement. Being a Christian is not only unpopular – in some places it is deadly. But the confidence we have in Jesus’ resurrection and return will sustain us.

This world is not getting better, it is getting worse. But you and I can find courage by remembering that our Lord and Savior is alive and He is coming again to redeem this sin-sick world and take His rightful place on the throne. Beloved, rest your heart and your hope in Him. Be encouraged.

Higher Love

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Some of you (at least from my generation) may remember the 1980’s song “Higher Love.”

Think about it, there must be higher love

Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above

Without it, life is wasted time

Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Bring me a higher love

Bring me a higher love, oh

Bring me a higher love

Where’s that higher love, I keep thinking of?

In 1986 when this song was released, I wasn’t walking with Christ. I enjoyed the catchy tune – but I didn’t even think about the lyrics. Now, as a Christ-follower, I hear these words and understand a little better the love of God through them.  

I doubt that Steve Winwood realized he was singing about the love of God. But “think about it,” God’s love comes from a place even higher than “the stars above.” It comes from heaven. “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Without God’s love life is wasted time. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Life is wasted without God. Winwood’s song is the cry of every human heart: “Bring me a higher love.” Solomon said, “What a man desires is unfailing love” (Proverbs 19:22). God set the standard for love, and His love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Yes, Beloved, there is a Higher Love. But it’s not found in your heart or mine. It’s found in the great heart of God who answered our cries from the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no higher love than that.

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?

Are You Part of the Family of God?

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“We are all brothers and sisters and children of God.” Have you heard that lately? In this day of rage and offense and social upheaval, the idea of one big happy human family under the same “Higher Power” sounds good. There’s just one problem. It’s not true. The mere fact of being human does not qualify us as children of God. It means that we are all God’s creation. But the relationship is very different between creation and Creator and child and Father.

The Bible makes clear those who are the children of God:

“To all who received Him [Jesus Christ], to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, (Galatians 3:26).

Children of God are those who have received Christ as their Lord and Savior. Period. End of debate. Does that mean that God doesn’t love all people? Absolutely not. Remember John 3:16? “For God so loved the world . . .” that means all people. All people are loved by God, but only those in Christ are the beloved of God.

Thus, to say that we are all “brothers” is also not true. Now before you write me off hear me out: All humans bear the image of God. That in itself should be enough to cause us to love and respect all people and work for the good of one another. But that doesn’t make us “brothers.” We don’t like to think in terms of “us” and “them” but the Bible makes the distinction clear.

The Bible also tells us how to recognize a “child of God”: “This is now 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). Did you catch the fact that there are only two “fathers”: God or the devil. Those are His words, not mine. Unlike natural families, you and I choose our father.

I know, you prefer to hear something warm and fuzzy. But people are going to face judgment with a false security that being human gives them an “in” with God. Warm and fuzzy isn’t getting the truth across. There is only one way to be a child of God – faith in Jesus Christ His Son. That makes you Jesus’ brother or sister. And mine. I want you to be part of the family.

What are You Talking About?

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“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

I confess – I spend far more time on social media than I should. I love seeing pictures of your kids and grandkids (sorry, but mine is cuter). I like silly memes and funny posts, especially in this season when the world is so grim. And I love to read your testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you. Those kinds of posts make my day. I do not like political posts. I do not like posts that contain the words: “like and share,” “bet I won’t get one share,” or “make this go viral.” I don’t like fake posts – grocery stores or fast-food restaurants giving away $250 worth of food or warnings about false dangers. But what I dislike the most are false posts that are “religious” in nature. The one about why Jesus folded the napkin. Images that have been manipulated to look like Jesus in the clouds. The urgent prayer request for 20 Coptic Christians set to be executed or the little kid that shot himself with a nail gun. It’s important to share prayer needs and stories of faith – but only if you know for a fact that they are true.

This world needs truth. Not made-up stories. There are a LOT of people saying a lot of things about God, about Jesus, about Christianity. Not all of it is right and true. That’s Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15. He was advanced in Judaism and highly educated. He knew a lot of stuff about God. But He said only one thing was “of first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to many]” (v. 3-8, paraphrased).

I will occasionally post something silly or fun, or something meaningful and encouraging, but I am careful and selective about what I put out into the cyber-world. Because only one thing matters: Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, resurrected, and coming again. If the world learned about Jesus only through your conversations: verbal, social media, even overheard in the coffee shop (if we ever get back to the coffee shop) would they hear the truth? Would they hear what matters? Beloved, are you saying what’s of first importance?