Hebrews: Judgement’s Coming

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Its earliest origins were in the 1720s in a small Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey, but the First Great Awakening caught fire in 1741 when Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards’ message revisited the biblical truth of God’s wrath on unbelievers. He reminded his listeners that all men are sinful creatures and under the condemnation of God. ButGod is withholding His righteous wrath so that all may have an opportunity to repent and turn in faith to Christ. Faced with the fearsome wrath of God, people fell trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” I wonder why people are not asking that question anymore.

The final subject in Hebrew’s “elementary teachings” is “eternal judgment” and I daresay that is even rarer today than it was in Edward’s day. We talked about God’s wrath when we dug into Hebrews 2:2-3 so I won’t belabor the point (I will post a link to that devotional in the comments) because there’s something else I want you to see. 

The writer had previously listed “the resurrection of the dead” as another foundational truth of the faith. The two are intrinsically linked. The church has claimed “resurrection from the dead” as something saved people have to look forward to, and rightly so. But Jesus didn’t teach resurrection as a “saved-only” deal. “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). The wicked will be raised also, but for the purpose of judgment and eternal punishment. Paul said, Those who do not know God (through Jesus) “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord . . . on the day He comes to be glorified” (2 Thess. 1:9-10). Yes, God is infinite love, grace, and mercy, but He is also infinite holiness that cannot tolerate wickedness. The world needs to hear the whole gospel.

I ask the same question I’ve asked again and again throughout this section. What does the church know of this today? Very little. I say that because if we did every lost person in the church (yes, there are many) would be trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” And every saved person would be begging sinners to come to Christ. No one will be left in the grave – everyone has an eternal destiny. Beloved, your family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers need to know.  Will you tell them?

The Art of Spiritual Warfare: Know Yourself

A couple of days ago I shared a quote by Sun Tzu, who is credited with writing The Art of War. His premise is that victory in war comes when you know your enemy and know yourself.  From that we explored scripture about knowing our enemy the devil, but more importantly, knowing God. Several of you asked for more on “knowing yourself.” Honestly, I purposely skipped that part of Tzu’s quote because, in the current “Christian” marketplace, there is a glut of music, books, studies, and messages that are heavily self-focused. I believe it is an unhealthy trend. The church has forgotten Jesus’ call.  It’s really hard to “deny yourselves” (Luke 9:23) when you’re always thinking about yourself. But I digress.

There is a biblical directive to “know yourself” – especially in the face of spiritual warfare. The enemy loves to attack your heart. When he says, “God could never love you,” you need to know that He has promised to love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  When he says you are worthless you need to know that God purchased you at a very high price – not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of His Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). When satan says God has forgotten you, be assured that you are engraved on the palm of God’s hand (Isaiah 49:16). Your Father says that  “you are precious and honored in my sight” (Isaiah 43:4). You are redeemed (Galatians 3:13). You are sons [and daughters] of God (Galatians 4:6). You are chosen (Ephesians 1:4).

But there’s another kind of war that your enemy wages You need to know who you are when temptation hits – and you need to know who you are not. Paul said you used to be a slave to wickedness, “but now you have been set free from sin (Romans 6:19-22). You once were dead in your sins but now you are alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13). “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Then he added, “Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Over and over Paul drives home the point – you used to love sin – BUT THAT’S NOT WHO YOU ARE NOW. (Yes I’m shouting – I want you to get this.) You are “more than conquerors” in this battle (Romans 8:37). That, Beloved, is what you need to know about yourself.

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.

Good News!

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The truth is I am a sinful woman. I can’t deny it, and I can’t change it. It is my nature – my very human nature. If you don’t believe me, look at the evidence. My life is riddled with sin.

I identify so much with Paul’s statement: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). I would beg to differ with him about who is the worst, but that’s not the point of this verse. The point – the glorious truth that overcomes my sin is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . .” If my family were not still asleep at this early hour, I would be shouting!  I was lost in my sin, condemned to death and hell, and Christ Jesus came to rescue me! What grace! What mercy! What love!

You are also a sinner. You can’t deny it and you can’t change it. It is your very human nature and the evidence is all over your life. And you know it, don’t you? You might even think you could challenge me and Paul for the title of “worst sinner.” Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners — to save you. That’s good news!

Jesus is the Son of God – the same God who created the whole universe, He left the perfection of heaven to die for sinners.  Sinners like you and me. He lived a perfect life, without a single sin. He was falsely accused, beaten, and was crucified on a cross – not for anything he had done, but for every sin you and I ever committed. He paid the price that we owed for our sinful human nature – a price we could never pay. He wants you to be saved.  He wants you to claim His free gift of mercy and grace. He wants you to receive His love.  He has done everything for you – all you have to do is believe and say “Yes, I receive your gift.”

Beloved, whom do you know that needs to hear the gospel: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. You could be God’s instrument of grace in their lives today. Will you share the Good News?

For The One Who Loves a Prodigal

I wrote this almost 5 years ago and just rediscovered it. God’s timing is impeccable. I need this message now more than I did then. Someone else may need it too. It’s for those of us who love a prodigal.

Acts 8:26-40 records the account of Philip and the Ethiopian (go ahead and read it-I’ll wait right here for you). Philip met an angel of the Lord who sent him on a mission. “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip met an Ethiopian who served in the court of the queen of the Ethiopians. Scholars contend that he was a God-seeker who had not converted to full Judaism. He was returning from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship. He was riding in his chariot, reading from Isaiah – about the “sheep led to the slaughter,” and did not understand what he was reading  Enter Philip who clarified the Scriptures to the man, and from them, shared the good news about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit worked through The Word and Philip’s words and the man received Christ and immediately was baptized.

I want you to zero in on verse 29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.'” This phrase in Greek means “Go to that chariot and ‘stick with it.'” I thought about someone I love that I’ve been praying for many years and how I wonder if they will ever “get it.” The Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “Stick with them.” In our human nature, it is easy to become weary and want to just give up on difficult people. But if God has set them in your life, no matter how stubborn they are, He has called you to “stick with them.” That means more than tolerating them. That means: Keep praying. “The prayer of a righteous man [woman, parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, pastor] offered in faith . . . is powerful and effective” (James 5:15,16). Keep loving. “Love always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7,8). Keep forgiving. “I tell you, [forgive] not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Then trust God to do the rest. “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). 

Years later my prodigal is still a prodigal, but I’m sticking with them because God is faithful. Beloved, whom has God called you to stick with?

A Sinner and a Saint

good_vs__evil_by_raptorkraine“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18

One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature.  How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells other “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk?  Who do I think I am?

That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters.  Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!).  He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it.  But he also points a finger back at himself.  Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks.  In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin.  “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19).  From Paul’s words we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against out new nature in Christ (v. 23). 

So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict?  First, we stop focusing on ourselves.  That’s a guarantee to keep failing.  Instead we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward.  He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?”  Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).

Beloved, you and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature.  Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred.  But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1).  We have been rescued and redeemed.  When we focus on who we are because of Jesus, we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, I still fail – but thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus my Lord!

Why I am a Christian

broken chains“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Several years ago a Sunday School teacher said: “The only reason I’m a Christian is because Jesus offered me a better deal.  If someone had offered something better I would’ve taken it.”  That statement bothered me greatly, to the point that I stopped attending that class.  But it also led me to examine my own heart and ask myself why I am a Christian.  In the process, I’ve learned some things about myself and about my relationship with God.

I grew up in a Christian home, my mom took us to Sunday School, church, Sunbeams, Vacation Bible School, and so on.  I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know about the God who created the whole world and the sun, moon and stars.  I always knew that Jesus loved me.  I knew about the cross and the empty tomb. I knew that I wanted to go to heaven, so I asked Jesus into my heart when I was nine years old and was baptized.  All through my growing up years, I was in church.  I attended the Teen Bible Study group and told my friends that they had to accept Jesus if they wanted to go to heaven.  Like the rich young man who asked the Lord, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17), my young faith was all about what was necessary on my part to end up in heaven.  Not exactly the type of fertile soil that allows deep roots to grow.

But church and faith took a backseat to work and fun and relationships.  I became less concerned with heaven and more focused on the things of earth.  I married, and then my world came crashing down when my marriage failed.  I went back home to my parents and returned to the church of my childhood.  Only this time, it was different.  Rather than learning Bible stories, I began to learn Bible truth, and I started to see things in Scripture I had never seen before.

As I read the Old Testament story of the Israelites, I saw my own life.  The Israelites were less concerned with knowing the Lord and just wanted to get to the Promised Land.  Like them, I didn’t seek God, I only sought heaven—the final destination of this long journey of life.  And just as they cycled through centuries of falling away from God into bondage and then crying out for rescue, I “did my own thing” until my thing proved unstable and I ran back to church.

What I had was a shaky connection to church, not a relationship with God.  What I had wasn’t faith that withstands the struggles of life and the temptations of the world.  It was “faith” built on sweet Bible stories, but it was not saving faith.

The Israelites wanted to be freed from the power of their enemies, the Philistines, Edomites, Midianites, Amorites, etc.  Even in the New Testament, the Jewish people only wanted to be free of Roman rule.  But they failed to recognize that their enemy wasn’t another nation.  Their enemy, my enemy and your enemy is our own sinful nature.

Like the Israelites, my greatest need was not for God to sweep in and fix the problem of the day.  My greatest need was to recognize that I was a wretch, bound as a slave to sin and helpless to free myself.  In truth, I didn’t even realize that I was in bondage.  I didn’t yearn to be free from slavery to sin because it was just a normal, natural part of my life and the life of most everyone around me.  But God saw me as the slave I was, bound and shackled by the sinful nature of all mankind, and He determined to set me free.

There was only one way—a perfect sacrifice had to take on all my sin and shame and die in my place.  That is when God sent His own Son in the person of Jesus, to die on the cross in my place.  My freedom was bought at the highest possible price – the life of the Son of God.

Still I would not have chosen to receive Jesus’ sacrifice had God not revealed the truth of my bondage—and the truth of His redeeming love.  He moved my heart to believe and receive His gift of salvation.  My faith is no longer in the church—my faith is in Jesus, who is my Lord and my Savior.  And now I am certain that heaven is my forever home.

Biblical scholar Dr. Irwin Lutzer says that true faith is three-fold. “First it involves knowledge, the fact of Jesus’ death for sinners.  Second it means we assent to the truths of salvation; finally, it involves trust, the transferring of all of our confidence to Christ alone.”[1]  We recognize our own need for a Savior, confess that Jesus’ death secured our salvation, and believe that through God’s grace we are forever redeemed and set free.

I am a Christian because God saved me through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I have eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  I am not bound as a slave to my sins any longer, I am now bound up in the freedom of Christ.  Every day I remember both who I was as a slave to sin, and who I am now, a freed daughter of God.

Can you say the same?  Do you know the freedom that only comes through Jesus Christ?  Do not remain in the chains of sin for one more minute—right now tell God you want to be set free.  The chains will fall and you can walk away as a freed child of God.

Holy Father, thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of my slavery to sin.  Thank You for revealing the redemptive power of Your love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Thank You for setting me free.  I am forever Your child.

[1] Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1998), 99.

Alive in Christ – or on Life Support?

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4

Read: Ephesians 2:1-10

This passage is a great contrast in life and death, spiritually speaking. Paul says that before we come to Christ we are dead in our transgressions and sins.  He describes the spiritually dead person as one who follows the ways of the world and of Satan, gratifying the craving of our sinful nature, to the point that God declares us objects of wrath

I love how Paul emphasizes that this is who we were, how we used to live, at one time.  He is driving home the past because in v. 4, he delivers the contrast:  “But, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”

The heart of the Gospel runs like the blood of Jesus through this verse:

God made us alive with Christ by grace.”

Paul cites two reasons in this verse to explain why God did such a marvelous thing; because of His great love for us, and because He is rich in mercy.  Paul identifies God’s love, grace and kindness as His gift to us. He expresses it beautifully in verse 7 – “the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

So, if indeed we have been made alive in Christ, what does that look like?

A person who is alive in Christ is dead to sin, meaning sin does not reign over those who are alive in Christ.  We will all struggle with temptations and sin, as long as we walk this earth, but for the one who is alive in Christ, sin is the exception, rather than the rule. (Romans 6:11-12; 8:9-10)  A person who is alive in Christ is controlled by the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit).

When we are controlled by the Spirit of Christ, we see another very important sign of spiritual life – fruit. A person who is alive in Christ lives a fruitful life.  A plant that is alive will produce “fruit” of some type – grapes, beans, flowers, peaches – because that is exactly what it was created for.  The person who is alive in Christ also produces fruit –  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) – characteristics which marked our Savior when He was here on earth.  Fruit doesn’t produce itself, but it is the work of the plant that creates the fruit. In John 15:5, Jesus said that in order to be fruitful, we must “remain in Him.”  To remain in Christ is to consciously and obediently accept the authority of His Word, and to stay in constant contact with Him through prayer.

A person who is alive in Christ will be actively serving and working for the Kingdom of God. Paul declared in  Ephesians 2:10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” How do we discover those “good works”? They are often found in the gifts of the Spirit: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, showing mercy, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discernment, and speaking in and interpreting tongues to name a few. Remember there are many other gifts God uses to bless the church: music, cooking, artistic and creative talents, organization, even the gift of patience with little children.

Finally, a person who is alive in Christ will be filled with love, which is the hallmark of those who belong to the Lord.

The New Testament writers declared love to be supreme in the life of a Christian. Paul said love is “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and said of the foundations of the Kingdom of God-“faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Peter declares: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)  And John the Revelator gave a beautiful epistle on love in 1 John where he says: “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light” (2:10); “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (3:18); “Let us love one another, for love comes from God.” (4:7) and “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (4:21)

And of all Jesus’ words recorded in the four gospels, I can only find one time that He prefaced His words as a direct command. John 15:24 – “This is my command” – “Love one another as I have loved you.” He said our love for one another would be the distinguishing mark that declares to the world “we belong to Jesus”. John 15:25 – “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Can we be saved and still not be “alive in Christ”?

Revelation 3:1-2 says I know your deeds, you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.

We can claim the Name of Jesus Christ, come to church every Sunday, give money, sing in the choir, attend Bible Studies, even teach Sunday School – and proclaim ourselves alive in Christ,

But unless there is growth and maturity,

unless there is fruit production,

unless there is holy love

– we are Christians on life support.