Not a Christian Nation Anymore

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Like many of you, I have watched with sadness the declining influence of the church on the nation. I have also grieved the decline of the church itself. While it is by no means dead, it is quite ill. It has replaced the true gospel with the junk food of social justice, pop-psychology, and “God wants everyone to be happy” theology. It has drunk the wine of complacency, apathy, and laziness. It has become addicted to the drug of the culture, “tolerance.” It is nothing like the church of my youth.  

I grew up in the 60’s. It was much easier to be a “Christian” in those days. It was what was expected. If you went to church, the culture smiled on you. Even those who didn’t go to church had a sense of respect for those that did. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. I miss the time when right was right and wrong was wrong and everyone knew the first three verses of Amazing Grace. But while the Christianization of America looked good on the outside, it was not all good. It was akin to the reign of Constantine in the 2nd century A.D. when, because of the Emperor’s Christian zeal, every citizen born in the Roman Empire was deemed a “Christian.” The true heart of a Christ-follower was long forgotten as the populous did what was expected.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the will of the Father? “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). The will of the Father, the mark of a true Christ-follower was not to sit in a church pew, but to believe in Christ.

The de-Christianization of America may be the best thing that ever happened to God’s people. As the culture takes a deeper hold on the church the faithful will be pushed out and ostracized. Only pure-hearted Christ-loving believers will stand firm. And just as happened throughout the history of the church, God will use the world’s hatred as a purifying fire to burn away the dross and bring out the gold. Those who kneel before Christ today will stand firm in the face of persecution tomorrow. What will it be for you, Beloved?

Hebrews: A Sabbath Rest

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Several years ago, for seven seasons, my son and I served as collection center coordinators for Operation Christmas Child in Tallahassee, Florida. We received thousands of shoebox gifts and prepared them for transport and processing. It was wonderfully fulfilling and we enjoyed it tremendously. But the end of collection week I was completely drained. Yet I got up the next day and went to my office. It was an exhausting week, but I didn’t take a day off to rest because there was still work to do.

In Hebrews 4 (read vs. 1-11) the author spoke of the Sabbath rest the Lord offers His people. Drawing from the creation account he said, “On the seventh day God rested from all His work” (Heb. 4:4; Genesis 2:1). Did He rest because He was tired after six days of creation? No. The author said, “His work has been finished since the creation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). God’s rest was not inactivity, it was completion. God rested because His work was done.

How does this connect to the Israelites and to us? Return to the desert where the Lord told Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites” (Numbers 13:1). Did you see it? God had already promised them the land – it was a done deal. All they had to do was go in and take it. But they saw the enemy rather than the completed promise. They “hardened their hearts” (Heb. 4:7). God responded by saying “They shall never enter my rest” (3:11; 4: 3,5).  Likewise, salvation is also a completed work. Remember Jesus’ final words from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ death completed the work of salvation. There is nothing left for us to do to be saved. We receive what has already been accomplished.

There’s an even greater rest yet to come. Our writer said, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (4:9-11). Look at Jesus’ words at the new heaven and the new earth: “It is done” (Rev. 21:6). What is done? Creation is done. Salvation is done.  God’s plan of the ages is done. Beloved, don’t miss out. It’s all been done for you. Believe it. Receive it. And rest.

Hebrews: Awe and Wonder

Quick! What are you thinking about right now? Right now, I’m thinking about the pain in my knee. I’m thinking about my next course coming up in two weeks. I’m thinking about all the things I didn’t get done this weekend added to all the things I need to do this week. I’m thinking about getting Joy to her nanny and me to work on time.  

The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). One of the first things we learn in Bible study is to pay attention to the word, “therefore” and ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” Therefore always refers us back to the previous text – in this case, the author has just listed eight reasons why God would send His one and only Son from glory to earth. He is saying, in light of all that Jesus is and has done, our natural response is to “fix our thoughts” on Him, meaning to mentally focus with intentional consideration. That sounds a lot like studying algebra to me.  I would stare at my textbook for hours but just could not wrap my mind around those useless equations and formulas. Thankfully, that’s not what’s happening here.

Glance back just a few words, where the author, speaking to his “holy brothers” (and sisters), said that they – and we – “share in the heavenly calling.” That calling is a divine invitation from heaven to consider all that Jesus is. Redeemer. Savior. Brother. Victor. High Priest. Sacrifice. Helper. Apostle. The book of Hebrews is all about discovering Jesus. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, we keep turning the dial and seeing new and wonderful sides to Him.  

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is more than a mental exercise we have to push ourselves through like my algebra book. It’s lifting our thoughts above the mundane things of this world and filling our minds with awe and wonder at the Son of the Most High God. It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! What a high and holy privilege we’ve been given.

That brings me back to the question we opened with. Beloved, what are you thinking about right now?

Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

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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?

Father, Son, and Spirit

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“Jesus Christ carries on intercession for us in heaven; the Holy Ghost carries on intercession in us on earth.” Oswald Chambers.
I came across this quote and was intrigued so I searched the Scriptures (it’s what good Bereans do) and found Paul’s words of the Lord’s intercession for us: “Christ Jesus . . . is at the right and of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34) and the Spirit’s intercession in us: “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (v. 27).

That’s powerful stuff! Here’s what it means for you and me: Jesus is interceding on our behalf before God, reminding His Father continually that, as believers, we are covered by His blood. The Holy Spirit is interceding on God’s behalf in us, reminding us continually that, as believers, we are set free from the bondage and power of sin. Jesus declares before His Father that you are made right with God and are no longer under condemnation. The Holy Spirit declares to you that you are made right with God and are no longer bound to obey your sinful nature. Every time I fail Jesus tells the Father, “I died for her.” Every time I fail the Holy Spirit tells me, “This is not who you are – let’s get back up and try again.” Jesus asks the Father to send you strength for your daily struggles. The Holy Spirit is the conduit of that strength to you. Jesus stands before the Father on our behalf and the Holy Spirit dwells in us on the Father’s behalf. Maybe that’s not news to you, but it sure rocked my finite mind!  I believe this shows the powerful work of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit in us, perfecting that which began when the Spirit drew us to the Father by the cross of the Son.

From creation to salvation to intercession, the Trinity works in beautiful harmony to accomplish the plan of the ages. That plan includes you and me. How astounding, how utterly marvelous! I pray you will meditate on this amazing truth: you have all the power of heaven working for you and in you to fulfill God’s perfect plan. He is for you Beloved. I hope that blows your mind and fills your heart today.

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. 

Yeah, Right, a “Virgin Birth”

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Wrap your head around this: the baby in the manger was the son of a virgin and the Son of God. The Scriptures say “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son . . . “ Matthew 1:23/Isaiah 7:14.  I know – you’ve heard this scripture a hundred times at least. But have you stopped to consider what it really means? The Protestant Church refers to it as “the virgin birth.” The Roman Catholic church calls it “The Immaculate Conception.” We tend to fly over it but we need to give it some time and attention because it is important.

The word “immaculate” means spotless, without flaw or error, stain or blemish – perfectly pure. That could never happen with two human parents. Joseph was a righteous man, but he had a sin nature like every other human being. Mary was a virgin and she was“highly favored” by God, but she had the same sin nature. Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father, but not his “biological father.” Mary, however, would be His biological mother – therefore she had to be a virgin – sexually pure. The Scripture said that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit as the “male party” to conception. More importantly, He provided spiritual purity so that the child would be the only human born without a sin nature. Now I am a Bible teacher. I like to make difficult things understandable. But I cannot explain how this occurred. It was a divine action that we must accept with wonder.

Why does this matter? Because you and I are unholy people in need of a holy Savior. Only holy blood  – divine blood – could save the human race. There’s just one problem: God cannot die. That is why Jesus had to be both divine and human. It was the only way to provide the perfect blood sacrifice required to redeem mankind from their sin nature. It is the only hope you and I have.

Beloved, I encourage you to slow down through the familiar Christmas account. Take in every scene and ponder every word. This is not just a warm, fuzzy story to tell around the tree. This story is life. Eternal life. It is wonder and awe. It is Jesus – the God-man who came to save you. Indeed it is good news.

God Doesn’t Make Watches

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

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

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

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

A God I Can’t Understand

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“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’.” (Exodus 3:14).

As a seminary grad student, I have to study a lot of theology.  On the one hand, I love theology – I love “the study of God.” There is a subject that will never be boring or useless.  I am excited and awed by the person and work of the God of Creation, the Lord God Almighty, the Sovereign and Holy One of Heaven and Earth.  At the same time, I am not a big fan of theology in the academic sense because it often resorts to arguments over words and opinions. Plus, I’ve read some bizarre and down-right heretical stuff in the name of “theology.” Some of these “scholars” turn themselves inside-out trying to make God fit their suppositions. That’s a waste of time and paper in my book. He is God and we are not – it’s as simple and as complex as that. We can’t use finite reasoning to comprehend the infinite.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to, God will never behave according to human ideas. Hallelujah!  Otherwise, He would not be God. He would not be worthy of worship. He would not be able to help me. He would not be bigger than my problems – and my biggest problem is sin.  No, I need a God who exceeds my understanding. Yes, indeed, the Bible repeatedly calls us to “know God,” but it never says “figure Him out.” As if you and I ever could. There’s a good reason for that. If you ever did, it would literally blow your mind because He’s far too big and great and other to fit into that space between your ears.

Maybe it’s time to accept that we’re not meant to define the indefinable. Let’s recognize the frailty and limits of our human understanding verses His Being. Instead, let’s just worship Him for who He is. Let’s stand in awe and wonder before Him. Let’s let God be God.