Archive for December, 2012

Don’t Miss Dinner

One of my favorite sayings is, “Call me anything you want, but don’t call me late for supper!” Shared meals are very special, and they were especially so in the ancient Near Eastern cultures. With that in mind, Jesus took the opportunity while reclining at a meal to illustrate the Kingdom of God. I think it would be beneficial to take a look at Luke and draw some lessons for ourselves from the text.

When one of those who reclined at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “The one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God is blessed! ” Then He told him: “A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. At the time of the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’ (Luke 14:15-17 HCSB)

Jesus sets the stage for the parable by describing a large banquet for which invitations had already been sent. What is implied here is that the invitations had been accepted by those to whom they had been sent. To back out on such an invitation was considered a sign of disrespect and showed that the host’s feelings were not a priority for the guest. One by one, the servants come back with a list of excuses instead of a list of guests.

“But without exception they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’ “And another said, ‘I just got married, and therefore I’m unable to come.’ (Luke 14:18-20)

What are represented here are responses of those who had previously accepted the invitation, but had other things come up that they considered a higher priority. There is a warning here for those of us who have committed to following Jesus but have let other things get in the way of our service to God. And these things are not what we might assume them to be. They aren’t sex, drugs, and rock and roll. They are not lying, killing and cheating. Let’s take a closer look, and in so doing remind ourselves to keep these things from hindering our spiritual service.

“The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’ (Luke 14:18b)

The recently purchased field represents possessions, or our “stuff” becoming more important than spiritual matters. Notice, Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to own a field. He is saying that the things we possess should never take precedence over the things of God. And yet how many, in pursuit of worldly wealth, forfeit their souls?

For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self? (Luke 9:25 ASV)

Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ (Luke 14:19 NASB)

A yoke of oxen were used in the daily tasks of making a living. As such, they represent our work or career. Again, Jesus is not saying that we should not work to support our families. But when career growth and advancement takes a priority over our spiritual advancement and growth, then it has become an idol and has put God in second place in our lives. The same could be said of someone who keeps their faith under wraps because it might hurt their promotion potential if people thought they were an on fire Christian. While employment is a legitimate need, the Lord’s work must come first.

Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ (Luke 14:20 NASB)

This statement represents relationships with friends and family. As before, we cannot let fear of rejection by those who are close to us keep us from obeying God. This can be the most difficult to overcome, but in the end, it is our relationship with God that will matter most in eternity. When we are strong and unashamed in our walk with God, then those same friends and relatives are the ones who may be drawn to Christ by our example.

In the end, each of these things, possessions, professions, and relationships are not evil in and of themselves. But when they, or anything else, become more important than obeying God, then they are idols. They very things that started off as blessings become the things that condemn us. So I would encourage all of of us to evaluate ourselves and see if any of these has becomes an idol for us, and adjust our lives to out God first in all things. And if you have not come to Christ because your fear what you might have to give up, or are afraid it will cost you a job or a relationship, put eternity first, come to Christ in obedient faith, and don’t let anything keep you out of the Kingdom!

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Awe-Full Worship

Worship is at once a simple thing and a complex thing. There are aspects of worship that we may never fully comprehend here below, but we have eternity to explore. While worship includes aspects such as rejoicing, thanksgiving and proclamation of the goodness of God, I wonder if we are not missing an essential element in the church world today. What I am suggesting is not that there is anything wrong with those aspects of our worship, but that we have forgotten a key ingredient, which can only be cultivated through intimacy with Jesus Christ. That element is awe.

Awe has its roots in accurate knowledge of the character and attributes of God. It begins with a sense of reverence. But when it really comes to life is when we know God, not just a set of facts about Him. As in other things, data does not equal knowledge. Awe blossoms when we come to a realization of who God is and who we are. When we have God high and lifted up, and realize that the only reason we can worship Him at all is because of grace, we begin to experience “awe”. The Hebrew writer out it this way at the end of chapter 12:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Y et once more I will shake not only the earth , but also the heaven .” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-29 NASB)

When we bow before the immovable, unshakeable, consuming fire, who dwells in unapproachable light, our sense of awe will cause us to be broken and contrite before Him. We will be in awe of His supreme condescension in emptying Himself, taking the form of a servant, and coming to suffer for our sins while we were still His enemies. “The Message” renders it this way:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 MSG)

But let me call your attention to what was said in Hebrews 12. The Writer describes “acceptable worship” as having the key ingredients of reverence and awe. Back in Isaiah, God revealed that those are the only worshiped that get His attention. And keep in mind here, that He is specifically talking about worship.

Thus says the Lord , “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the L ord . “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. (Isaiah 66:1, 2 NASB)

There is no shortcut to awe. Is not something that can be drummed up by a worship leader working the crowd and “pumping you up”. Oh, we can appear humble and broken, and even shed a tear. But let’s not confuse that with awe. Awe is what causes us to tremble at His Word. Awe is what fosters the fear of The Lord in our soul and spirit.

So lets make a concerted effort to focus on who our God is. As we meditate on this “consuming fire” lets realize that if it were not for His mercy, we would be consumed by that very fire instead of being welcomed by it.

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23 KJV)

Here is something to meditate on for a day. Roll this one around in your head for awhile: “My God is a consuming fire.”

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We Smell Like Something

Scientists, through diligent research, have concluded that our olfactory senses (smell) are the ones most closely linked to our memories. There are many things, such as a the smell of certain foods cooking, that bring back many fond memories from long ago during the Christmas season. Unfortunately, there are also specific odors that are linked to horrible memories and can send people into panic attacks or make them physically ill. Such is the power of olfactory memory.

In the same way, our spiritual lives have memories. Certain songs bring back memories of worship services with my father leading singing, or of times of worship at Sierra Bible Camp. Various Bible verses bring to mind situations in life where they became especially poignant. And spiritual memories can encourage or discourage us in our walk with God. Likewise, the Gospel message has a lasting effect on those who have heard it. You see, no matter what happened at the time, there was either a positive or a negative response to that message. Paul is speaking of such things in his second letter to the church at Corinth.

14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 KJV))

In later years, we can look back with gratitude on a lesson we heard that “sealed the deal” for us and elicited a response to the Gospel. Many, with deep regret, will look back at the judgment, and perhaps for all eternity, on squandered chances to respond with obedience and faith. Whenever the Gospel message is preached, due to the power of the “living and active” Word of God (Hebrew 2:14), we are enabled to respond, and do so. To ignore the message or brush it off, is to reject the message. We are confronted with decisions of eternal consequence, so our response needs to be carefully weighed, in light of its eternal consequences.

The Gospel message is seen as offensive by those who reject it. That is true because it causes such discomfort when our pride is wounded by our sin being exposed. The Gospel says that we are dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1) and we don’t like that. It offends us to find out we have been duped by the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and that as a consequence we are doomed to eternal destruction. In that way, it is an aroma of “death unto death” (v. 16).

But we have another option. We can repent and believe the Gospel. If we can set aside our pride and admit to our spiritual bankruptcy before God, we can be saved. For the Gospel does not end with a message of death and destruction. It continues with a message of hope and new life in Christ Jesus!  We learn about His offer of life, and if we respond in obedience we are graced with eternal life. Thus, in the case of those who are saved, it is a message of “life unto life” (v. 16). What we have to decide is which type of message it will be for each of us!

But there is another warning here for those who proclaim the message. It is not to be corrupted, watered down, or peddled. I really like the way the Amplified Bible translates verse 17:

17 For we are not, like so many, [like hucksters making a trade of] peddling God’s Word [shortchanging and adulterating the divine message]; but like [men] of sincerity and the purest motive, as [commissioned and sent] by God, we speak [His message] in Christ (the Messiah), in the [very] sight and presence of God.

The Apostles did not use the message for personal gain. I often wonder whether Jesus or the Apostles, had they been with us today, would have made money by selling their teaching series on CD or DVD to their partners. No, they had a threefold commission to preach the Gospel.

They were:

1.        Sincere and had pure motives. There was no thought of personal gain or of being popular and accepted by the culture.

2.        Commissioned and sent by God. Their only thought was to be faithful to the God who commissioned them. They were not consumed with thoughts of making the message more palatable for their listeners or of marketing their ministries.

3.        They spoke the message in Christ, in the sight of God. Their sole mission was to be pleasing to God. They also kept themselves cognizant of the fact that God was watching over all that they did and would hold them accountable for completing the work he had sent them to do.

So yes, we all smell like something. Our message will have, not only different, but completely opposite effects on those who hear us. So rather that water down the message, realize that it only matters what God thinks of us, and that our reward is not determined by our popularity with men, but our faithfulness to God.

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Beginnings

There are many things and people in the Old Testament that are types and shadows of things in the New Testament. For example, the Tabernacle in the Old is shown in the Letter to the Hebrews to be a type of Christ. An interesting parallel can also be found between Genesis 1 and John 1 when it comes to new creations.

Interestingly, both books begin with the same phrase — “In the beginning”. With Genesis it is “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and in John we start out with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”. John continues on with

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:3 NKJV)

So, through the fuller revelation of the New Testament, we see the Jesus was the one who is the Creator.

Later in Genesis 1, the inspired narrative continues with the creation of light.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5)

In the same way, John continues with he’s description of Jesus Christ.
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n Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. (John 1:4, 5, 9 NKJV)

In His earthly ministry, Jesus even describes Himself as “the light of the World”

In Genesis, we see the Spirit hovering over the waters of creation (Genesis 1:2) and in John we see the Spirit hovering over the waters of baptism, where a new creation now takes place.

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34)

The apostle Paul draws a further parallel between Genesis and the Gospel by comparing Jesus and Adam.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. (Romans 5:14, 15 NKJV)

Paul goes further and calls Jesus the Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49). Both were tempted in a garden (Eden and Gethsemane). Through the failure of the first Adam sin and death entered the world. Through the obedience of the second Adam life and redemption have come to the world. Adam sinned at a tree, realized he was naked, and brought sin and its shame. Jesus was stripped naked, crucified on a tree, and paid the penalty for our sin, bearing our shame. The early Christians called the creation account the “protoevangellium” or first gospel for that very reason.

The Old Testament becomes so rich when we read it while asking what it is telling us about Jesus. It also illustrates how Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the Law. It also shows how the Bible fits so well as a revelation. Only God could orchestrate a collection of 66 books with 47 authors and have it fit so well together!

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Digging for Gold

When I was online (okay, Facebook) the other day, we were discussing methods of Bible study. The person said that they just pray, read the verse, and God tells them what it means. My response was tentative, because she was wrong on so many levels that I didn’t know where to start without offending her with my reaction. Is “read once and pray” your method of studying the Word? Let me encourage you to reconsider.
To be clear, I have no objection whatsoever to praying before Bible study. In fact, you can and should pray before just about everything! Where the problem arises is when we pray and expect to have the interpretation supernaturally handed to us on a silver platter. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I have been reading and a verse seems to jump off of the page, or suddenly becomes clear. But those times are more a product of study and the pieces finally coming together than an epiphany of some sort. The Word of God is not a pond where the truth rises to the top and is effortlessly scooped off the surface. It is a rich gold mine that has priceless riches that we are to dig deeply into to discover what God has placed there for us.
God has promised to “reward those who diligently seek Him”, and we aren’t doing that when we refuse to put in the work to dig in and discover the depths of the truth. Failure to do the necessary work involved in mining the Word will lead to a life of milk diets at best, and deception at worst. Not every voice you think you hear is from God, but you will never be able to recognize truth without doing the work to let the Word transform and renew your mind. Jesus said to “keep on seeking, keep on knocking, and keep on asking” and that is not a one time experience.
There is also a misperception that it is more spiritual to just pray and ask for illumination than it is to do the work of studying in-depth for yourself. In fact it is less spiritual, because the read and wait method means disobedience to the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. It also means that we don’t believe that God rewards those who “diligently seek Him.” What are you expecting Him to reveal that is not already there? Have you exhausted the text and discovered everything it has to offer? Then why do we go to it and expect new revelation when we have not mastered the truth that He has already revealed?
So do the work and dig into the Word. There is only one way to God, but there are also no shortcuts to studying His revealed will in the Word. Don’t be lazy about your studies. The gold and gems are there, but we must dig them out if we are to appreciate the treasure for what it is. God has promised that you will not come up empty! Doing otherwise doesn’t mean you won’t have any opinions about what the Bible says; it just means you will have a lot of wrong ones.

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Bloody Hands

What happens if they don’t know? You know who I mean. The people all over the world, possibly billions, who now exist and will never once hear about Jesus Christ, much less get an accurate presentation of the Gospel. Are they going to be lost forever and spend an eternity in torment? Will the just die and cease to exist? These are sobering questions, but I think there are some things we, as those who are saved, need to address as well.

Take a look at what Jehovah God said to the prophet Ezekiel because I believe there is a principle here that applies to us now.

When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life. (Ezekiel 33:8, 9 NASB)

A more pertinent question to ask ourselves is this: what will happen to the church as a whole, and to us individually, if those who have never heard are not reached with the Gospel? It’s not like we haven’t been given a command to each them. As we used to say in the military, we have been given a direct order!

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NASB)

But are we sitting back and hoping, maybe even praying, that someone else will reach them? Or do we let ourselves off the hook by saying we are not missionaries, so it’s not our job? Just put a little money in the offering plate and send support if we have a personal acquaintance or family member overseas and we are covered, right? No!

It is an indictment of the Church that Jesus gave the Great Commission nearly 2,000 years ago and we have yet to obey it.

Oh, we have partially obeyed it to be sure. There have been great mission successes in the past and many are presently happening. And those individuals will receive their heavenly reward. But by and large the work remains to be completed. The Bible has a term for partial obedience — “disobedience”!

So what is the solution?

Actively pray
There is no surer way to be praying within the will of God than to be praying for what He has already said He desires. When the prayer of our heart lines up with God’s heart then we can pray in confidence. Many foreign and indigenous Christians are spreading the Gospel in hostile areas and need our prayers. They are also in areas of danger medically. We can water the seeds of the Word with our prayers.

Actively give
Have you ever noticed that missionaries always seem to need funding? While the Gospel is free, sending workers to preach and teach it is not. In addition, there are those who would be able to preach full time who are local if only they had additional support. Back when more people used them, it was said that your checkbook reflects your priorities. Perhaps it is time to put our wallets where our hearts are.

Actually go
The Great Commission is very plain. If we stay home, it should be because of a specific reason. The default position for the Great Commission is to go! And even if we cannot go around the world, we can go to those around us. While it is true that we are to set a good example, it is not a means of evangelism! Our behavior adorns the Gospel and makes it credible. Unless we are talking about a believing wife reaching her husband, we are to be actively evangelizing. Jesus is our example, and He came to SEEK and save the lost. The is no room there for a “let them come to us” strategy with God.

This is serious business, and we need to stop focusing on peripheral issues and get about the mission. While hands in the past may have been bloody, ours need not be so. Lets make it our goal to have it not even occur to our children to ask about those who have never heard, because there aren’t any. Love demands that we give everyone a chance to hear the Message at least once. Many, if not most, may reject it, but God will not require their blood from our hands.

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Of Sin and Diaper Disposal

I heard an illustration the other day, and was so impressed by it that I thought I would put it here and maybe expand on it a bit. Perhaps it was because the illustration was from something that was so familiar. In fact, it was more familiar than I wanted it to be. So thanks, Landon, for the powerful (in many ways) word picture.

Have you ever had one of those diaper machines? I remember having one called a Diaper Genie, and it was a very useful little invention. When a diaper became “soiled” I would lift up the lid, place the offensive object inside, twist, and close it again. The diaper was surrounded by a plastic bag, and was safely inside. Eventually, though, I would be accosted by an ever increasing odor when I would open the lid. Thankfully, I could take it outside and empty what looked like a chain of sausage, into the trash to be left at the curb. Early in the morning the garbage truck would come by and take it away forever, and it would be buried.

What that illustrates very powerfully is the difference between our sins under the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. Under the former system of sacrifices of animals, our sins were covered over, kind of like a diaper inside a diaper pail. Every year the sins of the people were covered.

Under the New Covenant, it is different. We now have the remission of sins. Just like when we take the sausage chain of corruption to the curb, we bring our sin to Jesus and forsake them. We leave them there and don’t come back to them, just like we would never think of reusing a diaper pail roll. Jesus has promised to take them away and remember them no more. He takes them away instead of covering them up. He is able to do this because He has entered into the heavenly temple and offered His own blood once and for all and sat down at the Father’s right hand.

And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again – sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet . For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14 NET)

So remember, those of you with diaper genie machines, our sins are no longer covered and wrapped up, have have been taken away by Jesus. And then hurry out and empty that thing!

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