The Beacon of Truth

The character of the Church is always on display!

In the midst of a letter of instruction and encouragement to his young protégé, Timothy, Paul issues a very beautiful reminder of what the Church is, how we find ourselves there, and our mission as a Body of believers.

“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

The Church itself is the household of God, where the elect, those who have been called, house the divine.

Who we are. How we were placed there. And our purpose…

In 1 Timothy 3:15, communicates our function asthe household of God. He references a pillar.  What’s a pillar? Well, a pillar is something upon which something rests. Paul is speaking in a metaphor here. What is the metaphor? What is the pillar of what he speaks? It’s the Church of Jesus Christ. It is the corporate church. It is the universal church. Paul says our mission, the mission of all the other Christian churches in town and across the world… our mission is to be a pillar and support of the truth. A support is something which sustains, that holds up. A pillar is something that exalts and holds high the truth. The household of God is commended to be the custodian of truth– the pillar and support of truth.

When we think of a pillar, we don’t think of a two-foot pillar; do we? We don’t think of a four-foot pillar. We think of a pillar that is tall, 20, 30, 60 feet tall, and whatever’s on top of that pillar can be seen from miles around.

If you looked at some of the pictures of pillars in antiquity, you see that they’re often made up of many stones. They’re stacked one upon each other and they’re tapered down. As they climb taller and taller, they become more and more slender. The craftsmanship of those pillars was extraordinary, and oftentimes you couldn’t stick a piece of paper between each stone because the joint was so smooth. It was honed because of the craftsmanship. Peter speaks of these kinds of stones–worked stones. We are the household of the living God. We are living stones in the household of God. Beautiful imagery of a pillar that is going high into the sky, and upon that pillar is truth.

Paul is writing to the Ephesians, people that live in Ephesus, and just outside of town, there is a temple; it is a temple that was dedicated to the goddess Diana. It was a massive temple, 1.6 times larger than a modern football field. Think about how big that is. There were 127 columns utilized to suspend that temple, but you know what was perched on top of those pillars?

Lies: a false way of understanding God.

These people had a clear visual of what Paul was communicating. Over time, all of those pillars in the temple of Diana came down, all except for one which still stands. Two of those 127 pillars were taken from that temple and used to construct another building that was called the Hagia Sophia–the sacred wisdom, sacred truth; it was used as a cathedral to God, and then subsequently taken over by Muslims and once again, held lies on top of those pillars. It’s now a museum with those two pillars still standing, offering little more than architectural wonder.

Yet, a pillar speaks of stability. A pillar speaks of visibility. It’s the idea of consistency, and reliability, and resiliency of steadfastness.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the column where truth is held. It has been conferred by God, and we have the privilege of communicating this to each other, and to the world around us. The Church then is the holder of truth. Other religions are lies. Do I dare say that in the kind of politically correct world we live in? All other religions are lies? Sounds a little bit exclusive, Kelly. Well, it is very exclusive. There’s only one way under Heaven, one name under Heaven by which men can be saved, and that is through the name of Jesus Christ, through the blood of Jesus Christ. Do you understand how important it is that as we are on display, and our character is on display, that we are abiding in Christ?

Other religions get some stuff right sometimes, but how often is something just a little bit wrong? They leave something essential out. Maybe it’s the deity of Christ. Maybe it’s the correct understanding the depravity of mankind. Maybe it’s the idea of an eternal Hell or consequence or punishment for sin, or the truth of one true God, and only one God, and the love that He has for the world. When you leave one piece of God’s truth out, somebody gets left behind. We should feel a little bit of a burden as we are the supporting agency, and we are responsible for transmitting truth to the world.

Yeah, our conduct is always on display. Our truth is always on display.

Our truth is held high for all to see. If our action is not in alignment with the truth that we profess, we should rightly be called to account by those around us. What is sad is how often something else is erroneously replacing truth upon the pillar of the Church, or what is perceived to be the Church by the surrounding community. How careless some have been over the years, over the centuries to place something else upon the pillar of the household of God. Something like science, something like money, something like prosperity, something like self, something like academics.

Or, maybe even the Social Gospel. How many churches have we seen just die because they placed the Social Gospel as something of greater importance than the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves people from their sin? If we offer someone a cup of cold water, or a meal without taking the opportunity to introduce them to their Creator and how they can be set right with Him, then we’re just giving them a cup of water. Is it bad? No, it’s not bad, but getting them that cup of water might be an opportunity that you would be granted an audience to listen to the love that God has for them. How often are good works paraded on top of the pillar? How often do we put accomplishments up there instead of the truth? How often do we put a cultural event or an aspiration? The truth that rests upon the pillar of the household of God is not a program. It’s not the newest most popular book. It’s the truth of salvation found only by faith in the finished work of Christ.

We are on display, Church…

Without Fanfare

“And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28).

These are the words of Christ as He was announcing the only true measure of atonement which would be yielded for the lost of the world. He was describing the foundation for those to come to eternal life through the work, the blood of Jesus upon the Cross. The divine covenant would be the only basis upon which salvation would be granted.

He is the Christ, the Son of living God, and upon this rock, upon this fact He would build His Church, and He has faithfully continued to do so for nearly 2000 years.

Certainly, He has accomplished this through many privileged notables, unlikely vessels through which He would be glorified.

They would include:
His group of followers inspired by the Holy Spirit who would pen the words of God.

People, in the early centuries, with hard-to-pronounce names in faraway places which were hard-to-pronounce as well, studying, investing, pressing, yearning to parse the truth.

Men in long robes, and dusty places vetting proper theology in council settings.

Lives willingly surrendered at the stakes by edicts of unholy alliances.

The reformation years introduced some agents with a passion to return to the orthodoxy surrendered through some pretty dark ages.

Modern-day dynamos have helped to forge His Church through remarkable evangelistic efforts, missional efforts pioneering into hostile lands to share this great message.

Pastors in small hamlets across this blue ball would be building up through discipleship, so that more and more would be equipped to build up, more and more.

Yet, we would be remiss if we counted even this as the full corporate effort, or the full Body of Christ at work. More fruit would come through writing. Through art. Through music. Through prayer. Through encouragement. Through caring. Through meetings. Through cooking. Through revival. Through service. Through every open door of opportunity through which willing servants of Christ could be faithful communicators of the greatest truth for man. Not all work in the Kingdom takes place on Sunday.

How often did the redeemed serve in the dark alleys and byways, in seemingly forgotten lands, in disease infested shallows and narrows, at personal peril or loss of life? And how often did the faithful serve with little fanfare, absent the spotlight? What portion of grace is poured out through His Body 7 days a week!

The little Church in which I serve is one such extension of that grace. Service to the glory of God is taking place all through the week in order to serve the Body of Christ. People serving people. People teaching people. People feeding people. People loving people. People loving Christ. People behind the scenes being the Body of Christ to the glory of God…without fanfare.

Nearly a year ago Bishop Creek became stewards of a building, an outpost in Bishop so-to-speak from which to serve in our little corner of the world. It was a building constructed by people I never knew, and I can only dream of meeting in Heaven. A beautiful building cared for by many saints still living whom I know today. I applaud all those efforts. And it is now our privilege to act as custodians of this grand edifice. But buildings age, and this one was in need of greater “love” than many of us had to yield; it was over-whelming. We had need of grace.

And Christ was still building His Church.

A few months back I received an email. A blanket email from an unknown source, a youth pastor in Colorado asking if his youth group could serve in a summer missions’ trip in any capacity. Hmmm. Was this spam? I found out later that this email went out to 40-50 churches. He had prayed that the one church whom they were to serve would respond…and only one church responded…

Now, I am not saying that we were the most deserving. I am not saying that we were the only ones in need, or that we were even the one with the most need, but we did have need.

Long story short: this last week we were the recipients of a full outpouring of God’s grace through this sister church in Greely, Colorado as a caravan of vehicles made their way to sleepy Bishop, to serve a part of the Body of Christ whom they had never met. Junior high, and high-schoolers engaged in all sorts of things imaginable. Time and space would fail me to list the width and breadth of service, but over 2000 manhours were poured out in service of every kind to our little family. Tedious. Exhausting. Mundane. Hard. We were not forgotten. And it was all to the glory of Christ. All without fanfare. Just the Body of Christ serving the Body of Christ.

No special brick in the side walk. No plaque on any wall. No marching bands to announce their arrival or departure. No Reporters. No confetti. No public accolades from dignitaries. Yet, the Father of all Creation saw it all – That was the desire all along.

This little church from another state had desired to leave His mark wherever they went, that the community of Bishop might somehow see the light of Christ a little clearer than before.  They lived out the verse in Colossians which says:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

And, they lived out the mandate to honor God with all the glory in the simplest of circumstances.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I preach grace – I just have trouble receiving grace. This week I had no choice. The imposition of grace was undeniable. Quite an example was issued by many young servants in the church. Servants which could have been doing anything else but spending their time in labor to others.

I am humbly reminded of the grace God extends to each one of us on a daily basis. I am blessed by the grace He lavished over me through His Son. I am reminded to do that for His glory as He continues to build His Church. I am reminded of my call to extend that grace to the world around me. And I am reminded to do that carefully, to do that…without fanfare.

The Divine Straight

God has a way of doing things…perfectly. Everything God has done, is doing, and will do, is perfect. There have never been any misgivings in the mind of God, no second-guessing; God has never done anything which is contrary to the nature of God. God has always done everything in perfect accordance with His divine will– this is what I refer to as the Divine Straight

When we understand God’s will in any particular arena, we understand the Divine Straight. We understand the way God would want us to understand. When we are given the insight through the Word of God, and illuminated by His Spirit, I would contend that we are aligned with His Divine Straight.

In technical terms this is known as orthodoxy. The word orthodox comes from two Greek words, ortho + doxa, meaning “right opinion” or “correct thinking.” In Christianity, it generally means adhering to the accepted or traditional historic Christian faith revealed in the Bible–Essentials of Christian faith, we might say. In the early years of the Church, councils helped to produce right thinking as they were challenged by heresies. Some of these affirmations of orthodoxy are incorporated in to the creeds and confessions. They struggled through texts of Scripture in order to rightly understand the Divine mind, and truth. Orthodoxy may be defined as the least common denominator which links like-minded individuals under the same banner of “Christian.”

Obviously, discerning the divine will of God in any given path is difficult, however, over the years we have generated a pretty healthy cache of theologies which are considered orthodox.

The big problem is, the Enemy doesn’t like the people of God being equipped with that kind of awareness, and so, orthodoxy is constantly under attack.

Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Paul adds a bit to that in the book of Acts, speaking to the elders of Ephesus. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).

At the extreme cults are opposing the Divine Straight, and seek to make it crooked at every turn; we get that – those are the easy ones. However, also at the forefront are songwriters. Pundits of the airwaves. Rock Stars. Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter. The wisdom of the age, professing to be wise they have become fools. They encourage praying to a god that cannot hear. They are all are seeking to make the Divine Straight, crooked.

Any aberration introduced in order to make The Divine Straight, crooked, is considered a heresy; it is heterodoxical, meaning “another” way of understanding. It stands opposed to generally accepted orthodoxical thought. Paul, in Timothy, describes these as “Doctrines of Demons” (1 Timothy 4:10).

This is the world we live in today, and it was no less the case in the time of Timothy; there have always been those seeking to bend the Divine Straight. Can you say, “Garden of Eden”? But, blessings abound for those who choose to remain in the Divine Straight, the path of God. Beware that Satan is seeking to tickle your ears with some newfangled, hot-off-the-press tidbits of truth. All in an effort to get you away from walking the center of the Divine Straight.

The Writer of Proverbs says it well:

Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
Watch the path of your feet
And all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left;
Turn your foot from evil (Proverbs 4:25-27).

We do best facing forward!

A Place at the Table

I love the Evangelical tribe. They speak my language, they have a high view of Scripture, they embrace the same high ideals of theology-they are my home team! We have made many strides in the last several centuries, and in spite of the present “tension” notwithstanding, concerning the true meaning of the word “evangelical” we are in good shape as we look toward the future (IMHO).

Here’s the thing though, it seems now as though everybody wants a place at the Evangelical table. The problem is, those of us at the evangelical table so often kick out a chair and say, “come on, let’s talk about those things that we have in common. Let’s talk about the unity that we do have”– Kumbayah, and all. People sit down at the table and say, “We are Christians, just like you!” And when we allow them a place at the table, when we allow them to think they truly have a permanent place at the table, we do so at the expense of the Gospel, the integrity of the Gospel. We ought not do that; after all, it’s a narrow, not a wide road.

We have seen a movement in the last several years, various “churches“ scrambling to modify, or re-define their doctrine in order to make it more palatable, and to assert that they are true “Christians.” Historic terms and monikers have been jettisoned in order that the evangelical tribe (and the culture) would embrace what has been historically held at bay. To my dismay, they do seem to be gaining some ground; that which has been held to be incompatible with orthodoxy is being embraced at an alarming rate, or minimally given consideration as a valid option. Can you say Trojan horse?

And so, they rework their terminology, not their doctrine, in order that they would be a little more user-friendly, a little more included, and a little more inclusive. What we have as sentinels that differentiates us from the rest of the clans is the true Gospel, the narrow gate, which is salvation through faith in Christ alone. No amount of massaging false doctrine will make it any the more effective to redeem a soul–it will still be a cult.

And they seek validation in all venues of true Christianity.

A cult is something that compromises the person, or the work of Jesus Christ. A cult introduces and promotes ideas which attack, or seek to alter the person, or work of Christ. A cult assaults orthodoxy. Evangelicals have been entrusted as stewards of this Gospel, to be the pillar of faith which both supports it, and promotes it, as the one true way to restored relationship with God.

I don’t want to be branded as some hard-core right-wing radical separatist, but if that need be then so be it, if that’s what it takes to remain faithful to the Gospel. In fact, there are some “evangelicals” that, (it turns out), shouldn’t be at the table either. Seems like every other month another notable leader is rejecting a core tenet of evangelicalism, whether it’s the Old Testament significance, or the eternality of Hell, exclusivity of Christ, foreknowledge of God, promoting creation as myth, or endorsing the heresy of universalism.

We should never be willing to surrender truth in an effort to gain unity; we can not!

The table in Heaven will be much more exclusive. Only those whose names are written in the book of life will be there, only those with robes cleansed in the blood of Christ.

I am reminded of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew chapter 22. The preparations are made, the invitations go out, and the hall begins to fill. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Those who have “snuck in” will be found out. Those who have embraced universalism. Those who embraced another way to Christ. Those who have trusted works-based religion will not be there. Those who thought they were “good enough” will be thrown out.

My concern in permitting all to occupy a chair at the table is that in so doing we may fail to present the one and only way to God. We may fail to communicate that to our friends who are lost, and we may fail, or we may compromise our own beliefs in the Gospel, thus losing our foothold on the Truth. Minimally, we communicate, perhaps to them, and perhaps to the world, that they actually enjoy a seat at the eternal table of Christ. As the parable communicates; the man was speechless. He had nothing to say in his own defense to the Host of eternity.

It is through Jesus Christ, not through Joseph Smith.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through Mary Baker Eddy.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through Mohammed.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through Mary, or the Pope.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through any false messiahs.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through our own merits.

Of all the intersections we may share, none would be so broad as to include eternal salvation. Any points of connection, or overlap may be just that, moral, economic, social, but they do not identify us as being in the same spiritual camp.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my seat at the table. And, I want them to enjoy the hope of eternal life. I want them at the table; God wants them at the table. But, there is only one way to gain a place at this table, by wearing the right clothes. Yes, grace. And yes, mercy. But certainly truth.

If we are so bold as to kick out a chair at the table, it is done as a sacred offer, it is part of an invitation already extended by the work of Christ. It demands a response. We desire them to be part of the flock, but they need to RSVP to the True Host of Heaven.

As Peter affirmed to the religiosity in Jerusalem: “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

Let’s be careful what we communicate, and what we fail to communicate; eternity is on the line.

Psalm of Jonah

Normally, when we think of psalms, or even in the modern day when we think of songs, a person composes it in a tranquil setting of contemplative thought; that’s not the case with Jonah. Jonah is geographically challenged. Perhaps hundreds of feet below the surface of the water, he is being sovereignly transported, from where he was going, to where God sovereignly wants to take him. The great fish is that vehicle of transport. Actually, though I don’t think Jonah is trying to write a top-40 song; he is simply communicating, from a gut-level, a more repentant heart, or at least for the moment, a sober heart.

So, he composes a psalm, and he has less than 3 days to do it.

The psalm here is going to describe his life–I see that very clearly. But it’s also going to describe the immediate predicament, and salvation by the fish, God’s sovereign act of salvation using the fish. Remember, it’s a great fish; it is not a whale, but it’s a great fish.

We find this psalm in Chapter 2 of his eponymous book. We see in verses 2 and 3 that he acknowledges God’s sovereignty. And we see in verses 4 through 9, that he submits to God’s sovereignty.

Verse 2, “And he said ‘I called out of my distress to the Lord and He answered me. I cried for a help from the depths of Sheol. You heard my voice.'” He talked about crying out from the depths of Sheol, the depths of the belly. He is engulfed in the possibility of death, and he will not actually die, but he comes really close to it. And he says, “You heard my voice.” He’s addressing God. He’s finally facing in the right direction.

Verse 3, “For you had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas and the current engulfed me. All your breakers and billows passed over me.” He recognizes that God is the one sovereignly responsible. He says God has tossed him in and “your breaker’s, your waves, your waters, have passed over me.” He describes the circumstances as a judgment from the sovereign Lord.

His response is in verse 4, “So I said I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward Your holy temple.” Is Jonah here a little bit fuzzy? Maybe he’s not quite recovered. Maybe, he’s forgetting who was trying to get away from whom. Remember in verse three of chapter one, Jonah is trying to get away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah is trying to get away from the presence of the Lord two times in that verse–Jonah initiated that expulsion. God, for the moment had merely honored that choice.

Jonah sought to flee from the sight of God; he is trying to run in the opposite direction. He says, “I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward your holy temple.” He announces that he will once again face God. This idea is one of repentance, that rather than focusing on his will, he is going to focus on God’s will. This is the whole idea of restoration, the idea of a restored relationship with God. God truly never lost sight of him.

Verses 5 and 6, “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but you have brought up my life from the pit, Oh Lord my God.” He focuses here on the situations that were surrounding him. He focuses on the absolute hopelessness that was his as he was sinking through the water. There is an implicit recognition of the sovereignty of God. Because he says, “You have brought up my life from the pit, from the grave. You have done this.” Here is the understanding that God still has a plan. Jonah doesn’t know what it is yet, he doesn’t know if he’s going to die in 20 minutes, or an hour; he doesn’t know where he’s going. But he says, “You have brought up my life from the pit, Oh Yahweh, My God.” He once again identifies Yahweh as his Lord as his God.

Verse 7, “While I was fainting away, I remembered Yahweh. And my prayer came to You into Your holy temple.” As he is thrown in to the tumultuous waves he breaks the surface, he begins to sink. There is a lack of oxygen. He begins to drown. And this is while he was fainting away. As he is losing consciousness he remembers the Lord, and he begins to pray. From the deep, from the belly of the fish, the prayer ascended through the water to the throne room of the Almighty where God rules from His sovereign throne.

No matter where we are. No matter what conditions we are in, a true and sincere prayer is a hot line to the throne room of God. Jonah recognizes that, and I’m going to suggest that this prayer is not one of simple desperation, but of sincerity, at least true repentance for the moment. And his prayer is not just facing the Holy Temple, is not just facing God, but the prayer is making it in to the throne room of God.

Verse 8 is a little bit odd; I had to work through it. It says, “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” Now, color me simple, but if I’m sinking down and am a couple hundred feet below the depths of the water. I’m probably not in all that philosophical state of mind where I’m going to be throwing out some kind of proverb like this. “Aha! Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” It’s a little difficult for us to understand, but that word here for “vain” is also “empty,” or “false.” We say, “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” Our response is, “huh?” But Jonah is saying those who regard false idols, those you regard empty idols, forsake their faithfulness. I would suggest that Jonah is speaking of himself. He is his own false idol. He is his own empty idol because an idol is something that you place before God. An idol is something that you placed before the will of God. Jonah is sinking down, and yet he understands that he has been the person of primary importance in his life; way above God. And in doing that, he forsook the righteousness of God.

Verse 9. “But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed to pay. Salvation is from the Lord.” Jonah is submitting here, and though it’s difficult to ascertain the level of joy he has in doing this; he is at least surrendering. Does he think that he’s going to get out alive? I really don’t know. I don’t think so, but I really don’t know. But at this point in time he’s rededicating his life. He’s got the sovereignty of God stuff figured out, but things look pretty bleak. Perhaps, his skin is continuing to burn. Maybe his eyes are irritated. He is in the dark. He is unsure of his future. He says, “that which I have vowed I will pay.”

We don’t know specifically what Jonah has vowed to do but he is rededicating himself to the vow that he had made previously. I would surmise that that means he is going to fulfill his calling as a prophet however long that he has. He is willing to do what God has called him to do. And part of that is this interesting little statement that he makes at the very end, “Salvation is from the Lord.” “Salvation is from Yahweh,” which is actually the primary message of any prophet. It’s actually the primary message of any believer in God. “Salvation is from the Lord.”

Though his zeal will wane, he will faithfully deliver this great truth to the people of Nineveh–mmm, well, sort of–the Spirit makes sure the message is understood.

Most of us are on a journey from where we thought we were going, to where God is taking us. Though we may judge Jonah, we would do better to identify the level of sovereignty of our God in our lives and surrender to it.

In that (gulp), Jonah has something pretty important to teach us!

“I called out of my distress to the LORD,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
“For You had cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the current engulfed me.
All Your breakers and billows passed over me.
“So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight.
Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
“Water encompassed me to the point of death.
The great deep engulfed me,
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
“I descended to the roots of the mountains.
The earth with its bars was around me forever,
But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.
“While I was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple.
“Those who regard vain idols
Forsake their faithfulness,
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving.
That which I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation is from the LORD.”

Epitome of Love

In John 15:13 Jesus states, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  Because life is precious, and is given as a supreme gift by God, when one chooses to surrender it for the sake of his friends it is counted as the extreme act of love.

Earlier Christ had alluded to this same expression of love in John Chapter 10, the “Good Shepherd” passage. In John 10, beautiful images of Psalm 23 are brought to the forefront once again. In John 10, Christ reveals himself as the Divine Shepherd of Psalm 23. Shepherding is an image one would know well in the economy of first century Israel, as little white puffs dotted the country sides, sheep were used for food, for wool, and also for sacrifices in the Temple. Though this imagery is a little foreign to us in 21st century America, still, the metaphor is packed with richness for us today.

In John 10:1-18, Christ is speaking prophetically about the people of Israel, and the leaders, to the Pharisees whom He addresses. In this passage He announces Himself as Messiah, and He foreshadows His mission to the world–His passion for man. He forecasts both His mission, and how would He fulfill that mission.

A key focus here is the flock of God, the fold, the sacred community of faith. Christ announces Himself as the Good Shepherd, overseer of this flock. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd, His mission has been announced in the previous verse­–to give abundant life (John 10:10), and His method is hinted at in verse 11 as well–He lays down His life. This terminology is codespeak for sacrifice; it speaks to the sacrificial system established by God in Temple, for the atonement of sin. The good shepherd, places Himself as the supreme sacrifice before the Sheep.

The “good Shepherd” is not simply morally good, but beautiful, attractive, lovely, and excellent, He is virtuous. And, He surrenders His life. The word here in the Greek for life is not bios, or zoe, but psuchos; it is the idea of soul. Christ lays down His soul for the sake of those in the flock. It is not simply mechanical, or physical pain, but a surrender of the soul.

We have to ask the question, “Why does He do that?” We see at the end of verse 18 that He is being obedient to the Father’s command to do so.

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18)

He describes, in muted detail the sacrificial atonement; He describes the events of what we celebrate as Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. The act of laying down His life would be committed upon the altar of the Cross-all for our benefit! The blood of Christ was a requirement of God for the atonement of sin.

The nails pierced His hands and His feet as He was nailed to the cross. The blood would flow onto the wood, and down to the earth. Jesus was scarred for life–our life. Days later He would rise, victorious over death!

It was some pretty incredible blood which flowed through the veins of the Good Shepherd.

Some amazing blood which flowed from the veins of the Lamb of God, upon the altar of the Cross.

Some powerful blood which flowed to the fountain of Grace that the sin of the world would be able to be cleansed, mankind redeemed, and our broken relationship with God restored.

And the blood, His blood will never lose its power!

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Evangelism:

Evangelism. It is one thing if we can even pronounce it, it is another altogether if we can understand what it truly is. Many of us have no idea, or we limit it to a couple of people doing door-to-door visitations, or open-air street corner preaching. But still, we are not quite certain what that entails. I believe it is both a little more simple, and a little more complex than that.

Let me suggest a working definition of the term, Evangelism: The grace of God reaching down through the Church of God with the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ to the lost people of the world. There! It may not be that compact, but I do think it communicates the necessary components of the word, evangelism.

The “Good News of redemption” is referred to, and encouraged multiple times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) as “sound Doctrine.” The idea is, if we cannot, or do not adequately communicate the truth of the Gospel, then our message is deficient in some capacity.

Paul words it like this in the 3rd chapter of Titus:
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

The Gospel here, and the resulting fruit is identified by Paul, not in the minutest detail, but nonetheless, it addresses the incarnation of Christ, salvation by the mercy of God rather than by works, and justification according to Trinitarian desire, which leads to the hope eternal of life with God–forever! We would include upon this grid work why the Gospel was needed–sin, Hell, lostness, the sacrifice of blood, holiness and repentance, etc. to complete the picture. The first component of evangelism is sound truth. If we do not communicate the good news effectively, or correctly, the foundation upon which any faith is placed, may be deficient.

Second, an authentic witness of the sacred community is to be exhibited to the surrounding world; a superficial witness or poor character does little to help win others to Christ – the behavior that we exhibit to the world either affirms or denies the faith we profess.

Titus 2:1-8, in general, skims the surface and encourages the minimal evidences of conversion in the Church, the idea is that the Church would be beyond reproach in its behavior. “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). The world may not believe in Christ, or even morality of a holy ilk, yet, they will be able to sniff out hypocrisy in the evangelical tribe.

Finally, I believe there needs to be an explicit invitation. The unbelieving world needs to know that the grace of the Gospel can be experienced by them as well. Therefore, an explicit invitation needs to be extended to them as well to taste of the grace of God. Paul speaks of “good works” in Titus, I believe as “Gospel opportunities.” I don’t think Paul is addressing walking older ladies across the street, or saving puppies so much as he is encouraging the community of faith to look for areas of service, and influence that in time would lead for the Gospel to be communicated, and an invitation to be given to respond to the Gospel call.

Now, evangelism is the accurate communication of these things, but then, other than prayer, the destinies are out of our hands. We do not argue people, or drag people into the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, the Holy Spirit is at work, convicting people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16). And, at the very core, the heart needs to repent and choose to follow Christ. People have the free will to accept or reject Christ.

We are privileged to participate in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), as we emphatically proclaim the Truth of the Gospel, wrapped in grace, being lived out in the sacred community, and extended through an outpost of grace to a lost world whom God loves.

Evangelism: The truth about redemption in Christ, an authentic witness to the world, and an invitation to grace.

You’re on Church!

Reprobates Like Me

“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Paul speaks these words to Titus (Titus 1:12) identifying the pretty dark character of people among whom Titus will be ministering. What does that even mean? First of all, “always liars” points to a failure to grasp and honor the truth. “Evil beasts” addresses a failure to abide by a moral code. And, “lazy gluttons” communicates feelings of entitlement to gorge themselves with minimal investment or effort. These were some pretty low-level people–we would call them, reprobates. Hmmm, sounds a little too close to home for my comfort, but more on that later.

From a human perspective, Paul and Titus may just as well have sailed around the Island of Crete and have been done with it. And Satan would have had his way, if they would have. But Paul knew that God wanted these “Cretans” in the kingdom. Paul knew that Cretan fruit could be borne among the thorns on the island, and the key to producing that fruit was “sound teaching” communicating the love of God, and how people could be set right with God.

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

The hope for every reprobate on the island is held in those verses–the plan of redemption initiated by divine desire. We can even hear the words of Jesus in John 3:16-17 echoing through these words. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

What God has done for every reprobate is communicated in Titus 2:11-13. In verse 11, God, through the incarnation of Jesus initiates this plan, that forgiveness through the blood of Christ opens the door to being transformed for the glory of God into the image of Christ (verse 12).

Paul is talking about Crete, the reprobates of the island who are “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” And he is affirming that they can be saved and transformed to lives of godliness!

But that’s not all there is…a new creation in Christ has the sure and certain hope, the confident expectation of seeing Christ again when He returns to take us home (verse 13). We look forward to this moment because we are His possession (verse 14), and He has delivered us from the clutches of sin for this very moment–eternal life with Him.

In verse 14, the Greek word for redeemed, means to set free, to deliver, to liberate, as from slavery. The kind of person who has this sort of assurance, should have joy, and be motivated to serve God by serving man, the “good deeds” part.

Amazing! Huh?

“Always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons” sounds a lot like the world that I live in.  Failure to grasp and honor the truth. Failure to abide by a moral code, and feelings of entitlement to gorge themselves with minimal investment or effort.

Our culture, and society want to dispute the authority of the Scriptures, and the message of the Gospel. People today are tough, godless, liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. There is a real spirit of darkness in the world, many spirits of darkness have been sent to keep people from accepting the Gospel, to keep the Gospel from gaining greater traction.

But, for God so loved the world…
But God so loved the Island of Crete…
But God so loved the United States…, California…, and Bishop…
That He sent His Son to redeem them.

From a human perspective, it would be easier to “sail around” Bishop. California. And the entire United States. Sometimes, we lose hope. We wonder if God is even working. But, God desires to bear fruit, yes, here in Bishop–fruit from among the thorns. And the Gospel of Christ is the only way to do just that! What amazing grace!

I have to remember God’s heart and His grace, and I need to remember that I, myself, was one of those reprobates, who is now a reprobate covered in the blood of His dear Son.

Grace seeks us out. Grace redeems us. Grace indwells us. Grace transforms us. Grace gives us hope. Grace has a future for us. But in the here and now, grace has a mission for us, to be the outpost of His grace to the world.

My faith in the Gospel to transform reprobates needs to be greater than my doubt for mankind. If I am to be obedient, I need to understand the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save reprobates…like me.

For us all…Our faith in the Gospel to transform reprobates needs to be greater than our doubt for mankind. If we are to be obedient, we need to understand the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save reprobates…like us.

Making the Grade

Even as we turn the wheels into the church parking lot we subconsciously begin to analyze the efficiency of the parking crew and the over-all “welcomingness” of the facilities. As we move toward the sanctuary we evaluate the flow of human traffic. How are the doors working? Is the paint appealing? What is the ease of finding a seat? Are there greeters who seem sincere? How “friendly” are the other attendees? How comfy are the seats?

As the service begins, we judge the acoustics. The length and interest of the announcements. The peppiness of the songs, and of course the sermon. Did it draw me in? What did it do for me? What can I take home? Did the pastor have irritating traits? How tasty were the treats offered to me at the welcome table on the way out?…’Em, All in all, it was “okay,” maybe a C+. Yelp it a “meh,” and move on– “I may, or may not come back next week.”

I wonder how many hidden shoppers invade foreign worship centers (churches) and simply measure the worship experience in light of their own benefits. “Unserved” they’re off to another venue the following week with the same stone in their chest. How many boxes will receive good checkmarks, and how many a “needs to improve”? Get the ticket punched, grab the gold star of attendance, and you’re good for another 167 hours.

It may sound goofy but it seems that’s what I hear when people communicate about their church experiences. And I wonder…rather than us sitting in our seats peering around and criticizing, what if God were grading us, and our engagement in the sanctuary. What if the divine eyes were turned in our direction, upon the quality and integrity of our worship?  What was the condition of our hearts? Had we prepared our souls the previous week? How had we done that? Had we come with hearts which were in the right place? Had we even looked at the Bible in the previous 6 days? Spent time with God? Or, was this time the sole 90 minutes of “investment” in the Sovereign? Were we there to worship God at all, or simply give it a once over with “white-glove” scrutiny?

What if God was “grading you” on your last visit to church…how would you have fared? I mean, it’s not like God hadn’t criticized poor worship before, “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.” This is spoken from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 15:8 as He echoes the more lengthy passage found in Isaiah 28:13:
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote…”

The idea is one of insincere, lackluster and insignificant worship, because of a heart which is not engaged.

So, back to you, were your lips in harmony with your heart as you sang, or recited Scripture? Were any prayers offered which evidenced a true trust in His Sovereign ability to answer? Was your heart in harmony with God, loving God, at peace? Or, was a time for a thorough critique of the human element more important? Ouch! Yeah, ouch!

How easy it is to forget that God seeks not only to fellowship with us, but to be worshipped by us, to be pursued by us. God desires our hearts to be focused singularly on glorifying Him. Would the level of your last trip to the sanctuary of God merit a “Meh”? Was there any level of passion to praise the Lover and Redeemer of your soul?

May I caution that every element of the worship experience is to worship God?

May I suggest that words such as reverence, appreciation, reflection, praise, sincerity, love, and worship should be a major part of describing what you are doing not only throughout the other 167 hours, but as you kneel your heart before the Lord in the corporate worship experience?

Harsh words? …Maybe. Maybe a bit, but likely we need the reminder. And they are as much for me as they are for the next person. It’s not a 21st century issue. It’s not a New Testament issue, or an Old Testament issue–it’s a humanity issue.

Solomon pens it well in the 5th chapter of Ecclesiastes:
“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3).

Simple truths for reverent times. Draw near and listen; God is speaking. This is not a time of insincere platitudes. Don’t cross that line! This is not performance, or self-care time. This is not bill paying time, doodle time, or cell phone time. “For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.” This is a statement of position rather than geography. God, and only God, is in the position of divine sovereign. God, above everything else deserves this time.

Verse 3 finishes with the futility of dreams and lost words; they do not produce what can be invested in, and gained at this moment. This is reality.
A time we ascribe to God the value He is rightly due.
A time we hear Him speak.
A time to worship.

What have we got to do that is of a higher magnitude than that?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures, here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Amen!

 

 

A Manner Worthy

In Matthew 16, Christ made the prophetic declaration, “Upon this rock I will be my church.” Upon what rock? Upon the statement just uttered by Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is upon this truth, this foundation that the Church would be constructed. In times of grace, and through difficult times, Christ has faithfully continued to fulfill that promise.

“I will build my church.” Christ was building it for a reason. Obviously, the Church had a mission; even today the Church still has a mission. So, what is that purpose? Continue reading “A Manner Worthy”

Letters of Christ

Few if any will ever surpass the metaphoric and poetic genius of Paul in his masterful ability to paint a picture in mind of another. Through his epistles he draws upon and captures profound imagery to clarify the portrait of who we are in Christ. The letters to the Corinthians alone are loaded with them. The Body (1 Corinthians 12). Agrarianism (1 Corinthians 3). Architecture (1 Corinthians 3). Temple (1 Corinthians 3). Leven (1 Corinthians 5). Soldiering (1 Corinthians 9). Marriage (2 Corinthians 11). The Aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2). Stewards of the mysteries of Christ (2 Corinthians 4). Jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4). Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5). What beautiful illustrations of the intangible suspended upon the grid-work of our physical world.

Nowhere, is he more at the level of perfection than in the first verses of 2 Corinthians 3. The metaphor is the simple vision of quill and paper, upon which a letter is penned. Paul defines his mission as stewarding letters.

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts”(2 Corinthians 3:1-3).

Some felt that Paul still owed them some measure of validation of his apostolic calling–proof that the hand of God was upon him. They desired tangible evidences of his ministry! Paul had led them to Christ, founded their church, and had continued to foster growth in their spiritual walks.

Paul communicates they had to look no further than their own lives for commendations of his ministry. To Paul, those in Corinth whose hearts had been written upon bear the witness of the Divine; they have become living epistles, living letters of truth as testimonies to the world, and thus, validating the ministry of Paul.

These “letters” were the fruit of Paul’s efforts to communicate the transformational presence of Christ in a person’s life. In that these letters were observed, or read by people, these “epistles” communicated the presence of God which they could enjoy as well.

In reality though, the credit of authorship is ascribed to Christ; Paul was simply the “mailman” so to speak who was caring for the delivery of such correspondence. Christ is, was, and always will be the author of such transformation in any person’s heart. Christ is the Author of such amazing grace who continues doing such a good work in those whom He has called.

The metaphor indelibly prints this picture upon our minds. It is not a mere quill and paper, but the tablet written upon is the heart of the person, the essence of being, the very soul of any given individual. Even better than that, the ink employed is the Spirit of the living God–Wow! Let that soak in! Christ works in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to scribe such great missives.

How had Christ written upon their hearts? Buy delivering them. Healing them of hurts. Rescuing them from their sinful ways. And giving them such a sure and certain hope for the future. These letters affirm God’s grace upon each one. Maturing Christians are the true credentials of a healthy ministry.

God is the supreme author of life, and has allowed the powerful testimony of your life to be witnessed by all people. You are a letter to be read by the world for the glory of Christ.

Open up!

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The Final Breath

As I inch ever closer to the end of my 6th decade on the face of the earth I realize with each passing week little reminders, new “bills” appear in my biological mailbox alerting me of some “overdue” malady. “You’re kidding me! I Thought I paid that!”

My eye sight is a skosh dimmer. My hearing a tad bit duller. An aching awareness of many more muscles and joints than I thought I had is brought to mind. And my hair is a hint more “pastoral” platinum than it was 5 years ago. My abilities to live as a teenager are indeed fading, and though I may be growing older, and I may not be able to perform in the way I did at 30, I still have the choice to grow in my character and my integrity, in my resoluteness to live for Christ. Continue reading “The Final Breath”

Letter to My Enemy

From my perspective, January 1st has come upon us like a freight train, and with it a slew of resolutions are surely dotting our horizons. “I am gonna lose a few pounds.” “I want to finally finish that project around my house.” “This is the year I get my raise!” Maybe you want to learn to speak another language, exercise more, invest in your grandkids, or spend more time with friends over coffee. What is high atop your list of things to resolve to accomplish this coming year? God has granted you possibly another 365 days to steward at will. Not to discourage any desires, but if history is any indicator, many of those “resolutions” will be tossed aside and discarded like New Year’s Eve confetti well before February…jus’ sayin’. Not that resolutions don’t have merit, but we need to choose them well–and follow through. Continue reading “Letter to My Enemy”

An Imposition of Agendas

In years past, it seems as though when you desired to purchase a product you were simply purchasing a pair of sneakers, a hamburger, or maybe a record album. Over the years, we see that has changed drastically. Whether it’s a recording artist, an apparel venture, an internet concern, restaurant, or construction company, etc. it seems that there is an additional “gift” with purchase; it is an agenda. Every company, or group has an ethos they seek to push. Every single company or person is promoting something else besides the inherent product we think we are buying.

The press is not exempt either. More and more “news” pieces are nothing more than op-eds, or rants under the guise of journalism, yet intended to impose an agenda as well.  (For that matter journalism itself is dying if it is not dead already…but that is another article altogether-The Toxic Drip of Propaganda?). Let’s move on!

Today, it seems you have to decide your political affiliation, and your “to-die-for” causes before you buy that ball point pen, or chicken sandwich. Now, one must be thoroughly calculating, and ready to cross picket lines in order to demonstrate their capitalistic resolves.

The social climate is bubbling; tensions are mounting; everybody is on high alert to defend their precious ground.  A mob mentality is overtaking this land, one in which people resort to bullying, or shaming, manipulation or deceit in addition to the good old time-tested techniques of name calling and threats. Both sides of the political aisle.

“Would you like a side of totalitarianism with that order of fries.” “Can I get you some geo-political foil for your head along with that vote for senator?”

Any promoted postures of neutrality are feigned; we all have an agenda.

The truth is we have always had agendas…and we always will.

At the core we are people, people with opinions. We embrace values, causes, and passions. And our desire, intentional or otherwise, is to foist those upon those around us.

Agendas of the world are social justice, global warming, absolute equality, greed, free will, pleasure, hedonism, just to name a few.

The agenda of Hell (Satan) is to steal, kill and destroy.

Even Christian periodicals have a political agenda.

The divine agenda revealed by Christ was to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

The agenda of the church in addition to the Shema, according to Christ, is the Great Commission-to make disciples.

Yes, there is a deluge of agendas a-swirling! Ready to knock us down and around, and to the ground.

Each day I have the opportunity to enter the world stuffed to the brim with opinions. The question is what will be my top agenda for the day. Why has God given me breath today?

God has given you and me HIS agenda.
Love God!
Love others!

Jesus spoke these very thoughts when approached by a scribe who asked Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

The response was a beautiful distillation of the Ten Commandments:

“‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

There is no better way to spend your time, than engaging relationally. Entirely. Tirelessly. Seems like our agenda should be to encourage others to do the same.

Time will tell. Many agendas are passing fads. Something new will capture the fickle hearts of the world tomorrow.

First and foremost, I am a Christian; God help me to graciously communicate your agenda.

So, what is on your agenda today?

The Cloak of Righteousness

One of the most theologically packed verses in all of Scripture finds itself in 2 Corinthians 5:21 which reads:
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

It is in this verse we see the answer to Genesis 3:15-the Lord addressing Satan, “He shall bruise you on the head,  And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

It is in this verse we see the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:6:
“All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.”

It is in this verse that we see the words of John the Baptist echoing forth…”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And it is the work described in this verse for which we thank Christ for His obedience. For it is in this verse we see the work that separates those who once were doomed to death, given the opportunity for new life with God.

In this short verse we see what God has done by the work of Christ for our benefit.

Volumes could be written until the end of time about what is called the atonement…what was performed by Christ in order to bring us to a right standing before God, which was unable to be perfected through any other means. Christ was the agency of obedience. He was the object of the wrath of God. He is the reason we could possibly approach a pure and holy, sovereign God in restored relationship.

In the Levitical order, as a penitent soul was desiring to be “absolved” of his sin, he would bring a bull or a sheep or a goat, maybe a bird to the priest at the Temple. Hands would be laid upon the head of the animal in a gesture that “communicated” all of the sin of that penitent to be placed upon that “innocent” offering. The animal would then be slain upon the altar, at times by the penitent himself (Leviticus 1:1-5), for as Hebrews tells us, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). This animal had borne the wrath of sin in order to place this repentant individual right before God.

The Levitical system then is a foreshadow of the work to eventually be executed in Christ. The altar would be the Cross upon Golgotha…Calvary. The Lamb of God perfect, pure, undefiled would have all of the sin of the world placed upon Him. The murders. The adulteries. The hatred. The gossip. The slander. The lack of forgiveness. All of the sin of the world, from the beginning of time to the end. The burden of Christ was exquisite. Who could bear it?

Only the Messiah for which He was sent.

Some of His last words upon the Cross are “My God, My God, what have you forsaken me?”

The wrath of sin was borne for sin. My sin. Your sin. In order that our broken relationship might be restored with our great Creator.

The Lamb of God shed His blood that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The mantle of sin which rested upon us was removed at the Cross. We are not righteous by any other means other than because we are now cloaked on the righteousness of Christ. God so loves us that He wrapped us up in the precious righteousness of Christ.

For those of us who are truly in Him, God looks not upon our sin, but upon the righteousness of Christ.

Behold! The Lamb of God!

The Viking Pastor

Scandinavians, my people, were indeed a brutal lot who as a world power took to the global stage near the end of the eighth century. We went a-Viking!–horned helmets, and all (well, that part of the legend turns out to be a myth). But we did set out to see and conquer all of civilization. Some would say we were superior in our skills of navigation and negotiation, however any way you look at it we were brutes. Yes, we excelled in superior navigation of the seas in our long ships, and yes, our skills of metallurgy in weaponry were unsurpassed in the day, but we were a godless consortium of brutes; pagan, cultic brutes. 

Providentially. Thankfully, our reign of bloody force would endure for a relatively short 3 centuries of impressing our footprints in global terror. The sum total of Norsemen, as we were called, would be a mere million in a world population of 300 plus million, and yet, would strike unbridled dread until yielding to the next heir apparent of world dominance. 

Unlike other cultures, we would not concede, we would not surrender to another earthly suppressor. We would only bow the knee to the Divine; this invincible people, my people, would willingly be vanquished by the Spirit of God. Christianity, the Gospel was introduced and embraced in the 12th century. It was in our devotion to Christ that we could no longer reconcile our “negotiation techniques” with that of lives conceded to Christ. In light of submission to Christ world dominion is not all it’s cracked up to be. 

Still, our fierce legacy carries on; and though a thousand years have passed, and the nations of my people have lessened in their zeal toward Christ (and that is an understatement), I do pray we would not let go of Christ, but once again bow the knee to our true Sovereign.

And then, there’s me. My friend tells me that my diminutive stature betrays my Viking persona. True, the physical prowess has diminished somewhat over the course of a millennium, yet, I remain deeply genetically connected to these people…my people–I cannot get away from that. In the grander scheme of things my tribal identification is only incidental, though the common human depravity courses through my DNA. 

I, myself, have had my own time of brutish rebellion and desire for world dominance, well at least over my own life. It was not pretty, and I sought only to satisfy my own desires. I thank God that the major rebellion was only for a season (though too long of a season for sure). 

Providentially. Thankfully, I too in the tradition of my people bowed the knee to Christ. And though I struggle to keep Him foremost in my life, my calling is to serve Him.  The imagery is not lost to me…Lost to found. “Pagan” to believer. Dark to light. Death to new life. Rebel to follower. Viking to Pastor. And each of us who has responded to the call of Christ has this similar history–from rebellious soul to willing child and servant of God. 

I love my heritage–I do. And all of us have rich histories, which should be celebrated…in part. Many of our foods and words, cultures and traditions are amazing–though we Norsemen do likely at some point need to apologize for lutefisk. More than that, we owe a world of apology for the many travesties we have committed. Most nations, if not all would be in a similar camp–we are brutes in what we have foisted upon others. Our worldly heritage is not always boastworthy. Our new life in Christ, however, is. Always!

We are in good company, after the likes of the Apostle Paul. In the book of Galatians after a long recitation of his religious pedigree, and his excellence in that heritage in the imposition of his zeal, he recounts the one person who needed to “die” in his life–Paul.  A Hebrew of Hebrews, and he was proud of that ancestry. He calls it, “my former manner of life in Judaism”. Yeah, it was! After persecuting believers, after persecuting Christ Himself; it was Paul who needed surrender. Paul was a bully; he was a brute. 

He writes of this willful surrender in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  

Paul’s heritage “earned” him nothing, in fact, in only brought him condemnation. But he yielded to new life in Christ.

We are not held captive to the sins of our forefathers. No matter what our DNA of broken depravity, we all have the choice to lay down arms before our true Sovereign. To live in Him and for Him.

From who we were, to who we are in Christ, we thank you Lord.

The Sheep of His Pasture

By all rites Christians ought to be thankful. Psalm 100 tells us how to be thankful, and it tells us why we are to be thankful to begin with.

Psalm 100:1-5 says, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name, for the Lord is good. His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.”

Immediately you can see that the Psalm tells us to whom we are to be thankful. The word there is Lord, it is the name of the Lord; it is Yahweh. It is communicating that there is only one to whom this thanks is to be directed, and that person is God–four times in these five short verses, but the Psalmist goes on and he addresses where we are as His people, and whose we are positionally. We are in His pasture and we are His people. I hope you can see that the psalmist is providing a model of worship. He is communicating how we are to worship? He is saying that the evidence of true worship is joy.

He’s saying that the key evidence of true joy is thanksgiving. Do you see the words? Many commands in these five verses, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.” There’s a loudness that’s implied there, an excitement, an exuberance to the Lord. “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Not with sourness, but with joy. “Come before Him with joyful singing.” That’s a picture of worship, coming before God and ascribing to Him the glory that is His. Finally, he says, “Know, that the Lord Himself is God.” We really need to understand the picture, that God is God. Yahweh is God. He is sovereign over all. He is the one who deserves all of the glory.

Four commands and then the Psalmist tells us why we are to have that attitude, and why it is to be directed toward Yahweh alone; “It is he who has made us and not we ourselves.” It’s quite humbling, and it’s good for us to remember that God has made us. God has made each and every one of us, and everything that we have He has given to us. As the song says, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” and He has made the whole world. The one who makes us, the one who created the whole world is God. It is God who makes the rules, and it is God who gets all the glory.

“It is He who made us and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of his pasture.” Those are such rich words. We do well to remember that God has made us to be the sheep of His pasture. God has ownership over us. God has ownership over what He has made. The place where we reside is in Him. The place where we reside is in His pasture, and in life with Him. We are his people and the sheep of His pasture. But, what is His pasture?

Can’t you just hear Psalm 23 pulsing through that verse?

His pasture is where green grass is provided for us. His pasture is where we have calm waters that are abundant and clean. His pasture is where He guides us in paths of righteousness. His pasture is where there is no fear. His pasture is where we have confidence in Him. His pasture is where are we are secure. His pasture is where we are protected. His pasture is where He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. His pastures where He anoints our head with oil. He takes care of us. He nurtures us. His pasture is where our cups are running over. His pasture is where His grace and mercy pursue us all the way into the house of the Lord forever. He guides us in paths of righteousness to the foot of the throne.

The pasture is simply a relationship with God.

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. We have been chosen to hear the Shepherds’ call. And we are asked to respond and to become dependent upon Jesus. Do you understand the incredible blessing that has been extended to us? There are many other pastures out there and they’re not good pastures. But there’s one true pasture and that’s being in a relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Do you understand the amazing blessing that God has extended to us through Christ?

That entire darkness of sin has impeded us from having a good right forever relationship with God. But because God has sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross, we may celebrate; we celebrate the blood that flowed in order that our sins might not just be covered, but that our sins might be taken away, that we might have an eternal relationship with God through work of Jesus Christ.

We are a privileged people. “Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of his pasture.”

Guys, we have it made. We have cars in our driveway, we have food in our refrigerators. We have homes, we have warm homes, we have clothes, we have family, we have friends, we have health. Most of all, we have a relationship with God, and we dwell in the shadow of the Most High in His pasture. No person should come into the halls of the Lord cold and unresponsive, passive and indifferent. Rather, we come into the house of the Lord, and we worship the Lord. We exalt the Lord with boldness. We serve Him willingly. We worship Him in spirit and in truth, and we understand His role as sovereign God in our lives and over all the earth. We do well to acknowledge that He is sovereign, and He alone is sovereign over our lives.

Thanks be to God.

Incomprehensible Divide

I have been pondering this week a couple of things which are incomprehensible to the fallen human mind. Number 1, the righteousness required to stand before a holy and pure Sovereign God; and Number 2, the vast devastation brought upon God’s creation because of sin, which produces the infinite divide between God and His perfect creation, man.

How often do we minimize that distance? How often do we think that Christ only had to give us a little help? When we lessen that distance, and devastation…we undervalue the divide Christ crossed in order to make a way for us to be reconciled to God.

Made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and given a mere one prohibition in the Garden, we (mankind) chose poorly and were subsequently cast out of the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24), out through an eastern gate protected by multiple cherubim with flaming swords. Our errant tendency is often to minimize that distance that sin caused between God and man. We may simply assert, God is only on the other side of that wall of flaming ninja swords, but we should know better; the divide is incalculable and incomprehensible.

As Scripture subsequently reveals, mankind would continue to degenerate, Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Judges 21:25 adds, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The Old Testament would continue to indict the decadent nature of man; the divide was infinitely apparent, and would remain, absent an intervention from a merciful God.

Our depraved lot is sorely identified in the simple, yet stark words of Paul in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” The status is accurately diagnosed by Paul; humans are in a perpetual state of “deadness.” That means that we cannot do anything of our own merits to find a way out. We could not initiate our own salvation. And we were lost until a benevolent Sovereign determined to issue a way out. Yes, Paul is addressing the Ephesians specifically, but by extension this depraved state and future falls to the lot of mankind as well. The only fate merited is that of eternal separation from God.

Fortunately, for us, believers, the reality of deadness is referred to here in the past tense; Paul describes the journey we were on, and again by extension the journey all of mankind pursues. “In which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:2-3).

The wide road leading to destruction is painted here, the road filled with those walking under the influence of the dark prince of Hell. Those serving to excite their own minds and flesh who stand under the impending wrath of God. Every one of us has navigated that darkened road. So, do we get it then? Do we understand that the distance between God and man is great; the chasm of sin and death is insurmountable…that is unless, God intercedes.

Let’s read on.

Ephesians 2:4 begins, “But God.” What amazing words turn the course of doom! “But God.” These two words are the fulcrum upon which the destiny of man swings upward to life. “But God!” But God so loved the world that He intervened. But God was not willing that any should perish.  But God so loved the world that He offered a plan for this fallen man to be reconciled to Him. But God had this plan from before the foundations of the world. “But God” simply means that God, and only God was able to divert this river of death, toward life.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

The contrast between death and life is given, and a reminder of the effects of God’s grace, resulting in a new identity of life in Christ; and He will continue to pour out His grace of redemption upon us for eternity.

The incomprehensible divide, spanned only by the gift of Jesus Christ. One Source. One solution to the problem of sin. One bridge–Christ! The infinite divide is only able to be bridged by an infinite God.

He crossed the divide!

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Nothing but the Blood

It strikes me that we may be a little desensitized nowadays. We might see movies in which we see blood and gore, and not be affected or even concerned about the horrendous loss of life. Or, we might just ask, “Is that really necessary?” and continue eating our popcorn. And yet, when it gets down to it, those movies are often only for gratuitous shock value.

But there was a purpose when God called for sacrifices at the Tabernacle or the Temple. I also believe there’s a very real purpose for God to have blood red; because it is very pronounced. You know when you have hurt yourself, your body begins alerting you immediately.

We get a very dramatic, yet intentional picture of blood in 1 Kings chapter 8. Solomon is consecrating the Temple here, as he’s bringing the Ark in.

Verse five of chapter eight in First Kings says, “Then King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who were assembled with him, were with him before the Ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.”

“So many that they could not be counted or numbered.” What kind of number is that? What kind of number of oxen and sheep are such that they could not be counted?

Whatever that number is, may I suggest that it is a number greater than 22,000 oxen, and it’s greater than 120,000 sheep. Because at the end of the chapter in verse 62 through 64, we see that the offerings either continue, or are identified. Verses 62-63 says, “Now the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifice before the Lord. Solomon offered for the sacrifice of peace offerings which he offered to the Lord 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep.” Here’s my point: those sacrifices were able to be numbered; pretty big numbers yet, they were still able to be numbered. May I suggest that in the beginning of the chapter if those sacrifices being offered were such that they could not be numbered, then they were in excess of 22,000 and 120,000 animals respsectively. I would even suggest that that number would be substantially greater than 22,000 bulls and greater than 120,000 sheep. Thus, at least doubling that amount of sacrifice that’s taking place in the whole realm of consecrating that temple.

The latter part of verse 63 and verse 64 communicate, “So the king and all the sons of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord. On the same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord, because there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings for the bronze altar that was before the Lord was too small to hold the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings; for the bronze altar that was before the LORD was too small to hold the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings.”

Now, try to get your mind around the thought that there was an area that was dedicated for the offerings, and it was entirely overwhelmed. That’s an understatement–120,000 sheep, and 22,000 bulls and then some! To get the perspective on this we need to understand that they are inviting a holy God to dwell in that Temple; the blood paves the way for the people to have a relationship with God. That blood had to be shed.

I did a little research this week. Twenty-two thousand bulls at six gallons of blood per bull. Six gallons! That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 132,000 gallons of blood. The number is staggering and it ends up being somewhere between eight and nine swimming pools full of blood–and that’s  just the bulls. The sheep, 120,000 sheep is just as staggering. Sheep run somewhere between two and a half and four gallons of blood per sheep. If we were to take the higher of four gallons, that comes in at 480,000 gallons of blood. Four hundred eighty thousand gallons of blood is somewhere around 30 average-sized swimming pools full of blood.

It gives you a pretty visual picture which speaks volumes. Remember, the blood is red, it’s coming off the altar area, and it’s flowing down as a river under the perimeter wall outside of the city; it’s flowing toward the Kidron. The blood of bulls and sheep, enough to fill nearly 39 swimming pools with blood is flowing as a reminder for all to see of the price paid for this relationship with the Sovereign.

You get the picture, the redness, the stickiness of blood all over everything because without the shedding of blood, there’s no remission of sin. But may I also point out that in the Old Testament, the sin was not taken away. That payment of blood was an “interest only” payment. It allowed the people to have fellowship with God. It invited the holy God to come and to dwell in that temple, but it did not take away the sin. It allowed a temporary fellowship with God, but it’s not until the true sacrifice of the Lamb of God is offered up that the principal of that debt is paid as well. In Hebrews, we get a clear picture, and with that vision in your mind of the Temple, and the blood flowing for a long time, however long it takes for that much blood to drain, we get that contrast when Christ makes a sacrifice of roughly one and a half gallons of divine blood upon the altar of the Cross.

Hebrews 9:11-12 says, “but when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, he entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Verses 13-14 say, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctified for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

Is that an amazing picture? There was only one sufficient sacrifice, and it was not the blood of any animals. That’s what we celebrate today in the ordinance of communion. As we partake of a small vile, in essence, just a few drops of juice, of wine, we remember what Christ has done on our behalf, with blood so pure. The sacrifice was so great that Christ was able to offer to us an absolute remediation of our sins, and place us in right standing before God the father.

We remember the vast amounts of blood spilled over the many years for the temporary restoration of relationship with God. To think about that enormous amount of blood is astounding, and yet it pales in significance to the purity of the blood which flowed from the veins of Christ.

Reading from Hebrews chapter 9:15, “for this reason, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”

That blood, the blood of Christ was the currency, the only currency that would be accepted for the payment of our sin in order to offer to us eternal redemption and an eternal inheritance.

As you remember the Lord’s death, as we break the bread, and as we taste of the bread, remember the price that was paid on our behalf as we thank God for what He has done, take, eat, and praise God that the price was paid in full.

And also, enjoy the cup that inaugurated to us that open door of redemption should we choose to walk through. Let us thank God for the blood of Christ.

“What can take away my sin?”

“Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Lord, in this culture, we cannot really fathom that amount of blood and yet when it is visualized in Hollywood or in our culture, it is just as a result of sin and mindlessness and hatred. But Lord, that blood that was shed on our behalf was the greatest act of grace that you have extended to us. We thank you Lord, for allowing us to reflect on that even for these few moments. But more than that, we thank you that as you have drawn us to yourself, you have built the bridge through Christ and His blood that we might enter into eternal redemption. We thank you for the blessings that are ours in the heavenly places, and we thank you for the inheritance that awaits, which we taste of even briefly now. We thank you lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Still Evangelical

Words come. Words go. It appears words migrate through a life-span of sorts. Some begin as an idiom, a slang and then gradually morph into one of greater understanding, ending up in a word museum of antiquity somewhere in Anhedonia (Can you say…Corset? Fortran? Britches, dungarees, or davenport?). Some we have no clear idea from where they come.  Others take on an initial meaning and then evolve into one representing something altogether different from that first proposed (cool, or boss)…I believe the term “evangelical” is one such term which has been hijacked, modified, contorted, and consequently is slotted by some to be relegated to word oblivion. Continue reading “Still Evangelical”

The Grace of Ruin

“Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me,” the younger brother says to his father (Luke 15:12), effectively, demanding all of the benefits of sonship in advance of the father’s death. Something, simply not done in the ancient near-east; it was a slap in the face of the father, in essence saying, “You are dead to me. I do not care about you or your life. I do not want a relationship with you, I simply want to enjoy my life. Give to me what is mine!” Though entirely uncustomary, the father concedes, advancing portions of the estate to both of his sons.

Thus begins, one of the greatest scenarios of self will, and the life ensued. The picture is not simply one of an earthly father yielding the benefits of the inheritance to an offspring, but rather, concurrent demand of blessing, absent any submission to authority of the divine pater. The parable, found in its entirety in Luke 15:11-32, is one which has taken the name The Prodigal Son; prodigal does not mean one who goes, or one who goes and returns; it means one who indiscriminately spends–a spendthrift. This son has desired to reap all he can to his own flesh through a life of unrestrained hedonism.

His fate is certain. He spends all he has and begins to realize his need, thus necessitating employment. He’s hungry, desiring the rank fodder of pigs, but he couldn’t even get that. He lays mired in the stench of the pigs, his once refined clothing likely at its end, in envy of his father’s servants. In today’s language we would say that he “hit bottom,” or the “end of his rope.” He has set this course by his own free will, and the father allowed it. The grace of ruin has brought him there. The grace of ruin presents two options, to remain hopeless, lamenting the course of events, and crying foul to one’s “victimization.” Or, realigning one’s direction.

Upon reflection, he realizes his future would be better, even as a servant in his father’s house. The narrative communicates, “But when he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17);  I love that phrase. When we say that one comes to their senses, usually the implication is that they had lost their minds prior to that, or minimally, they were lacking clarity of mind. This individual was able to see the fate of his desire; just as important, he is able to see what had been severed in his relationship with his father. He hastens to restore that relationship on any level.

He walks the long journey home, rehearsing his lines to the father. His body tattered, his once nice clothes in rags draped from his body, and smelling of his previous “pen-pals.” The father sees him from a long way off; he was longing for this moment of restoration. Uncharacteristic of a patriarch in the ancient world, the father runs, hoisting up his garments in an expedited attempt to reunite with his estranged son. The father is uninhibited at the presentation and the smell of His Son; He has nothing but grace…and an embrace. The son is fully restored to all the privileges of sonship: the robe, the ring, the sandals, and the celebration.

The parallel is oh so clear, played out time and time again throughout humanity. The picture is all too real, one in which I have engaged numerous times. If you are like me, you have taken many trips to “another country.” One, I presume most, if not all have experienced in the course of a journey of faith. God allows our unchecked free will to take us in the direction of our hearts, where ever that may lead. And, He allows that journey of rebellion to end where it ought, in a very lonely place absent the intimacy of the Father, at the ruinous bottom. And yet, He permits that grace of ruin to clear our minds, present our very true need, and draw us once again to Him.

You are facing in one of two directions: Heading away from, or moving toward God. If you are indeed moving toward the Sovereign, move even closer. If you are moving toward bottom, I pray you would reach it quickly and return home swiftly.

May the grace of ruin lead you back to the very blessings you once possessed in the arms of the Father. Back for good!

The First Mercy

In the midst of an otherwise sobering book of consequences, Lamentations 3:22-23 stands out as the beautiful pearl of promise:

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).

God is love: strong, robust, consistent, and eternal. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that His love never ceasesOne of the ways this love is communicated is through the mercies extended to His own.

In the context of a contrary world pressing against us, the Lord’s hand is still at work pouring out divine mercy upon His creation. Mercies­–blessings we do not deserve, falling upon us from the sovereign hand as an expression of His faithfulness.

Most would interpret these verses as taking place in the early morning hours, perhaps at sunrise as rays are climbing over the surrounding mountains, or even when the clouds give way to shades of grey and white, or maybe when birds begin to sing.  But, I would suggest those mercies begin much sooner than that; I would contend they begin every day at 12:00:00 a.m.; when a new day begins!

While minds are radically engaged in REM sleep and dreams, our first mercy is expressed in the days’ first heartbeat, the days’ first breath. Life is coursing through our veins and the Sovereign of all creation has seen to it that we are still engaged in this gift called life. Giving life where only death was deserved.

Like a string of unending pearls, subsequent mercies flow throughout the day.

The mercy of the bed in which we sleep. The mercy of the house under which we sleep. The cosmological mercies at work in the world while we sleep. And the protection of us as we slumber. The mercies never sleep.

Lest we errantly conclude these mercies reside solely on us, we remember that His mercy rests upon those in the bed next to us, and down the hall in their beds, and across town and the nation. Our mercies!

Even before we are awake our cache is full; we open our eyes having been the recipients of such divine favor.

Do we deserve them? Quite simply, no. But our receipt of such a blessing was never intended to score our own merits; rather, they remind us daily, by the hour, even by the second that something greater, someone greater than ourselves is at work.

As we are providentially endowed to cross the threshold to another day, God has had compassion; He has led the way to a day filled with mercies, repeated, and renewed every single day.

Great is His faithfulness; vast and abundant. He is that way; He must be that way for it is in keeping with His character.

The person who fails to recognize that they rest, and are absorbed in the absolute mercy of God fails to ascribe to Him His faithfulness. But to those who follow Jesus Christ, His faithfulness will usher us into a glorious eternity!

Never ceases? Never.
Never fail? Never!
New every morning? Yes, every morning.
Great is His faithfulness? Oh yes, great; greater than we will ever know.

“Thou changest not, your compassions they fail not,
Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Obsolescence

They say that, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But, I am not so sure that is true. Sometimes all it takes is to make something a little better not necessarily something new.

The other night I was conversing with my aunt about all of the things the digital phone seems to be making obsolete…Calendars, cassette tapes and recorders, letters, paper, pens, TV’s, stereos, flashlights, travel agents, movie theaters, postage stamps, places to pay bills. When was the last time you stood in line to pay an electric bill or a gas bill?  Books, newspapers, cameras, watches and clocks are all at risk. When was the last occasion you called 853-1212 to see what time it was? The digital phone is even replacing, well, phones, land-line phones. You get the point, and there are likely hundreds if not thousands more examples. So, the death toll rises.

Only a few are able to raise themselves up from the tar pit, wash themselves off and repurpose their agendas. Kodak and Polaroid couldn’t do it. Things do not look good for the likes of JCPenney and Kmart. The Pony Express was not one of those fortunate industries. My friend has stated that, “in Texas, when a horse dies, we dismount.” Good principle, and point taken, but, I would insist, “if you are a worthy warrior, you find another mount and finish the charge.”

So, what about the Church? Is the Church still relevant? It seems, at times, we are losing traction.

The truth is the culture is changing. People are doing church on their phones. They are receiving collegiate degrees on their tablets. They order Bible classes, pizza, and studies online. Ailing businesses and institutions either change and repurpose, or slip into the great tarpit of obscurity. The culture is changing, that is true…Challenges are huge. We need to ask, “Does the Church need to adapt?” or even, “Is there a place for the Church in the 21st Century?”

The Church has been put through the wringer in the last several years, our “stock price” has taken a hit, and now it seems that we are struggling for relevance in the modern world, at least from the world’s perspective. Those same digital devices, which are “doing in” many industries, are also the culprits of consuming so much time; some of which used to be spent, no doubt, in Church.

But, we still have something no other institution has: the Gospel of Jesus Christ­—the good news for lost souls. Mankind’s sure and certain hope is in the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been entrusted to the Church. There is no other Name under Heaven by which one must be saved.

Ideas will come and ideas will go. But we have been privileged with the greatest message ever, which will never be replaced with something better. I hope to take my last breaths serving in this movement of God; the Church, built upon the foundation of Truth…the Word of the Lord.

Isaiah 40:8 confirms, “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” All Truth. All God’s truth is forever; it will transcend this life.

And 1 Peter 1:25 says, “’BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.’ And this is the word which was preached to you.” This word, this precious Gospel is that which has invited us into new life in Christ.

As you do, I love God, have a zeal for Christ, a devotion to the Word, a passion for the Gospel, and a heart for the lost. We are not sure of the trajectory, or the longevity of the American Church, but we are in place at this very moment, and have a special place in our hearts for those needing salvation. Our message is still the same; we may need to work harder at communicating to subsequent generations, but it’s still the best thing going.

Yes, we are seeking to identify our current relevance in this task. We are trying to chart our new course. We seek a new horse, or vehicle maybe, but our message will not change. We are not necessarily seeking to invent something new, simply to help make something better where we can in order to win souls with the timeless, proven news of salvation. We have nothing “new and improved” to offer the world. Only the same beautiful promise to someone who embraces Christ: pure eternal life with God.

As my friend says: “All I know is that God is good, the Bible is true, the Gospel is redemptive, the Bride is beautiful, the Time is short, the Mission is clear, Prayer is powerful and the Eternal Kingdom is near!”

Our calling is clear: Let ‘em know that!

That is something that will never be replaced by digital genius; there is no app for that!

Stands a Tree

In our yard there stands a tree; by all rights it’s a beautiful tree, and it continues to come into its own, to grow bigger, to sprout beautiful leaves. It is from a species of trees that used to bear fruit. Yet, this tree is now considered to be a “fruitless” tree, one that over the years, through intentions or consequence has adapted to bear no fruit. The reasons for such an effort aren’t known. Perhaps it was because the fruit was not tasty, or because the fruit was messy, perhaps, it was so deprived of nutrients and water that its fruit bearing ability has just withered. In any case, no amount of fertilizer or gardening or care or weather is going to revive that tree to bear fruit. So, we solely appreciate the tree for what it is in its fruitless beauty.

On the other hand, I remember a tree as I was growing up; it was in the back part of our property, and it had been neglected for years. Originally rescued from a trash heap, and shoved into the ground, it had been forgotten. If ever there were signs that it bore fruit they were small, shriveled pieces of worthless indecipherable “fruit.” At some point in time I remember finding a bag of fertilizer around the house and pouring it all around the tree; and what do you know? After a while it bore fruit, loads of fruit…at that point we discovered what kind of a tree it truly was…a mandarin orange tree.

By divine fiat it was created to bear fruit and it did…eventually.

By divine design the people of God have always been expected to bear fruit, whether in the Old Testament or the New. The bride of God, Israel, was expected to bear good grapes, and yet, they only produced worthless ones (stink berries). Acting as the Vintner, God had done everything to secure their success, but they failed (Isaiah 5). As well, the Church was intended to bear fruit, and bearing fruit is the divine mandate of every believer (John 15), though sadly, not all evidence an obedience to that call.

I love my calling, to shepherd the flock of God. I love to see growth. I have ups, and downs. But, one of the greatest struggles a pastor can have is walking alongside fellow sheep…for years, and never seeing even a hint of growth, a speck of maturity, or any trace of fruit. Yet, to many it seems, the idea of “fruitless” Christians is becoming the norm; one who “over the years, through intentions or consequence has been adapted to bear no “fruit.”

From the parables of the sower and the seed; the vine and the branches from John 15, the vineyard from Isaiah 5, and others, it is clear we are intended to bear fruit; okay?

So, what is fruit?

Simply put, fruit is any evidence of the Lord working in your life. It is the undeniable manifestation that your life is under the care, custody, and control of your Creator, the one who produces it through you.  Galatians 5:22-23 communicates, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The first three seem to focus on our new lives in Christ; the second on our relationships with others; and the third on our inner growth. The life of a true follower of Christ will in time progressively develop and reveal these greater emanations of God through Christ, a greater love for others, and increased Godly character.

Like I said earlier, some “Christian” don’t produce any signs of life in Christ, and they don’t seem to care. Some of us try to fake it, producing only “plastic” fruit–fake fruit which looks like something authentic to the undiscerning, but in reality, is only window dressing. God knows.

Designed to bear fruit. John 15:8 says “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” “Prove to be my disciples!” It is in the manifestation of fruit that we affirm we are walking in Christ. The same power that raised Christ from the dead, the same power that brought you from death to life, is the same power which you have coursing within you.God is pleased as His faithful creation bears much fruit, even thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. We belong to Christ. We abide in Christ. And in so doing our Father in Heaven is glorified.

I am sure some of us have been a little weak in the “obedience” area…Maybe it’s time; no, it is time to let the Heavenly Gardner tend to His property. You will not be disappointed–the outcome will be sweet!

Gone Astray, Gone Away

The imagery is brutal; and yet, it is a scene which happens often, all over the world. It is one of a shepherd coming upon a pile of bones and wool in a shallow pool of blood–the remnants of a quick and savage death to one of his flock. His heart sinks as he identifies, through various markings which one it was. He pains for the sheep who perished in a panic at the jaws of 42 razor-sharp teeth. Had he failed to protect the helpless? Had this little sheep wondered too far? Had this endeared part of the family chosen to travel outside the safe clutches of the flock?

Perhaps, the shepherds only comfort at the time was that the attack was sudden and quiet–such a death came swiftly. Continue reading “Gone Astray, Gone Away”

He Bought a Church

For those who may not yet have heard, we bought a church. By God’s grace Bishop Creek Community Church has finally been able to acquire a building to call “home.”  It is a beautiful building. Vintage church. Architecturally it is great; it was designed and made…well, to be a church. The cost of the church was…affordable. Well, affordable enough. And though many other parties were interested in this property, the Lord seemed to have it placed aside for continued ministry here in Bishop. So glad that this testament to the work of God remained in the community. Perhaps, the cherry on the top is that we have the blessing of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, with whom we share the building.

To God be the glory! Continue reading “He Bought a Church”

Follow Me

In Matthew 4:18-20 we read, “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.”

In Matthew 9:9 we read, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him.”

In both such instances following Jesus was not presented as an option, but an expectation of obedience to the divine imperative. Continue reading “Follow Me”

Sacrifice of Fools

Quite a sobering portrait is depicted in Leviticus 10:1-10; it is the account of the sons of Aaron going into the Tabernacle in the course of their priestly responsibilities.

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD”(Leviticus 10:1-2). Continue reading “Sacrifice of Fools”

Just One Question

If you were invited to ask God one question; what would that question be?

Even before we are able to articulate complete sentences or phrases, we begin seeking answers to the questions which plague us; it is just in our DNA. So, what would you inquire of God?

Where are you? Who are you? Why do you allow pain? How big are you? Why did you take away my Mother? Father? Or, child? Why do you allow death? How could you send people to Hell if indeed you are a loving God? Do you love me? Can I know you? Continue reading “Just One Question”

The Journey Home

To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may appear to be the simple prose of children’s poetry. To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may simply communicate comfort in times of death. To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may only be seen as words befitting a nice greeting card. But, if those observations were the case, then the casual observer would have failed to see the true heart of the Heavenly Shepherd–to lead the sheep home. Continue reading “The Journey Home”