Blog Archives

Who is this Mediator — God and Man?

The simple answer that every child learns in church, in Sunday School, and in other children’s programs is that our only Mediator is the Lord Jesus Christ who was sent to us to redeem us from our sins by substituting himself in our place, paying the penalty for our sins and imputing to us his righteousness. And as adults we say, “Amen and Amen.” And all believers respond, whether child or adult, “Praise God! Hallelujah!”

There are many other religions floating around this old world, but every other religion that I am aware of, leaves you in the despondency of human works or fate. They may call it various things — merit, karma, kismet, etc…but it all boils down to one thing: despair. I can’t do enough good works to satisfy my own soul, let alone the demands of a perfect God. And then the idea of fate — I am bound to my miserable lot, so why bother growing and seeking maturity in faith or doing good works. In the end — grief and despair overwhelm. What a radical difference there is between Biblical Christianity and any other faith that the world has to offer!

The real question, for you who confess Christ is whether you really live like you believe Christ is your mediator and intercessor before God. Do you strive to live in a way that honors him? Do you seek to live obediently to his commands? If not, can it be said that you really believe all this you say about the person of Christ? In principle, the things we believe are seen in the way we live. Is Christ visible in the way you live your life? Is he visible in the way you worship? Is he glorified in you?

Are You Pursuing Personal Gain or Serving Christ?

“I have no one who is as like-minded, who is sincere in his concern toward you, for all strive after their own aims, not those of Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 2:20-21)

If you recall, towards the beginning of this book, Paul writes that there are many around him preaching the gospel out of pretense and for personal gain; it is clearly these that Paul has in mind when he states that no one but Timothy is of a like mind. For Timothy, this statement is a huge honor, but what a statement of judgment upon those who, well, the others — those whose interests are only their own and not Jesus Christ’s interests. As great a compliment as it must have been for Timothy, what a rebuke for the others.

In a very real sense, though, Paul is setting up two categories of those who serve in the ministry — those that serve themselves and those that serve Jesus Christ. Or perhaps I could put it this way: those that labor and strive to achieve their personal goals and reputation and those that willingly pour themselves out to serve Christ and His church. You want the latter as your pastor, not the former…

Can we not also apply these categories to all believers? Indeed we can. There are many who will fill the pews of a church for their own purposes — the sermons are interesting or make them feel good, the fellowship is enjoyable, their family goes to the church, etc… Yet the reason to go to church is to be equipped to serve Jesus. In addition, the reason to live life is to serve Jesus. No man can have two masters, Jesus taught, we cannot serve Jesus and our own interests at the same time. Whose interests will you serve?

Come Out of the Closet!

“Now, I want you to know, brothers, that which has happened to me is rather for the advancement of the Gospel, so that it became known to the whole of the Praetorium and to all the rest that my chains are in Christ and many of the brethren, being persuaded in the Lord through my chains, are even more bold to speak the Word without fear.”

(Philippians 1:12-14)

And this is the end of Paul’s attitude that all experiences are opportunities to glorify God. It is not that Paul gets noticed or honored. It is so that Christ gets noticed and honored and it is lived out in such a way that should encourage other believers to live boldly as well. Thus even in the Praetorium (the Praetorium was the term applied to Roman governmental bodies and thus the Praetorian Guard were those soldiers charged with protecting the government and its officials). Because of the boldness of Paul there are some who are coming to faith even within the ranks of the Roman government and becoming bold in their own testimonies as to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Thus, O Christian, I set these words in front of you once again. Will you strive to be like the Apostle Paul? Will you speak boldly of Christ in whatever context you find God placing you in? Will your testimony be such that it encourages other “closet Christians” to come out of the closets and proclaim the good news that there is salvation from sins in Jesus Christ. Will your testimony of “Repent and believe!” be such that the Holy Spirit will use you in the glorious redemptive work of our Lord? So, Christian, will you do just that? The job of the pastor is not to fill the seats of the sanctuary…if that were the case, we best be entertainers and not preachers, teachers, and exhorters…the job of the Christian is to go out and to witness in such a way that people are receptive to the invitation to come. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit brings regeneration, repentance, and conversion, but will you be such a tool in the Spirit’s hands that he can use you in this glorious task? Paul bids you to follow his model.

Having Been Filled

“having been filled with the fruit of righteousness because of Jesus Christ to the glory and honor of God.”

“Having been filled…” Notice the language that this verse begins with. We do not “fill” ourselves but we are filled. It is God’s work in us from the beginning to the end. We take no credit, we can only ever give praise for what our God has done in and through unworthy lumps of clay such as we. With the Apostle Paul, I can say that my works are but dung…something to be cast out lest they defile the holiness of the camp. Yet, in Christ, I can also say (again, with the Apostle Paul) that I have been filled with the fruit of righteousness. What a blessed tension there is between the two.

Thus, the righteousness that I have been given — the righteousness in which I stand  clothed before the throne of God — is not my own. It is Christ’s. Everything that is good or admirable that is found within me is because of Jesus Christ. I bring nothing of my own to the table when it comes to things of value. Without Christ’s work, I would be but a hollow shell in line to be crushed…destroyed under God’s wrath for God’s glory. Such is the man that I am and such is the cause for my praise. He has done for me that which I could never have done for myself. My debt of sin has been paid and I have been redeemed from death and Hell. I have been purchased by the blood of Christ, forgiven, reconciled to God, adopted as a son of the Most High, and am being prepared, along with the rest of the church, to be part of the bride of Christ. What more can we say but, “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!” What more can we do but to tell others the good news of this wonderful Savior!

And to whom is the honor given for this work? To God himself. May we never be “stingy” with our praise to our Redeemer-King. May we never hold back the honor that he is due. May we sing our praises to the Triune God without compromise and may we strive to live lives that are honoring to Him in everything we do. Such is the heart of a believer. Such is my prayer for you.

My Fear…

“For God is my witness how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 1:8)

What a beautiful line this is as he expresses his desire to be with the Philippian believers. His desire is to be with them and the desire is great. This is more than a man simply being homesick while he sits in chains, wishing to be out of bondage. Were this simply an expression of Paul’s homesickness, we could write this statement off, but such would not be consistent with the character of the Apostle Paul who has discovered (as he will later write) that he has discovered how to be content in all things. Here is a man with a genuine affection for the church of Jesus Christ.

As we reflect on the nature of Paul’s affection for the church, it ought to cause us to ask whether we share the same affection for Christ’s church in our midst. Do we love the people of Christ’s church in the same manner or with the same intensity as Jesus loves them? Would we gladly be willing to suffer for the church? Would we gladly be willing to die for the church? If not, are we ready to repent? For is this not the model to which we are called? And if we are not able to love other believers, with whom we will spend eternity and with whom we are counted as one body, then how will we show the love of Christ toward unbelievers?

Loved ones, my fear is that the church has fallen into the trap of living with a wester-self-centered mindset. My fear is that the church has fallen into the trap of living for itself rather than sacrificing itself for others. My fear is that the church would not be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” And if my fears are true, what of our witness to a watching world? May the world look upon us as a people that seek to serve Christ and not ourselves nor our institutions. And as the world looks at us, and sees the love of Christ in us for one another, may the world desire to partake of that which God has done in us.

Grace and Peace to you…

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 1:2)

When you greet others who are Christians, how do you greet them? Do you have a sincere wish for them that God would give them grace and peace or do you greet them begrudgingly, perhaps because of something that has happened between the two of you in the past? Or, do you even think about these things at all? Do you just say, “Hello, how are you?” and then just keep on walking satisfied in the pleasantries but not really caring about the answer to your question. Isn’t it interesting, so often, that we want people to be genuinely concerned about our welfare or about what we happen to be doing but don’t have the same concern about our neighbor…even that neighbor who happens to be a believer in Jesus Christ.

Paul sets for us a model that would serve us well to follow. May God give you grace and peace. The idea expressed by Grace as Paul presents it is that of God having a disposition of goodwill toward you, that he might bless your steps and your actions and that the world indeed would see God’s hand in your life. This is not a health-wealth or prosperity Gospel, though. For the evidence of God’s grace is not seen in money or physical well-being, Paul presents the evidence of God’s grace as peace in your life. Peace denotes a resting in God’s hand of mercy. It is a deliverance from the Evil One and his power. And later in this letter, Paul will refer to this peace as that which “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), because it is a peace that can be had despite the fact that you are facing trials in this life. Such peace, such resting in God’s mercy, is the result of God’s gracious hand upon your life (and while not always, often abundant wealth is a sign of God’s judgment…).

Yet, Paul also makes it clear where this grace and peace come from…God. Grace and peace are not found in wealth, careers, politics, sports teams, fancy cars, electronics, entertainment, computers, movies, status, fame, or anything else we might think of that captures our attention (and sadly also, our hearts). True grace and peace come from the hand of God and thus we should seek it in no other place but in God alone. How often we fall into the trap of looking elsewhere. John the Apostle closed his first letter with the words, “protect yourself from idols.” Indeed, how we need to here those words over and over again. And while we do that, may we train ourselves to take a genuine interest in one another’s welfare and the condition of their soul. Such is the heart behind the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Bondservants of Christ

“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”

(Philippians 1:1)

Philippians is one of Paul’s later letters, written while in Prison in Rome (c.f. 4:22), and towards the end of his life. This places the letter as having been written in the early 60s, AD. The Church in Philippi had sent him a gift (4:16,18). It was not uncommon, in ancient times, that those in house prison were to pay for their own lodging essentially, forcing them to rely on the generosity of friends and family. Such is the context of this letter where Paul is responding back and saying, “thank you,” to these generous Christians.

Though this first verse is little more than an introductory greeting, it contains a great deal of depth and ought not be overlooked. To begin with, we find Timothy with Paul. This is earlier in his imprisonment as Paul is speaking of sending Timothy to the church in Philippi with his greetings and for their aide (2:9). Yet, this is taking place before Paul writes for Timothy to return (2 Timothy 4:9) which is closer to his death. Again, this helps us to discern the timeline of Paul’s letters.

More importantly is the title that Paul applies both to himself and to Timothy. He says that they are slaves or (as is sometimes translated) bondservants of Christ Jesus. The term that is used here is douvloß (doulos), which is one of the terms that Paul quite regularly uses to describe his service to Jesus Christ. This term refers not to a mere hired servant, but to a servant who is bound (as a slave would be) to his master. As Christians, we serve Christ Jesus and Christ alone. We given permission to have two masters (Luke 16:13) and we do not serve Christ for a season and then serve another (as hired servants might do). We are bound to serve Christ until the very day we die.

This is a mindset that the modern church has largely forgotten. People are quick to live lives and expend energies for the things that they want, but when they get tired, weary, or frustrated at the direction that things are going, they bail out and do something different. Such is not the calling of a Christian. No matter what the cost, not matter where he leads us, we must follow for we are not our own. We, if we will be faithful, must grasp this notion and serve Christ, not self.

Destroyed, Forever and Ever…

“The wicked sprout like weeds,

And all who do iniquity blossom;

To be destroyed, forever and ever.”

(Psalm 92:8 [verse 7 in English translations])

 

Paul writes in Romans 9:21-23 that God has created the wicked as vessels of wrath for the purpose of pouring out his power upon in destruction. The psalmist speaks in similar terms here. Though the wicked seem to sprout up like weeds all around us and those who revel in their sin seem to prosper, there is a purpose for which they were created…and that purpose is destruction. While the believer may be created, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” the wicked are created to face His wrath and be destroyed forever.

For most of us, that is a fearful warning, for though we may be believers we know many who are not. Indeed, some may be destined for this destruction. Others may be of the elect of God, yet in God’s providence they have yet to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The question is, might you be the one whom God will use to share the Gospel with such persons? Yet, such cannot take place unless you begin the conversation with them about what is true and what is eternal. The grass withers and perishes but the word of the Lord lasts forever. Will you be the one to share that word with those in your midst? Will there never be left any question as to your care for their eternal souls?

All too often we read passages like this and we fail to seriously consider the reality of hell and the horrors of such eternal destruction. The scriptures refer to it as the “second death” (Revelation 2:11; 20:14; 21:8). A dying that lasts eternally in all its fearful connotations, devoid of hope. Such is the end to which those this verse speaks of are destined…should it not make us shudder that we have friends, neighbors, and coworkers that will be found under God’s thumb of wrath. Will you warn them of the coming wrath?

Am I Missing Something?

Normally I try and stay out of the fray when it comes to the frenzy around popular scandals and sensationalistic stories. Maybe I should make more social commentaries than I do, but guess that I would rather immerse myself more deeply in God’s word and trust people to have a little common sense that can be applied to a situation strange or otherwise. Yet there has been an odd buzzing around evangelical circles and I am feeling compelled to at least comment in the hopes that this buzz will go along the wayside sooner than later.

It seems that recently, Atlanta pastor, Louie Giglio was first invited and then disinvited to offer the benediction at the second inauguration of President Barak Obama. It is said that the invitation came as a result of Giglio’s work to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States. The disinvitation came as a result of a twenty-year-old sermon where Giglio presented the Biblical testimony that homosexuality is sin. And now, it seems that every major figure in evangelical Christianity along with major figures in the liberal establishment are offering us commentaries — folks, enough already! Yet, let me ignore my own advice and make a couple of comments:

 

1) Why in the world would the Obama Administration invite an evangelical evangelist to offer the benediction? And why, oh why, did Giglio accept said request? Think about it. Perhaps it would be flattering to be asked to offer such a benediction, but there comes a point when one ought to decline.

Though I have never been asked to offer a prayer at such an auspicious occasion (and don’t expect to be), as an area pastor I do regularly get asked to pray or offer a benediction at community events. In these cases, the first question that I ask is always, “Am I allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ?” If the answer is, ‘no,’ then my answer is ‘no’ as well. Inclusivity in presidential politics is no new thing to the scene and clearly guidelines and rules would be established for such a benediction that would water down the intentional Christian spirit of the prayer.

One might counter that this is a pluralistic nation in terms of religious beliefs, and indeed it is, but I am not a pluralistic pastor — I am a Christian pastor, and so is Louie Giglio — and thus my loyalties lie with Christ and any authority I have to offer a blessing upon the lives of others also comes from Christ.

Furthermore, when one shares the stage in a setting like an inauguration with someone, that offers an implicit endorsement of the person with whom the stage is shared. Why go down that road? How can an evangelical endorse any politician that supports the gay agenda, the pro-choice agenda, and the agenda of those who are seeking to marginalize the Christian voice from civil life (in our schools, our courts, etc…)? What fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

 

2) While my intention is not to slam Pastor Giglio here, it seems odd to me that those pursuing a liberal agenda would have to go 20 years back to find something “incriminating” against him in his sermons. Surely, I would hope, that nearly any evangelical pastor would regularly be speaking in a way that those who pursue sin would find offensive. My grandfather (a Methodist minister) used to say, “if you are not stepping on toes, you are likely not preaching the gospel.”

As preachers, part of our responsibility is to address the sins of our time in a way that reflects God’s word and not the fickle preferences of men. We are to call the culture away from its self-destruction and not chase the culture to the praise of men. We should be calling people to repent of their sins — homosexuality being just one of such wicked lifestyles our world has embraced. We should also be calling people to repent of sexual immorality of all kids, including sexuality outside of wedlock. We should be calling people to repent of pornography, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, anger, pride, adultery, and the list goes on! We should be proclaiming the truth that we are fallen sinners and that there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone — there is no other way to the Father but through the Son. Surely that too must be greatly offensive in our politically correct society!

This does not mean we are wagging our fingers at the world, for we point toward our own fallenness as well, and we proclaim that in Christ there is grace and forgiveness — yet Christ himself also calls us to turn away from our wicked lifestyles, not to become comfortable in them or accepting of them. “Go and sin no more” are words from Christ that echo down through the centuries.

When the issue of homosexuality was raised with Giglio, rather than to use that opportunity to speak truth into the culture, he soft-pedaled the matter and stated that the question of homosexuality had not been in his “range of priorities in the past fifteen years.” Really? Surely homosexuality is one of the most significant issues eroding the morality of our society over the past fifteen years…am I missing something? Especially given that much of Giglio’s public ministry has been focused on calling kids to “making much of Christ,” does one not think that one’s lifestyle is part of that? Were one to have a ministry that focused primarily on our older generation (let’s say 65 and up…sorry Mom and Dad!), then it would be easy to see how this social issue would not play a role in the forefront of his ministry because that generation in our culture was largely raised on Biblical moral teachings. The younger generation was not and has been encouraged to experiment with sin. One ought to keep that in as much of the forefront as sex trafficking, the use of drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. Giglio clearly is committed to the Biblical truth on the matter, given the language of his released sermon, but why has he played down the question when raised?

 

3) It is true, as people like Al Mohler point out, that Biblical foundations are being eroded from our culture and that society is actively seeking to marginalize the influence and presence of evangelicalism from public life. That said, why do we assume (as evangelical Christians) that having an evangelical pastor pray for our president (one who rejects what evangelicals stand for) will change the current state of affairs? Don’t get me wrong, we are to pray for all of our leaders — in this case, I would argue for conversion — but the public prayer at an inauguration does not seem to be the kind of thing that Paul was speaking about when he wrote those words to Timothy.

And why should it bother us if our president would choose a liberal pastor, a unitarian pastor, or even a Muslim Imam to pray for him at his Inauguration? Why not find someone to speak words that will be meaningful to the man being Inaugurated?

Yes, as Christians we may not like the idea of our Christian presence being lost in the Presidential Inauguration, but is it really there just because a Christian offers a prayer and the President swears on a book he cares nothing for? It is said that of Evangelical Christians in America, only about 20% eligible to vote did, so why bother getting upset now? And why bother getting upset at anyone but ourselves. If we have chosen (as evangelicals) to refuse to be salt and light, then it is we who need to repent for our bashfulness. We have bought into the idea that if we put up the pretense that we are a Christian culture we will be…sadly, the Bible calls that hypocrisy. We are a nation grounded in Christian roots, but we have strayed far from the spot where we began. We need a political revival like the spiritual revival that took place in Josiah’s day, calling people in our nation back to the foundation upon which we began — the foundation that God blessed and made our nation the great beacon of freedom and liberty that is — though as we stray further and further from that foundation, we will lose more and more of that freedom and liberty that made our nation great.

 

The bottom line is that these kinds of things (disinvitations and the like) are not the problems; they are only symptoms of the problem. We, like ancient Israel, have fallen into a time where every man does what is right in his own eyes — and we are paying the price for that sin. No, I don’t think I am missing something.

 

Embezzled Grace

“Nevertheless, love those who are hostile to you — do good and lend money without disappointing anyone — and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is benevolent to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate just as much so as your Father is compassionate”

(Luke 6:35-36)

 

“Yahweh is good to all; his mercy is over all his works.”

(Psalm 145:9)

 

“In the generations which have gone by, he permitted all of the nations to go on their own paths. Yet he did not abandon them without a witness. Doing good giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and cheerfulness. Even with these words, they barely caused the masses to cease sacrificing to them.”

(Acts 14:16-18)

 

When Christians talk of God’s grace, we talk about it in two separate ways. We talk about God’s Saving Grace, given to those that God has elected from all of the earth, by which he draws men and women to himself. And we talk of God’s Common Grace, which is the grace that he gives to all of the world — the rains in spring, the sun to make the crops grow, joy, laughter, and fellowship — things that the believer and the unbeliever enjoy alike, things which come from God’s own hand. Scripture tells us that this Common Grace is given so that no people at no time can ever say that they have not known the reality of a God who created the earth and who created them (Romans 1:18-20), yet the masses of people in the world choose to worship the created order or the works of their own hands rather than the one who created them.

The question that this raises is why does God show Common Grace to the world and when will that grace end? In the broadest sense, the answer to the question, “why,” stems back to the character of God. As the psalmist states, God is good and as a result of his goodness, he is merciful to all of his works. Jesus clarifies that statement even further in the Sermon on the Mount where he states that God is benevolent to the ungrateful and to the wicked and then, of course, God’s benevolence becomes a model for our benevolence toward the same class of people.

Yet, to narrow this matter down somewhat, we can pose another related question. What is the purpose of this grace? In a portion of the Apostle Paul’s sermon to the people at Lystra, Luke records Paul teaching that God has given his grace in this way as a witness to them — a sign of his existence with the intention that the sign would point people toward seeking the God who had set the sign into the world. In his letter to the Romans, Paul develops this line of thinking further by stating that because of this Common Grace, all men and women of the world instinctively know and understand the “invisible attributes” of God — his power and divinity (Romans 1:19-20). In turn, all mankind, because of God’s Common Grace, are left without excuses in terms of the day of judgment for their actions.

For the unbeliever, Common Grace is just as undeserved as Saving Grace is undeserved for the believer — yet, there is a distinction that must be made. While the believer is undeserving of Saving Grace, the cost of that grace was paid for by Jesus upon the Cross of Calvary. If you will, by his perfect life, he earned the glory of heaven and by his sacrifice, his shed blood atoned for the sins of those trusting in him as Lord and Savior. Believers stand before a righteous God clothed in the righteous work of Jesus Christ, not in our own works.

And thus, Common Grace is not so much the design of Jesus’ work on earth as it is the byproduct of what Jesus did. Were Jesus not to have agreed with the Father to take on flesh and to atone for fallen man, there would have been no reason for God to have done anything other than to enter into judgment and to allow this world to become as bad as it could be…a veritable “hell on earth.” Yet because of Jesus’ work, redeeming the elect through all of the generations from Adam to the end of time as we know it, the goodness of God can be seen by all through Common Grace. The unbeliever who will not trust in Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior — those whose names have not been written in the Book of Life since before the foundation of the world — benefits from Common Grace because Saving Grace is given to others.

The term “embezzle” means to misappropriate something that does not belong to you though it may happen to be in your trust. Thus, an accountant who steals from his employer by fudging the books is called an “embezzler.” Common Grace truly belongs to God and is shed into this world because he has given his Son as Savior to those who would come to him in faith. But, as mentioned above, Common Grace is also designed to demonstrate to the unbelieving world that God does exist and that they stand guilty in rejecting the God who has given them such grace. Thus, the one who would receive such Common Grace and not acknowledge the God from whom that grace is coming, is in a real sense, guilty of embezzlement. Certainly, it is not embezzlement without God’s knowing (like an accountant who would embezzle from his employer); God knows and allows it to go on as the unbelievers enjoyment of the benefit of Common Grace simply heaps judgment upon his or her own head. In a sense, it is like the employer who discovers his accountant is stealing from him, but lets it go until the accountant has stolen so much that any judge in the land would throw the book at him without question.

And indeed, the book of the law will be proverbially thrown at the unbeliever in the day of judgment. Thanks be to God for the redeeming work of Jesus Christ that I and all of those who are trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior will not receive what we rightly deserve were we left to our own devices. The question for us really is whether or not we will continue to allow those we care about to embezzle the grace of God to their own destruction, or whether we will share the good news of Jesus Christ with them that they too might be saved.

 

Blood Atonement: Genesis 20:16

“And to Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given a thousand pieces of silver to your brother. Behold it is for you a covering of the eyes to all that are with you and to all that you may be found to be in the right.’”

(Genesis 20:16)

 

In many cases, this is the kind of passage we might be tempted to pass over as simply Abimelek giving an additional peace offering to Abraham for having taken Sarah as his wife. And we might as well have glossed over the passage save for one word: tOwsV;k (kesoth). Literally, this means “covering” and in its most basic sense refers to the clothing that one would cover their body with, like a robe or a cloak. Yet, in ancient cultures, clothing also served to indicate your status in society as well as your status before God. In the ultimate sense, it reflects the work of atonement, hence after Adam and Eve have sinned, God kills an animal and makes for them clothes to wear, not simply for protection from the elements, but a sign of the work of atonement that has been promised in Christ.

Abimelek understands that he is making atonement for his sin and the silver offered is a sign that Sarah committed no sin. The principle is that there is a cost incurred when the law is broken. Just as with the civil law today, when an infraction occurs, there are fines typically attached to the infraction. If we drive too fast, we pay a speeding ticket; the worse the infraction, the more serious the fine. The seriousness of breaking a law is related proportionally to whose law is broken. Thus, breaking a county ordinance is typically not as serious as breaking a state law and breaking a state law is not as serious as breaking a federal law. In turn, most people are less concerned about being in the county jail than in the federal penitentiary. When we break the law of God, we are not offending a local, state, federal, or even an international body—we are offending the creator of the universe and his perfect, righteous character. He is infinite and thus breaking his law is an infinite offense. Thus, the fine is far greater than a few thousand silver pieces—the fine, the punishment matches the infinite greatness of the one we have offended: God himself!

Since the wages of sin is death, the payment that must be exacted for our infraction of the law of God is eternal death—eternal death not just for our sins as a whole, but eternal death for each and every sin we have committed. In the Old Testament, substitutes were offered for the sins of the people, but the blood of rams and goats could only serve as a reminder of the horror of our own sinful state. Animals died, but they were neither perfect nor infinite, and thus could not effectively stand in our place to pay the debt we owe. For thousands of years, blood flowed from the altars of the people. All to no lasting avail.

Yet, God himself provided a better substitute in his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully man, thus could identify with us and effectively take our place and he was fully God, which means he was without sin and infinite, thus able to pay an infinite debt. He owed God nothing, but chose to pay God everything in substitute for our sin. And thus, just as Abimelek, after making a payment of atonement for Sarah declares her to be righteous before all who would judge, so too, does Jesus Christ declare us to be righteous before his Father, the one who judges us according to his perfect law. While the atonement is more than a payment for sin incurred, said payment is a very important aspect of what it is that Jesus is doing, praise be to the Lord!

Loved ones, do not miss these shadows that God has blessed us with here in the Old Testament. We often read through these narratives without making much note of what God is pointing us toward, yet the Holy Spirit has seen fit to have these encounters recorded for all time to be both a word of instruction and encouragement for us—to not take time to notice that encouragement, misses much of what God has given us. Jesus indeed has made a covering for us, not from silver or gold nor from the blood of animals, but instead from his own blood. Let us never take for granted this remarkable gift and let us celebrate and share that gift with others, telling them about the Good News of what God has wrought for sinful man.

 

The Conversation


“Some weather we’ve been having, isn’t it?” “Did you see the game last night?” “Did you read the paper this morning, with crime going up and unemployment going up, what is this world coming to?” “Did you hear what those democrats did?”

Conversations, we all have them every day and usually they are had around some fairly mundane subjects—weather, sports, news, politics, etc.  Most of the time, we strike up these conversations without much thought and they are over almost as quickly as they begin.  Most of the time these conversations are had with complete strangers with no expectation of ever seeing them again.  So, of what value are they?  Do they serve a purpose other than that of trying not to look unsociable and filling up dead air with useless chatter? I am not convinced that they do.

But what if even those short conversations were ones that could become significant? What if they could become eternally significant? Would we have the conversation if it contained meaning and not just noise? What if we opened our conversations with, “where do you go to church?” instead of “what do your think of the weather?

God has given us language so that we can exchange ideas with one another in community—that is what the very word, “conversation,” means—“to exchange ideas.” In addition, ideas have consequences because the ideas you offer will in turn spark ideas in the mind and hearts of those who hear them. The question is whether or not you are exchanging ideas of consequence or whether you are merely beating the air. The weightier the idea the more significant the consequence.

One of the things that concerns me, though, is that as a society we have become rather superficial not only in our conversations but in our ideas. It is almost as if we are afraid of the consequences of significant conversation so we opt to avoid it altogether. Yet significant conversations are essential for building significant relationships and significant relationships are essential for effecting change in peoples’ lives.

So, what do your conversations look like? Are they significant or do you play it safe, seeking to stay in the shallow end of the relationship pool. If we are going to effect change in our community, shallow will not cut it.  We need to enter into the deepest end of the pool and speak of the resurrection of the very Son of God who came into this world, lived amongst men, died a horrible death to atone for the sins of his people, and rose again on the third day.  There is no conversation more significant that that and there is no conversation that this world needs to hear more than that one. Will you be the one to have that conversation with those you meet, though?

What is Truth?

“Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.”

(John 17:17)

“Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’  And saying this, he again went outside to the Jews and said to them, ‘I do not find any ground for a complaint with him.’”

(John 18:38)

“Your righteousness is righteous forever!

And your law is truth.”

(Psalm 119:142)

“The fullness of your word is truth;

everlasting is the judgment of your righteousness.”

(Psalm 119:160)

“And the woman said to Elijah, ‘And now this I know, that you are a man of God and the Word of Yahweh in your mouth is Truth.’”

(1 Kings 17:24)

As we reflect on the nature of God’s word being truth, it is worthwhile for us to ask the question that Pilate rhetorically asked, that is, “what is truth?”  Indeed, this is a question that many have asked through history and many are yet asking today in our own culture.  So, what is truth?  The English word for truth comes from the Germanic word, “true,” which essentially refers to something that is in accordance with reality.

This raises an interesting question, because the post-modern thinker will argue that truth is relative to context.  In contrast, older thinkers have asserted that there is such a thing as absolute truth—something that is true no matter who or where you are.  What is very interesting about this is the implication for reality.  In other words, what defines reality—the individual or reality itself?  If, as the postmodern suggests, truth is relative to one’s context, and truth is what is in accordance with reality, then the post modern is suggesting that reality is defined by the individual, her perceptions, and perhaps even his context.  Yet, gravity affects everyone on earth in the same basic way; fire will burn you if you put your hand in it regardless of what you might prefer, and gasoline will ignite if you drop a burning match into it no matter what your perception might be.  So, if scientific truth can be considered absolute, then why not moral truth also?

For truth to be universal, it must appeal to an outside absolute force.  Even what we refer to as the laws of nature must appeal to an outside force as these “laws” are simply descriptive of already exists—in other words, the book will still fall to the ground if the shelf breaks regardless of whether we have defined and articulated the law of gravity.  The law simply describes what takes place.  In terms of the appeal, one seems to have two basic choices.  If one is a naturalist (one who rejects the supernatural, holding that all things are part of the natural order), one must appeal to the structure of nature as a whole.  Such a person would hold that the laws of nature “are” simply because of the structure of the whole of Nature.  The obvious problem with this view is that it assumes an undersigned natural system, which is remarkably improbable and statistically impossible if one would calculate the likelihood of an entire natural system developing “by unguided forces” into the highly structured and predictable universe that we currently observe.  Interestingly enough, science is predicated on the assumption that we live in a predictable universe, yet the only way to reasonably have a predictable universe is through a supernatural design.

The naturalist might argue that the complexity of nature is due to a very simple, overarching rule that then orders the development of all things, thus creating what appears to be a statistically impossible complexity from a very simple rule that is much more probable.  Of course, were this the case, one would expect to be able to find a Grand Unified Theory of science that can explain all things—something that does not exist and has frustrated the brightest minds for many years.  In addition, the complexity of such models is self-defeating, because for the statistics to work in the naturalists favor, the model must be extremely simple and basic, but with the ability to bring forth tremendous complexity.  Yet again, were such a simple principle to have the capacity to bring forth the unimaginable complexity of our universe that we see, it seems that such would again be evidence of design.

With that being said, if one is a naturalist, rejecting anything that is outside of the natural order, one must reject any notion of an absolute morality—all is determined by one’s cultural context.  Yet, if one adapts this view, how is it that anyone can condemn the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews during WWII, the American treatment of slaves in the 19th century, and the Communist Chinese abuses of power when it comes to human rights?  According to consistent naturalism, each of these should be judged not on absolute standards, but according to their own context—a context in each case that allowed for such abuses (and in the case of China, still allows such abuses).  David Hume, the naturalistic philosopher of the 18th century, correctly argued that “is” cannot give rise to “ought”—this is referred to as “Hume’s Guillotine.”  In other words, what Hume was arguing was that there are some things in nature that can be objectively demonstrated to be true (gravity for example).  Yet, ought is not a brute fact, but is a moral argument and one is not able to derive a moral argument from what is observed in nature. Hume recognized that we use the word, “ought,” he argued that this word was simply a convention of habit that contained no real meaning. Yet, while the naturalist’s arguments undermine his ability to make “ought” arguments, they will be quick to tell us that we “ought” to save the whales, that we “ought” to conserve energy an reduce our carbon footprint, and that we “ought” to not chop down trees in the rainforests.  As an atheist once said to me, “thank God for inconsistent naturalists…”  Such is true, because were it not for inconsistent naturalists, this world would be a dangerous place with everyone determining their own morality given their own context and preferences.  Indeed, there would no longer be a king in the land and every man would do what was right in their own eyes.

If, though, we admit design and the reality of a supernatural designer, then we have not only an explanation for the complexity of creation, but we also have a basis for a universal morality, so long as the nature of this designer is such that he would impose a sense of morality upon his creatures.  The Deists, for example, have a god that is hands-off and is considered so far removed from the created order that he would impose nothing upon it.  One might suggest that there is still a possibility of an absolute morality with this kind of God (on the basis of his perfect character), but who can know this kind of God and how can we know his character if he will not condescend to us to reveal himself?  It is only when you come to the Judeo-Christian God that you have a God who condescends to humanity to reveal himself in a trustworthy way, recognizing that while the god of the Muslims is said to condescend to his people, he veils himself from even from his own and is known to deceive others only to suit his own purposes.  Similarly, while the God of the Jews is the same God that the Christians have, because Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of the invisible God, the Jews do not have the complete revelation of the transcendent, creator God.  Thus, as Christians, we do claim that morality is absolute, moreover, we would argue that the absolute nature God’s morality is seen even in the moral codes of various pagan cultures.

So we are back to our original question, what is truth?  If there is clearly such a thing as objective truth when it comes to morality, it follows that there is objective truth to other areas so long as we appeal to the same authoritative source (God).  And how has God revealed himself to us?  He revealed himself in the Bible, in the 66 inspired books covering Genesis through Revelation.  This, of course, is the consistent testimony of scripture—that whatever God speaks is truth.  The question we must ask is twofold.  First, if God’s word is the source of objective and absolute truth, why is it that we tend to spend so little time reading and studying it?  Shouldn’t we pursue Truth with all of our strength?  How sad it is that so many professing Christians wander around wondering what truth is when they have been given the truth in God’s word.  How sad it is that so many professing Christians are so timid when the truth is challenged by unbelievers—because we have the truth, we should be confident that what we stand upon will not shake, yet that which the unbeliever stands upon is made on a foundation of sand and will fall.

The second question that we are left with is what are the ramifications of believing or rejecting this truth that God offers.  The Apostle John records some strong words in answer to this question.  Jesus, we are told, speaks the word of God (the words of absolute Truth), and the one who believes (or places his trust in) Jesus (the source of Truth) is given eternal life.  In turn, when one rejects Christ, one rejects the Truth and in turn has sealed his fate, condemning himself to eternal perdition.  The wrath of God will remain upon his head.  Beloved, there is a stark contrast between these two states, which side of the matter will you be on?  Will you accept or reject the absolute Truth of scripture?  This does not permit you to pick some and reject other aspects, you must accept the word of God in toto!  Truth works that way—it either is or it is not, there is no middle ground.  Which will you choose?  And will you seek to live like it—applying the Truth of God to every aspect of your life.

“The one who comes from above is above everything.  The one that is from the earth is from the earth and speaks from the earth; but the one who comes from heaven is above everything.  The one who has seen and who has heard testifies to these things, but no one received his testimony.  The one who receives his testimony acknowledges that God is true.  For he who God sent speaks the words of God; indeed, he gives the Spirit without measure.  The Father loves the Son and he has given everything into his hand.  The one who believes in the Son has eternal life; but the one who disobeys the Son will not see life and the wrath of God remains over him.”

(John 3:31-36)

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 7)

“When I remember you on my couch,

in the night watches, I mediate upon you.”

(Psalm 63:7 {Psalm 63:6 in English Bibles})

 

David begins this passage with a conditional clause.  In the Hebrew, this particular conditional clause (with the conjunction ~ai (im)), reflects the idea of a realizable condition.  In other words, this is not a vague or “pie in the sky” hope, but this is something that is a concrete event in his life.  On those dark and lonely nights as he lay awake sleepless, it was God that will fill the mind of David—even in the midst of his great troubles and times of flight for his life.  How often we lay awake at night because of the burdens of life (bills to pay, things left undone, etc…); David sets before us another example—meditate upon the person of Christ and his beauty and the depth and wonder of our God.  No, it won’t make your obligations or bills go away, but it will put them in their proper perspective.

How rarely we meditate on the person of Christ!  How rarely do we sit and reflect on the perfections of God!  Oh, beloved, we often think of all the things that God has done for us, and that is good and right to do, but do you think on the beauty of the one who has done these things for you?  Do you spend time reflecting on his person and his character?  A marriage relationship with stagnate if the couple is only in love with each other based on what they do together or what the one has done for the other.  Though the actions and deeds are still very important, relationships find their depth in falling in love with the person and character of the spouse.  So too with God.  If your love for God is only based on what he is done for you, you will find yourself in crisis every time you go through a dark trial and cannot see his hand at work.  You must fall in love with God for who he is for your relationship to grow deep.

Oh, beloved, what is on your mind during those dark hours that you cannot find sleep?  Is it God?  Is it God’s perfections and character?  Is it the beauty of Jesus Christ?  Is it all that God has done in the world—and for you as well?  Do you lay awake marveling at God’s redemptive plan?  Do the concerns of this world overwhelm your mind when all the lights have gone out?  Loved ones, God has promised that if you seek him, he will take care of the stresses of the day—spend your waking hours during the days and nights seeking after him and his righteousness and all these other things he will add unto you.