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Our Idea of Heaven

As Jodi and I were reflecting upon our wedding ceremony, we remembered that her sister sang Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us. When we searched for the hymn on You Tube, we found a rendition by Leigh Nash. Since I liked her voice, I looked to see if there were any additional videos featuring her.  I found several, but the one that I  especially paused to watch was the song entitled My Idea of Heaven. In the video, the scene continues to switch from Leigh singing the song and then to couples sitting on a living room couch.  Each person on the couch has a white board upon which they wrote down their idea of heaven on earth.  Some of their thoughts included:

  • Snuggling on the couch eating ice cream
  • Being your baby’s daddy
  • World peace
  • A cold beer on a hot beach with my angel

Heaven on earth. What makes your list?  Time with your loved ones?  A great meal?  An awesome sunset?  I am thankful for those amazing moments God allows us to experience the goodness of His creation.  Every so often we get a glimpse of what life can be without the presence of sin.

Recently, I have been camped in the first several chapters in Revelation.  John, too, had a glimpse, an amazing vision of heaven.  In fact, he got a front row ticket to see some amazing things, some amazing events, some amazing beings. What struck me afresh was the view he got of Jesus Christ as recorded in the very first chapter of the book.

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lamp stands; 13 and in the middle of the lamp stands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

I think after seeing what he did, John’s white board description of his idea of heaven would be very different than most of ours.  In reality, it would probably simply read this:

JESUS!

Do you recall John’s response?  It was one of fear (“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man” [v.17]). Jesus is incredible and He is holy (thrice holy [Isaiah 6]…as holy as possible]. Awe and fear are natural responses. The description of what Jesus is like from John’s initial glimpse is instructive and you would be blessed by reading a few commentaries about the passage. In fact, that is a great way in which we can genuinely experience heaven on earth. And what a gift we have been given to do just that–the Bible!  The Bible is all about the central character of heaven and of history itself–Jesus Christ. The Old Testament clearly points directly to Jesus via promises, prophecies and types.  Jesus Himself is actually recorded as having invaded time and space prior to His incarnation, His walking among us (see Genesis 1:1 [Colossians 1:16], Joshua 5:13-15, Isaiah 6:1 [John 12:41]). The New Testament teaches us about His life, words and works (Gospels), how He built His Church (Acts), how He wants His followers to live (Letters) and what He plans to do in the future (Revelation).

Are you regularly (hopefully daily) spending time in God’s Word?

There is nothing wrong with the lists above provided by, I presume, the married couples (though World Peace isn’t going to happen until the Lord Jesus returns). We should enjoy God’s gifts in moderation (ice cream and cold beer are both equally sinful if used in excess). But no matter how good a dessert or a refreshing beverage tastes, God’s Word is better. It is better than creation and that which is created because of its essence and its effects.  Consider these words from Psalm 19, written by someone who loved general revelation (sunrises, sunsets, stars, canyons, hills, etc.):

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

The descriptive words used for the word of God and what it produces are clear in this passage. As a result, the author calls it “more desirable than fine gold” (the most valuable earthly possession he can think of). He also said it is sweeter than honey (the sweetest earthly possession he can think of).  Here’s my guess: If David were sitting on a couch and given a white board and asked about his idea of heaven, he just might have written: God’s Word.

What are your thoughts?  In particular, do you find God’s Word pleasurable, especially your glimpses of Jesus?  I hope that you do.  If not, plead with God to open your eyes.  It’s something only He can do it and we all very much need it done for us.  It is a matter of life and death.  Seriously.  You can have a taste of heaven in this life, but God has to reach down and allow it.  Ask him to do that.  Today.  It is that important.

 

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An Opportunity for Daily Death

This afternoon I had the great privilege of officiating a wedding for a wonderful young couple.  They grew up in our church, fell in love after high school and decided that their two persons should become one flesh.  Since no one likes a long wedding sermon, I kept my remarks short.  Having said that, however, I did think it necessary to remind the bride and groom (especially the groom!) of the kind of love described in God’s Word that spouses (all people actually) are to have for each other.  After 1 Corinthians 13 was read, I spoke on the three main Greek words for love found in the New Testament: eros, phileo and agape.  The majority of my message (a charge to the couple really) focused on agape–the sacrificing love that practically looks like the love Christ had for His Bride, the Church.  It is also the type of affection (action) mentioned in “the love chapter” (1 Cor. 13).

In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders Paul’s eloquent description of love as follows:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

Here’s part of what I said to the couple:

Agape.  Self-sacrificing love.  That love with which Jesus loves His Church, the sheep—to the point that He actually laid down His life—is the love described in the passage we just heard read, 1 Corinthians 13. Drew, that is the love you are to manifest in your relationship with your wife, Laura.  And Laura, that is the manner of love you are to express to your husband, Drew. It is a day-in, day-out conscious decision to put the other person before yourself.  In a very real sense, circumstances and feelings do not matter for this peculiar love which abides—which must abide. One author stated, “love is a verb. Love is something you do; sacrifices you make…Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions (Covey, Seven Habits, p.80).  Agape.

It is a love that is patient and kind.  It is a love that is not jealous and which does not brag nor is it arrogant.  It isn’t selfish or self-centered. It is not easily angered and (the importance of this cannot be overstated:) it keeps no record, no record of wrongs. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.”  Peter said it even better:  Love covers a multitude of sins. Holy Spirit-assisted, Christ-like love forgives.  This love always forgives, always protects, always trusts, always hopes and goes the distance. Agape love never fails.

Before you navigate back to FB or move on to another website, think for a minute of your relationships.  Are you married?  Maybe a parent?  Have a best friend? Still living with your parents?  My guess is that in whatever season of life you find yourself, my challenge is appropriate for you to hear.  I know it was helpful for me!  I love decently, but I very much have room for growth!  One day I want to be described as someone who loves like Christ, someone who effectively agape(s).  In other words, I want to be known as a man who dies daily to self in order to bless others. Isn’t that your desire as well?  It’s interesting that Peterson choose to end his rewording of that great section included above with the words “Love never dies.”  He means, of course, that it does not end.  It always lives.  But it does indeed die.  Every day.  Every day is an opportunity for daily death, for laying down our lives so that others might live more abundantly.  Let’s do that today–in His strength and for His glory.

TV preachers to my rescue

Two Sundays ago saw a rare event–I was home rather than being in church.  Seems like every six months I get a dosey of a sinus infection and end up missing our weekly gathering with God’s people.  After getting the kids up and cooking some breakfast for those hungry, I was ready to relax on the couch.  With remote in hand, I summed up the courage and turned on the television, hoping to find some men actually preaching the Bible.  To my amazement, several TV preachers came to my rescue.

OK; I wasn’t that amazed.  I knew who almost every preacher was and I know their theological persuasion as well as the fruits which have resulted from their ministry.  In other words, I was able to be discerning in my selection and in my listening.

First, I caught the end of a Charles Stanley sermon from First Baptist in Atlanta, GA.  As usual, Dr. Stanley read and explained the Word of God. I actually believe he is better now at doing so than he was in his prime.  The fact that he is still preaching to the best of his ability was an encouragement to me. The text was 2 Timothy 4.

Second, I watched James MacDonald from Chicago (Elgin) preach from Nahum, chapter one.  I was particularly helped by verse seven:

The Lord is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

After mentioning God’s hatred of sin and that He will indeed punish sin, Nahum reminds Israel (and me!) of the great truths: goodness is an essential aspect of God’s character, He is a safe place for believers going through difficult experiences and the Lord sees everyone who trusts Him.  A good word for me to hear today (and everyday)!  James’ preaching style was also a nice change from what I am used to seeing.

Third, I watched David Jeremiah from San Diego preach from Ecclesiastes, chapter twelve. Solomon’s conclusion for us grabbed my attention yet again:

13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

What did the wisest man on the planet think we should all do?  Worship the Lord and obey His Word.  Christianity 101.  Trust and obey the God you claim to worship.  It is always good to be reminded of the fruit I am called/commanded to bear.

Finally, I watched Dr. Ed Young from Second Baptist Church in Houston, TX.  He has been a pastor there since 1978 and was married for fifty-eight years before his wife passed away in 2017.  While I am rather unfamiliar with Dr. Young and his particular brand with the SBC, I did not find anything incorrect or un-biblical from his message in the book of Job.  I was mainly encouraged by his verse-by-verse explanation from God’s Word coupled with his apparent faithful relationship with his two brides–his wife and the ministry in which he serves.

So–TV preachers came to my rescue Sunday morning.  Four men were attempting to teach the Bible in an interesting manner, showing how it is applicable to a modern audience.  (I could have even mentioned the charismatic preacher who challenged me to keep setting my mind on heaven!)  It is encouraging to know that not everything on TV on Sunday mornings falls into the category of false teaching!  I am also thankful for men who (from all that I know) have proven to be faithful.

If you are not attending a local church due to illness or a work schedule which prevents it, be glad to know that there are several options on TV for you watch.  The Internet is also full of ministry websites and You Tube videos to help you learn more about God’s Word.  Nothing can replace your attendance and involvement in a local congregation.  God created us for community and gifted all of His people with the ability to bless the body of Christ.  However, when we cannot participate for whatever reason, at least we can hear from the Bible.  Sunday morning I was able to do just that and for that I am thankful.  I am also grateful for the desire I had to feed my own soul.  Is that desire awakened in you as well?  If not, pray for it!  It’s that important!

The Sufficiency of Christ in all Things at all Times

A new friend of mine posted the following on Facebook.  With her permission, I am sharing it with you today.  We both pray it encourages you to see that Christ is sufficient in all things at all times.  Thank you, Rebecca, for giving us all a glimpse of real life, real pain, and a very real God!

So, today it’s June 28, 2018. One year since my precious husband went Home to Jesus. It’s been the worst year of my life. I feel like I’ve been running a 365 day marathon, bare foot, over a bed of broken glass, non-stop. The pain has been so intense at times, that I’ve literally cried out in agony. I’ll continue to run, walk and sometimes crawl for the rest of my life. But I can honestly say, in these past twelve pain-filled months, I have truly learned what oneness with Christ is. He IS my ALL IN ALL, my ROCK, my COMFORT, my PROVIDER, my FRIEND, my COUNSELOR, my JOY. He’s never, ever left my side for a second and together, we will continue to press on.

As a part of the journey to healing, for the past 8 weeks I’ve been compiling some of the things I’ve learned this past year and what the Lord’s been teaching me and speaking to me. I hope it encourages you as well.

-When grief paralyzes me, just do the next thing. Even if it’s just sitting up in bed. Then stand. Then walk.

-Say the word, “breathe” out loud and then do it.

-Allow others to do for me. It helps them in their grief as well.

-Having joy again in my life is definitely possible, but it’s not going to just show up on my doorstep. I’ve got to seek it, choose it and claim it.

-Time DOES NOT heal all wounds. (Whoever said this anyway!?!) Working THROUGH my grief with Christ will heal me and make me stronger.

-Professional counseling is a really, really good thing. Everyone should go.

-If I’m not sure how to do something, GOOGLE, usually has the answer!

-To experience the fullness of Christ, I must first experience the emptiness of everything but Christ. (I say this almost daily!)

-Walmart grocery delivery is a gift.

-YOGA.

– Every once in a while, lift my head up out of my own grief and encourage someone else.

-Friends who tell me they’re praying for me in the middle of the night, early in the morning, or anytime are treasures.

-I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.

-Single moms are heroes.

-When I’m drowning, just sit, breathe, and pray for strength. He always delivers.

-My faith is greater than my fear.

-Faith is work, not a feeling.

-People are not “in my world” all the time like I am. They’re not mind-readers, and don’t always know what I’m feeling or what I may need. So keep expectations at a realistic level and exercise grace and forgiveness when needed.

-Plan my weekends ahead of time. It’s no fun to be alone.

-There is really nothing in this world I can control. The only thing I have COMPLETE control over is how I will respond to others and Jesus.

Through losing Mark I’ve learned that my very presence makes some people uncomfortable. Sometimes people don’t know what to say. Some people are afraid to talk about Mark around me. Afraid it’s too painful for me and they don’t want to cause me further pain. I get it! I was there one day before and know that awkward feeling too! But please know that talking about him is something I LOVE doing. It brings me joy to know he was loved by so many. And he needs to be remembered. So, talk about him! A LOT! Laugh at the memories. CELEBRATE HIM and his life! That’s a very good thing. But more importantly, live your life every day with the joy of Jesus like Mark did. And share that joy with others. Take his life and go forward with it with how you love your children, your spouse and your family. He loved well and we should all carry on that beautiful “Mark-ism”.

As I step into day 366 of my grief, I’m looking forward, not back. I have wrestled and struggled a lot with feeling like I’m abandoning Mark if I move forward. It hurts to the core to think of continuing my life without him. But I have come to realize that in order to have life and have it abundantly, I’ve got to look ahead with hope, joy and expectation for what God has in store!

My sweet memories with Mark are gifts to me and these gifts have been and will continue to be opened and enjoyed frequently. I thank God I have them. They are blessings and reminders of what a good, good God we serve. But God has more in store AHEAD and that’s where my focus should be and will be.

I still have work to do on this earth. I still have a little boy who needs a momma who can laugh, love, and celebrate life! I pray that I will live each day to the fullest, with a heart of gratitude for the years I had with my best friend and the love of my life. I carry him within me and will for the rest of my life. One day when Jesus calls me Home, I’ll see Mark again and I’ll hear the words from my Heavenly Father, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And it will truly be worth it all.

Reflections on the Quest: Let me not be counted as a fool

I camped in Psalm 16 recently.  Several verses stand out in this great text, but one which always arrests my attention is verse six:

“The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.”

In other words, life ain’t so bad.  Or–to put that in a positive manner–God has not given me what I have earned.

Grace.

There are a variety of graces that God bestows: Saving grace (God’s grace in choosing those He will save), Sanctifying grace (God’s grace in transforming sinners into the image of His beloved Son), Restraining grace (God’s grace in preventing us from sinning more than we do), Sustaining grace (God’s grace in ensuring we have what we required to go forward) and Common grace (God’s grace in giving us our needs and some of our wants).

“The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places” means that God has granted the common/regular gifts of life in abundance.  Perhaps your list is similar to mine.  It may be different.  The point to remember is that the daily blessings of life are undeserved, not earnings God is obliged to pay.

Most of you would have to admit that your list of blessings is long.  You can easily see that God has been exceedingly kind to you.

How should we respond?

I thought of three ways today, implied for us in Romans, chapter one.

Put in the negative:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”      Romans 1:21-23

What should our positive response be?

  1. Honor God
  2. Give God Thanks
  3. Cherish the Incorruptible Glory of God

First, we should honor God.  And while I am sure I have written upon this subject earlier, I would like to share my current thoughts on the subject for no other reason than that it be fresh for me.  Yet anything I have to say simply will not be as good as what I found here:

http://www.gotquestions.org/honor-God.html

Did you take the time just now to read that short article?  I found it helpful in my quest–my daily striving for reality. The Apostle Peter stated that all of God’s people are to proclaim His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).  In the very next section, he exhorts us to keep our behavior excellent (2:12).  We are verbally to praise God and visually praise God. Our profession and our practice should all point to the truth of the existence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Second, we should give God thanks.  Without a doubt, He has not treated you as your many, many, many sins deserve. This is particularly true if you are one of His adopted children (everyone is a creation of God, but not a child of God).  One of the good habits I have developed this year was verbalizing to the Lord ten reasons for which I am grateful each morning.  It is easy to come up with that list!  It is also helpful to begin that way each day regardless of how my night of sleep went or what I am about to face in the coming hours.  Give thanks with a grateful heart!

And, third, we need to cherish the incorruptible glory of God.  The glory of God is the glorious attributes of God on display for all to see in creation but particularly visible to His children in the face of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 4:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The glory of the gospel is the glory of Christ.  The glory of God is most clearly seen in the face of Christ.  Can you see it?  If not, plead with God for that ability TODAY.  He alone can remove the veil even as He did for the Apostle Paul (Acts 918 [See also Ephesians 2:1-9]).  Only God can open the heart as He did for Lydia (Acts 16:14).  Why would you allow yourself to be satisfied with the created instead of the Creator?!  If you can see, cherish the glory!  Value Christ above all else.  He is the treasure found in the field (Matthew 13:44).  He is the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:46).  He is that which your restless heart desperately needed.

Honor God. Give God thanks.  Cherish the incorruptible glory of God.  If these actions and attitudes mark your day, it will be a day well-spent.  If they are on-going practices, your life will not been lived in vain. Let us not be counted fools by Him who weighs the heart (Proverbs 21:2), especially if the lines have fallen favorably!

Hearing from Him before Speaking for Him

“Listen and obey.”

I can’t recall how many times I have said that to my own children.  I also wonder how many times that the Lord has communicated that to me over the past thirty years.  “Listen and obey.”  A while back, I was drawn to this section in Isaiah, chapter fifty.

The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.
The Lord God has opened My ear;
And I was not disobedient
Nor did I turn back.

If I desire to do anything with the remainder of my life, it is to “sustain the weary one with a word”!  The more I mature in my walk with Christ, the more I deeply desire to speak with “the tongue of disciples”!

Did you notice in the text how that is possible?  “He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple”!  In order to most effectively speak as a disciple, I need to listen as a disciple.  Calvin wrote, “he (Isaiah) shews that God efficaciously teaches all whose ministry He intends to employ for the salvation of His Church” (Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. IV, Eerdmans, 1948, p.54). In other words, God successfully instructs those He plans to use significantly in the lives of others.

“Here am I.  Send me” (Is. 6:8)!

Those were the heart-felt words of the prophet Isaiah after seeing an amazing vision of our thrice-holy God and after hearing that a ministry position was available.  They are my words as well.  I, too, live among a people of unclean lips (6:5).  I also live in the midst of a race of the weary (50:4). How many times have you told others that you were weary? How many times have you heard others tell you that they were tired?  And that fatigue isn’t limited to the physical.  It very much affects the spiritual.  Thus, we all need to be encouraged.  Daily.

Speaking of daily, Isaiah stated that God awakened him every morning.  And that is when he listened.  He heard from God.  He obeyed God.  He encouraged the weak and the tired.

What do your mornings look like? What is your habit for seeking the Lord? There is an argument to be made from this passage and others that a time seeking Christ in the morning reaps benefits throughout the day ahead.  Perhaps one of those benefits is our ability to say the right thing in the right way–something I very much want to do!

“Listen and obey.”

That’s my plan for tomorrow.  What about you?

Striving for Reality and Faithfulness

I recently heard a song entitled Dream Small, sung by Josh Wilson.  I am including it here as a regular reminder for me to always remain faithful even as I strive for reality.  In an earlier post, I stressed that today matters.  It really does.  Honoring God in the small things is just as important to Him as doing so in the big ones.  So that is my plan today.  One day at a time.  Living well.  Not missing the minutes–the minutes to glorify God and bless people as I prepare for eternity.

DREAM SMALL
It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord
It’s a daddy spending family time that the world said he cannot afford
These simple moments change the world
It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church
Forty years of loving for the broken and the hurt
These simple moments change the world

[Chorus 1]
Dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
Dream small

[Verse 2]
It’s visiting the widow down the street
Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs
These simple moments change the world
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams
Just don’t miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things
‘Cause these simple moments change the world

[Chorus 1]
But dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
So dream small

[Bridge]
Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans… from river

[Chorus 2]
But dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall….
Yeah, five loaves and two fish’s could feed them all
So dream small
Dream small

Why I stay in church

If you have had less-than-positive experiences within the walls of a local church, welcome to the club.  So many of us have been wounded in church that we have even stopping giving out participation trophies.  The church is messed up. This is mainly the case because people like you attend.  Yes, I just called you “messed up.”  Be honest.  Aren’t you?  We all are.  We are all sinners, and the only thing which makes Christians different is that they are sinners saved by grace.  We mess up regularly because we are messed up.

What did you expect from the local church?  Perfection?  Miniature versions of Jesus and His mother? A group of people with the spiritual maturity level of the apostles?  Well, you sure didn’t find them!  In reality, you bumped into a lot more people more like yourself than the Lord Jesus Christ.

Maybe that’s what disappointed you so much.

Or maybe is was an inappropriate word spoken without much forethought.

Perhaps it was your preconceived notion that you were being judged.

Or possibly it was because you were, in fact, being judged.

Whatever you experienced or thought you experienced was very real to you.  And, whether it was one rather significant event or a series of small disappointing or hurtful ones, you finally had had enough.  You would go it alone.  You chose to leave the church in your past and press forward into your future.

How’s that going?

Any regrets?

I’ve met several adults who decided to leave the church for one reason or another but each of them knew they were not in healthy place and knew they should return for one reason or another.  Can I give you two–two reasons to return to church?

First, the church needs you.  Those messed up people gathering together each Sunday actually need you.  You have something to offer them–something very important to give.  Consider a well-known passage from the book of Hebrews about church attendance. As you do, notice the rationale given for meeting regularly with the people of God.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Do you see the rationale for regular church attendance?  We should assemble together in order to encourage one another.  Life is hard.  Whether we find ourselves in a stressful season at work or we are buried at home with all of the never-ending list of duties, we easily become discouraged.  Add to that the unceasing war with our sin and our having to live in a fallen world and our attitude can really be affected.  We need others to help us remember truth.  And, we need to help others see truth.  Far too often, the American mindset regarding church is:  What is in it for me?  What can I get out of it?  How does it bless me?  The author of Hebrews flips that concept completely!  How can I bless others?  By choosing not to gather with others in the body of Christ, we are deliberately choosing not to fulfill our ministry of encouragement.

Second, you need the church.  You need to be encouraged by others.  You cannot make it alone.  The Bible knows nothing of a “Lone Ranger Christianity.”  From the calling of the first disciples until this very day, Christianity has been about community.  We are the ekklesia–the called out ones.  We are the body of Christ, the family of God.  As such, we are co-dependent.  You need me.  I need you.  We each have our God-given gifts to employ in building up the church.  If we choose not to attend, we hinder the growth of the church.  If we attend, but refuse to serve, we also stunt the maturation process.

Paul put it this way:

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

So, it isn’t just those behind the lecture or pulpit tasked with seeing the church grow in their knowledge and likeness of Christ!  It’s me!  It’s you!

Isn’t it time to re-engage?  The church needs you.  You need the church.  It’s God’s plan.

Will I see you Sunday?  Hope so!

Don’t Drift Away from Jesus Alone

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation* for the sins of the people.

Those great words come from Hebrews, chapter two.  This coming Sunday I have the privilege of preaching the first sermon in our series in Galatians.  After briefly covering information about the author, authority and audience, I plan to explain the next two verses (one awesome sentence).  They read as follows:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

You can see why the passage in Hebrews caused me to think of the verses in Galatians.  Both writers paused to consider the effective work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He took on human flesh and freed His people.  When it comes to the person and work of Jesus Christ, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” is indeed an accurate announcement!

I think the first and foremost reason that Paul wrote the churches in Galatia was that the believers were being pulled from a Jesus Alone gospel to a Jesus And gospel.  Having been instructed that Jesus Christ had procured everything necessary for their salvation, they were being led astray by false teachers proclaiming that human effort was also necessary.  It appears the writer of the book of Hebrews sensed the same as he considered his audience when he wrote,

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3)

Each author will develop their argument but space here does not allow me to prove that to be the case.  If your interest is peaked, you might study both texts for yourself.  Both offer important exhortations for contemporary audiences!  For today, I close to two words of encouragement.

If you find yourself thinking salvation is something you can achieve by good works and by avoiding bad actions, be warned.  Contrary to popular opinion, that is not possible.  Jesus came because humans are incapable of freeing themselves from their sins and appeasing the wrath of God.*  Run from God by running to God.

Hopefully you find yourself thankful after reading the words in the passages above.  It is good to be reminded of the successful work the Lord Jesus Christ has done on your behalf.  He has done what you could not nor would not do for yourself! Worship Him!  And do not drift away! Now that you have run to Him, stay with Him.  Beware of thinking that you Jesus Alone is not sufficient.  Truly He is all you need.

*For addition thinking on what takes place in salvation, read:
https://www.ligonier.org/blog/two-important-words-good-friday-expiation-and-propitiation/

 

Old Covenant Psalm, New Covenant Realities

I am in a needy place in my life right now.  I trust most of you can relate to that sentiment.  We all have needs.  At some point this week, my attention was drawn again to one of my favorite passages of Scripture–Psalm 34.  I’ll include the text here followed by my prayer of response.  I hope you are encouraged.  Be reminded, if you are a New Covenant believer (a Christ-follower), you have a very BIG GOD WHO has done, is doing and will do some rather BIG things for His glory and your good!

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want.
10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.
11 Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Who is the man who desires life
And loves length of days that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones,
Not one of them is broken.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

God, thank You for making me righteous in Christ.  Jesus, thank You for redeeming my soul!  Please help me to heed the exhortations of this Psalm, to magnify the Lord with David, to fear God by carefully speaking and carefully doing (and not doing). Please enable me to continue to taste and see that You alone are good, to savor your goodness. Help me to seek safety, refuge in You.  Hear me as I continue to cry out.  See me as I seek Your face. Deliver me from all of my troubles.  Be near to me because the nearness of my God is my good. And thank You that I will not be condemned due to the fact that Jesus was condemned in my place.  Finally, Lord, thank You for this Psalm penned under the Old Covenant that shines in the light of New Covenant realities.  AMEN!