Monday, November 30, 2015

Avoiding or Overcoming

(by Pastor Joe)
John 16:33 --
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
What do you tend to avoid?
Every one has certain activities or situations or places that they try their best to stay away from.
Some of those choices are wise:
(i.e. Stay away from angry German Shepherds, shopping on Black Friday, or the Department of Motor Vehicles.)
Some are more personal, bordering on the ridiculous:
(I have made various vows to avoid Hot Pockets, Pop Tarts, and Lime-away at all costs.)
But for the most part, human beings try their best to limit the amount of inconvenience, difficulty or suffering that they face. And that makes sense to a point. After all, who really wants more hardship or trouble? But in our efforts to sanely limit the amount of difficult things, our culture as a whole has tried to hide or compartmentalize normal parts of the human experience.
We confine sickness to hospitals, ageing to nursing homes, and death to funeral homes. Communication gets reduced to voicemail, Facebook and text messaging, not just because they are easier, but also because a face to face communication is harder.
The sad thing is that for many believers in Jesus Christ, we have somehow come up with the twisted idea that Jesus' job is to make everything easy for us, to free us from every instance of suffering or frustration or discouragement. We may not say that out loud, but all we need to do is to consider what we pray for and what we are disappointed over when we don't get our way.
In the last few chapters (including today's passage), Jesus has finished telling His followers all that He has in store for them. There are some amazing statements about who Jesus is (i.e. John 14:6, 15: 5) as well as some amazing promises about what He will provide (i.e. John 14:14, 15:15, 16:16). We spend a lot of time with these passages and we ought to.
But today's verse is the one promise that no one is naming and claiming, yet in it is not only the secret of Christian living, it is the very Gospel. God's promises are not for us to avoid all of life's hardships, they are our strength to overcome those hardships. Jesus does not automatically remove us from every ugly or unfortunate circumstance, He tells us that He is always bigger. In Paul's words we are not to try at all costs to hide from the effects of a fallen world, but rather "overcome evil with good." (Ro 12:21) The apostle John answer his own question this way: "Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." (1 John 5:5)
So DO NOT live a life of hardship avoidance- it never works and it is contrary to everything about Christ. Here is the Gospel message once again:
"In this world you will have trouble (see Cross), but take heart, I have overcome the world (see Resurrection)."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

a primer on the Holy Spirit

The Word for today:
John 15:26--16:15
mark this:
John 15:26 --
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me."
The Holy Spirit bears testimony concerning Christ. If the Lord Jesus Christ is real to you, that is the work of the Holy Spirit:
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).
The Holy Spirit is a person, not a "force" or an "it." He is the third person of the tri-une God, co-equal with the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is always in the world, from the very beginning in Genesis 1:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
In the Old Testament, the Spirit came upon certain individuals (Gideon, Samson, Bezalel, Isaiah, etc.) for specific purposes. But God promised that one day the Spirit would come upon all believers! (See Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36: 26-27; Ezekiel 47; Joel 2:28-29; cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; Acts 2:33.)
Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit (Luke 4:1). Jesus' empowerment and guidance by the Spirit sets the pattern for us. We, too, are to walk by the power and guidance of the Spirit, as Jesus did. (See Galatians 5:16, 25.)
When Jesus resurrected, His Spirit--the Holy Spirit--remained on earth, as Jesus promised:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
Since Pentecost (50 days after the resurrection of Jesus) the Spirit dwells within everyone who trusts Jesus for salvation from sin. The difference that Pentecost made is that the Spirit who was abroad in the world is now in us!
Every believer is baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This is a one-time event which seals our salvation (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Water baptism is an outward and public demonstration of a "Holy Spirit-ual" baptism--which already occurred!
We are to ask God for a daily filling of the Spirit to empower our lives and make us purposeful and productive in God's kingdom. (See Luke 11:9-13.)
The Holy Spirit hides Himself and reveals Christ (John 15:26; 16:13-14).
When the church departs, the Spirit will remain in the world as He was in the beginning, in order to preserve a climate for the Word of God to be heard. See John 16:11:
He will convict/convince the world concerning sin (faith in Christ takes away our punishment);
…and righteousness (faith in Christ adds His righteousness);
…and judgment (those without Christ have already been judged as lost sinners; see Romans 6:23).

Saturday, November 28, 2015

the non-negotiable Jesus

The Word for today:
John 15:9-25
mark this: John 15:23 --
He who hates Me hates My Father also.
God defines Himself in Jesus Christ. We don't get to define God. That's not ours to do.
The line is drawn at Jesus Christ. The decision is not about "God"--that vague Someone out there whom we think we can define. The decision is about Jesus Christ--God's definition of Himself.
Jesus is the express image of God (1). That means that Jesus is God's expression of God, God's definition of God. It's the only definition that counts.
Many people claim to love "God," but they hate Jesus Christ. Jesus says that's a contradiction in terms. He made a powerful, non-negotiable proclamation when He said to all mankind, “If you don’t love Me, if you don’t acknowledge Me, if you hate Me, you hate My Father also."
The Bible will not allow any silly, generic "God" talk--unless what you mean by "God" is Jesus.
(1) Hebrews 1:3

Friday, November 27, 2015

I am the True Vine

(by Norm the Elder)
John 15:1-8
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."
Jesus Christ is the True Vine and we, who have given our lives to him, are the branches. Thus the resurrected life and power that flows from the True Vine flows into the branches. How profound is that!
It is important to embrace the fact that it is Jesus and Jesus alone who is the True Vine. How many attach themselves and pour their lives into worldly vines that have little or no power and eventually wither and die. Anything we abide in that leaves Jesus out is a false vine that will leave us with a lack of sustenance.
So what happens when we become branches of the True Vine? A host of resources and spiritual power for a new life flows into our very being and changes us from the inside out. Old habits and useless baggage can be purged from our lives as we are changed into new creatures in Christ.
As that new life flows from the vine into the branches we realize we have the same Father and Spirit that Jesus has. We experience forgiveness, salvation, reconciliation, and sanctification as we put off the old nature and put on the new.
We can be filled with the Spirit. We become citizens of a new kingdom with all its rights and responsibilities. We are made part of a royal priesthood. Our spiritual ears and eyes are opened and we begin to see our world as Jesus sees it. We take on the mind of Christ. We bear good fruit. We can ask of God and expect Him to answer. We can call ourselves disciples of Christ.
If you find your life lacking direction and purpose, come to God and let Him graft you into the True Vine. Give yourself completely to being that branch in Him and experience the power and strength that flows from the Lord Jesus Christ into you.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Note well:

The Word for today:
John 14:14-24
mark this: John 14:14 --
If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
and this: John 14:20 --
At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
A couple of concepts for the Bible student to note very well...
What does it mean--to pray in Jesus' name?
Many say the phrase "in Jesus' name" at the end of prayers, but what does it mean? Is it a magic formula to get whatever we wish?
We cannot stand in the presence of God on the basis of our own merit.
But when we pray in Jesus' name, it means that
1. We stand in Jesus' place, fully identified with him. When we do, we are heard on the basis of Jesus' blood and merit.
2. It means that we make our requests according to Christ's will, not our own, in harmony with Jesus' character.
No matter how many “In Jesus’ name’s” I attach to my prayer, I am not praying in Jesus' name unless my prayer is in line with his grace, his truth, and his plan.
There is no more profound statement in scripture than Jesus' mono-syllabic promise in John 14:20:
"you in Me, and I in you"
“you in Me”—is salvation.
To be saved means to be in Christ. God sees everyone as either in Christ or out of Christ. You are either in Him by faith or you are out of Him with your sins still upon you. If you are in Christ, then God sees you in Christ, and His righteousness is your righteousness. You stand complete in Him. God sees the end from the beginning (1), so before we even begin to act like Jesus, God sees us just as if we did! That's salvation. See 2 Corinthians 5:21.
“I in you”—is sanctification.
That is Christian living down here. Is Christ living in you? Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (2).
Sanctification is when we become, by degrees, ever more and more like Jesus in our actions and attitudes. See 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29.
(1) Isaiah 46:10; (2) Galatians 2:20

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

the First Commandment of the New Testament

The Word for today:
John 13:33-14:14
mark this: John 14:16--
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Let's look at the First Commandment of the Old Testament:
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me." (1)
We think of the Commandments as restrictions: "Thou shalt not..."
But look again at the First Commandment. It starts with a preamble of grace: I'm the LORD, who saved you...
The First Commandment has a lot more to do with salvation than it has to do with restriction! If you'll permit a paraphrase, here's the First Commandment:
"I AM; and there has never--will never--be a day when I AM not. If you're lost you can call out for me; if you're falling, reach out for my hand and I'll save you, like I did before, way back there in Egypt. But it's a matter of life and death that you understand this: If you call on any other name, you won't be heard. If you reach for any other hand, it won't be strong enough to catch you."
The entire intention is to tell us that only the God revealed in scripture--at the Red Sea, at the burning bush, at the cross--can deliver us from bondage to sin, from oppression at the hand of our enemy.
Both the First and Second Commandments are all about looking to a Savior who can actually save. They are all about what thou shalt do to be rescued. There's a lot of love in God's law, His Commandments, when they are rightly understood.
Nothing changes in the New Testament. The I AM who spoke to Moses from the burning bush becomes flesh in the New Testament. He tells us that there's the broad way, which leads to death, and the narrow way, which leads to life (2). He tells us that He's the way, and that no one gets to the Father but by Him (3). In the book of Acts we learn that salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (4).
That bothers many people. They think that's narrow-minded and exclusive.
But it's our fault that the road is narrow, not God's fault. Our sin closed the road. And it broke God's heart to do what He had to do to re-open it. It cost Him everything to open one lane back to Him.
So just how "narrow" is it? He opened it wide enough to save every man, woman, and child--whoever will choose to take it.
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" is, in a sense, the 'First Commandment' of the New Testament. To those who refuse to hear, it sounds restrictive. But for those with ears to hear, it sounds like God's plan for a jailbreak!
Rightly understood, the Commandments point the way to liberty, to life. They point to Jesus. When He fulfilled the law on the cross, the captives were set free.
(1) Exodus 20:2-3; (2) Matthew 7:13; (3) John 14:6; (4) Acts 4:12

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

the King was in command

The Word for today:
John 13:21-32
mark this: John 13:27 --
As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him.
Jesus died in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah, at Passover.
He had to.
The pictures and prophecies of the Old Testament foretold that the Lamb of God must die for the sins of the people in Jerusalem, on a ridge called Moriah which cuts through the city; the same ridge where Abraham had enacted the prophetic picture of the cross when told to sacrifice Isaac, his son.
And it had to be at a specific spot on Moriah--on the threshing floor of Araunah (1), which God had directed David to purchase, so that the Temple could be built there;
right where the ultimate altar would be built, from just two beams of wood.
It had to be in Jerusalem, where prophets go to die:
On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You."
And He said to them, "Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.'
Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem." 
When King Herod wanted to kill Jesus, Jesus told him he'd have to wait--until he reached Jerusalem.
When he reached Jerusalem, Judas was waiting to betray Him. "What you do, do quickly," Jesus told him.
The King, who had told a king to wait, now was telling the prince of this world (Satan, who had entered into Judas) to hurry up. (3)
The Prophet was in Jerusalem; the Lamb was on Moriah. It was Passover, his deathday. The King was in command.
(1) see 2 Samuel 24; (2) Luke 13:31-33; (3) see John 12:31; John 13:27

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Follow me."

(by Norm the Elder)
The Word for today:
John 13:1-20
mark this: John 13:15 --
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
You have heard it said:
"Practice what you preach."
"Lead by example."
"Model good behavior."
"Be a living epistle."
Do you want to live a life that matters?
Do you want to make a difference for good?
Do you want to be salt and light?
Do you want your life to glorify your Father in heaven?
Then look to Jesus. Follow Jesus. Do what Jesus did. Be His disciple.
Jesus leads by example all the way to the cross.
Dear heavenly Father,
Help me be like your Son throughout this day and every day. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

39 kings

The Word for today:
2 Kings 24, 25
39 kings.
Keeping them straight can be difficult, especially since 1 Kings jumps back and forth between two countries. Remember:
"Israe" was the Northern Kingdom, with its capital in Samaria. Its kings were all unfaithful to God.
"Judah" was the Southern Kingdom, with its capital in Jerusalem. Almost half its rulers remained somewhat faithful to God; the others proved disobedient.
What are we to learn from this dizzying array of names?
1. The Kings are known by this: they either walked in the ways of the LORD, or they did not.
The same will be the summation of our own lives. Our lives will be defined by our relationship to God.
2. Our environment does not define us.
The second thing we learn from the kings is that we can change--for better or for worse. Hezekiah was one of the greatest kings. Manasseh, his son, was the "Ahab of Judah"--the worst. Amon, Hezekiah's grandson, was as bad as his father, Manasseh, had been. Then, next in line, is Josiah, who oversaw a great spiritual revival. So we are not locked into patterns which preceded us in our families or in our cultures.
3. Our own past need not define us forever.
The third thing we learn from the Kings is that we are not trapped by our own yesterdays. Manasseh, as we shall see in 2 Chronicles 33:10-20, will turn around and turns the people around with him as he reinstitutes worship of the LORD God!
Israel was the first to fall—-to the Assyrians, who carried them away into slavery and captivity.
Judah’s captivity was delayed by the godly governance of Hezekiah. But eventually they, too, declined and were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar into Babylon. For a few years the temple stood, but eventually it was stripped and burned, and the walls of the city were broken down.
The last king, Zedekiah, was captured and his sons were put to death before his very eyes. Then, they put out his eyes.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

lost in the church

The Word for today:
2 Kings 22, 23
mark this: 2 Kings 22:8--
"I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD."
and this: 2 Kings 23:21--
"Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant."
Perhaps you parents out there should shield your sons' and daughters' eyes from what they will see in chapter 23 of 2 Kings.
As the great King Josiah systematically dismantles the idolatry in Judah, a list of idols, shrines, altars, false prophets, abominations, desolations, and desecrations passes in review like some perverse parade to perdition. Here comes the parade:
Then the king instructed Hilkiah the high priest to remove from the LORD's Temple all the utensils that were used to worship Baal, Asherah, and all the forces of heaven.
He did away with the pagan priests, for they had offered incense to Baal, and to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and to all the forces of heaven.
The king removed the Asherah pole from the LORD's Temple and took it outside Jerusalem to the Kidron Valley, where he burned it.
He also tore down the houses of the shrine prostitutes that were inside the Temple of the LORD, where the women wove coverings for the Asherah pole.
He also defiled all the pagan shrines, where they had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba.
Then the king defiled the altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-hinnom, so no one could ever again use it to sacrifice a son or daughter in the fire as an offering to Molech.
He removed from the entrance of the LORD's Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun.
The king also burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.
The king destroyed the altars that Manasseh had built in the two courtyards of the LORD's Temple.
The king also desecrated the pagan shrines east of Jerusalem and south of the Mount of Corruption, where King Solomon of Israel had built shrines for Ashtoreth, the detestable goddess of the Sidonians; and for Chemosh, the detestable god of the Moabites; and for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites.
He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles. Then he desecrated these places by scattering human bones over them.
The king also tore down the altar at Bethel, the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he led Israel into sin. Josiah crushed the stones to dust and burned the Asherah pole.
Then Josiah demolished all the buildings at the pagan shrines in the towns of Samaria, just as he had done at Bethel.
He executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them.
Josiah also exterminated the mediums and psychics, the household gods, and every other kind of idol worship, both in Jerusalem and throughout the land of Judah.
What had caused Israel to fall so far into idolatry?
The answer is in chapter 22: Israel had stopped reading their Bibles.
The scriptures had been lost in, of all places, the Temple!
Probably the easiest place for the Word of the Lord to get lost is in a church. Things can be in plain sight, but for all practical purposes be lost without our knowing it.
Church after church across our land has descended into moralizing, philosophizing, and the preaching of piety and platitudes. There's many a preacher who is more concerned with his cute little introductory story every week than with the redeeming blood of the Son, the renewing power of the Spirit, and the perfect plan of the Father.
Then what caused this great spiritual revival in the time of King Josiah? They'd started reading their Bibles again! The scriptures had been found in the Temple--
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, "I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD." He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.
Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book." And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.
"Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us." (2Ki 22:8-13)
Just a few paragraphs ago, I wrote that the easiest place for the Word of the Lord to get lost is in the church--because everybody supposes it is being followed there, when often it has just become elevator music, part of the background that nobody really listens to.
Now I want to remind you that the easiest place to find the Word of the LORD is in the church!
Just paragraphs ago, I slammed the lukewarm and powerless moralizing that passes for preaching in many churches. Now I'm here to tell you that somewhere in your city a man, by the power of God's Holy Spirit, stands foursquare every Sunday, preaching the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
How can we tell the difference? How can we determine whether or not the Word of the LORD is being faithfully preached? The difference is in the blood:
King Josiah then issued this order to all the people: "You must celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in the Book of the Covenant." There had not been a Passover celebration like that since the time when the judges ruled in Israel, throughout all the years of the kings of Israel and Judah. (2 Kings 23:21-22)
The celebration of the Passover, the central ceremony of Israel's faith, had not occurred for 500 years or more.
The Passover is the Old Testament's most vivid picture of the cross of Jesus Christ. At Passover, the blood of a lamb was applied to the threshold of the door. If the LORD saw the blood, the death angel passed over. If the blood was not applied, the death angel put the first born of every household to death, from the poorest of the people to the household of Pharaoh. The only difference between life and death was the blood of the lamb.
The test of faithful preaching in our time--since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world--is whether the cross is the central issue. Are we being taught that the only thing that stands between ourselves and eternal separation from God is the blood of Jesus?
Chapters 22 and 23 of 2 Kings hold the key to the history of the church. Our churches are dead inside when the Word of the LORD is bloodless and powerless, when the empty philosophies of man start to creep in.
Our churches come alive when the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central tenet of our teaching.
The blood of the Lamb is the test. The blood of Jesus makes all the difference.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Our Longsuffering Lord

(by Pastor Joe)
Key Verse: 2 Kings 21:15 --
...they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.
Our world is an impatient place. We rush, grab our food to go, cut others off, take shortcuts, and honk our way through life, dodging delays at all cost. And our ever decreasing attention span tricks us into believing that we have much more patience than we really do. After all, I think I am being patient if I hold my peace waiting in line at Tim Horton's.
Here in the middle of the wicked reign of Manasseh, we see one of the great understatements of the Bible (21:15, above). Have the Israelites really been so bad since the Exodus? Actually, they've been even worse. Let's take a brief walk down memory lane.
These folks saw the miracles of God up close (think the plagues in Egypt or the Red Sea) and with amazing regularity (think the daily manna supply or the pillar of cloud/fire). But instead of being strengthened by these events, they specialized instead in whining and grumbling. Psalm 78:32 sums this gang up the best:
"In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
in spite of his wonders, they did not believe."
This entire generation, save Joshua & Caleb, perished in the wilderness (Nu. 14:30)

Joshua- Ruth
This generation got off to a promising start as long as Joshua & Caleb were around (Jos. 24:31). But once those two die the Israelites once again abandon God (Jd. 2:10-13) . They become ensnared in a vicious cycle of blatant sin, terrible oppression, crying out to God in their misery, God raising up a judge to deliver them, only to repeat that same cycle again and again and again.
1 & 2 Samuel
This period of history starts with the almost comical account (if it were not such a tragedy) of the bumbling High Priest Eli. The Israelites then long for a king "to be like the nations around them" (1 Samuel 8:19-20) against the clear will of God. Even the great men of God Samuel and David have their serious flaws.
1 & 2 Kings
And here where we've been camping out for much of the Autumn, we've maybe become a bit too accustomed to the wickedness of the kings who lead two nations that are far from God (Israel & Judah). For Judah, there is certainly some good (Josiah, Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat), but more often than not, the king or tyrant queen (see Athaliah) is leading the people astray. Israel is a lost cause, a perfect 20 for 20 when it comes to bad kings. And despite multiple prophets and warnings, both nations are stuck on a collision course of destruction because of their wickedness.
And all that brings us back to verse 21:15, and our longsuffering Lord. God calls us to "be patient" (Eph. 4:2), but in doing so, we are only following the greatest example of patience ever seen: God Himself. From Adam to Malachi- God consistently restrains his full wrath and righteous indignation from people who more than deserve it. In the New Testament, Jesus follows that same example by refusing to bring His enemies to a deserved and wretched end (see Mt. 26:53). Instead He humbly prays for His enemies, even as He is dying upon the cross (see Lk. 23:34).
Let's be honest- as brick headed or prone to evil as Israel was, people haven't really changed that much. Their history is really a microcosm of human history. Their story is my story. But the great joy of the Gospel is that is not the end of the story. "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed" (Lam. 3:22) was Israel's promise. In Jesus Christ, this is my story as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

for Christ's sake

The Word for today:
2 Kings 19:8-37
mark this: 2 Kings 19:34--
"I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant."
and this: Ephesians 4:32/KJV --
God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
When I was a kid, we lived next door to a major league blowhard. Amongst other distinguishing characteristics of his ilk, he was always swearing. He'd swear at his lawnmower, his wife, his dog, the birds in the trees.
He specialized in taking the name of the LORD in vain. He'd use the a-word, the b-word, the d-word, every swear word there was. But he reserved special emphasis for the JC-word and the GD-word.
He was a big man, physically, living proof that the brain and the body are often in indirect proportion.
One day my Dad and I were putting up a canvas tent in the backyard. (That's right, canvas; it was a long time ago. My brother and I slept out every night all summer in that tent.)
While we were finishing up, staking the ropes, we were subjected to another of the neighbor's tirades.
"That guy's a jerk, Dad. He doesn't like anything or anybody."
"He doesn't like himself, Franklyn."
"I wish he'd stop it."
"He will. Stay here."
My Dad dropped the tent stake he was holding. He walked across our driveway onto our neighbor's lawn. The swearing ceased.
My Dad was not what we'd call born again. I never saw him read the Bible that we had. It stood with a couple other books between some heavy brass bookends atop the mantle next to a chiming clock.
But he respected Jesus Christ. He swore, as many do now and then, but he drew the line between cuss words and taking the name of the LORD in vain. I also swear my share. But because of my Dad's example, I have never taken the Name in vain. According to Jesus' standards for sin in the Sermon on the Mount, that's the only one of the Ten Commandments I haven't broken.
"For Christ's sake," we often hear, spoken without thought and without context.
In 2 Kings 19:34, God declares--
"I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant."
God saved the city for David's sake--a kind of down payment on God's promise to David that one of his descendants would be king and savior of Israel for all time.
Today God saves sinners for the sake of that great promised King.
Not for the sake of my own merit am I saved, but on the basis of Jesus' blood and merit; on the basis of Christ's sinless, selfless sacrifice. For Christ's sake--and not my own--am I righteous in God's eyes.
God will save every sinner who trusts Him—for Christ’s sake. And when a believer prays to the Father in Jesus’ name, the Father answers for Christ’s sake.
Said carelessly by some, "For Christ's sake" breaks the third commandment.
Said prayerfully by others, "For Christ's sake" is the basis of their brand-new, ever-new, and ever-lasting relationship with God:
“There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. . . . This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ doesn't cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His ‘blood and righteousness’ alone that we can rest.” (1)
(1) B. B. Warfield, quoted by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson in Counsel from the Cross (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2009), 19.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

take it to the curb and set it next to Nehushtan

The Word for today:
2 Kings 18:1 -- 19:7
mark this: 2 Kings 18:4 --
He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.
The bronze snake which Moses made is one of the most startling prophecies of the cross in all of scripture.
It is startling because Jesus on the cross is represented as a snake on a pole!
As the people of Israel made their way through the wilderness,
they grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?" Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them and many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. (1)
The snake on the pole, a symbol of evil, represented Jesus on the cross because--
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2)
Jesus pointed to the snake as a picture of himself:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (3)
But now in Hezekiah's time, the people had forgotten that it was just a symbol of God's deliverance. So they began to worship the symbol instead of God, the Deliverer! It had become an idol, worshiped for its own sake:
They burned incense to the brazen serpent and called it Nehushtan.
So Hezekiah broke it in pieces. It had become a stumbling block. It was time to get rid of it. God had used it for a purpose once. But that purpose had been served. What had been a symbol of saving faith had become an obstacle to faith.
Are there any traditions in your life or in your church that served a purpose once--but not any longer? Is God still behind them, or has the Spirit of God moved beyond them now?
Some of our old dusty relics should be set out to the curb. Set them right there next to Nehushtan.
(1) see Numbers 21:4-9; (2) 2 Corinthians 5:21; (3) John 3:14-15

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

that's not Jesus

The Word for today:
2 Kings 17
mark this: 2 Kings 17: 32-33
2 Kings chapter 17 marks the end of the line for the ten northern tribes of Israel.
For hundreds of years, the Lord called to His people, but they would not respond. They continually went off into idolatry. And because they would not respond to His goodness, they began to experience His judgment. The Word of God is very clear that he sent them into captivity because they insisted on worshiping other gods.
On the tops of the hills and under the trees shrines to other gods were built and the worship of these idols was carried on.
God had put the Canaanites out of the land for their immorality and idolatry. Certainly, he will not permit His own people to stay in the land and do the same things. So He allows Assyria to come and carry them away into captivity.
Carrying people into captivity was a common practice of the day. A conquering country would take the conquered people back into its own region so that, over time, the new arrivals would be absorbed into the host culture and lose their national identity. The people of Israel were divided and placed in various areas in order that separation and isolation would keep them from rebelling.
When the king of Assyria took the northern kingdom captive, he brought in other people to inhabit the land. The area of the northern kingdom was called Samaria. The Samaritans of the New Testament are the descendants of the colonists brought in by the king of Assyria.
God had sent the prophets Ahijah, Elijah, Micaiah, Elisha, Jonah, Amos, and Hosea to these people in the northern kingdom of Israel. To the southern kingdom of Judah he had sent the prophets Shemaiah, Joel, Isaiah and Micah. Later on He will be sending Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah.
Every prophet warned the people of both kingdoms what would take place if they did not return to the LORD God.
Idolatry at its core is an attempt by man to diminish God. Whereas God's image lifts us up, man in rebellion makes an image in order to tear God down to the level of creature, not creator. We in our era don't bow down to images of birds and crocodiles and frogs. Our image-making is more pernicious. We cannot lift ourselves up to God, so in an attempt to deify ourselves, we have to bring God down to our level.
Our generation’s favorite form of idolatry involves remaking Jesus in the image of man. We remake Jesus in movies, books, and even in our churches.
Pretty soon we are worshiping a Jesus we've concocted ourselves.
The only real Jesus--the only Jesus Christ who ever lived--was the Son of God, virgin-born, who performed miracles, died for our sins in accordance with the prophetic scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day in accordance with the prophetic scriptures. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
The only real Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus according to scripture (1).
As we study God's Word, absorbing the truth about Jesus Christ, there is yet another thing to do in order to know Jesus better. We must pro-actively kick out the Jesus made in the image of man--the Jesus of Hollywood, the Jesus of contemporary culture, the watered-down Jesus you'll meet in many of your churches. That "Jesus" becomes entwined with the real Jesus we meet in God's Word, unless we drive him out of our hearts and minds.
Two days ago, we learned that King Jehu had exterminated all the prophets of Baal. But he didn't demolish the golden calves in Dan and Bethel.
Today we read these odd lines--
They worshiped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. (2)
They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. (3)
Breathe in the real Jesus. Spit out the "Jesus" that man has made in his own image.
(1) 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; (2) 2 Kings 17:32; (3) 2 Kings 17:33

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christmas presents for the Bible student...

The Word for today:
2 Kings 15, 16
mark this: 2 Kings 15:1-5
and this: 2 Chronicles 26:16-21
A few challenges for the dedicated Bible student present themselves in the opening verses of today's reading:
1. Bible characters often have multiple names.
2. Information that we must have in order to understand a section of scripture is often found somewhere else in scripture.
1. Bible characters often have multiple names.
'King Azariah,' whom we meet in the opening verses of chapter fifteen, is 'King Uzziah'--best known from the awe-inspiring vision of the Lord which Isaiah sees in Isaiah 6:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple (Isaiah 6:1).
But he is called 'Azariah' in our reading today. Get used to it. Paul, Peter, Gideon, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Benjamin, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego...each are called something different at some point in the Bible. Only experience and a good Bible dictionary will help us to recognize a character by his alternative name.
2. Information that we must have in order to understand a section of scripture is often found somewhere else in scripture.
We read that King Azariah did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. Then, a verse later, we read that the LORD afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died. What's going on here? Why is he smitten with leprosy?
We find the answer over in 2 Chronicles 26:16-21, where King Uzziah (King Azariah) had made a tragic error. He went in to the temple and offered sacrifices. The priests warned him not to do it. But he felt God would bless him. So he overstepped his parameters.
There is only one who is qualified to be both priest and king—Jesus Christ. Thus, Uzziah had distorted the picture of Jesus, so God punished him.
These Old Testament pictures of Jesus are called "types" of Christ. We've seen God carefully guard these pictures of Jesus before. The water-gushing rock in Exodus was a type of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). It had already, by God’s command, been smitten (Exodus 17:6). Later on in Numbers 20:8-12, God tells Moses to speak to the rock and water would gush forth once again. But when Moses struck it, he was not being careful to preserve the rock as a type of Christ--because Christ the Rock is smitten only once, at his death on the cross for our sins. This picture was so important to God that Moses was unable to enter the Promised Land because, like Uzziah, he altered the picture.
When two or more passage of scripture deal with the same event--often supplementing our understanding--we call these "parallel" passages. Only experience and a good reference Bible will alert us to these parallel scriptures.
If you know a budding Bible student who is without a good Bible dictionary and a real reference Bible, then it would behoove you to think of ways to alter his/her limitations.
Christmas is coming. (Hint, hint.)