Wednesday, December 26, 2012

God at the Center

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”

On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard... The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them... The tribe of Zebulun will be next...On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard... The tribe of Simeon will camp next to them... The tribe of Gad will be next...Then the tent of meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps...On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard... The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them... The tribe of Benjamin will be next...On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan under their standard... The tribe of Asher will camp next to them... The tribe of Naphtali will be next...

So the Israelites did everything the Lord commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each of them with their clan and family.
Numbers 2:1-3a, 5a, 7a, 10a, 12a, 14a, 17a, 18a, 20a, 22a, 25a, 27a, 29a, & 34
(emphasis added)

God gave specific instructions for how the Israelites were to set up camp. This is one of those less exciting parts of the Bible. It tells us exactly who camped where. All of the more than 600,000 Israelites camped in a huge circle around the tabernacle. (The tabernacle was a tent like temple where God dwelt among His people.) Some translations (like the ESV) interpret verse two to say that the people of Israel had their all tent doors facing the center of the camp as well. Their entire camp centered around and directed their lives toward God. It must have taken a terrible amount of effort to set this all up, but it was worth it. We know that at this time the physical representation of God's presence was visible over the tabernacle at all times (Numbers 9:15). During the day God's presence was manifested as a cloud, and at night as a pillar of fire. So every morning when they would step out of the entrance to their tents, the Israelites would look up and see God's presence over the tabernacle and were reminded that God must be at the center of all they do. And every time they set up or tore down camp, they were reminded of the same.

What are some ways you have oriented your life around God? It's good for us to have these little reminders built into our normal everyday routine to help us remember that He must be at the center of all we do, that we live to glorify His name and make disciples for the kingdom. So here are just a few ideas of ways that you can build reminders of the centrality of God into your day.
  • Have a regularly scheduled and consistent quiet time in which you spend some time in Bible reading and prayer.
  • Keep your Bible on the kitchen table instead of on the book shelf to remind you to have a quiet time while you eat breakfast.
  • Write Scripture (especially one with a special meaning to you) in a prominent place where you will be sure to see it, such as on your bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker, taped to the wall of your shower in a plastic bag, your screen saver on your phone, etc...
  • Set your alarm clock radio or even your car radio to a Christian station.
  • Make a lunch date with God! If early mornings don't work with you, then go to your car during your lunch break everyday and squirrel away a few minutes for Bible study and prayer.
  • Building regular church attendance into your life is a great help, especially if you can get into the habit of going to more than just Sunday morning service. If you can discipline yourself to add Sunday School, Wednesday night, or Sunday night church to your normal worship routine it will really help.

For further reading...
  • Try any of the above as you feel led. If you are looking for a good place to start reading the Bible, try Genesis or Matthew.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Night Light

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

When I was a kid I used to always want a night light in my room. I was scared of the dark. That little bit of light made everything better. Without a night light, I would see a shirt lying over the back of a chair and think a monster was in my room. I would hide under the covers and try to convince myself that there was no such thing as monsters. But with even just a little night light, I could see the truth. I could be sure that there weren't any monsters. I could clearly see the path to my door, so I could get up if I needed to use the restroom or get a drink of water. It is amazing what a little light can do!

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” It  began as just a little light, a tiny babe. Even then, His light was bright enough to draw grown men to praise (Matthew 2:11). But this was just the dawning of His great light. It wasn't until His death and resurrection that Jesus would reach noonday brightness. Who He was is now clear to all who are willing to see.

The problem is that not everyone is willing to see. John 3:19-20 says, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." All of us have been corrupted by the great enemy of God. He is a deceiver by nature and so loves darkness and confusion (John 8:44). God, however, is a God of truth (John 17:17) and clarity and so He is characterized by light. Jesus, being the very representation of God's being (Hebrews 1:3), is the true light sent into the world whereby men may be saved. But stepping into His light means we must be willing to look at the truth...the truth not only as it pertains to our world, but to ourselves as well. Stepping into the light of Jesus always reveals us for the sinners that we are. The darkness is a scary place to be, but sometimes the light can be even scarier to those who have grown accustomed to the dark. Fear not! Step into the light that Jesus offers. I wager you never really thought you were perfect anyway. Once you are in the light, fear recedes.

Those of us who have accepted Christ are now the light of the world ourselves (Matthew 5:14-15). Don't keep the light to yourself. And don't allow fear of darkness to creep back in. Remember that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world (I John 4:4). Darkness flees before light, just as confusion and deception vanish before truth. So if the light of Christ shines in you this Christmas do not hesitate to shine. Calm fears. Speak truth. Love like Jesus did. Call to salvation.

For further reading...
  • John 1:4-10: Darkness has not overcome the light!
  • Matthew 5:14-15: You are the light of the world.
  • Exodus 10:21-23: How does the plague of darkness compare to the world we live in today. How is our situation the same? How is it different?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holy Shoulder Pads!?

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests... And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty... 

"You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance...
“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work... There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron's heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly."
Exodus 28: 1-2, 9-10, 12, 15a, 21a, 29-30
The New Testament teaches what theologians call the priesthood of the believer. This is a fancy way of saying that all Christians are priests. We aren't priests in the same way that Aaron was. We don't go into the tabernacle and make animal sacrifices. But we are priests in that now all Christians enjoy the privileges that Aaron had. We all have direct access to God the Father through Jesus. We can all enter into the very presence of God  (Matthew 27:50-51) through prayer in Jesus' name, and one day we will enter His presence physically in heaven. Also, as priests we are all called to minister in Jesus' name. We are called to offer a sacrifice of praise to God (I Peter 2:5-9). I also believe this feeds into the Great Commission which commands us all to go out and make disciples for Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
Since it is true that all believers are priests, some of the Old Testament passages that guide the priests in their ministry ought to apply to us as well. The above passage is taken from God’s instruction for how Aaron’s priestly robes are to be made in the book of Exodus. It would be easy to read over this and think that it is a pointless piece of Scripture. But II Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." If you are willing to give this passage a deeper look you will find that there is buried treasure here.

First, we see that Aaron was to get a rather nifty set of shoulder pads: two onyx stones which had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on them. Now I don’t know a lot about stones, but I do know that they tend to be heavy. And then there is a clue that this has a deeper meaning. God says “Aaron will carry their names on his two shoulders before the LORD as a reminder.” A reminder of what? The Bible does not say, but I think a good argument could be made for the idea that these stones were placed there to remind Aaron that he ought to be aware that he carried the burden of Israel on his shoulders. He was responsible for all of these people. He was to feel the weight of that responsibility when he went before the Lord on their behalf.

There is even more to be had here though because attached to these shoulder pieces was a breastpiece which had a stone for each of the twelve tribes of Israel and a set of holy dice which were used to determine God’s will. This breastpiece is called the breastpiece for decisions and in verse 30 it says, "Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly." Often this breastpiece was used to determine God’s judgment in a given situation. For example if you know the story of Achan, I think it is likely that it was used to determine which tribe the man was from who had stolen the gold (Joshua 7). Thus, some translations of the Bible call this breastpiece the breastpiece of judgment. Aaron is to carry the judgment against the people’s sin on his heart.

Certainly Jesus as the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16) fulfilled these verses in ways which we never can, but they have application for us as well. As a believer and a priest you have a responsibility to feel the burden of those around you whom you have been charged with taking the gospel to and ministering to. The Bible commands us to carry each other’s burdens. Moreover, you are also responsible for carrying on your heart the terrible judgment that awaits those who reject Christ or turn from His ways. When was the last time you prayed for your lost family member, friend, or even for the lost in a certain city or country of the world? Are you helping to carry anyone’s burden? I struggle to remember to do this myself. If you are like me, then rejoice with me that even this sin of self-centeredness was covered by Christ on the cross and is forgiven by God. Then begin carrying the burdens of others and seeking their salvation today. 

For further reading.
  • This prayer calendar is a great way to get started praying for the lost around the world. You simply select today's date and it gives you a target country with statistics and appropriate prayer prompts.
  • Ezekiel 22:29-30- Some of the saddest words in all of the Bible. May they not be true of us today.
  • II Timothy 3:16- Do you really believe that all Scripture is useful?
  • I Peter 2:5-9- What do you think this passage means when it says that we are a "royal priesthood?"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God Loves You

This past week I gathered together some of the many Scriptures that attest to the fact that God loves us. Some of you really struggle with guilt and shame. You struggle to believe that a holy God could ever love you, let alone forgive you for all you have done. Whether you fall into that category or not, read these precious verses and be reminded of just how amazing God's love for you is.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:26

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…
Jeremiah 29:11

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:9-11

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:1

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him...
Mark 14:61-65a
The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him.
Luke 22:63-64

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Matthew 27:22-26

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Matthew 27:27-31

Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Matthew 27:38-44

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8
There is no doubt that God's greatest demonstration of His love for you was in sending His Son Jesus to bear the penalty for your sin and die in your place. Note that He did this not after you cleaned your life up, but while you were still a sinner, still rejecting Him as God, still His enemy. So remember this week, as you struggle against whatever life throws at you, that if God loved you so much that He sent Jesus to the cross for you, then you can be absolutely sure that nothing can ever separate you from His love.  
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Life Permanantly Marked by God

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven...Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."
Matthew 10:32-33, 37-39

It wasn't that long ago that carnivals in America featured tattooed ladies in their so-called freak shows. While many people landed in carnival sideshows as a result of a birth defect or some physical abnormality or exception, this wasn't the case with tattooed ladies. They chose their physical abnormality and even endured pain to make their bodies permanently different. Now I am not trying to hold these women up as examples to live by, but if nothing else you have to respect their resolve. There were literally covered in tattoos in a culture that disapproved. They were permanently marked by their love of this lifestyle and they made no attempt to hide it.

In an odd sort of way, this reminds me of Christ. I know it is an unorthodox comparison, but stay with me. Like these ladies, Christ was permanently marked by His love. Even now as He sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, Christ still bears the scars in His body that prove His love for you. He made no attempt to hide this after His resurrection (John 20:24-29). On the contrary, His scars are trophies of His great victory over sin. These precious scars proclaim His glory to the whole world. In the same way a Christian's life ought to be permanently marked by his or her love for God. A person that is truly changed by the dumb-foundingly amazing love of God that he or she encounters in Christ should be irreparably changed. "Like a tattoo that can be seen at all times,"* Christians should be permanently marked by a changed life that is constantly visible. 

In the above passage of Scripture Christ is sending his twelve disciples out to minister. He has already told them that He is sending them out like "sheep among wolves" (Matthew 10:16) and that they will be beaten and arrested on His account (Matthew 10:17-19). He even says, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). He isn't speaking of the Devil here, for only God has the power to cast into Hell. So Jesus makes clear that neither beating, nor threat of arrest, nor even death is a reason for a disciple of His to deny his commitment to Him. So imagine what He will say one day when you stand before Him and admit that you claimed to follow Him but were too scared to acknowledge Him publicly because you didn't want to be labeled a "freak" by your culture. What I wouldn't give for Christians today to have even half the backbone that these tattooed ladies had! Christ wasn't ashamed to be permanently marked by His love for you. How dare you be ashamed for your life to be publicly marked by your love for Him? Stop leading a double life. You should be as obviously Christian everyday of the week in every situation as you are on Sunday in church. 

But there is good news! Repentance is still available. Peter himself, the rock of the early church denied Christ, but was restored after repenting (John 18:15-26 & John 21). If today, the Lord has convicted you that you are leading a double life, examine your faith, repent, and proudly wear the marks of the Christian life. A public confession of Jesus is required for salvation (Romans 10:9 & Acts 2:38). If you are unwilling to claim Christ publicly, then He will not claim you as His own either.

For further reading...

*The title of this post and some of the rough concepts in it were loosely inspired by a youth Bible study series that I received for free entitled Inked: Marked for Life. You can learn more about this study here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Great Expectations

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
Mark 2:18-22

A thread runs through these first two chapters of Mark that I have yet to point out, and that is that Jesus was offensive to many in His day, especially those of the religious elite. Since verse twenty-one of chapter one, Mark has been piling up one on top of the other, almost without a break, all of the offensive things Jesus has been doing. Allow me to give a quick summary. In 1:21-31, Jesus casts out a demon on the Sabbath in the synagogue and then follows it up by healing Simon Peter's mother-in-law later that afternoon (healing on the Sabbath would soon become a serious point of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees, see Mark 3:1-6.) In 1:41 He touches a man with leprosy. Then in chapter two, He claims to have the power to forgive sins (2:10), calls a tax collector as one of His twelve disciples (2:14), is found to be consorting and eating with sinners and tax collectors (2:15), and now it is discovered that His disciples are not fasting as often as the other religious men are.

It seems that Jesus didn't live up to the expectations of those in His day. How can it be then that the church teaches that Jesus was perfect? Simple. Jesus always lived up to God's expectations. He didn't always live up to man's expectations. You see God only required the Israelites to fast one time a year on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16:1-34), but the Pharisees had taken to fasting Monday and Thursday of every week.* This was a man made tradition. (Interestingly enough Lane posits that John's disciples may have been fasting as "an expression of repentance designed specifically to hasten the coming of the time of redemption" or the Messiah.) It is obvious then, that Jesus and His disciples had no reason to fast, especially if the fasts were designed to hasten the coming of the Messiah. That would be like fasting at a wedding feast, Jesus says. The Messiah has come! This should be a time of rejoicing, not of mourning.

From the beginning of Mark, Jesus' message has been that "The time has come; the kingdom of God has come near." This new situation in the world calls for a new ordering of our lives. The old traditions cannot contain this new and amazing thing that God is doing in Christ. Jesus likens it to putting a patch made of new cloth on a garment made of old cloth. The old cloth has already shrunk, but the cloth in the patch, being new, has not. Therefore, when the garment is laundered the patch will shrink and create a worse tear in the garment than was there originally. Similarly, Jesus says that you don't put new wine in old wineskins. As the grape juice in wine ferments it expands. New wineskins are elastic enough to expand with the wine, but old skins have already expanded once and are no longer elastic. If you put new wine in an old skin, the wine will expand beyond the ability of the skin and burst it. So too, Jesus is telling His contemporaries that their old ways of thinking about God and His kingdom are not big enough to contain all that God is doing now. They need a new paradigm...a new way of thinking about God's work in the world and His redemption of fallen man.

This passage is a good reminder that sometimes (only sometimes) when we don't live up to the expectations of the people around us, that says more about their expectations than it does about us. It is also a good warning against placing a higher priority on our traditions than on the Word of God? What personal preferences do you place a higher priority on than what the Bible actually says? Do you need to ask God to change your way of thinking so that you can better understand all that He is doing in our world now? Lord, make us new that we might be able to expand with Your work in this world as it ever expands to the ends of the earth and the coming of the age!

For further reading...

  • John 12:42-43- Some of the saddest words in all the Bible! Whose expectations are you trying to meet?
  • Matthew 15:1-9- Jesus points out a tradition of men that they were placing above the Bible. I have often wondered in what ways we do the same in our own day. 

*Lane, William L., The Gospel of MarkThe New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI. 1974. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Crisis of Courage

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.... 

[God gives the Ten Commandments.]

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Exodus 19:16-19 & 20:18-21

We have a crisis of courage in our churches today. Our pews are filled with men and women who are brave enough to serve in the military, to debate the finer points of law in a courtroom, and even to work in dangerous professions like building sky scrapers; but these very same men and women when it comes time to for them to pray publicly, share some truth from God's Word, or speak to someone about the good news of Jesus shrink from the challenge. We are simply not brave enough to do this. 

Many of us are like the Israelites standing at the foot of the mountain that day. When we get too close to God, or when He asks us to do things that are scary, we find ourselves unable to stand our ground before His mighty presence or before His calling on our lives; so we back away. It doesn't seem wrong to us because all those around us are doing the same. However there are a few very important exceptions. There are those among us who like Moses have the faith necessary to stand their ground before this great and terrible presence of God. These men and women like Moses are often called not merely to stand at the foot of the mountain, but to go beyond all human reason, beyond the bounds of courage, to climb the mountain. Like Moses, these men and women often ascend into the heart of the storm, toward the presence of God Himself. They embrace their greater calling, as we shrink in fear from our simple calling to stand at the foot of the mountain. These rare few like Moses follow far beyond what we dare do or are even called to do.

While it is true that we shouldn't go beyond our calling, we should always seek to say yes to God. Too many of us have drawn clear boundaries around what we are and are not willing to do for our faith. We may not have actually voiced these things to God, but those around us know. We use phrases like "evangelism just isn't my spiritual gift" to explain away why we feel it is okay to say no to God... to say no to the things He has commanded us to do. We say things like, "public speaking really terrifies me," or "I'm afraid I will mess up."  Too often these are simply excuses that we use to explain away why we are unwilling to go further. 

As I think about Moses ascending that mountain, I remind myself that this is the same Moses who once trembled before a burning bush  and tried to say no to God's call on his life (Exodus 3:1-4:17). Now, not too long after that incident, Moses stands before a burning mountain unfazed and somehow finds the courage to ascend into the storm of God's presence and calling on His life. This assures us that God can and will supply you with the courage you need to say yes. Still, it is your choice. My experience tells me that it is those who find the courage to say yes and walk into the heart of the storm who are closest to God in this life. Those who do choose to say no to God will one day have to answer for it when they stand before the judge, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus followed God not only to this earth, not only to suffering, but also to the cross. He didn't say no. How dare we? Walk into the storm of God's will for your life today. Say yes.   

For further reading...
  • Exodus 3:1-4:17- Read about Moses' first encounter with God and how he tried to convince God to send someone else.  
  • Exodus 33:7-34:8- Read about the amazing nearness that Moses was blessed to experience with God.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Jesus and the Tax Man

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:13-17

How interesting that Jesus calls as one of His chosen twelve, Levi, a man who was a tax collector. Now tax collectors are hated pretty much universally for obvious reasons, but in the first century there were extra reasons for the Jews to hate a man like Levi. The Roman Empire had conquered Israel and now they were taxing them. Levi, a Jew, had taken a job working for the Romans taxing his own people and giving that money to this occupying government. What is more, it was very often the case in that day that tax collectors would overcharge and pocket some of the excess (Luke 19:8). This Levi, also called Matthew*, was so hated as a tax collector that the Bible lumps him and the other tax collectors together with a social class of people that were known at that time simply as "sinners." Verse 15 tells us that many of these tax collectors and "sinners" followed Jesus.

When you stop to think about it, this is really surprising. If you were to imagine God coming to earth in human form, who would you expect Him to hang out with? Not sinners! Even by the Old Testament understanding the Messiah was expected to judge sinners harshly, not hang out with them. So how do we explain this? Well, Jesus explained it quite nicely in verse 17. In my opinion this is one of the all time mind-blowing statements in the history of the world. Jesus explains that He is like a doctor who has come to bring healing. It's the sick people who need to see the doctor, not those who are well.** It's clear that Jesus knew exactly what his purpose was, and He set about doing God's business. He came to "seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).

What characterizes your interaction with lost people? Some Christians avoid the lost altogether. Like the Pharisees we turn our noses up at them. We create labels that we attach to them in a vain attempt to show our own perceived moral superiority. But this doesn't reflect the love of Christ, and it doesn't advance God's kingdom in our world at all. Other Christians embrace sinners, but they also run headlong after the same sinful pleasures as their lost friends. They emphasize their acceptance of lost people by living a lost lifestyle with them. But this type of behavior doesn't offer the true healing that Jesus came and died to offer. This healing comes only through repentance. Still others, following more closely in the footsteps of Christ, dedicate their lives to seeking and saving the lost. They embrace lost people by showing them the love of God for them that was made manifest in the cross of Christ. In so doing, they show the lost the true cost of their sin and urge them to repentance for the healing of their souls, for the glory of God, and for the exaltation of Christ our Savior. Could anything be more noble a passion than this? Praise God that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost! Praise God that He is still calling them to repentance today! And commit yourself to this most noble of endeavors while there is still time. Love lost people with the love of Christ.

For further reading...

  • Luke 19:1-10- Read another story about a tax collector whom Jesus befriended.
  • Matthew- Read some of Levi's account of the life of Christ. 

*Jesus not only takes this one tax collector Levi into his inner circle of twelve disciples, but Levi is also believed to have later authored the Gospel of Matthew.

**Of course, Jesus' statement is filled with irony. He came to bring a spiritual healing that everyone needed. We are all ill with sin. The difference was that the "sinners" and tax collectors knew they were sinners and were willing to admit it. They knew they needed Jesus' healing. The Pharisees weren't willing to admit their sin, and it is hard to be healed when you don't know and/or won't admit that you are sick.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Startling Encounter with Jesus

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Mark 2:1-12

Again right at the beginning of this passage we are reminded that Jesus' priority in life is to be about His Father's business. As the people find that Jesus has returned home and the crowds gather hoping for a chance to encounter the popular healer and teacher, what do we find Jesus doing? Taking up an offering? Enlisting an army to lead a revolution and make Him king? No, He is preaching the Word of God., proclaiming His truth, announcing His coming kingdom, and expanding His glory. May our hearts be set so singularly on God's purposes as well! 

Into this typical scene (i.e. Jesus teaching a crowd) comes a disruption. Four men make an opening in the roof of the house and lower their paralyzed friend through it. Their determination to get their friend to Jesus reveals their faith in His ability to bring healing. Their faith is even noted by Christ and in some way accounted for in His decision to heal the paralytic. May we show the same determination to bring our friends to Christ for the healing they need!

As surprising as this interruption must have been, Jesus' response had to be even more surprising. He says to the man, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Jesus' statement must have seemed "inappropriate and even irrelevant to the immediate situation" (Lane, p.94). This man has come for healing not for forgiveness. Please understand that Jesus is not saying that this man's paralysis is God's punishment for some specific sin he has committed. (Jesus clarifies that not all health issues can be traced back to specific sins in John 9:1-7.) Rather, he is making the point that all health issues are symptomatic of sin's general stain on creation. So it is because of sin that this man is paralyzed. If there was no sin in our world then he would not have been paralyzed. However, it is not necessarily because of his own sin that he is paralyzed. Again Lane is helpful. "Sickness, disease, and death are the consequence of the sinful condition of all men. Consequently every healing is a driving back of death and an invasion of the province of sin" by the advancing kingdom of God. 

Not only is Jesus' audience startled by His response but it becomes a source of conflict. Believing that Jesus is merely a man, the scribes accuse Him in their hearts of blasphemy. But Jesus corrects them in a most astonishing way. He proves His power to forgive sins by healing the man on the spot. The same paralytic that was lowered into the room through the roof walks out of it carrying his mattress under his arm. And the Bible says that all of them (presumably even the scribes) were amazed and praised God because of Jesus' great work. May the kingdom of God advance in us in miraculous ways that bring startling change to our lives and drive people to praise God! 

For further reading...
  • Romans 2:16, II Timothy 4:1, & Acts 10:41-42- Jesus has the power to forgive sin not only because of His death on the cross, but also because He is the final judge of the living and the dead. One day we will all stand before Jesus and have to give an account for how we lived our lives. 
  • John 9:1-7- Although sickness and disease is the result of sin, it is not always causally related to specific sins in the life of the ailing. In other words, sickness is not always God's punishment on people for their sin. Sometimes sickness is simply a symptom of living in a fallen world. 
  • Mark 14:61-64- It is the same charge, i.e. blasphemy, which sends Jesus to the cross later in His ministry. 

*Lane, William L., The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI. 1974. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
Mark 1:40-45

In the Old Testament and in life we get a clear picture of the way that contamination works. From experience we know that if you toss a piece of clean white linen into the mud, the mud doesn't miraculously become clean. On the contrary, the linen is soiled. That's the direction that contamination flows. Dirty things mar clean things. The Old Testament tells us that, much like that mud, sick people contaminate well people. This is why God gave the Israelites a lot of specific instructions on how to handle leprosy (Leviticus 13 & 14). I don't know of anywhere in the Old Testament where it says that the leprous man should touch something or someone who is clean, and upon doing so he will become clean. In fact, the Old Testament had a lot of instructions for how leprous people were to avoid coming into contact with anyone who was healthy. Leviticus 13:45-46, for example, requires certain lepers to live outside the camp and cry out "Unclean! Unclean!" to help keep people away.

But in this passage Jesus reverses the flow of contamination. When Jesus touches the leprous man, He is not contaminated with his leprosy. On the contrary, the leprous man is contaminated with Jesus' cleanness and health. Jesus has power over this illness. He has the power to remove and to restore and to make whole again. And what is perhaps even more interesting is that Jesus doesn't have to touch the man to heal him. He could have simply said, be healed. He heals from a distance elsewhere (Matthew 8:5-13). But Jesus chose to heal him by touching him. We cannot imagine what this must have meant to this man. His leprosy has placed a stigma on him. No one touches him anymore. No one hugs him, or comes near him, unless they also have the disease. But the maker of the universe walks over and enters into his uncleanness...his sickness and takes it away. What a beautiful example of God's love and of how Christ humbles Himself to enter into our circumstances to show us that love. It is downright incarnational.

Jesus has this same power over all illnesses, all weaknesses, and all sin. It is only Jesus who restores and makes clean and whole. It is only Jesus who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. It is only He who can restore you to right relationship with God. Whatever your problem, whatever your illness, whatever you are lacking, rest assured that Jesus is the answer. This doesn't mean that He will do exactly what you want Him to do. Or that all your problems will go away immediately. But Jesus will set you free from your sin if you ask. He will give you the perseverance and strength to face your struggles and be victorious over them. Sometimes, He chooses to heal people through death, setting them free from their disease by leading them home to heaven. At other times, He heals them right here and now and sends them off to live for God in this world. Don't get me wrong, Jesus isn't going to pay all your bills, and beat up all your enemies, and get you a raise at work. But He alone is the storehouse that can provide for all your needs, and He alone has the wisdom to discern when to simply meet your needs and when to help you as you struggle against them. Come to Jesus. Bring your illness, your disease, your sin, and let His Spirit touch you and heal you today. And then go out and help others carry their burdens the way He has carried yours.

For further reading...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who Do You Live For?

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Mark 1:35-39

Jesus has just healed a great many people the night before. He is beginning to gain momentum and build a name for himself in this town, and what does he decide to do? Leave and go to the next town, because "that is why I have come." Jesus could have stayed and been famous! But He doesn't do that because He knows that isn't what He has been sent to do. You see right at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry He has a chance to grab at personal glory, but He walks away. Jesus decides that He will not settle for personal notoriety and success. He will live His life for God's glory, not His own. Now this may seem like an odd thing to say about one of the most famous people in the history of the world, but you must remember that in His lifetime Jesus was not considered that significant. He never married. Never had kids. Never owned a home. He traveled, but not really very far. (Paul traveled much further than Jesus did.) Yes, at times Jesus had a large following. But this wasn't God's ultimate purpose for Him. This is evident from stories like the one we find in John 6:22-71 where Jesus loses many of his followers because of a hard saying. Jesus didn't shy away from saying difficult things for the same reason He found it so easy to move on from town to town. His purpose wasn't to build Himself up, but to announce the coming of the kingdom of God to the people of God. His greatest desire was obedience to God not increasing His own following.

What is your greatest desire? Better yet, what are you living life for? If you are anything like me, each week feels like a marathon. You barely make it day to day, getting done all that you have to do. You just make it to the weekend...a weekend which rarely affords you enough rest to feel ready to head into the next marathon week. How true God's Word is when it says, "Each day has enough trouble of its own!" (Matthew 6:34) If you are living like this, expending all this effort, what are you living like this for? For more money? For a bigger office? To hear your kids say thank you one day? Or are you doing, whatever you are doing to obey God, to enlarge His glory, His name, and His pleasure. Or let me put it this way, who are you living life for? Are you trying to make your parent's proud or your spouse happy? Are you trying to provide enough stuff for your kids so they don't feel out of place at school? Or are you living solely for the One who created you and who loves you (even when you rebel against Him in sin), the One who took on flesh and experienced the pains of everyday living in order to save you from your sin, and the One who is drawing you to Himself even now? Who are you living for? Choose today. Will you live for yourself, for other people or for God? (Hint: you should really choose God!)

For further reading...
  • Philippians 2:1-11- Jesus didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped.
  • John 6:22-71- I love Peter's line, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
  • John 12:42-43- Two of the saddest verses in all of the Bible. These men chose to live to please other people.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Be Thankful: Serve!

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Mark 1:23-25, 29-31

In the above passage, Jesus shows His hearers, in very tangible ways, that the kingdom of God has truly come. He does this by driving demons out of those they possess and healing illnesses. Though I wouldn't quite call activities such as these routine, they were a quite common part of Jesus' ministry. The reason for this is quite simple. The Bible tells us what the kingdom of God will be like (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5-6, 53:4-5, 61). It's the world as it should be. In the kingdom no one is demon possessed, sick, lame, blind, or deaf. So one way that Jesus can prove that the kingdom of God has truly come in Him is by driving out demons and healing the sick. So this is exactly what he does! And Jesus is able to do this because He has the authority to do so. Jesus is God incarnate, God in human form, the God/man, Immanuel (God with us). He has authority over demons and over disease and so He goes about setting His children free from these shackles that sin has placed on them. 

I love that the Bible records the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, because in such an understated way she shows us how we should react to this shackle-removing work of Christ. Once Jesus heals her, what does she do? She immediately sets out to serve Him and His disciples. Our response to Christ's work really is that simple. When Christ sets us free from what entangles us, whether that be sin, illness, demon possession, or something else, the appropriate response of a thankful heart is faithful service. Thus, in Peter's mother-in-law we have an excellent picture of what all of us as Christians should be doing. Are you thankful for what Jesus has done for you? If so, have you found your place of service in the kingdom? Since Jesus is no longer on this earth, the best way we can serve Him now is by serving His bride the church, and through that service to aid the church in bringing more and more people to a saving knowledge of Him. Are you showing your thankfulness by serving the people of God?

For further reading...
  • Luke 10:9, 11:20- Notice the close connection between the healing of the sick and the driving out of demons with the acknowledgment that the kingdom of God has come near.
  • Matthew 11:2-6- Notice what proof Jesus gives to John the Baptist's disciples that He truly is the Messiah.
  • Isaiah 29:1835:5-653:4-561- Read some Old Testament Passages about what kind of kingdom the Messiah would bring with Him.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Handling Money God's Way

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
I Timothy 6:9, 10
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.
Proverbs 3:9, 10
 Guest Blogger: Ben Lutz with his family
Money is one of the most common topics in the entire Bible. In the book of Proverbs alone there are over 100 references to money or wealth in some fashion. God clearly understood that money would play a significant role in human history. So what does His Word say about money? Well, like many topics in the Bible, on the surface there appears to be some conflicting messages. In the verses above for example, we read that the love of money is a root of evil but honoring the Lord with your wealth is good. So how are we to understand this? The truth is, money itself is neither good nor evil. Money is simply an instrument, much like a tool or a weapon, to be used for whatever purpose the holder intends. The Scriptures are actually very detailed on this topic, and cover a number of items including debt, investing, insurance, tuition, inheritance, retirement, lending, and more. I guess you could say that God is the first and greatest financial counselor the world has ever seen. In fact, if you handle money the way God teaches in His word, money can truly becoming a blessing in your life and in the lives of those around you as well.
To handle money God’s way, you must first understand that everything that is given to you, money or otherwise, belongs to God (Haggai 2:8). God entrusts us with his wealth, with his knowledge, and with the ability to use these things to glorify Him. To make this concept more real, think about if a family member was leaving the country for a few years, to go into the mission field. They have always been very smart with their money, and they leave you their entire nest egg to manage in their absence. How much differently would you treat this money than if it was your own? How much more would you seek their advice on the best way to invest or spend this money? And if instructed, how much easier would it be for you to give this money to those in need? This is exactly how God wants us to handle His money, seeking his wisdom with every significant decision, making choices that see his investment grow, and giving effortlessly and generously. [For more on this see Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and His Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:12-28).]
In Proverbs God tells us how we can use the wealth He has given us to truly glorify Him. The first thing you need to do is have a plan: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5). You need to be intentional about what you are doing with God’s money; develop a plan and be patient. Avoid debt: Of all the references to debt in the Scriptures not once is it mentioned favorably. In fact in Proverbs 22:7 it reads, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lenders slave.” Christ died for our sins so that we could be free from slavery, bondage, and sin. God wants His children to flourish and succeed in the same way we that want for our own children to flourish and succeed. Save and invest: Sometimes the best thing you can do with money is nothing at all. Putting money aside, or investing it wisely, is a biblical principle that is far too rarely practiced these days. Proverbs 21:20 says “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” Give generously: Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” The amazing thing about giving away what God has given you is that with the right intentions and attitudes it can be an absolute and total blessing in your life. Even though after giving you may have less, the kingdom of God has more. You see when God’s children give God’s resources to advance His kingdom it allows us to accomplish things that we literally couldn’t accomplish on our own. With one gift, hundreds of lives can be affected. But before this is possible, you must develop a plan that will allow you to give more than you ever thought possible.
I know some of you may be saying “That’s great, but I feel like God hasn’t given me enough to even get by, let alone to give away and to help others.” God isn’t asking you to give so much that you can’t even provide for your own family. In fact, the Bible tells us that we have a special responsibility to care for the needy in our family first. In first Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Financial struggles are not new to the world. In fact, if you live in America and have a roof over your head, you are far richer than most of the people throughout history have been. We are so rich, both in our finances and our freedoms, and we don’t even realize it. That being said, that knowledge alone doesn’t help pay the bills, or keep the debt collectors from calling and harassing us. God wants us to be at peace financially, and not have money (or the lack thereof) weighing on us and taking our focus off our true goal of living for Him.
One of the hardest financial goals to master in life is to be content with whatever God has given you. Never allow your desire for success to convince you that somehow you deserve more, or that God isn’t providing what you need. God knows your heart. He knows if you are capable of handling extreme wealth His way, or if your love for money will steer you off course. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” Take the knowledge of the Scriptures, and use that knowledge to increase what God has entrusted to you. Use your tools to build up God’s kingdom in heaven, and here on earth.
Additional Scriptures:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus Follows a Pattern

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1:9-15
Imagine that an older man decided he wanted to be more charitable. So one cold winter's night he loaded up an old sleigh he had with gifts, hitched up his horses and drove all over town delivering gifts to young children. If this happened, what would you think? Chances are that you immediately made some sort of connection to Santa Clause in your mind. Santa is such a well known part of our culture that I don't have to explain to you how this old man's story connects to him. We can all see how the old man is following this well known pattern from our culture.
In the above passage Jesus is doing something similar. He is following a pattern of behavior that was extremely well known to the Israelites but that is maybe not as well known to us. You see, for the Israelites the most significant event in their national history was their exodus from Egypt. It was truly the birth of their nation. They would tell their children and their children's children the story of how God rescued from Egypt much like we make sure our children are taught about the American Revolution, the Boston tea party, and Paul Revere's ride. All Israelite children should have known that after the ten plagues the people if Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea, wandered in the dessert for 40 years, and then entered the Promised Land. So it is no coincidence that Mark tells his readers that Jesus passed through the waters of baptism, was driven into the wilderness for 40 days, and then began preaching about the coming kingdom. Jesus is following a well known pattern in order to make a point. Jesus came to earth to bring about a new exodus.
In the historical exodus God saved the people of Israel, who were powerless to save themselves, from slavery to the Egyptians. In this new exodus, Jesus will save all of God's children from slavery to sin, because we are also powerless to save ourselves. By His baptism Jesus is not repenting of His own sin, for he never sinned, but he is repenting as a representative of all mankind. He is showing us that the way to salvation lies through repentance. Then the Holy Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted. Unlike the nation of Israel, which fell into sin repeatedly resulting in 40 years of wandering in the dessert, Jesus overcomes the evil one and avoids sin. Then he re-enters the Promised Land and begins to preach about another "Promised Land" the coming kingdom of God.
I think Mark's original readers would have picked up on this pattern that Jesus is following right away. Jesus is leading a new exodus. He is showing them that this world is not what it was meant to be. The Promised Land was not all that they hoped it would be. They had traded slavery to the Egyptians for slavery to sin, and their sin had messed everything up. It was time for a do-over. It was time for a new exodus... one which would solve their sin problem once and for all. This is to be His mission in life: to set God's children free from slavery to sin and to bring them safely into the Promised Land (heaven). It's really rather beautiful when you step back to look at it.
The good news for us today is that Jesus was successful. He paid the penalty for all of mankind's sin on the cross. He defeated the power that sin had over us by His death and resurrection. And He has promised to return one day to take all those who believe in Him to the Promised Land. Until then God continues to rescue helpless sin-slaves. If you haven't surrendered your life to Christ, the good news for you is that there is still time to repent and believe. It is to you that Jesus is saying, "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Today is the day of salvation! Believe. If you have already made a profession of faith, then remember that you have been set free. You are no longer a slave to sin. Christ defeated the power it had over you. You are no longer a slave to shame. Your past sins have been blotted out by the precious blood of Christ, so live a life that is in line with the great grace that you have been shown and the great freedom from sin that you have been given. Live like someone who has experienced a great exodus and is waiting to enter their Promised Land. Don´t turn back to Egypt; don´t turn back to sin. Rather live for God and set your hope on the grace to be brough to you when Jesus Christ comes again (I Peter 1:13).
For further reading...
  • Romans 5- This passage talks about Jesus following a pattern set down by Adam, though Jesus gets some things right that Adam really messed up.
  • Romans 6- And it just so happens that the very next chapter talks about our slavery to sin.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

John the Baptist: Herald of the Promised King it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— "a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:2-8
Every king needs a herald... someone to go before him to announce the greatness of his arrival...someone to make sure that the people have been prepared...that there will be a reception fit for a king. This is no less true of the promised Messiah. The coming of this Messiah had been foretold many times for more than a thousand years before Jesus. So there was great expectation, especially in Jesus' day, for the coming of the great king from the line of David who would restore the people of God to their rightful place. But Mark weaves Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 together in verse 2 of his gospel to remind his readers that the Messiah wasn't the only one who was prophesied to come. For over five hundred years now the people of Israel had awaited the herald, one like Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6), who would announce that the time of the coming king was finally at hand. This herald would make ready and prepare the way before the Messiah. Let's look and see what the herald has to teach us.
First, let's look at his actions. John the Baptist appears out in the wilderness offering a baptism of repentance in the Jordan River. This action was rich with history for the people of Israel. God had long ago rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He led them through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground and through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land (God's promised inheritance for His people). Then they passed through the Jordan River (also on dry ground) to enter the Promised Land. This story of the Israel's exodus is the context for understanding what John the Baptist is doing. By his actions John is saying, a new exodus has begun. We have fallen short of living like the people of God should, so repent and let's start over. The king is coming, now is the time to repent before he gets here. We want him to find us washed of our sin and living rightly when he gets here. So prepare yourselves for the coming of the king! Come back to the wilderness with me. We will pass through the waters again in repentance and in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. God is doing a new thing. Now the people of God will receive the true promised inheritance.

What a powerful message! You know this message is still relevant today. The Bible tells us that King Jesus is coming yet again at some time in the future to take his new people into their Promised Land (Heaven). So make ready and prepare yourself for the coming of the king is at hand! What do you need to repent of in order to be prepared for the king's arrival?
Second, let's look at his words, and what powerful words they are! John says that he is unworthy to even stoop down and untie the straps of Jesus' sandals. The ESV Study Bible notes that untying the straps of the master's sandals was usually the job of a low servant in the household. You see, the roads and well worn paths of that day were often littered with animal waste and other filth, so this was an undesirable job to say the least. In fact, Jews were not supposed to ask their Jewish servants to do this task. This disgrace was reserved for the already unclean Gentile servant.* John uses this everyday activity from their culture to make a powerful statement about his place in relation to Jesus. He says that he is not even worthy to be Jesus' lowliest servant. That is how high Jesus is above him. Let me ask you, do you serve the Lord with this kind of humility?

John continues by comparing their baptisms. "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What a wonderful thought, to be immersed not in water but in the Spirit of the living God! This is truly a salvation experience, to know God and be immersed in His presence. And this is what Christ has done, He poured out the Spirit for all believers on the day of Pentecost and He continues to pour out the Spirit into the lives of those who believe in Him today. I can say from experience as a redeemed sinner that nothing in this world compares to knowing this kind of intimate fellowship with God. And this isn't something that you can secure for yourself. Only Jesus can give this to you. If you haven't yet experienced it, then I encourage you to accept Jesus as your Savior. Surrender your life to God today by following the simple formula in Romans 10:9. And seek after God. He will not run from you for His Word tells us to, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8- English Standard Version).
For further reading...
  • Exodus 1-14: Read the story of the Exodus.
  • Joshua 1-3: And the story of the crossing of the Jordan River.

* ESV Study Bible note on Mark 1:7-8. Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. 2008.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I just don't feel close to God like I thought I would...

Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:8
As a youth pastor I sometimes have teenagers come up to me and say something like, "You know Lance, I just don't feel as close to God as I thought I would. I got saved a few months back (or a few years back) and I just don't feel any closer to God." Generally, I respond by asking the student if he is spending regular time with the Lord. Is he reading his Bible and praying everyday? Almost always the answer is no.
Scripture gives us a very clear teaching on this matter. If we come near (approach, draw near, pursue) God, then He will draw near to us as well. I don't know why this is so difficult for us to grasp. It isn't just teenagers that struggle with this; many adults, including myself, continue to struggle to have regular quiet times and then wonder why we aren't closer to God. Somehow we think that a close relationship with God just happens without any hard work. We don't expect this to happen in any other area of life. We don't expect relationships to just blossom without  ever spending time with the person. We don't expect to have increased knowledge of math without studying. We don't expect to suddenly acquire better basketball skills without practicing. And yet, once we become a Christian we somehow think that we are going to experience a deep relationship with God, knowledge of God, and skill at discerning His will without ever investing any time or energy developing them. It is absurd and frankly angering.
There are some parts of the Christian life that are automatic. The Bible tells us that when we become a Christian we become a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Spirit comes to reside in us (Ephesians 1:13) and we are given a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Most new Christians sense a greater intimacy with the Lord at this time. But as Christians we have a responsibility to develop this new relationship with the Lord, our knowledge of Him, and our skill at handling His Word over time. In fact, when we stop to think of just how much God has pursued us, it is embarrassing that we should struggle so much to simply spend time with Him.
Scripture tells us that before the foundation of the world God was working out His plan to pursue and save us from our sin (Ephesians 1:4-5). He took on flesh and suffered and died the worst imaginable death for us, even when we were opposed to Him. Over the course of thousands of years He carefully revealed His nature and His will to His prophets and apostles and had them write this revelation down. Then He raised up scribes to painstakingly copy and preserve this revelation for future generations. The Bible was copied by hand for thousands of years before the printing press was invented. Because this process was so slow and costly, it was very rare for individuals to personally own any of the books of the Bible. Churches had Bibles, but generally individuals didn't. Then when the Roman emperor Diocletian decided to wipe out Christianity by destroying all the Bibles in the whole world, many Christians chose imprisonment, torture and even death rather than reveal where Bibles were hidden. Much later, more Christians were martyred for translating the Bible into English. The Roman Catholic church didn't want the Bible to be translated into the common language but men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale wanted every poor farmer in England to be able to read the Bible in their own language.
Today, we have this precious book, this love letter, that God has so providentially worked through the lives and deaths of His saints to put into our hands. Most of us have two or three or more, and we completely ignore the great privilege we have to read it on our own. We don't read it every day or even every week. Instead, we wait for Sunday so the preacher can tell us what it says. We take God's self-revelation for granted. We take the blood of His saints for granted. We ignore the amazing right we have to approach the throne of grace in prayer won for us by Christ on His cross, and then we dare to question why we don't feel closer to God.
The answer is simple. You don't feel close to God, because you aren't. You aren't close to God because you aren't pursuing Him. And it seems pretty clear to me why we aren't doing these's because we don't want to. I think it can be said that according to the above verse, you are as close to God as you want to be. The truth is that we would rather watch TV, and listen to music, go on Facebook, and do whatever else we spend all of our time doing, than spend time with God. No wonder we don't know Him. No wonder we aren't close to Him. This isn't rocket science. God has promised that if you draw near to Him, He will reciprocate. It isn't always easy. You can't do it for five minutes and expect earth shattering results. You have to persevere and spend time with God even when it doesn't feel like He is there. Trust His promise. Keep at it. Read your Bible, pray, study with other Christians, and sing His praises. Come near to God and He will come near to you.
For further reading...
  • Spend 10 minutes alone with God. Just you, Him, and your Bible. If you don't know where to start reading. Try Psalms or any of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).