Posted in 2Corinthians, Hebrews

An Inconvenient Truth 

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.   Since then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” 2Corinthians 5:10-11

 In 2006 Al Gore released a documentary on global warming called, “An Inconvenient Truth,” urging us to do something to make changes in the environment before it’s too late.  It’s not just about us, he urged, it’s about the world we’re giving to our children.

While I’m all for stewardship of the earth and reducing carbon emissions, there’s another inconvenient truth that troubles me way more than global warming – it’s the final judgment.  It turns out that our lives on this planet will one day appear like a vapor in light of eternity, and that the choices we’re making now determine how our judgment will go then.  To live in light of that day is to know the fear of the Lord.  To live ignoring our accountability to God is reckless and dangerous.  As Hebrews 10:30-31 says, “For we know Him who said, ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  That is, it’s terrifying to be completely unprepared for our judgment day.

Here’s the inconvenient truth that must be told:  Jesus came the first time as a Lamb to save the world, but He’s coming the second time as a Lion to judge it.  I want to be ready for that day and I want to persuade others to be ready as well.  Let’s change our lives now, let’s serve God now, and let’s seek His presence now before it’s too late.  Jesus took God’s judgment on sin when He died on the cross, so that we could be forgiven.  Let’s make our identity in Him and receive His love now instead of being exposed by His holiness then.

Posted in 1John, 1Timothy, 2Peter, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, John, Psalms, Romans

The Value of Godliness

“Train yourself to be godly.  Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:7-8

 To train ourselves to be godly is to reorder our lives in a way that makes living close to God our highest priority.  Asaph said, “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28)  In what way is godliness good for us?

 First, Paul says it’s valuable in this present life.  Later in his letter he gives a qualifier: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out.” (6:6-7)  The more we pursue godliness with contentment the more we live defined by God and the more all other definitions fade away.  We are not our financial net worth, or what other people think we are, or even how we define ourselves – we are God’s masterpiece! (Ephesians 2:10)  Only the godly grow away from the traps of this world into their true identity.  Letting the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20) be the One who defines us is tremendously liberating.  His perfect love drives out fear and insecurity (1John 4:18), so that we can simply be ourselves filled with His Holy Spirit.

 Then Paul says godliness has value for the life to come.  Asaph says that those who live “far from You will perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” (Psalm 73:27)  The ungodly will “perish like beasts” (2Peter 2:12) and “be consumed” eventually in the eternal fire (Hebrews 10:27), but the godly will share eternal life with God.  This is the simple gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 Godliness begins by forsaking our own works and by putting our trust in Jesus Christ because salvation is God’s gift to us.  “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (right standing with God!).” (Romans 4:4-5)

Posted in Hebrews

A Tale of Two Cities – Part One

“For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had the opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:14-16

Once upon a time there was a city called “Worldly Values” where people were born and lived until the time came when they died and were thrown off the precipice. It was a beautiful and exciting city with many pleasures, especially for those who were young. You see, everyone born in this city started on one side and were forced to move their tents across the city year by year, until they were near the precipice that overlooked the chasm of fire.

The rules of the city prevented anyone from moving their tent away from the precipice. You could look back, but you could never move back, which was why so many took pictures. Pictures helped them remember the early days when the city gave great promises of abundant life. The pictures also helped to keep their minds off of the precipice they were constantly moving toward.

There’s another city called, “Eternal Joy,” rumored to be on the other side of the chasm. I say rumored because there is a great fog which lies over the chasm of fire so it’s usually impossible to see over to the other side. A few have had glimpses through the centuries, however, and have reported seeing a city of pure gold where everyone lives forever.

The clearest testimony of this city came years ago when the king of Eternal Joy had a son born in the city of Worldly Values. This son made a path during his brief life which he said would lead anyone who chose it to the city of Eternal Joy. When he was pushed off the precipice after his tragic death, it is rumored that he rose again, and then built a bridge from Worldly Values, over the chasm of fire, into Eternal Joy.

Some are sure that people who take this path never have to die. They don’t have to live looking back like the rest do, because the best for them is yet to come.

Whenever someone chooses to stay on this path, they never really fit into the society of Worldly Values again. It’s as if they’re citizens of Eternal Joy before even arriving in the city.

Posted in Hebrews, Luke, Romans

Dealing with Differences

“‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in Your Name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’” Luke 9:49-50

When I first came to Christ, I was part of a church that believed we were the only pure expression of Christianity in our city. Every sermon featured some way we were better than everyone else. We only used the King James Bible, for instance, and believed every other translation was defiled and leading people into heresy. We were “it,” and everyone else was deceived at some level.

Looking back, I feel sadness for how proud and blind we were; not just about ourselves, but about who God is. We had made the God of all grace so small and picky that if you didn’t believe exactly like we did you were on the outside. The truth is that we were small and picky, not God.

John is clearly proud of his rebuke of this man who wasn’t, “one of us.” Jesus had a wider circle of those who are with Him.

People come to me with accusations against Christian leaders across the body of Christ. Sometimes it’s about what a leader said and sometimes it’s about something questionable they did. I’m almost always in agreement with those who are bringing the charge, leaders are flawed and often say things and do things that are a little off. But once in a while the person bringing the accusation wants more than agreement, they want me to publicly renounce that leader and their group.

At this point I become a disappointment to them. Jesus is not ashamed to call me His brother (Hebrews 2:11) with all of my flaws and errors, so I want to be unashamed to stand next to brothers and sisters who love Jesus, but aren’t just like our group.

I understand and value the desire for truth and the need to be on guard against deception, but we must be very careful before pointing the finger at others lest we condemn someone who Jesus accepts and delights in. May God help us be humble and generous toward all those who are different from us. “Accept one another,” Paul says to Christians who were judging each other over minor differences, “just as Christ has accepted you.” (Romans 15:7)

Posted in Hebrews, Matthew

Hungry in the Kingdom

“Of those born of women no one is greater than John the Baptist, but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From John until now the kingdom of God suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” Matthew 11:11-12

John the Baptist was marked by a spiritual hunger that was willing to do anything to live close to God. He lived in the desert separate from all the contaminating forces of this world. He embraced a life of simplicity and was committed to pleasing God and speaking what God wanted, even if it resulted in prison and death.

How could the least of us in the kingdom of God possibly be greater than John? John prepared the way for the kingdom but couldn’t enter it himself. He lived under a covenant that could only restrain evil behavior but lacked power to redeem the human heart. Even though John had an anointed birth and led an exemplary life that made him the best there ever was under the old system, that system could only get him to the doorway of the kingdom of God.

The least person born into this kingdom immediately has greater privilege before God, and greater access to God than anyone in the Old Covenant could ever reach. 

John approached God on the basis of the annual temple sacrifices of sheep, goats, and bulls while we approach the throne of grace with a confidence based on the once and for all sacrifice Jesus made of Himself. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Isn’t it tragic when we as Christians live as though we’re still on the outside trying to get in? What if we combined confidence in what Jesus did for us, with the spiritual hunger of John? What if we lived hungry in the kingdom and used that hunger to easily access all those things that were out of John’s reach? I think we’d change our world!

Posted in Hebrews, Psalms, Song of Songs

Prolonging God’s Discipline

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes those He accepts. Endure hardship as discipline.” Hebrews 12:6-7

God doesn’t want to constantly discipline his children any more than earthly parents want to. He tells us in Psalm 32 He wants to guide us with only His eye, but He also assures us that He will use bit and bridle if He has to. Earthly parents tend to either under or over discipline, but our Father in heaven disciplines us perfectly for our good. (Hebrews 12:10)

What is often imperfect is our response which can lead to a prolonged discipline that was never intended. Here are two natural, but wrong responses to discipline:

  1. “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline.” We sometimes miss what God is trying to do in our lives, so we end up blaming people, the devil, or “bad luck” for something that God is trying to use to get our attention. Don’t just plow through life; listen for what God is saying. He wants to use our unhappiness to drive us close to Him so He can make us holy. (Hebrews 12:10) He uses hardship to soften us and beautify us if we will let Him. If we keep running away from difficulties He wants us to face, He will just bring larger ones until we finally slow down and listen to Him.
  2. “Do not lose heart when He rebukes you.” God loves us so much that He won’t let us go the wrong way without eventually intervening. If you think hardship is evidence that God has rejected you, you will become disabled by the very thing God intended for your healing. (Hebrews 12:13) When we believe the lie that God has rejected us, we end up on the disabled list and God waits for us to come back to Him like the father waited for the prodigal. When we doubt God’s love, darkness keeps us from the intimacy and adventure that should be ours in Jesus.

Let’s respond quickly to our Father and come out of the wilderness leaning on our Beloved. (Song of Songs 8:5)

Posted in 2Timothy, Habakkuk, Hebrews, Psalms

Long Term Joy

“Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

God wants you and I to have a joy in His love and union with us that transcends our circumstances. Habakkuk is declaring an absolute freedom from God having to do anything a certain way or give a certain outcome. God is Sovereign and it doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life or on this planet, it really doesn’t change anything. He loves me, He delights in me, and His joy and salvation are my strength. Whatever faces me, God will show me how to walk on my “high places,” or as the Amplified version says, “make me to walk (not stand in terror, but to walk) and make (spiritual) progress upon my high places (of trouble, suffering, or responsibility)!”

We live in a culture that is addicted to short-term pleasure and has often lost the ability to sacrifice for long term joy. Paul said that in the end times people would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2Timothy 3:4) God is all about pleasure, “at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11), yet He is more concerned about the long term than the right now. This is a problem for us because we want pleasure now, and if we aren’t having it we can be tempted to think that God has left us or is somehow mad at us because obviously, in our minds, “He’s not blessing me now!”

Yet to become godly we will go through much suffering, internal and external, and often be called to sacrifice short term success in man’s eyes for Christ’s sake. We can resent this, or like Moses, we can by faith “see Him who is invisible” and choose to embrace ill treatment with the people of God rather than live for the passing pleasures of sin. (see Hebrews 11:25-27)

God does care about what we’re going through. He cares so much that He will not short-change a process that He knows will lead to our long term joy.

Posted in 1Timothy, 2Timothy, Hebrews, John

Keeping the Treasure Safe

“I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day…Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” 2Timothy 1:12, 14

Paul writes about two things: something we entrust to God that He guards; and something that He entrusts to us which we guard. Let’s look a little closer at both of these.

First, Paul recounts to Timothy the suffering he has had to go through and is going through for the sake of the gospel. He is not having an easy or comfortable life, and in fact, is currently in prison for his faith. He assures Timothy that it will be worth it. God has seen every sacrifice; He has witnessed every accusation and every injustice. God knows that Paul has persevered and continued to turn away from self-pity or bitterness and has tried to be faithful to his calling. Paul believes he will be generously rewarded for his attitudes and actions on the judgment day, and that God Himself is guarding over his reward.

After telling us about something valuable God guards for us, Paul writes about a treasure God expects us to guard. The treasure includes our “sincere faith” (1Timothy 1:5); our ministry “gift” that needs to be continually stirred up (1Timothy 1:6); and the salvation that God has given us “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 1:9) How do we keep this treasure safe?

  1. Value that which you have in Christ above everything else. If you don’t recognize the treasure you have it becomes vulnerable to the enemy who Jesus called a thief. (John 10:10)
  2. Stir up your faith by reading, praying, and obeying every day.
  3. Don’t become offended with God when you go through trials, confusion, or persecution. Remember Jesus didn’t promise a lack of trouble, but peace within it. (See John 16:33) My favorite bumper sticker: “Life is hard, but God is good.”
  4. Plan to persevere. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)
  5. Ask for help. One of the things the Holy Spirit does for us, according to the text above, is to help us guard the treasure.
Posted in Acts, Hebrews

Continual Devotion

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

God is wholehearted toward you. He gave everything on the cross before we gave anything to Him, just because He loves us. The goal of the Christian is to have the same wholehearted love for God that He has for us. When we do we will have energy and joy to do whatever God wants us to do without even noticing the sacrifices we make. As Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), even so, our burning love for Him will make any difficulty just one more chance to embrace the cross for His sake. 

Continual devotion is a great definition of being wholehearted. Continual means a 24/7 relationship instead of a religion that puts God in a box that you only bring out once or twice a week.

When you are devoted to something it is of the highest value to you and you will pay any price to protect it. God wants this fire for Him in our hearts. Our text then gives four things they were continually devoted to that produce an atmosphere of being wholehearted lovers.

  1. The apostle’s teaching – they weren’t devoted to the apostles but to their teaching which we have today in the New Testament. We must not be devoted to our favorite preacher but to the Word of God. Men are like the grass of the field but the Word of God abides forever. Do you read His word daily? I encourage you to start if you don’t. 
  2.  Fellowship – we must make some Christian friends that are seeking to be wholehearted as well. Go to church, get in a small group, and look for opportunities to grow.
  3. The breaking of bread – this is a reference to communion and the centrality of the cross. Christianity is not about how good we are but about how good Jesus was on our behalf. It is not about our great love, but that He loved us first. 
  4.  Prayer – spending time listening and talking to God. Allow His presence to be your breath and make prayer a moment by moment conversation as well as a special time set aside each day. 

Through these four disciplines God will ignite a fire in us and grow it until our hearts are completely healed and completely His.

Posted in Hebrews, Matthew

Working to Rest

“There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:9-11

Confronted with the demands of ministry, I’ve thought a lot about the importance of rest. The center of Christianity is not our work, but Christ’s finished work on the cross. Our victory comes not from our human efforts but from learning to rest in Him, and allowing His life to overcome through us.

Our text tells us that if we tend to this one relationship, (“Be diligent to enter that rest…”) we will no longer be under the striving of our own works but be in a position where God can work through us. Working without entering that rest will always lead to unbelief and disobedience because only Christ in us can live the Christian life. On our own we can clean up the outside of the cup and even impress a few people, but real cleansing requires our ceasing from what we can do and yielding to the Holy Spirit’s presence in us.

Are you tired? Are you slowly burning out? Has your Christianity become one more burden instead of the lifter of all your other burdens? Jesus has some advice for all of us: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)