Posted in 1Timothy, 2Peter, Genesis, Hebrews, John, Revelation

The Tree of Eternal Life

“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” Genesis 3:5

After the enemy questioned the Word of God by asking Eve, “Did God really say that,” he questioned the character of God. In the text above it’s as if he’s saying, “God is holding out on you and doesn’t have your best interests in mind.” Once Eve took this bait, she could justify taking matters into her own hands to accomplish what was “best” for her. Instead of trusting God, she became suspicious of Him, and disaster followed. Is anything different today?

The irony of the attack quoted above is that God was offering Adam and Eve something only He possessed,  but it could only be found in the other tree; the tree of life. We find out in Genesis 3:22 that this tree would more appropriately be called the tree of eternal life because whoever ate its fruit would “live forever.” Adam and Eve were being offered, in the fruit of this tree, the very life of God who “alone possesses immortality.” (1Timothy 6:16)

Today God is offering eternal life again through another tree; the cross. His purpose is not to restore us to the state of Adam and Eve before they fell, but to give us the eternal life they never embraced. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

What will happen to those who don’t come to the cross and eat of the life only Jesus can give? They will outlive their bodies and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27), and then be cast into hell to pay for their sins against humanity. (Revelation 20:11-15)  After that they will be destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28), be consumed by its fire (Hebrews 10:27), and perish like the beasts (2Peter 2:12) when they experience the second death of the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Let’s trust God’s heart for us and receive the eternal life He died for us to have!

Posted in 2Corinthians, Hebrews, James, Revelation, Romans

The Disabled List

“Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

The author of Hebrews is writing about how to respond to hardships in life. All hardship, he says, is part of God’s discipline or training, to grow us up. (Hebrews 12:7) Yet the very hardship that was designed by God for our healing can end up hurting us if we respond in the wrong way. We need to strengthen ourselves and stay on the straight path in these trying times, or we are in danger of ending up on the disabled list.

What makes us weak in hardship are the lies of the enemy. A few verses earlier we are warned to not be discouraged by discipline, or to take it as a sign of God’s rejection. God loves us and His discipline is actually a sign of His acceptance. (Hebrews 12:4-5)

A great danger in 21st century America  is the belief that God’s chief end for us is to be happy right now, so anything difficult must be prayed away or rebuked as being from the devil. God wants us to be healthy, not just happy, and sometimes that means He allows things in our lives that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves. Even if the devil initiated the difficulties because he hates us, God will use them for our good if we’ll trust Him. (2Corinthians 12:7-9; Revelation 2:10)

Because of this, James tells us we should rejoice when we face various trials because God’s end is that we would become complete in Him, lacking nothing. All we have to do is allow patience (our patience with God) to finish its work. (James 1:2-4)

Are you in a time of difficulty? It is easy to be offended and wander away from God. Strengthen yourself right now by embracing the truth. God loves you and this present difficulty is only going to make you better if you just hang in there. Choose to trust in God’s love and rejoice in His wisdom even when you can’t figure out how something so hard can work for your good. (Romans 8:28)

Posted in Hebrews, Psalms

Delighting in God

“Delight yourself in the Lord…” Psalm 37:4

A few years ago I had a life changing experience while preparing for church early one Sunday morning. The text on this particular morning was from Hebrews 12: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” and I was praying through the message and planning the altar call.

I was going to tell a story about a father who was coaching his kindergarten son on how to win the “all class race” which was taking place that day. His son was very fast, but also easily distracted, and the dad knew it didn’t matter how fast he was.  If he didn’t run straight, he wouldn’t win. So he made a strategy: “Son, when the race starts I will be directly across from you at the finish line. Don’t worry about who is running next to you, or bother watching your own progress; just focus on me, and run straight into my arms.”

The question I was going to ask our people was: “What’s at the end of your race?” What are you really living for? Is it money? Pleasing people? Your retirement? etc… As I was thinking how powerful this was going to be, a question jumped into my mind which I knew was from the Lord. “What’s at the end of your race?” I knew instantly it wasn’t what I thought it was.

The answer came quickly as well as the consequences of my wrong priorities. “Jesus” was not at my finish line; it was something subtly different called, “Influence for Jesus.” It was plain to me that I had become a worker for God, before I was a lover of God, and equally clear what the costs were of my wrong priorities:

  1. I wasn’t delighting in God, because my reward was no longer Him, but in  how many people I was influencing for Him. 
  2. I had lost my delight in people. I could no longer enjoy people because I always needed them to do something. People were becoming projects that I had to work on instead of people that I could just enjoy. 

The final sentence I heard whispered in my spirit was this: “I’m calling you to be My bride, not My PR man.” 

A bride represents the Bridegroom in a different way than a promoter does. She knows Him intimately, and has even taken on some of His fragrance. Yes, she can answer all the basic questions, but that is not her joy. Her joy is to be with Him, and her influence is spontaneous, not forced. This is what Jesus wants from us.

Posted in Hebrews

The Point of Choice

“Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:15

It was 4:00 a.m. and I was wide awake.  We were in Houston, Texas for my son’s wedding, and our hotel room was filled with family, so I quietly got up and slipped down to the dining area in the hotel’s lobby.

Because of the hour, there was only one light on, so I got a cup of coffee and set up for my quiet time with the Lord in a place where I could read and write.  A few minutes later the night manager, Lawrence, came over to talk.  With very little prompting he told me he was trying for a new beginning.  He was 35 and felt he had made some mistakes so he was buckling down – he was going back to school, working two jobs, and trying to make things right with his girlfriend.

“Lawrence, you’ll never really get a new beginning without Jesus,” I stated directly.  This didn’t put him off, in fact, he pulled out the chair across from me and sat down.  Lawrence believed in the Bible.  He just didn’t know what it said or how to respond to God.

After I shared the plan of salvation, I asked him if he was ready to respond to God.

“I don’t think I’m ready. I’d have to clean my life up first,” was what he said.

“Do you wash up in the sink before taking a shower?” I asked him.

After thinking about this, he smiled and said, “No.”  The whole point of salvation is that we can’t clean ourselves up, only our Savior can wash us, inside and out.  But he still wasn’t sure he was ready.

“Lawrence, God woke me up at 4:00 a.m. just to talk with you, and you want a new beginning.  When will you be more ready than you are right now?”

He assured me that this was what he needed and asked me to write down the prayer he could pray to accept Christ.  I prayed for him, shook his hand, and then the lights went on because the woman who prepares the breakfast had arrived.

I don’t know if Lawrence went on to make a full response to Jesus but I know God was speaking to him.  Whenever God speaks, we must make a decision – not making a decision is a “no” to God, and results in a hardening of our hearts.  

When we respond quickly to God’s promptings we don’t only have the satisfaction of obeying Him, our hearts also become more tender to hear the next time He speaks.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Genesis, Hebrews, John, Matthew, Psalms

The Gifts of the Magi

“Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

As we think about Christmas let us reflect on the gifts given by the magi which speak to the Gift given by the Father to the human race. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (2Corinthians 9:15)

  1. Gold – The gift given to kings. The magi didn’t come to worship one who would become king; they came to worship Him who was born king. This caste of wise men from the east were likely in the order of Daniel with access to his prophecies. Daniel gave the time Messiah would appear (see Daniel 9:24-27) and alluded to His Divine nature as well as His universal rule. “One like a son of man…was given power; all the peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
  2. Incense – The gift offered by priests. In the Old Covenant kings were from the tribe of Judah and the family of David; high priests came from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. But God’s promised Messiah would be both king and priest as was an obscure person in the Old Testament named Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:18) David prophesied about this new order of priesthood that meant there would have to be a new covenant: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
  3. Myrrh – The spice used for burial. Messiah would not only be the priest to offer sacrifice; He Himself would be the sacrifice. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The shepherds who were called to witness the birth were rabbinic shepherds whose job it was to watch over the lambs that would be sacrificed in the temple. On Christmas, God called them to watch over the Lamb that would replace all other sacrifices. “Jesus sacrificed for our sins once for all when He offered Himself.” (Hebrews 7:27) Let’s remember the true wonder of Christmas is the One born for us.
Posted in Hebrews, Mark, Matthew, Revelation

Wake Up!

“You have a reputation of being alive but you are dead.  Wake up!… Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly.  Repent and turn to Me again.  If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” Revelation 3:1-3

 The Christian life is a long journey at night.  God has ordained that we would have to choose Him in a world of moral darkness that is opposed to the gospel, so that those who choose Him in the dark will never reject Him in eternity when we see Him in the light.  But we have to stay awake!

 Presumption put the church at Sardis asleep.  They had a reputation of being alive, probably gained by past experiences of life and reflected by a doctrine of life, yet in reality, they had become dead.  Like the foolish virgins (See Matthew 25) they presumed that the oil they received at the beginning would be enough, so they didn’t bother to keep their relationship with God fresh.

 America is one of the most dangerous places in the world spiritually.  I’ve had missionaries tell me that they are glad they don’t live here because life is so easy and busy in America that they find it difficult to stay spiritually awake.  On the mission field they sense their absolute dependence on God’s protection and provision so it’s easy to trust Him day by day, but here they find the urgency to seek Him is lacking.

 The enemy seeks to put the church to sleep by the cares, worries, and pleasures of this life. (Mark 4:19)  Do you have a strategy to stay awake?  When I drive at night I make sure there is a passenger to help keep me from dozing off.  I believe God has given the church to be that spiritual passenger for each of us. (Hebrews 10:24-25).  There’s something about gathering together and hearing the word of God that reminds us of who we are, who God is, and of what’s truly important.  Are you part of a group where someone regularly asks you if you’re still awake?

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)