Posted in 1John, Hebrews, James

Cleansed from Dead Works

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14

What an amazing verse showing a glimpse of the Trinity working together in our redemption. Christ, who shed His blood for us, offers Himself through the Holy Spirit to God the Father who accepts His sacrifice on our behalf. The result is that we are cleansed of dead works. What are dead works? I think they may look like good works, but are from a wrong motive so they are dead in God’s sight even though they may be considered right in man’s. Hebrews 10:2 says that the power of Christ’s sacrifice is that we no longer need to feel guilty for our sins. It’s why His sacrifice is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices that could never remove the feeling of guilt but only added to the consciousness of sins.

It is easy as a Christian to live in guilt instead of grace. We feel guilty or condemned so we let that motivate us to do the right thing or, “to do our duty,” regardless of how we feel. We hope that by performing the act that guilt demands we will be relieved of guilt’s hold on us. The problem is that when we are done performing that act we will only feel guilty again for not performing another. Guilt is an insatiable taskmaster that makes you miserable and everyone around you miserable.

God has another solution for our guilt; He wants us to bring it to Him. If it is legitimate guilt because of sin, He wants us to ask forgiveness so that He can cleanse us, not by our performance, but by Christ’s performance for us on the cross. (1John 1:9) If it is illegitimate guilt, or condemnation, He wants to expose its source so we can take a stand against the accuser. “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If Satan can’t keep us from Christ, He will try to make us unfruitful in Christ.

God loves us and He has died for us, so that we will have a life-giving and guilt free relationship with Him. “What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Posted in Exodus, James

Gems Around Us

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” James 5:7-9

God is patient with His people. Just because a corn crop isn’t ready to be harvested doesn’t mean the farmer isn’t pleased with its progress and growth. God is pleased with our process even though we’re not finished, so we need to be patient with ourselves and with those around us.

During worship one Sunday when I was about to preach on the above verses, a man in our congregation had a vision and gave permission to share it: “I saw beautiful gems. Many, many beautiful gems. They represented the beauty of God’s Kingdom. They were all around us. Then I saw the significance of when we complain and grumble. When we do this, we cover and slather our eyes with mud and we stick our faces in the mud, both of which cause us to have an inability to see the beauty of God’s kingdom around us.”

Everything God creates is beautiful, but I think we are His gems. The breast piece the high priest had to wear in the Old Covenant had twelve precious gems on it representing the twelve tribes of Israel. (Exodus 28:21)  God wanted the priest to know that His people are His gems.

Maybe you have been hurt by people or by the church, so how you see others is tainted by your wound. Why not forgive? Why not consider how you have hurt others and have needed their forgiveness? We all need a new beginning so we have to be willing to give others a new beginning too.

The truth is that, even though you’re flawed, you are God’s gem, but the only way you’ll believe it is to grant that all those around you are also His gems. Father, remove the mud of accusation from our eyes, so we can see one another the way You do.

Posted in James, Matthew, Philippians

Patience with People

“Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” James 5:7-9

Did you know that God is a patient Farmer? He sends His Word as seed and then patiently waits for it to do its work in and through us. We are the ones who are impatient and it gets us into all kinds of trouble. Oftentimes we value results over process, so we judge ourselves and others too quickly. What may be right on course in God’s eyes, isn’t far enough along for us, so we begin striving in a way that hinders our growth.

Do you ever take time to celebrate what God has already done in you? We may not be where we want to be, but we’re not where we once were either! This should be a cause for rejoicing and also a reason for patience. “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) When we see what’s happening in us as primarily God’s grace, not our works, we can enjoy the process more. And it’s only when we see ourselves as being in process, not as a final product, that we can extend the same grace to others.

Complaining about other people, especially other Christians, can easily become a habit, and it’s destructive. When we judge others, we don’t realize that the measure we’re using gets used on us by God. (Matthew 7:1-4) If you feel like you’re being forced to walk on eggshells in your walk with God, it’s probably because you’re making those around you walk on eggshells. Listen to the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) This does not just mean mercy in the life to come, but mercy right now.

Make mercy toward others your new habit. Life is hard enough already, let’s soften it for everyone around us, including ourselves, and enjoy more of God’s grace each and every day.

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 1Thessalonians, Colossians, James, Jeremiah, Psalms, Romans

Give Thanks

“In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1Thessalonians 5:18

Many times we aren’t sure what God’s perfect will is for a situation, so we waver between one direction and another. “God, couldn’t you speak more clearly so that I would know for sure?” Well, this passage is crystal clear and it’s right in the word of God; “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will…” The interesting thing about God’s will is that it is not as much about what we do, as it is about how we do what we do. Listen to this verse: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:23) Whatever you do! Praying, eating, playing, watching football, shopping…. whatever.

Our text doesn’t say “for everything,” evil does happen, but rather, “in everything.” How can we thank God in every single circumstance we are in?

We can always thank Him for His love which endures forever. God loves you and me right now no matter what we’re going through! How wonderful is that?

We can thank Him that He is in control. However bad things may seem, everything that is happening has at least been allowed by God and has not surprised Him. We can thank Him for always having a plan for good no matter how badly we have messed things up. (Jeremiah 29:11) We can thank Him for His wisdom which is able to work “all” things for our good. (Romans 8:28) He will use our trials (self inflicted or God ordained) to make us complete and content in Christ alone. (James 1:2-4)

No matter what is going on we can thank Him that our real life is, “hidden with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:1) and that our real home is in heaven. We can thank Him for the forgiveness of our sins and for His guiding presence in our future. We can thank Him for the cross, and that whatever hardship we are going through is nothing compared to what He went through for us. We can thank Him for being good, for being our Father, for being our Savior – for being our everything. As the Psalmist has said, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His loving-kindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 107:1)

Posted in James, Luke

Right Leadership

“Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’ The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.’” Luke 12:41-43

Many in the church today have been hurt by leaders. Leaders have at times abused their God given authority by manipulating, profiting, abusing, and/or politicizing instead of serving. This has created a response of cynicism in many Christians and has caused some to question whether we even need leaders other than Jesus Himself. 

In the text above Jesus has just warned people that He’s coming back unexpectedly like a thief in the night, so they need to live ready. Peter is asking who the parable is directed towards – is this for the leaders, or for the general public? Jesus then applies what He has said specifically to the leadership; those He’s putting “in charge.”

The first thing I want to point out in our text is that Jesus says God is going to put some people “in charge.” The church Jesus is building has elders in it who are responsible for the care of His people.

Just because someone has been hurt by leadership in the past doesn’t mean they get a lifetime pass from being part of a local church. People need to learn how to forgive, and if necessary, find a different fellowship where they can trust, serve, and be fruitful in. Why do you think God tells people who are sick to call for the elders of the church? (James 5:14) I think it’s because when people are desperate and nothing else is working, they become willing to do anything, even making their attitude right toward leadership who has offended them. God doesn’t just want your body healed, He wants His body healed.

The second thing we observe in our text is that the manager who is put in charge of the servants is also called a servant himself. He/she is called to serve the master by serving the other servants and giving them their food at the proper time. 

Leadership is for the purpose of servanthood, not entitlement. May God raise up leaders in this hour who are willing to wash the feet of those who are under their care.

Posted in Daniel, James, Psalms

The Humility of our Humanity

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” James 4:13-16

God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream and then gave Daniel the interpretation to warn him about the brevity of his life. In the dream he was pictured as a head of gold, but Daniel explained that the reason why the metal changed at the shoulders was: “after you will arise another kingdom…” (Daniel 2:39) The king didn’t like this reminder of his humanity so he ordered that a ninety foot statue be made of himself out of pure gold, and then ordered those in his kingdom to bow down and worship it. He had those who would address him use this phrase before stating their business; “O king, live forever!” (Daniel 2:9)

God was very patient with this proud king revealing Himself in many ways until he finally came to a place of worship. Daniel records his words: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (Daniel 4:37) I wonder if he had his servants remind him by changing the greeting to something like: “O king, you won’t live forever.”

When we remember how short our time on earth is, it is easier to live for the important things of eternity instead of the temporal things of this world. No wonder David prayed, “Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am;” (Psalm 39:4) and Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

When we’re right with God we have no anxiety about the brevity of our lives because the best is yet to come!

Posted in Ephesians, James

Sinners or Saints?

“Paul,…to the saints that are at Ephesus.” Ephesians 1:1

“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8

So which are we sinners or saints? I think we’re both and need to keep in touch with both identities.

Some go by the saying, “only a sinner saved by grace.” If all we are is forgiven sinners then the only message we have to the world is forgiveness. However important this message is, it is often hard for unbelievers to see their need when they don’t see any difference between their lives and ours. The “sinner” identity certainly makes you relatable to people, but it won’t change your life. We are more than sinners saved by grace. In Christ we are new creations who have His very life in us transforming us from glory to glory. If we have a message of forgiveness but no real changes in our life to back it up, why would anyone think that our message is any more true than what they’re already believing?

Others are so excited about being “saints,” they no longer want to be identified as sinners. One group in Christianity changed the words of Amazing Grace because they felt the words “saved a wretch like me” no longer described them. The problem with the saint’s only identity is that it eventually leads to hypocrisy because Christianity never promises to take away our sinful nature. God’s plan was not to replace the old with the new but to add the new to the old leaving believers the daily choice of which nature they live out of. We need to die daily to the old nature because it’s still there. Pretending that real Christians shouldn’t struggle any more, does nothing to help new believers who are trying to figure out what is going on inside of them. The other problem with the “saints only” identity is that it tends to divide the world into “good” people and “bad” people. When we believe we’re good and others are bad we become hard and self-righteous and lose any possible chance of reaching the people Jesus died for.

So who are we? We are saints that have been set aside for God’s glory and have been given a new nature which is slowly transforming our minds and souls into the image of Jesus. But we’re also sinners that need Jesus’ blood and forgiveness as much now as we did on the first day we said “yes” to Him!

Posted in James

Whose House? 

“Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee.” James 4:7

One day the owner of a beautiful house heard a knock at the door and when he opened it he found the Lord of glory, Jesus Himself, waiting to be welcomed in. “Do you want to come into my house?” the man asked in wonder. “Please come in; I am so honored to have you in my home.” Jesus came in and then the man led Jesus to the best, cleanest room in the house for Him to live in.

The next day, there was another knock at the door and this time it was the devil. The man slammed the door shut, but the devil got a foot in the door, pushed it open, and began to wrestle with this homeowner. The wrestling match went on all day long until finally the man got Satan back out the door. He was totally exhausted and couldn’t help wondering why Jesus hadn’t done anything.

The next morning, he heard the knock again and planned to ignore it. But there was something alluring about the knock, so he decided to take a small peek. He opened the door a crack, and before he knew it, the devil was back in. While wrestling all day, he couldn’t help but be offended by Jesus. “Why isn’t He doing anything?” So when he finally got Satan out the door, he walked up the stairs and knocked on Jesus’ door.

The Lord of glory opened the door, and the man was careful to be respectful: “Sir, I didn’t want to disturb You, but I thought You should know the devil’s been here the last two days. I have exhausted myself fighting him and was hoping to get some help in the future.”

“My Son,” Jesus said with love in His eyes, “you have invited me to live in your house, but the truth is that I have already paid for this house with My own blood. Why don’t you get the deed and give it to Me, so instead of Me living in your house; you live in Mine.” 

The next morning the knock came again and fear grabbed the man’s heart. He was so tired he didn’t know if he could resist the knock or get the devil out again if he opened the door. Then he heard steps on the stairs. It was Jesus and He didn’t look happy. “Son,” he said, “I want you to open the door and not just a crack. I will stand right behind you. Ask him what he wants.” There was fire in the eyes of Jesus.

The man opened the door wide and there was the devil in all his hideousness. “What do you want?” the man asked. The devil started trembling. “Nothing,” he said, as he turned to flee.

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians, Hebrews, Isaiah, James, Matthew, Revelation

Drawing Near

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8

The remarkable thing about the New Covenant is that it gives us as much of God as we want. The Old Covenant featured a veil which stood between sinful humanity and a holy God. It served as a reminder that God needed to keep a safe distance from us, or we might easily be struck down by the consuming fire He is. (Hebrews 12:29)

Everything today has changed because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The veil, it turns out, was a picture of Christ’s body. (Hebrews 10:20) When Jesus was crucified as the sacrifice for our sins, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) We now have access to God 24/7 and are encouraged to “draw near with confidence having our hearts cleansed from a guilty conscience.” (Hebrews 10:22)

We don’t have to live far from God! Don’t let fear, confusion, regrets, discouragement, distractions, or even struggles with sin keep you away from nearness to God. No one cleans up before they take a shower – the purpose of the shower is to clean you up. Don’t clean up for God, draw near and God will clean up your life without you even focusing on it. Here’s how He cleans us up in His Presence:

  1. His perfect love casts out fear. (1John 4:18)
  2. The clouds of confusion are cleared by the lens of eternity. (2Corinthians 4:18)
  3. He gives us His beauty in place of the ashes of our regrets. (Isaiah 61:3)
  4. He releases joy which replaces discouragement. (Isaiah 61:3)
  5. His blood silences every accusation against us and gives us a new beginning without sin. (Revelation 12:10-11)

God likes us, and He has done everything to welcome us into His presence which is the ultimate answer to every one of our problems. To live far away from God is to miss the main purpose for living.