Seven Sayings: Today

The second sermon in our series, “Seven Sayings from the Cross” comes from Luke 23:35-43.  Everything Jesus did and said had a purpose.  There were no wasted movements or waster breath with Him.  Including the words, He spoke from the cross.  While I don’t think they were intended to be wordy theological dialogues like the parables, they are indeed practical theology.  The complexity and immensity of what Jesus accomplished on the cross are demonstrated in these statements in a way that every person can understand with ease.

Luke 23:35-43

35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37 And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. 38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, This Is The King Of The Jews39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

First, we see this Scripture demonstrating the instant nature of salvation by the grace of God alone received by faith alone.

  • In the very moment, “today,” we receive God’s gracious offer of salvation by faith we are brought into justification and adoption.
    • Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”
    • Romans 8:14-17, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
    • Romans 10:9-13, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
  • Notice, the only thing the penitent thief could do was confess his fallen nature and need of the Father’s grace.  He could do not works, and we can do no works to gain or add to our salvation.
    • Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

This Scripture also demonstrates the reality of heaven and hell.

  • The cross stands as a dividing line between those who receive Christ by faith and those who reject (the two thieves being on each side of Christ).
    • Lazuras and the rich man in Luke 16:9 show the clear teachings of Jesus’ teaching on our eternal destiny.
    • While our culture talks about a lot of grey areas, Jesus did not.  For example, look at Jesus’ “altar call” at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-29).  There are two separate gates, two different paths, two different endings to find.  You either bear good fruit or evil fruit.  A person can either build on the teachings of Jesus (rock) or reject them (building on the sand).  There are no grey areas in any of our responses to Christ.  You are either with Him or against Him.

 

Lastly, this Scripture demonstrates the comfort knowing Jesus brings to us.

  • Since salvation is made a reality at the moment we receive Him by faith, we can have confidence before God in the Judgement.  We do not trust in ourselves but in Jesus’ glorious work on the cross and His Word to us.  We find comfort in knowing Jesus, for at the end of our life we will be with our Lord in eternity.
    • 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

Almost back to normal?

At the beginning of December, I finished the last course for my Ph.D.   One-third of the way done with the Ph.D. requirements.  The remaining two is the completion of the oral comprehensive exam in February 2019 and my dissertation.  I thank the Lord for all He has already done and anticipate greater things still to come.  While there is still plenty to be done, it feels like a significant obstacle has been crossed, and normalcy is on the horizon.  Possibly?  It at least makes me smile.  So, the question is what am I looking forward to when my Ph.D. is finished?  What is it that keeps me moving forward?  Here are some of the things I am looking forward to doing with greater consistency and focus.

  1. Read for personal enjoyment and other interests.  With so much focus on scholarly books and articles, there are so many other books I want to catch up with reading.
  2. Write more frequently.  The blog started as a way to practice writing.  However, through it, I found a greater love for writing.
  3. Develop greater proficiency in playing musical instruments.  Right now, I can make a decent sound on most instruments.  Still, I would love to be able to have a greater mastery on the piano and guitar.
  4. Travel and visit new places.  This one is in partnership with the next one.
  5. Most of all, I am already enjoying more time with my family and look forward to completing my studies and having greater flexibility of time.  Being able to provide more for my family and giving more of myself to them is a great desire.

 

 

 

 

Whatever it is that you are doing that is a challenge and sacrifice, what keeps you moving forward?

 

Four Hindrances to Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth.

When Jesus spoke to the women at Jacobs well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John, He spoke on worship.  Jesus stated that God the Father searches for those that will worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23).  The conversation basically boils down to the point that true worship does not depend on the physical location of the person but their spiritual position before God.

So what hinders our worship from being in Spirit and in Truth?  Here are a few issues impacting our personal and gathered worship.

An unrepentant and deceitful heart (Acts 5:4-5 & 8:9-25)

In these two passages, we see the damage caused by unrepentant and dishonest hearts.  Highlighting the necessity of a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, made into a reality by the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.  God is not pleased by anything that is not done by faith (Heb. 11:6).  The activation of faith begins with repentance of sin and belief in God.  If there is unconfessed sin in our life, we are deceiving ourselves and hindering our worship.  We need to come clean with God and allow Him to do the full work of Grace in our life.

Lack of prayer (Mt. 21:13)

When Jesus made his way into the temple at Jerusalem, He was disturbed at the marketing chaos and lack of respect for prayer.  He turned over tables and drove the moneychangers out.  Now, we might say this is a location but let us cross-reference with the Scriptural teaching that our bodies are the temple of God as well (1 Cor. 6:19).  We are to be a people of prayer.  Prayer marks our lives because it is more than a ritual of obedience.  It is intentional dialoguing with God.  If we do not have a habit of speaking with God through prayer, how can we also talk, sing, and serve Him in worship?  Prayer is a part of worshipping and can’t be separated from it.

Limited Biblical knowledge (Hos. 4:6 & Col. 1:9)

Despite those with an attitude of intellectual snobbery, Scripture has much to say about the need for Biblical knowledge.  Knowledge of God’s Word and His Ways in the world have a significant impact on our worship.  Worship is more than emotional outburst and your feelings.  A limited Biblical knowledge leads to shallow worship.  C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity noted a conversation that demonstrates this.  The individual he witnessed to said they did not need the Bible because they thought it restricted what they had already experienced with God through personal observations and feelings.  However, Lewis noted that there is a difference between standing on the beach and going out on a ship into the ocean.  You can only experience so much in the shallows.  But, to go out deeper and experience the totality, you need a map, or you will get lost.  The Bible is our map, and it helps us navigate deeper into our relationship with the Lord.  The more we know of God, the more we can honestly know God.

Toxic attitudes (Phil. 4:8-9 & Eph. 4:32)

Attitudes of ungratefulness, dishonesty, irreverence, pride, jealousy, cynicism, and more also hinder our worship.  We are challenged to think about things that are pleasant and good in the sight of God.  We are challenged to have a spirit of forgiveness and preference of others instead of self.  If we harbor this ill-feelings and negative thoughts, without ever giving them to God, we will find our souls drifting farther and farther from God.

So great a salvation.

We have been given a great salvation.  However, it can be neglected.  Which means what to the believer?  Let’s search this out.

“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Hebrews 2:1-4)

First, why is this salvation so great?  We will find the answer in the previous chapter.

Salvation begins not with us but the incomparable majesty of the Son.  The glory of the Son far beyond the Old Testament prophets and high above the angels.  Jesus is the only begotten of God, meaning one of a kind.  He is uncreated and eternal present before the creation of the world.  And, He is the one who sits at the right hand of Heavenly Father.  

It is Jesus that has purged us from our sins.  We see this referenced in chapter one and a deeper dive in the second chapter begins to open this more fully.  They center on the truth that Christ became flesh, dwelt among, died for our sins, and rose victorious.  Christ became as one of us to die and cleanse us thoroughly from our sins.

What does it mean to neglect?

It is a moral and spiritual command that we pay attention to what God has said.  Our response is a matter of ultimate blessing or loss.   As the Hebrew writer will explain, we need to be more careful than those at Mt. Sinai who heard the words of God through the angels and the holy man Moses, for we have the Son of God!  They listened to the word but did not mix it with faith.  That is not our path.

How prone we are to “neglect?”  It is so easy to treat the things of God as if they were unimportant, to become occupied without comforts and the affairs of this life.  We wouldn’t want to offend others who have their own believers. We don’t intend to deny the faith – we are just taking it a bit easy and being a bit reasonable.  The writer warns us that such an attitude leads to eternal loss. We shall not escape.

Give a more earnest thing to the things we have heard.

We must wholly commit to learning the Word of God.  We do this through personal and congregational study.  However, it is more than gaining knowledge.  The believer needs to proceed further into the application of the Word.  The sincerity of faith will move us past intellectually discussions and empty feelings.  We must seek to live after God as he taught us to in the Scripture.

Basic Church Ministries

In every church, there are some primary ministries.  The size of the congregation or the purpose of a new pastor to come in doesn’t matter when it comes to these essential activities.  In a way, the following four types of ministry describe much of what groups of believers do in the world.

Ministry of the Word in Discipleship

As a foundation, the Word of God is the starting point for everything else.  So much Scripture attests this point (for example Mt. 4:4; 28:18-20; John 21:15; Acts 6:4; Eph 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17).  The great commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 focuses on our teaching the Jesus’ word to all nations.  The Scriptures are to be used in evangelistic and discipleship efforts.  Everything the church does is to be biblically-informed.  Our worship is to be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that the Scriptures are sufficient in fully equipping people to do the work of God.

Christan Caregiving

Christian caregiving is not something that only the pastor does.  The whole congregation should be involved in the care of souls.  The pastor should take the lead here to model before the congregation and equip them to provide care for one another.  Acts 6, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 each demonstrate that all believers have a place of service in God’s assembly of believers.

Worship

It was already stated that worship is to be done in spirit and truth (John 4:24).  This is more than musical experiences in congregational services.  Worship is both personal and congregational.  In both settings, the character, position of the heart, and development of the believer in Jesus is essential to true worship.  Worship is coming before God in thanksgiving and praise (Psalm 100).

Sharing the Gospel

Evangelizing is another essential component of church ministry.  The church is supposed to teach the Gospel, pray for sinners, help individuals develop a personal ministry of evangelism and incorporate them into the larger outreach ministries of the church.  Sharing the Gospel as found in Matthew 28:18-20 notes that all the people in the world are the scope of our mission.  We are to go global and go local with the Word of God.

If you are a new pastor, church leader, or a new believer, these four essential church ministries make up the foundation everything else we in the Church.  Make sure they are Biblically-based and give honor to God and not man.

The Lord is my Shepherd – Psalm 23:6

As we come to the final verse of the twenty-third Psalm, we find a beautiful conclusion.  The psalmist declares the continuing goodness and mercy of God toward His people.  However, we may wonder what brings about these blessings.  What are the purposes and benefits?

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” – Psalm 145:9

God’s goodness comes from His nature, not our worthiness.  Another psalm reads, “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Psalm 145:9).  The Gospel writer recorded these words from Jesus, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45).  Like the previous, God’s loving mercy comes from His character, not our virtue.  Micah 7:18 is a reminder to us, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.”  The greatest demonstration of God’s goodness and mercy was the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus for us.  Through His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, we are the recipients of an “unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

God further demonstrates goodness and mercy by drawing us to His home.  The word house could mean the family or household or flock of the Good Shepherd.   However, it carries with it the continuing theme of this psalm, to be in God’s presence.  John wrote about the encouragement we should receive about going to be with God:

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14:1-3

Soon, and very soon, our faith will become a reality.  We shall dwell in unbroken fellowship with the Lord forever.  I am looking forward to that endless day.  It is a promise that every person has been given and will receive if they receive it by faith.

The Lord is my Shepherd – Psalm 23:3

So far, we have seen that in the Lord, we do not lack in the first verse.  In the second verse, we find provision and rest.  As we continue, we see restoration for our souls.

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” – Psalm 23:3

This verse is about restoration and not just a refreshing as with the previous verse.  It’s the difference between an invigorating soda in one instance and the doctors working to restore a patient from dehydration.  The severity of our circumstances requires a more profound work when we come to this verse.  

Jesus Christ is the only one who can bring complete restoration to our lives.  Isaiah 53:6 reads, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  It is through Christ’s sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension that we have this faithful promise. 

What is this restoration of the soul?  In the context of shepherds and sheep, it is speaking about a lost sheep being restored to the sheepfold.  The parable of Jesus from Luke 15 comes to mind:

4What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

This restoration speaks of our justification.  It is a change of positions.  Such as from sinner to saint, from lost to found, from orphaned to adopted, from death to life.  It also speaks powerfully to our moments of weariness and straying.  There are times when life brings us so low, and we succumb to our temptations.  It is at these times we find God restoring our strength and faith.

We also see that “He leads me in paths of righteous, for his names sake.”  As we live as believers, our aim is become more and more like Jesus.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about his excellent name.  Psalm 25:4-5 records a beautiful prayer in this same mind, “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Still, God’s grace to us is his namesake.  It’s not selfish, it’s scandalous.  His name is on the line.  How far would you go out of your way for a person like you?  God gives us mercy when we are undeniably guilty.  God had displayed His love through His Son even when we were sinners.  God’s actions are considered foolish by the world, but they are lifegiving.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”  The Lord has went out of His way (which is actually His way) to restore us to Himself.

Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23:2

Three Reflections on the Old Testament Tabernacle

2018-02-13 14.23.11

We recently had the opportunity to co-host a course on the Old Testament Tabernacle in Ashland, Kentucky.  A long-time family friend facilitated the sessions and shared many fantastic points about the Old Testament Tabernacle.  After I few days of reflection, I want to offer three observations from this course.

 

 

The Old Testament and all that it contains is necessary for a full understanding of the New Testament and God’s present work.

This first reflection focuses on more than just the Tabernacle.  Paul wrote in Romans 15:4, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”  The Old Testament is not just a preface to the New Testament.  It is one Scripture and serves as a sturdy foundation for our faith.  Old and New Testament together provide a robust resource for the Christian.  And, much of the New Testament may not make sense without the Old Testament.

The Old Testament Tabernacle was an excellent illustration of Christ’s future work.

Hebrews 8:1-6, begins a connection that the author will further develop in chapter nine.  In 9:1-14, we are shown that the Old Testament Tabernacle is a “figure for the time then present” (vs. 9) and “patterns of things in the heavens” (vs. 23).  Furthermore, the language John uses in his Gospel also notes the comparable nature of Jesus and the Old Testament Tabernacle.  When John says “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” the translation is equivalent to saying that Christ pitched a tent and camped with us.  The deacon, Stephen, concluded his sermon to the point that God desired the Tabernacle (the tent) but was later given a stationary temple.  To which Stephen noted, “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? Saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?  Hath not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:44-50).

We quickly become overwhelmed by any attempt to illustrate the greatness of God.

God is infinitely greater than we can ever imagine or attain.  Our attempts to talk about the Lord with any metaphorical illustration will fail to adequately describe any quality of Him.  Even with the Biblical examples, such as the Tabernacle, we will not be able to bring in to view any boundary of God’s greatness.  He is too wonderful to immense to be put into any of our boxes, concrete or abstract.

But, be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

The Lord will prepare us for what comes to pass in life.  Scripture even tells us that God will provide a way out of our trials and temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13).  In the sixteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus was preparing the disciples for His departure.  He even prophesied that they would be scattered.  However, Jesus encourages the disciples by telling them that when they left Him, He would still not be alone.  God the Father would be with Him.  As for their own life, Jesus also looked to encourage their faith by saying:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

The Word of God gives us peace.  Sound doctrine builds up believers and makes them stable in the faith.  Too many preachers are focused on preaching “home run” sermons to impress people.  Instead, our focus should be preaching solid sermons that teach people about Scripture and strongly encourage them to seek God and live holy lives.  We live in a troubled world that does anything but give us real and lasting peace.  This type of peace only comes from God.

Why?  We can have peace because Jesus has already overcome the world.  The Greek background for this word is νικάω (nikáō).  It means to subdue, conquer, overcome, prevail, or get the victory over.  This overcoming is something past.  We see in Scripture that there is a future overcoming associated with the end (Rom 3:4, Rev. 17:14).  However, we see a very present victory in Jesus’ use of the word and other writings by John.  

I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:13-14)

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Victory in the life of the follower of Jesus is a present reality.  There is the future hope of a final victory, but the battle has already been won.  Jesus said that He had overcome even before the cross.  How?  He is God, faithful to God’s will, and nothing can prevent God’s will.  Many of us are duped into a paganistic understanding of the world.  Dualism is the name of the set of beliefs some Christians view the world.  It is the idea that God and Satan are in a war as though they as equals.  Although there is enmity between these two kingdoms, and Satan has some power and influence, there is no comparison between God and the Devil.  By the simple fact that God wills to do something means that it is “good as done.”  Christ has overcome because He has willed to do it.

We have overcome because Christ has not only willed to conquer sin in the world and in the individual, but has accomplished the feat through the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  Victory is a present reality in the believer.  We have overcome because of Jesus.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#39)

For many people, Ahab’s reign may have seemed like the end of any hope of a return to the worship of the true God.  Scripture pointed out that Ahab did more evil in the sight of God than any other king before him (1 Kings 16:30).  In fact, to some, the famine might have signaled God complete withdrawal. However, we see in this passage that God will not leave or forsake His people.  This is a great and precious promise.

Read 1 Kings 16:29-19:18

God brought an end to the famine and even brought refreshment to Elijah in the worst of places.  We see the Lord’s provision when Elijah is alone.  Still, it seems that for every time God provides for Elijah when he is alone, there are more times that Elijah is reminded of God’s provision through Godly followers.  The Christian community that we have surrounded ourselves with is a blessing from God.

God sustained Elijah through the widow and her son.  They were a reciprocal blessing to each other.  Obadiah also reminded Elijah how God was protecting him from Ahab.  Finally, when Elijah was at his lowest and had always told himself that he was the last follower of God, the Lord spoke to him and said: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 King 19:18).  

I remember once when an elderly couple was having a difficult time while out traveling with a group from our congregation.  It was camp time, and the husband had some chest pain and was taken to the hospital.  They would bring him back to the home hospital two hours away, and the wife would have to drive home the next morning.  After I had helped her to get to the hospital and then back to her hotel where she was met by another couple from the church that brought her a dinner, she was overwhelmed with emotion.  She exclaimed when she saw them, “This is why you belong to a church.”  God used His community of believers to sustain and support one of His hurting children.  He will do the same for you.