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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday Special: Pastor Dave Arnold #3

PAUL’S FINAL WORDS TO PASTORS

Victor Hugo said, “What a man says, be it true or false, has often more influence upon the lives, and especially upon the destiny, of those to whom he speaks, than what he does.” In 2 Timothy, chapter four, we have the final words of Paul to the young pastor Timothy. In verse six, he speaks of his final days, expressing, “my departure is at hand,” as if death already stood there. Paul was in prison, having had his preliminary hearing before Nero, and was expecting the final one, and then, death by decapitation.

A person’s last words tend to reveal that person’s true values and identity. William Carey, the father of modern missions, when arranging his own funeral, expressed, “When I am gone, speak nothing of Dr. Carey. Speak only of Dr. Carey’s Savior.” Martin Luther breathed his last, while quoting Psalm 68, “God is the Lord by whom we escape death.” And George Whitfield left this world saying, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work, but not of Thy work.”

In his last words, Paul also revealed his heart and values. These words are just as relevant and applicable to every minister today as they were to young Timothy. He spoke of five truths.

1. “PREACH THE WORD” (v.2) meaning, “the whole body of revealed truth.” Charles Spurgeon said in “Lectures To My Students,” “Churches are not to be held together except by an instructive ministry.” While our people need inspiration, most importantly, they need biblical information. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law.” The word “revelation” speaks of the revealed truth of God as found in the scriptures, and “cast off restraint,” means, “to run wild.” Without the preaching of the Word, there is chaos. It is the Word of God that holds things together. The words of Francis A. Schaeffer are just as relevant for the twenty-first century, when he stated many years ago, “If we are going to have answers for the twentieth-century, we must not only have a God who exists, but we must have a God who has spoken!’

2. “BE WATCHFUL” (v.5). This speaks of being careful, cautious and alert in all matters relating to our actions. It speaks of being disciplined and self-controlled. The Greek word for self-control comes from a root word that means, “to take hold of,” or “get a grip.” When a reporter once asked D. L. Moody which people gave him the most trouble, he answered immediately, “I’ve had more trouble with D. L. Moody than any man alive.” Proverbs 25:28 says, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down without walls.”

3. “ENDURE AFFLICTIONS” (v.5) meaning, “be willing to suffer evils, hardships and trouble.” The ministry may not be as physically demanding as other positions in life, but it is very emotionally draining. This comes with working with people. While they can bless, they can also break the pastor’s heart. Paul spoke of those who forsook him when he needed them the most, then he added, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” ( 2 Timothy 4:16,17). A lesson to be learned is, when people walk out, God walks in!

4. “DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST” (v.5). This does not mean to become a traveling preacher, but to be evangelistic in nature, in both message and methods. A minister was sitting in a restaurant one day and overheard some customers complaining about the absence of napkins. He thought to himself, “Lord, we gripe about no napkins, when the world has no bread.” One person said, “Too many clergymen have become keepers of an aquarium instead of fishers of men – and often they are just swiping each other’s fish.” Christ’s mandate to the Church, spoken in Matthew 28:18-20, is more needed than ever.

5. “FULFILL YOUR MINISTRY” (v.5). This means we are to persevere and finish what God has called us to. James J. Corbett, champion prizefighter of past years, said this about winning, “When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the center of the ring, fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your guard, fight one more round. When you wish your opponent would put you to sleep, fight one more round. The man who fights one more round is never whipped.”

So my fellow servant, preach the word, be watchful, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist and fulfill your ministry! 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”

Dave Arnold

Pastor, Gulf Coast Worship Center

New Port Richey, Florida

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Word Up

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
(Colossians 3:16 – ESV)

This would be the body functioning at full capacity. People need to know their bibles and be ready always to talk of Christ; this is what should be on our lips most often, not everything else all the time. The community is formed around Christ and is to be fed with Christ, He is to be our treasure, and this is the wisdom that Paul has been espousing in this whole book of Colossians. Jesus Himself is the treasure that makes the church a community, instead of maverick individuals all looking for some secret wisdom, and Christ is what makes the community precious, as He is all, and is in all. It is not about getting spiritual power or temporal wealth it is about Jesus.

Instead of looking for some new thing outside the knowledge of Christ we look to Christ by looking at each other and teaching each other what we know and lifting each other up, the metaphor of the body being seen as working in harmony, just as an elite athlete would use all parts of their body to accomplish their purpose. If one part isn’t in shape the rest of the body suffers and so it behooves the entire body to keep each other well and to exhort each other and nurture all the parts. We can and should and must be thankful that God has allowed us this togetherness because without it we would be like those gnostics out there all vying for supremacy with their secret stash of spirituality, but instead we have Christ as our supreme leader and sufficient Lord. And we have each other to help build us all up, no one striving against the body, but realizing and striving for the new man in manifestation.

This ideal of the new man and the peace of God ruling in it, with words of grace edifying the others in love, is a consistent theme throughout the New Testament. It also would apply to those outside, in that we might show them what it is like inside the new man. If we are walking in wisdom with God and toward one another, our speech to those outside will also be truth with wisdom (Colossians 4:6 / Ephesians 4:29 / Matthew 12:36 / 1 Peter 4:10). If we let the Word dwell with wisdom then we will walk in wisdom to them that are without. It’s time we Word up.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fools Gold

in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
(Colossians 2:3 – ESV)

Again we see Paul talking about spiritual wealth and spiritual wisdom. In Christ is where the treasures are hidden. Only those in Christ can find all this treasure. They find it in fresh and in repeated ways. Christ keeps coming up golden. It is not wrong to seek wisdom, but seek the treasure where it may be found, the rest is only fool’s gold. Some may buy it, but God won’t.

In this light Paul will address the heresy directly in the following verses. The problem was and is looking for wisdom in the wrong places or seeing Christ as only a way to get wisdom and not as the wisdom itself. Christ is not a tool Christ is the truth. Christ isn't a way to something He is the way itself. Christ doesn't simply give you a better life He is Life itself.

I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments (Colossians 2:4 – ESV). Paul is teaching and warning them, as he said in 1:28. He is encouraging and edifying them as well as equipping them. False teachers don’t announce their false doctrine, and it will often be similar enough to the truth to be dangerous.

Irenaeus, a second century bishop said, "Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself."

Good words, strong words, persuasive words are all fine, but they must be true words that lead to the truth, not the mixture of false words that seem to be truth. They seem reasonable but not when using Jesus as the starting and ending point. They are interpreting Jesus through humanistic terms.

The wisdom is hidden in Christ; not that we look for something that Christ had that we can also have. Not that we look to Him for what He has but we look to Him for Himself. The treasures are inherent in Him. He did not acquire them He is them. Our attention gets distracted from Christ, diverted onto something else, and deceived into thinking you are on the right path but you have been looking at the wrong thing. This type of deeper wisdom is deeper deception.

This foolish way can happen when we are using the Bible like a magic book. We look for promises that aren’t really there. Simply quoting Bible verses as proof texts is not enough, it is not just what the text says but what it means, not just what it says what it teaches. We must be aware of the scope (immediate context and particular emphasis) and the sweep (overall biblical thrust and progressive context) of scripture.

People who are ripe for deception are unstable and /or unlearned (2 Peter 3:16), and are beguiled by words that swell their fleshly pride (2 Peter 2:14, 18). They are impatient, and want more than Jesus seems to be offering. They always think they have found some new treasure, but it is really just fools gold.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Proclamation for Presentation

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
(Colossians 1:28 – ESV)

Emphasis is important. Our distinctives, whether they are church polity, worship style, etc., are not to be our main focus. What people should find first and foremost is Christ and everything ancillary to that had better be pointing to Him or it is pointing the wrong way. We need to seriously consider that as we heap on programs and policies and such. It sounds so obvious, but upon further inspection, you might be surprised at how much of our lives and church functions have either drifted or not had Him as the center at all.

It seems like everyone is trying to lure people to church with what they offer, be it great music, great social programs, great networking opportunities, great benefits of one sort or the other. Whatever happened to Our Great God? That is the only thing we have to offer that the rest of the world cannot. What are we supposed to be trying to do with our people, getting them to climb the social ladder, as if upward mobility is the upward call? No sir, God won’t be interested in our presenting members of the faith as mature in health, wealth, or mature in emotions. Paul said he proclaimed Christ and he did that so he could present people as mature in Jesus. If you are proclaiming a better life you are not proclaiming Christ. If you are presenting maturity as stability, success, and significance, you are not presenting Christ.

Him we proclaim – Jesus is who is to be proclaimed, not anything or anyone else. Other things must point to Him as God, as preeminent, as supreme and as sufficient. Ultimately, whatever our ministry is, it is to the Lord first, we are to bring people to Him.

Warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom – Paul has to declare and defend, and he does this for all, and he does this with the whole counsel of God. He doesn’t hold back (Acts 20:20-32). We can see what Paul does with this knowledge and this stewardship of the mystery, and he wants other people to grow up in it (Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21). He warns and teaches everyone in a wise fashion, and in so doing teaches them to be wise themselves. Everyone matters, and not all will bear the same amount of fruit, but all count in the kingdom.

That we may present everyone mature in Christ – if there is one area in which your doctrine, devotion, and demonstration ought to be robust, it is in the knowledge and grace of Christ. It is Him who we worship, and the degree we grow in that is the degree we are maturing.

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (Colossians 1:29 – ESV). Paul knows it is God’s power. However, that doesn’t mean he relaxes, but that he is encouraged to use all his might as God is giving Paul His (Philippians 2:12-13 / Ephesians 3:7, 20). In his ministry Paul faced many struggles, being pressed beyond measure, which is why he can confidently say it must be Christ in him that is working. If we give God all our might to preach Christ and live for Christ we will find that He is giving us His might. Your life is a proclamation; make sure Christ is the presentation.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why The Answer Key Is Wrong

…let us run with patience the race that is set before us
(Hebrews 12:1)

One of the effects of the fall of man into sin is a manifest lack of patience. This has played itself out in every life ever lived since Adam and Eve. We want what we want, and we want it now. The secular media, advertising agencies, marketers, magazines, moviemakers, and just about everybody is guilty of making this the dominant trend in our thinking. The voices are endless. “Time is wasting, what are you waiting for?” “We have got what you’re looking for.” “No need to struggle, we’ve got the solution!” We are all willing victims. No one, it seems, is innocent or invulnerable to the onslaught of “now”.

This helps to explain the explosion of the get rich quick schemes, the lottery, the parade of late night infomercials, and so forth. It also helps explain the lure of cheating in the classroom, the bedroom, the boardroom, and the ball field. It has lead to the proliferation of self-help books, wellness seminars, and New Age mysticism. People are willing to try anything, as long as it’s not the same old, tried and true method of working hard. Everybody is looking for a quick fix, or at least the way to get what we want with the least amount of effort. Our attention spans have been so manipulated that they won’t let us take the time to really learn anything.

The Christian is just as vulnerable to this lack of patience, even when trying to learn about God and His ways. Having to listen to a sermon over twenty minutes, or having to pray for more than fifteen would probably put most of us into a deep sleep these days. An example that might hit closer to home with believers is the tendency to want to have the answers without having to struggle with the questions. That is why we see so much of the “7 principles of power”, or “10 steps to success”, or “5 keys to kingdom living”, etc., etc. Having the answers alone without knowing how to figure out the questions is not all it is cracked up to be, however. Consider the following thoughts.

If I told you that the earth was 93 million miles away from the sun, you would have the information you needed to answer that question, “how far is the earth from the sun?” You could then use this information in a social situation, or a classroom situation, or whatever, or whenever the topic arose. However, if someone were to proceed to ask you, “How do you know this?” do you think they would be satisfied to hear you answer, “well, so and so told me”, or “I read it in a book?” No, they wouldn’t, or even if they were, this knowledge only gets you so far. However, if you knew how to figure out for yourself the distance, you could use this knowledge to figure out the distance from the earth of other planets, and this knowledge could help you to find out other things as well.

In the Christian this idea helps us understand why we must struggle with sin, rather than just expect the desire to be taken away. We want the “thing” to just go away, but it doesn’t. Surely, some Christians have been given a special mercy by God to have an instant moment of sanctifying grace where they no longer desire to do that “thing”, but this is not the normal occurrence. Too often we see those whom have had a crisis experience where they were instantly delivered of this or that vice try and teach others that all they have to do is believe and they will also be delivered. Let go and let God, they might say. When it doesn’t work, the defeated Christian is thrown back into a state of disbelief, either in his faith or his God. This need not and should not be. There is a reason we don’t get the “answer” right away. God wants us to struggle with the questions first.

You see if we were to have our answer before we understood the problem, all we would do is have a surface solution. When the real, root problem surfaces again in some other form, if all we have done is rely on the answer key, all we can do is attack the problem on the surface again, and it will pop up again and again until we lay the axe to the root. Having to struggle with the questions will inculcate the discipline we need in life to be able to survive the other struggles we may and we will face. “Inculcate” means to instill: did you look it up? Would you have if you didn’t know it? Will it become part of your vocabulary?

It is not the answer key itself that is wrong, but having the answer without understanding the problem is what is wrong. This is why cheating on a test only cheats you out of greater knowledge. You may get the answer right this time, but when the next time comes and you need the prior knowledge to find out the answer, you are going to be in trouble. It is like having the answer to a calculus problem, versus being able to understand calculus itself. See the tremendous difference?

There is no “secret” of spirituality or “formula” for faith. There is a plan, and it involves staying the course, walking the narrow path. We depend on Jesus for our life, and our Father for our daily bread. The Holy Spirit will lead us into a more passionate relationship with God if we will only take the time to struggle with the questions. Then we may learn lessons that will enable us to overcome our problems at the root level. It’s the difference between a brief and a broad victory.

Start a fire, and be warm for a day.

Stay on fire, and be warm for life.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Bigger than Big

Whither can I go from you presence?
(Psalm 139:7)

Have you ever pondered the immensity of God? Consider that everywhere He is He is there in His fullness. He can give you His undivided attention while still giving it to someone and everyone else at the exact same time. He has billions upon billions of events all going on at the same time, yet He has everything under control, and is using everything to orchestrate every facet of His holy will (Ephesians 1:11). Nothing can take Him by surprise. We cannot understand it fully but that is what makes Him God.

Far from being an unknowable, utterly transcendent, hands-off God like imagined by the Deists, we see the Lord involved in creation at the beginning (Genesis 1) and also management of His creation with the presence of the Spirit beyond the original six days. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth (Psalm 104:30). The Spirit of God makes the person of Jesus Christ immanent to our lives today, but there is an important distinction to be made, as we see in Psalm 139:7 which highlights God’s immanence in relation to the creation.

The Holy Spirit, being God, has the same incommunicable attributes as the Father. Here we see the omnipresence of God. However, there is the danger that if we start imagining God as being immanent only, rather than transcendent and apart from His creation, we may fall prey to what is known as panentheism. An important point to made is this: God is not “distributed” throughout the universe He is separate from it. There is a critical difference between omnipresence (everything is in the presence of God and He exerts controlling force upon it), and God being present in everything (panentheism, which is akin to the Hindu and New Age religions). This is a crucial distinction. God is close enough to enter into your little world, but He can also handle any problem; He is still bigger than big.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

I Wanted To Let You Know

Apparently, our Canadian friend and Perry Como crooner Neil Shay, aka the Bugblaster, was so moved by this post and this post that now he wants to write me some songs...

I just thought I'd warn him up front that I have a few more ditties up my sleeve, but if you wanna go, Neil, I'm all ears...

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Saturday Sermon: Why Christianity?

Today is Father’s Day and I want to honor our Heavenly Father. We are continuing our look at Romans 3:25-26, and we have seen in the last two weeks that this passage shows the righteousness of God, His ultimate worth and holiness, and the incredible justice and mercy of the Almighty. We titled our sermons “The Value of God”. Now we want to show you why this passage proves that Christianity is the true religion, and that our God is God.

In doing this we will also reform, revitalize and revolutionize the way you worship, and what you are thinking about as you worship. You have probably heard it said that you become like what you worship, and that is true as far as it goes. However, even if you worship the true God, the Christian God, if your conception of God isn’t high enough, no wonder your condition isn’t as high as it ought to be. Not just “I think He’s great”, but fully informed as to why, and able to ponder that mediate on that.

Therefore, we want to lift up the name of God as high as we can, today and everyday, not simply with our voices, but in our minds and hearts. We need to raise our conception of God, to see Him as majestic and merciful as He is, in our thoughts. I want you to think great thoughts today. That isn’t an intellectual pursuit it is a spiritual one.

When we think of how beautiful He is we tend to think on how thankful we are, and we need to do that, but to do that while focusing on how great He actually is. It is not in what His plan accomplished for us, but what this plan means about God Himself, that is what raises our worship to a new level. Concentrating on the perfections of God is what begins to perfect us.

A renewed mind will lead to a renewed life. Not simply changing our minds about what is right and wrong, and trying to find some key to make us act better, but thinking God’s thoughts after Him, entering into the realm of His majesty as He has shown us in the scriptures, seeing just how valuable God is.

My aim today is to show forth our God as beautiful as He is, and to get you to think of God with a fuller understanding. If we see Him with an understanding, not a feeling but an understanding of how glorious He is, we will be lifted up towards that glory in our worship. Then we can have more fully deep and developed feelings. Let us endeavor to lift our thoughts upward. Let us discover the highest worship today, let’s talk about why God is great.

In answering the question of “Why Christianity?” over other religions, we need to answer an important question. Which religion exalts God the highest, which places the most value in God? That God, the One who is the most powerful, the highest, the most worthy, that is the One I want to worship, that is the only One worthy of worship. Any God who is less than fully God is no God at all, only someone or something more powerful than us, but still not all powerful, and so that dismisses with many religions right from the start.

A true God isn’t just the most powerful being in the Universe, but the One who created it all and the One who sustains it all, only such a God could actually be God; the others are only greater than us, but not greater than everything. They may be godlike, but not God. Which God is the greatest, the most powerful, the highest and most different from us? This God is the Highest; this God would be the most worthy of worship.

Think about it, the best religion would be the one which places the most value in its god, and the one who derives the value of everything else based on the worth of its god, it would base all its morals and standards on that. It isn’t just about which supposed god is the most powerful, but which is the most pure, the most perfect. Not just in claim but in demonstration.

A people never rise above their conception of God; if your God is just like you, or if your God is small, then your life will be small, your morals will be small, and your people will live far below the standard of a people whose God is lifted up to the heights. If your god is a lying, malevolent, and reckless being, no wonder its people are the same way; that is what they worship. So, again, which religion exalts God the highest, which places the most value in God?

My belief is that Christianity is the true religion because its God has the highest majesty and holiest mercy. This passage, Romans 3:25-26, proves that. Only Christianity has an infinitely valuable God who is infinitely holy and takes out infinite justice against infinitely bad sin and gives us infinite mercy, which can lead us to heights of infinite worship. Christianity has the highest conception of God. In this light, lets consider the other major religions of the world.

Is the religion with the greatest god the ones who have a god patterned after every human emotion, like Hinduism? Considering the human heart, as we have seen in Romans and we see all around us and in us, how ridiculous and vile. Is it the ones say that god is in everything, again how awful, or that god is everything, how unholy is that? God to them is just a part of everything good or bad, and their god is just like everything else. How does that exalt God?

Closer to Christianity, but still so far away, are the other two monotheistic religions: Judaism and Islam. They all speak of God as Creator and Sustainer, but two of them don’t go all the way in valuing God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all claim to speak for the same God, that is, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. But they say very different things about Him.

How about Islam, whose god isn’t all that holy, and to whom sin isn’t all that bad, as we saw last week? Judaism seems better but it isn’t developed into the place Christianity is, their notion is that God pardons based on our own repentance, a notion of sincerity, which is in a sense matching the rest of the world while still calling on God. How about the forms of so-called Christianity that make the decision of man the determining act in salvation, or that claim God has to act in faith, as if faith is outside and greater than God?

No, none of these is Biblical Christianity, who exalts God to where He is, and sees sin for what it is, and God holiness for what it is, or at least in concept, even though we cannot fathom it. Christianity sees our sin as having to be paid for by the ultimate worth of God Himself, and God pouring out His wrath on His Son. How great is His love seen to be then? He meets His own holiness, the bar of His justice and delivers us in His mercy because of it.

Notwithstanding the intended lessons of Old Covenant typology, Judaism today doesn’t get it. They view God as directly accessible, without a Mediator. There is no longer even a typological atonement, but Judaism replaces it with human prayer, repentance, and affliction of soul.

Islam does the same thing, only differently. If we pursue the question, “How does Allah show mercy?” it begins to look a lot like justice, possibly justice “graded on a curve”: Allah judges intentions and efforts. In Islam, there is mercy, but you need to earn it. You don’t need to be perfect, but you need to merit the mercy. But mercy is by definition that which is undeserved. Mercy in Islam looks a lot like justice. And their god has a level of holiness that lets you pay for your own sins. That doesn’t seem all that exalted to me.

We still have a sense of justice and a sense of mercy, but sin has greatly perverted them. Justice is no more justice (since sin must go overlooked), and mercy is no more mercy (since you do have to merit having your sins overlooked, be it the merit of your intentions or of your overall performance). We’d rather blaspheme God’s perfections than confess that our condemnation is just and His mercy, if granted, is undeserved.

Biblical Christianity says that before the foundation of the world, God, who is perfectly just, perfectly merciful, and perfectly holy and wise, planned for the salvation of sinners, while displaying His own righteousness. He would justify the ungodly, the condemned. And He would remain perfectly just. How? It is just as we have been studying in Romans 3:25-26. God’s justice was not bent, diluted, circumvented, or anything of the sort. It was satisfied. God had been an enemy, but now He is a friend. He had been angry, but now His wrath is spent. Christ bore it.

It couldn’t have been just anyone, it had to be God the Son Himself, and that shows us how offensive and bad and serious sin actually is, and how much value God places on His own holiness. Our lives aren’t worth the offense. Considering that, what other way to pay for sins could there be? If God is absolutely holy and absolutely just, what other fate than hell could we hope for, unless God Himself paid the debt for our sins?

Only Christianity exalts God’s holiness and His infinite worth to this level, where it takes a God to pay for even one sin. Only Christianity steps forward with a historic person whose whole purpose in life is to die, whose worth is so great He can pay for all sin.

This may sound like the same old thing, but it is much, much more, much fuller and richer than perhaps you have ever heard. This understanding is what exalts God and places ultimate value in Him. This is what will bring you to a new level, the highest levels of worship, worshipping God with an understanding, a more full understanding of His worth, the more fully understood, the higher the level of worship, much higher than a few songs and a good feeling.

Those things are okay, and strong waves of emotion are wonderful, but if you think that is the height of spirituality, my friend, you are still in the kiddie pool of Christianity. Unless you understand just how bad your sin is, up against just how holy God is, how powerful His judgment is, and how great that means God’s mercy must be, then you don’t have it yet, and none of us are all the way there yet, but think of Christ on that Cross versus anything else you might want in life.

Let me give you a clue. The better you actually and truly understand this the less you sin, period. Now tell me you understand what I am talking about, you master of the emotional release. That is no guilt trip; that is the gospel truth. You don’t do it out of fear, you don’t do it out of gratitude, you don’t do it out of trying harder; you do it out of worship, because nothing else looks good at all compared to Him.

It is time to go into the depths of God, true worship, not emotional worship, and to swim there, not in an emotional rush, but in a fullness of understanding and a grasp of His true majesty, our true depravity, and His awesome mercy. I’m not trying to give you a downer about your feelings; I am trying to get you to see God without them leading the way. They aren’t to play the lead part, only the accompaniment. Then you will have feelings of depth you have not known before. And if you have been part way before, and had these feelings of depth, have you continued on in the journey to see God as holy as He is, or have you stopped with how good it feels? Is God getting bigger and more beautiful in your eyes?

A.W. Tozer – We need to improve the quality of our Christianity, and we never will until we raise our concept of God back to that held by apostle, sage, prophet, saint and reformer. When we put God back where He belongs, we will instinctively and automatically move up again; the whole spiral of our religious direction will be upward.

You must get a hold of this passage until it gets a hold of you. Read it, pray over it, study it, and meditate on it until God unleashes its power and His presence in this text upon you. If you have not seen this, no matter how much you have felt before, you have not known the depths that you are being called to, and you haven’t experienced anything like this before. It is not simply joy, it is not merely sorrow; it is more than thankfulness; it is awe and wonder. Awe and wonder at His majesty and His mercy. The renewed mind that dwells on God’s greatness will result in great lives.

That is true worship. You can find it in this passage; you will find it nowhere else but in Christianity. Only Christianity has an infinitely valuable God who is infinitely holy and takes out infinite justice against infinitely bad sin and gives us infinite mercy, which can lead us to heights of infinite worship. That is the highest worship, and it doesn’t start with a feeling, it starts with an understanding. You are now informed; will you be transformed by this truth? Do you understand the value of God? Do you understand why Christianity must be true?

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Friday, June 22, 2007

PUTTING JESUS IN HIS PLACE

Book Review

How often have you heard the saying, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it is a relationship with Jesus Christ”? Well, that’s okay as far as it goes, but that relationship needs to go further than a simple cliché. We need to know how we relate to Jesus more fully, to just say we believe in him or that we believe he is the Son of God without knowing the “why” is to relate less, to have less of a relationship. Our faith should mature. It must. Consider these words from the book:

“If we are to experience a healthy relationship with God, we need to be intimately acquainted with the biblical teaching about the divine identity of Jesus. This involves more than merely knowing about, and agreeing with, the doctrine of the deity of Christ, though that is certainly essential. It must become more to us than a line we say in a creed. We need to know what it means to say that Jesus is God and why it matters. We need to see Jesus as God. We need to think about Jesus and relate to him in the full light of the truth of his identity. We need to appreciate the significance of his divine identity for our relationships with God and others.”

The stated aim of the book “is to provide a comprehensive case from the New Testament for the deity of Jesus Christ.” Their reasoning is that “The deity of Christ is…a major theme throughout the New Testament. Recognizing that theme in all of its many expressions will not only help you in your faith in Jesus as God but also make your understanding of Scripture much richer.”

Their case is well informed and set out in clear terms. To be sure, it gives the reader a taste of all the latest and best Christological scholarship. However, this is no dry and dusty academic tome, it is highly functional and user friendly. Pastors will find it an especially useful item in their arsenal. Anyone interested will find it quite understandable. Incredibly, it is a book that makes highly academic thoughts highly accessible to the average reader. There are lots of tables and charts, scripture references, and a wealth of documentation which all lead to its utility as a resource you will come back to time and again. As the author’s declare:

“Our purpose in this book is not limited to presenting the big picture of the New Testament evidence for the deity of Jesus and explaining its relevance to the Christian life. We also want to equip you to remember this information and be able to present it to others.”

In order to do this, the writer’s have organized “the biblical teaching on the deity of Jesus into five categories that will be both memorable and easy to explain. We summarize these five categories using an acronym based on the word HANDS.” “This acronym is not a gimmick. …The biblical teaching about Jesus found in his HANDS constitutes a powerful cumulative case for regarding Jesus as our Lord and God.”

Any reviewer of this book could go on and on about exactly why it is going to be considered a standard within a few short years, but let me be succinct as possible. This book delivers on its purpose and hits the target of its aim with a bull’s-eye. As an edification and means of articulation for the believer, as an apologetic, as a teaching tool, a preaching platform, and yes, as an invitation to a higher level of worship, this book succeeds in astonishing fashion, giving Jesus Christ the glory he is due. Jesus Christ is God, and this book nails it, hands down.

I sincerely believe this to be an important work that will be an invaluable asset to anyone who reads it, because if they read it, they will use it. I know firsthand because, after finishing it, I decided to use the acronym as a preaching outline. I couldn’t wait to get this into the hands and hearts of my congregation. That is the very highest endorsement I can give, and I do so without reservation. To find out more, read a sample chapter, and see some charts and tables, visit

http://www.deityofchrist.com/

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Camp 2

To the tune of “Isn’t she lovely” by Stevie Wonder

Isn’t He lovely
Isn’t He wonderful
Isn’t He precious
And so adorable

I can believe
What God has done
He has given us
His own Son

Isn’t He lovely
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Kazoos

I can believe
What God has done
He has given us
His own Son

Isn’t He lovely
Yeah, yeah, yeah

To the tune of “All you need is love” by the Beatles

He can make you happy when you feel sad
He can make it good when things go bad
If you want to have a friend who’s love for you will have no end
It’s easy

All you need is God
All you need is God
All you need is God, God
God is all you need

There’s nothing you can do He can’t forgive
Just turn to Him in trust and then you’ll live
When you don’t know what to do you know the Bible will show you
It’s easy

All you need is God
All you need is God
All you need is God, God
God is all you need

To the tune of “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Kazoos intro

Bible readin’, pages turnin’ (kazoos)
Readin’ ‘bout Jesus, He’s my friend
You know one day I’m gonna meet Him
Thinkin’ ‘bout heaven once again

My home is in heaven
Where the streets are paved with gold
My home is in heaven
Jesus Christ He saved my soul

When I’m in church I sing about it
But you know some people put it down
I hope those people will remember
Jesus Christ is my Lord now, anyhow

My home is in heaven
Where the streets are paved with gold
My home is in heaven
Jesus Christ He saved my soul

Interlude

My home is in heaven
Where the streets are paved with gold
My home is in heaven
Jesus Christ He saved my soul


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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summer Camp


Each summer, for the past 23 years, one of the elders of our church has held a Christian summer camp. This is done along with many adult volunteers, from both our church and our community. We have about 25 kids, and this year, about 15 counselors, as well as many adults. All in all, we probably have between 35-55 people at the camp at any given time for a three week period. There are tons of activities, games, fun things, crafts, leadership and discipleship training, critical thinking development, Bible studies, and Bible Skits and so on, too much to name here.

Well, that part that I do most often is "music". It is a chance to get the kids to have some fun, and do some things the adults will enjoy. It makes some of the kids have to come out of their shell, and it is just generally all around wackiness. But it also allows us to worship God in song, in a fun way. You see, I take secular songs and give them new lyrics. We do dance moves, play kazoos, and get everyone involved. I thought I might like to post a few of these ditties, which I make up on the way as I drive the half hour to camp each morning. I pray, ask God to help me and the children, and He just puts a song in my head, and we change the lyrics as I drive. I hope these will edify you in some small way. Enjoy!


To the tune of “Low Places” by Garth Brooks

I’ve got friends in holy places
Where I learned steel drums and social graces
And thank you notes, and made knots with rope
I learned to sew and I met new faces
And my life will have a Bible basis
‘Cause I’ve got friends in holy places

I’m the Vine ye are the branches
If you need some help don’t take no chances
Just stay with me I’ll set you free
So get your Bible and turn some pages
And your life will grow in heavenly stages
‘Cause you’ll have friends in holy places

To the tune of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” by Aretha Franklin

Oooh, what you want
Oooh, you know we got it
Oooh, what you need
Oooh, yeah we got it
Oooh, all we’re askin’ you to do
Is read it, yeah

Just a little bit (x4)

It’s the B-I-B-L-E
Find out what it means to me
It’s the B-I-B-L-E
Jesus Christ is real, you’ll see,
yeah!

Read it (x8)

Yeah!

Just a little bit (x4)

It’s the B-I-B-L-E
Find out what it means to me
It’s the B-I-B-L-E
Jesus Christ is real, you’ll see,
YEAH!

More fun tomorrow...God bless you (I hope they stay in your head!)

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not Here, Not Now, Here’s Why

But all things should be done decently and in order.
(1 Corinthians 14:40 – ESV)

One Sunday morning during the worship service, in the back row were a couple of young people, he was 16, she 14, and they were being distracted by one another. You see, they had decided they were a couple during the previous week at our church related summer camp. Not that we didn’t notice them always seeming to end up near each other, but during camp we can control that to an extent, and it isn’t as distracting as it would be in a church setting. Now, here they were, in church, sort of looking at each other, sitting next to each other, and talking, albeit quietly to each other.

Now this sort of thing is not necessarily bad in itself. What are we to say, that young people cannot even talk to the opposite gender until they are adults, or that they cannot begin to experience what these feelings are like and what they are for? No, that isn’t the right way, they need to begin to learn to process these sorts of things, and they must learn the ways of relating rightly to members of the opposite sex. Part of that has to do with learning when and where certain things are appropriate.

Of course, certain things are never appropriate for an unmarried couple, and certain things won’t be appropriate for teenagers, either. But the item in question here has to do with anyone, including married couples. So listen up.

You see the worship service is a sacred event, here God’s people gather together in community to sing praises, listen to God’s Word preached, and fellowship with one another in exhortation and edification. Within that context, and during the preaching especially, public displays of affection are not warranted. They are distracting to others, and they take the focus off of where it should be, and put it on one another, when we should be focusing on Christ and the Word of God as it is preached.

I had begun to preach, when this drama began to play itself out. Now I knew both of these kids, and they loved and respected me, as I did them. I began to speak about them and they didn’t even realize it, which was my cue, of course. I walked slowly from the pulpit and down the aisle, all the while continuing, not in an ugly way, but in a “aren’t you hearing me yet” sort of tone. When I had I nearly reached the back, they realized what was going on.

I simply told them, yes, loud enough for everyone else to hear, that I wasn’t mad at them, but that I needed them to separate for the rest of the service, and the boy would sit two rows up in front of her. They complied, and I walked back to the pulpit. I stated again that I wasn’t mad at either of them, and asked the congregation if they thought I was wrong, or if anyone had a problem with this, and that sort of thing. No one replied. That was the end of that.

The young man went to the bathroom later for a little while, but he did come back, and there was no more trouble, and they actually didn’t have too long of faces, mad looking, or anything like that. There was no more distraction, and everyone got into the message as usual.

Afterward, several adults came to me and thanked me for what I had done. Some said they wished others could understand that when we don’t do anything about issues like this there is no wonder they continue to learn disrespect. I agreed, and in talking with one of the men we realized something, that the event matched the sermon as an object lesson.

Now is when a pastor must move as the Spirit is directing; it was another one of these “teachable moments” that pastors must be ready to use whenever there is a chance. These type of things, when they come along, are one of the most effective training tools and lasting memories that you will have in your arsenal.

You see, Providentially, I was preaching on the Christian conception of God being the highest, from Romans 3:25-26. I explained to everyone I talked to after the service that sure, we needed to do something, but not out of respect for me, but out of respect for God, for church, for community, and for those kids. Our God takes sin so seriously because His holiness is so exalted. When we concentrate on His perfections He begins to perfect us. When we lower our regard for Him our lives are lowered, and our children’s are as well. When we devalue what God values, we devalue God in the eyes of those in our care.

We as Christian’s place the most value in our God, and God has ordained the worship service, and so it is very important. If we were to let this thing go on, then we are teaching our kids, and everyone else for that matter, that the worship service is not as important as it is. We downgrade its value, and our valuing of it to the eyes of those kids, and so God is downgraded in their eyes, and so we are downgraded, and their behavior is therefore downgraded. Can you see that?

I talked with several more parents about this and they got the message. I then went to the fellowship hall, as we were having a dinner after service, and talked to the kids in question, and told them this very thing. I explained how I did this out of concern for them, that they need to know how important I think this is, how much value God, and therefore I, place on the worship service, and why we had to do this “calling them out” thing.

I told them I knew for a fact that they were not consciously disrespecting me, I was more concerned about what I was teaching them about how much I value or don’t value what we do in church on Sunday. If I didn’t do anything, then I am saying it really isn’t that big of a deal, and that it really doesn’t matter. But it does, and I hoped that one day they would thank me as all the adults had, that they could grow and understand why this is such a big deal. It wasn’t that being together was all that wrong or that they hurt my personal feelings, it wasn’t about them and it wasn’t about me, it was about God. God considers the worship event a big deal, and this wasn’t the proper place for them to do the things they were doing.

Other adults spoke to other kids of the same thing, and many questions were answered. The two realized that they had become an object lesson from the sermon, that even though they didn’t initially realize it, they were devaluing God, and that I was right to do something, right toward God, and right toward them. I told them that I loved them, and that if perhaps one day they did stay together and I was looking at them in the middle, you know, in a marriage ceremony, that they would remember this as an important part of their lives, and we would all be thankful to God it happened, all of it. They really did “get it”, they weren’t mad at all, and the other kids all seemed to realize something that day.

That night, the boy’s family and my wife and I went out to dinner and had a grand old time, laughing and carrying on as if nothing had ever happened. In reality, the only thing that happened to all of us was mature growth. That is why we all have a role to play in each other’s spiritual growth, even when we are the ones who did the bad thing. Don’t let them off the hook; you’re just letting them down. Keep their worth high by keeping God’s worth high.

Right here, right now, that’s why.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Safe and Secure?

The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms:
(Deuteronomy 33:27)

Have you ever thought through some of the theology of the songs you sing in church, in your personal worship times, and that sort of thing? Have you ever sung some of the old hymns and wondered what they mean? Do you ever think that they really don’t speak the truth, or don’t make it very clear, or that they contradict themselves? Those old hymns sure do have a way of getting us to think, they teach doctrine, we teach each other by singing them, and they will preach if you have the notion to do so. I suggest you do so.

The group from our church was singing one of their favorite songs at the nursing home the other day, and it occurred to me that those whom we were singing with, and singing to, might be confused as to what the lyrics were proclaiming, and wonder how, in their condition, these things could possibly be true. So as I often do, I used this as a teaching moment.

The song in question was “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. Now the chorus, or refrain, goes like this: Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms; leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms. Most people have heard it before, and I had sung it many times, but in the context of being in that nursing home I thought about the fact that we really do have things that can trouble us, from a loved one who gets in an accident, someone we know having cancer, going through a personal crisis, and on and on. There are many things that God seems to not have as high on the priority list as we do, or things that we have to go through that aren’t all that wonderful.

So in light of this, what can these words mean, safe and secure from all alarms? How could the people in the nursing home sing this, they were in a difficult situation and some of them in horrific pain, and that is an alarming thing no doubt, just as those of us who aren’t there have alarming, unexpected things happen to us every day. God doesn’t always “protect” us from them so how could it be that we are safe and secure from all alarms? How is this true?

Well, in pondering that question, the answer came to me. Those things are just alarms, they only wake us up to the reality of everyday living in this fallen world, but we are indeed safe from them, in the ultimate sense. Those things are only temporal, but we are not leaning on temporal arms, but everlasting ones, and so those temporal things can have no everlasting power over us.

We are not counting on temporal things to deliver us, but for God in His everlasting grace to deliver us, and He does so even through our deaths. This is why we have blessed peace, with our Lord so near, because we have nothing to fear, in the final analysis. Even if the alarm was a heart attack that took our life we are safe and secure from that alarm because all it would do is wake us up to our new home in heaven, safe in the everlasting arms of the Father in eternal life.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear? Nothing can cause us everlasting harm leaning on the everlasting arms.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturday Sermon: The Value of God

Romans 3:25-26

My aim today is to get you to see salvation from God’s perspective, and to begin to get a real feel for what a God entranced view of things is, and the best, most powerful place to start, the most clear yet misunderstood place for this is the very text we are looking at today. If you can get a hold of this idea it will revolutionize your worship of God and the way you see God and the way you read your bible. It will also help you to become a more discerning believer who can spot heresy much quicker than you used to. It is all about God. Now that seems easy enough for us to say, and we say it because we think it is right, but we don’t really know what that means. He is the starting point, which is why, way back when we started this series in the book of Romans, we titled it “the righteousness of God, the redemption of man”. We must get the order of things right, and then everything else will have a much greater chance of falling into place as we encounter it. It is a tall order, and so may God grant us the grace to hear and believe.

It is all about being God entranced in our thinking, which is the biblical way, the renewed mind, not a self centered way of thinking, which we know we still have to deal with or else Paul wouldn’t tell us to renew our minds. Peter describes growing in grace by saying we must grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). With this text, when we start with a man centered, “what’s it mean to us” then we cannot appreciate the “what this means about God” aspect. If you can see this, you will see the value of a God entranced worldview, not one where we say it but we actually have it, and we can see with God’s eyes. We will begin to learn the value of God, not simply as someone who gives us the treasure of forgiveness, but as the very treasure itself. Today I want to unpack these verses and unleash this treasure.

whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

1 John 2:2, 4:10 – Propitiation – a sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God against sinners. Jesus on the cross not only reveals God’s justice and His righteousness but it actually saves sinners. By expiating (removing the problem of) sin, God was made propitious (favorable) to us. Instead of leaving all consigned to hell, He showed His love to those whom He calls to Himself.

There is a major difference between pardon and justification. Pardon says that you are guilty but suspends the penalty of that guilt. Justification declares you to be righteous and without guilt. How can God do that? By Christ paying the price of redemption. If God were to simply pardon or forgive based on our bits of penance then that would say that the sins weren’t really all that bad and that God was not really all that holy. Think about Islam and Allah in light of this. Because for them, Allah just forgives: not only there is no payment for our sins, there is none needed. However, if God can forgive without payment for sins, then he's no god. If God is not holy and just, then He does not deserve any worship. But the angels cry holy, holy, holy.

Propitiation is set against the flawed notion of penance. Penance is used to pay for the bad we have done, or to offset the bad we do. In other words, since we are going to do bad, it is justified by the good we do, kind of like how many people who do bad things think they can get off the hook because they start a foundation or give to charity or whatever. It is kind of like the carbon offsets of today, it is the old medieval idea of penance brought forward to today, and so many religions do this same thing.

These things may appease our conscience but they do not appease God’s wrath. Your payment isn’t enough. Penance never excuses your own excess. In the New Testament, the act of propitiation always refers to the work of God and not the sacrifices or gifts offered by man. The reason for this is that man is totally incapable of satisfying God’s justice except by spending eternity in hell. Even there he cannot make a full payment and that is why it must continue on. There is no service, sacrifice or gift that man can offer that will appease the holy wrath of God or satisfy His perfect justice. Psalm 51:17 – the sacrifices God wants are a broken spirit and a contrite heart, but these are repentance not propitiation. The only satisfaction, or propitiation, that could be acceptable to God and that could reconcile man to Him, had to be made by God. For this reason God the Son, Jesus Christ, came into the world in human flesh to be the perfect sacrifice for sin and make atonement or “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-17).

This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Hebrews 9:15,26 – in His forbearance He passed over the former sins, made during and before the old covenant, knowing justice would be served by a new covenant.

In this passage Paul’s emphasis is not so much on the righteousness that God has provided in Christ as the righteousness that God has demonstrated through Christ. This distinction may seem subtle, but it is one of great significance. Our minds like to avoid this truth, and we much rather focus on what He has done "for" us. It is too easy to fall into the trap of sentimental thinking about the Gospel, and we need to be reminded that the love of God makes absolutely no sense apart from the wrath of God. Take away the latter, and all you have is the image of a kindly old man who wouldn't hurt a fly, much less punish sinners, and then we start thinking that maybe our own sins really aren't that bad. We cheapen His love by downplaying His wrath.

When we choose to look at salvation from a merely human perspective, we see salvation from the standpoint of what it does for us. God becomes the One who “meets our needs.” While God does meet our needs, the focus is wrong. At its core, this focus is selfish and self-centered. God as the Giver should not be our focus, but God as the Gift. Paul thus portrays God’s provision of righteousness from the divine point of view, fixing our attention on God’s purpose for saving men: the demonstration of His righteousness.

The death of Christ proved God’s righteousness. People just want God to pardon but that doesn’t demonstrate His righteousness. That would be saying that sins are really no big deal to God, and it would also mean that offending God and despising Him isn’t all that important. The sins are real and they must be paid for, and yet God seemingly overlooked them before. The problem in God's passing over sin (which the natural mind does not grasp) is that God's worth and glory and righteousness have been despised, and passing over it makes him look cheap. God would be unrighteous if He passed over sins as though the value of His glory were nothing.

God’s worth and His name is dishonored by our sins, but rather than vindicating the worth of his glory by slaying His people, He vindicated His glory by slaying His Son. That is how valuable His glory is and how awful sin really is and what it requires. It is not that we were worth it, that we were worth saving, but that God’s glory was worth vindicating, and that Christ was the only payment that could satisfy the justice of God for us offending and despising His glory. That is what sin is, falling short of and devaluing God’s glory. We have done violence to the throne of God. That is why hell must last forever because you can never pay it back, your worth is nothing compared to His, no amount of penance can offset the terrible injustice you have done against the infinite worth of God.

This is all about the value of God not the value of man, how much He is worth not how much we are worth. Now we square this with John 3:16 by saying that His love for us is so great that He paid the only way it could be done. God, out of His love and justice, renders Himself favorable to us by His own action. He suffers the ultimate offense and yet He takes on the punishment for that Himself. He passed over sins before Christ because He knew the plan, it was the plan all along, and that is why He could wait until it was the right time (Galatians 4:4).

You have heard it said that if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have come to die for your sins. That is true, but we need to see that in proper perspective. He would do it not just because He loved you so, and He does, but the fountainhead of that love flows because His holiness demanded it, the sin was an assault on the throne of God that must be dealt with, and attack on the infinite worth of God, and it required a payment that you could not meet. He would have done so, not because you were worth saving, but because even one sin is so horrible and such an affront to God’s glory that He must punish it with absolute justice, and since He is of infinite worth, that punishment would be unfathomable, and He would have to pay for it Himself. Think hard and clearly on that. That Jesus had to die shows the worthlessness of any payment we could try and make for sins, and the infinite worth of God.

That statement about Jesus dying just for you makes us feel good about ourselves, and our worth, but we need to realize that we are supposed to worship God, regardless of what He has done for us, He is God Almighty. He died just for His Father, and you as the beneficiary of that plan. This does not diminish His love for us in any way, it lifts up the holiness of God and shows it to be the spring from which God’s mercy and justice can be met together in Christ. His love is grounded in His holiness not in our worthiness or faithfulness and His holiness is that from which His love springs, not vice versa. Hallelujah, I pray you see it, and if you don’t, consider well what I say, and ponder it until God grips you with this truth of His glory.

Did Jesus really have to die to pay for our sins? A Jewish expert addressed this issue. According to him, Jesus’ death was entirely unnecessary. God is perfectly willing and able to forgive us if we are truly and sincerely repentant. No further accommodation or transaction is needed. This sounds wonderful. But is this true? No it isn’t, it devalues God and His glory. The Jewish man was stuck in his OT world where God passed over the sins of the repentant; as if that was all there was every going to be for it, and his messiah is only a political ruler. This man and others who claim it cosmic child abuse to have Christ die on the cross are not looking at this text with spiritual eyes because they are spiritually dead, they have not come forward, as Christ was put forward by God to demonstrate God’s justice and the value of His glory by having Christ be a sacrifice for sins. We make many excuses to repudiate the blood of Jesus. We say, “Certainly we’ve done bad things, but what we’ve done isn’t so bad that a merciful God can’t overlook our failings.” We are wrong on two counts. First, what we have done IS so bad, that we cannot even begin to fathom how horrible it is. Second, God cannot overlook, He cannot wave His hand and let bygones be bygones. He may freely forgive us, but He Himself must bear the cost.

The wrath of God had to be satisfied. God could not simply overlook sin; it had to be judged. And so God provided men with salvation in such a way that He demonstrated His righteousness and satisfied His wrath, all at the same time. God’s forgiveness costs something, He freely forgives but it cost Him something.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The forgiveness of sins is grounded, not in my finite worth or work, but in the infinite worth of the righteousness of God, upholding and vindicating the glory of His name. To pronounce the unrighteous righteous is unjust by itself, yet by the propitiation God is able to justify the ungodly and He is just for doing so (Romans 4:5, 5:6 / 1 John 1:8-9).

What kind of savior do we really need? The bible defines that need. We are saved from God by God. The law had to be fulfilled by humanity. Only God could save us; only a human being should save us. Until that broken law was fulfilled by humanity we were still dead in our sins. We needed a new federal head, a second Adam. To redeem a people He had to be fully God, so as to give the atonement an infinite value, and He had to be fully man to perfectly satisfy the requirements of God’s law, thus becoming an acceptable substitute for sinners. It is not how many bad things you have done, not how many sins you have committed, but actually how bad sin itself really is. The new gospel appeals to those who say, “just let me do what I want but help me deal with the pain”, or “I just want to feel better about myself”. That isn’t the gospel.

The way this redemption worked is that God set Jesus forth as a propitiation. The same Greek word is used in Hebrews 9:5 for the “mercy seat,” the covering for the ark of the covenant, the place where the High Priest would sprinkle the blood on the day of atonement. Jesus is the mercy seat. This includes both expiation (the removal of sin) and propitiation (the averting of wrath). Although there was the wrath of God against sin, it was also God in His love who took the initiative against it. So the Greek term captures both the idea of appeasement of God’s wrath, and the expiation of sin. By this death there is satisfaction of God’s justice and holiness. The holiness of God is preserved by the need for propitiation; the love of God is revealed by the provision.

In the Old Testament age, that is before Christ died, sin was not finally or ultimately punished once and for all, it was only passed over. Yet for the payment for these sins God passed over them until they could all be nailed to the cross in the death of the Messiah, once and for all. In Christ the justice of God is completely satisfied. God wished to harmonize His attribute (righteousness) and His action (justifying). The only way that God could remain righteous and at the same time declare sinners righteous was for God to come in the flesh and die for the sins of the whole human race. Thus, the demands have been met; the sins have been paid for; the way is open for grace to be bestowed on all who believe.

Paul’s words in the first few verses of Romans are an illustration of the great truth he is teaching us here in Romans 3. Paul does not view his salvation as the incorporation of God into his life, he had not added God to his agenda; God had added him to His agenda. The believer must see his salvation as the demonstration of God’s righteousness and himself as subservient to His plans and purposes. When we see our salvation as God’s meeting our needs, we see God as subservient to us. The distinction between these two perspectives is crucial. Ephesians 1:6,12,14 – to the praise of His glory – our redemption was only a part of the larger plan.

The determining factor in God’s choices and actions is not man’s salvation, but the declaration of His righteousness. When we make our salvation the focus, we take the focus from God and put ourselves in His place. Only when we see the demonstration of God’s righteousness as primary, and man’s salvation as secondary, can we see our salvation from God’s point of view.

Is the demonstration of God’s righteousness central in your life? It should be. If believers understood that God’s purpose in the world is to demonstrate His righteousness, would we dare to think it doesn’t matter to God whether or not we live righteously? You have seen the value of God, the question is, what value do you place upon it?

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Look the Part?

For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
(Matthew 23:25 – ESV)

Recently the leaders of a large, well known church had been questioned about some of their business activities and spending of donations, and other seeming inconsistencies to the Christian life. One such item was the fact that these leaders had undergone numerous sessions of cosmetic surgery. This is not meant to demean plastic surgery in general, and especially reconstructive surgery, which may be necessary after a tragic accident and disfigurement. It isn’t wrong to be dignified and try and look your best.

That isn’t the point, but the answer given pointed to something far more serious. The reason this struck such a discordant note was that the one man who was asked about it said that they did it because they were TV personalities and that they had to “look the part”. Believe me, friend, they do, they look exactly like the part that Jesus warned us about. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15 – ESV).

These TV Pharisees are selling the gospel of themselves. Jesus said He was the way the truth and the life, but these pied pipers to perdition twist that to mean the way out of poverty, the truth of prosperity and the life of wealth and ease. Jesus, if He is mentioned at all, is simply the way to a perfect job, perfect kids, perfect spouse, perfect house, perfect car, etc.

Well many know Christianity isn’t about all that but these “evangelists who don’t know the Evangel” go personal with it; to be a Christian star they must have perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect skin, or whatever. Is this what Jesus wants us to aspire to? Now it is okay to be on TV, don’t misunderstand me, but shouldn’t they be showing their audience the beauty of Jesus, instead of themselves?

Our verse today also applies to how we see ourselves as Christians relating to the outside world. The book of Colossians talks of walking in wisdom to those outside the faith (Colossians 4:5-6). This doesn’t mean, “If you become a Christian you will look like me”; that is setting up YOU as the model! Now your life should be a model, which points to Jesus, but Jesus didn’t have perfect hair or teeth or that kind of thing (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus wasn’t in it for the wealth He had left the source of heaven and put on humanity (Philippians 2:5-11). Christianity is not a ticket to the upper class it is a narrow highway into the upward call and that isn’t upward mobility, friends.

So they wanted to look the part of a successful Christian leader, well, I thought the Apostle Paul already described that for us in the New Testament. I wonder if he would have wanted to get a little nip and tuck after the beatings he received? Perhaps this is what he meant when he said he bore in his body the marks of Jesus (Galatians 6:17).

Christian, you don’t need cosmetic surgery; we need (and they need) radical heart surgery instead. Then we will be able, as Paul exhorts us, to shine as lights for Christ (Philippians 2:15). Jesus said we aren’t supposed to hide our light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). Well, we shouldn’t hide it under a bushel and shouldn’t hide it under a cloud of makeup either. What role are you playing? Do you look the part?

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Creator and Sustainer

…all things were created through him and for him… and in him all things hold together
(Colossians 1:16-17 – ESV)


These verses by Paul point to a number of profound truths. Let’s explore some of these.

John 1:3 – Jesus created all things, not Himself, He is eternally existent. It isn’t that Jesus was created and then created all the other things, as the ancient Arius and modern JW teach, for we see here that there is nothing that was created that wasn’t created by Jesus, and that would have to include Himself. He created everything, not everything else, as so therefore He is uncreated.

Jesus is above all thrones, powers, etc. – Jesus is not just a master of a realm He is master of all. Ephesians 1:20-23 / Ephesians 6:12 / Hebrews 2:7-8 – all things are under His feet, and we are in Him, yet we still wrestle because the kingdom has not come in fullness yet, but we can achieve a measure of this (Romans 16:19-20). The kingdom not in consummation is not the kingdom in crisis it is the kingdom in constant motion, and nothing can stop God’s plan (Psalm 2).

He is the creator and sustainer yet He also answers to His Father. 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 – functional subordination – Jesus is equal to the Father, He is God of very God, and yet He is subject to the Father in role. This is also borne out by Philippians 2:6-11.

Romans 11:36 (Hebrews 2:10) – Paul is showing that Christ is not just someone who rose to prominence and attained godlike power, but had all power to begin with, came to earth in the form of a man to bring sons to God, and now is preeminent among them, the king of the redeemed as well as the king of the universe.

John 8:58, 17:5 – Paul expands on what he is saying in verse 16. He isn’t just the most powerful being in the universe He is GOD. We need to understand the concept of God more fully if we can even begin to grasp this. He doesn’t just have dominion over everything; He is the only thing that keeps any of it in existence. As Sustainer, he doesn’t just mean that Jesus could wipe anything and everything out, Paul is saying that Jesus is the only life support anything has, not that things are created and then they have life by themselves, not in an eternal sense, but that Christ continues to give life to anything and everything. Consider this well. Paul is really hammering home the truth here, not leaving any room for debate at all (Acts 17:28). This dismisses with pantheism, but also contrasts with panentheism. It is not that everything is Him, or that everything has Him in it, but that everything is maintained by Him, or it ceases to exist.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It’s You I’m Talking To!

Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"
(2 Samuel 12:7 – ESV)

Trying to teach the Bible is often an exercise in frustration. One of the ways this really "gets to you" is when you are an expositor, and you are going through a particular book week after week. You come to a passage, and in your preparation you realize that the applications you make are going to cause a stir, it will seem like you are singling out and preaching directly to someone's personal situation, in the harshest, call-you-out sort of terms.

You pray and pray that God would let the light of Christ shine and that you would not grow bitter or cynical, and use this as an occasion to add your two cents in to help "straighten them out". You pray and prepare with an extra diligence and caution, knowing that this could be a life-changing event, for both of you, for all of you whom hear. You point the finger at yourself first, and ask God to help.

The day comes, and you even preface your sermon with the prayer that God would give them as Jesus said, he who has ears to hear, let him hear. You stick completely to your notes as you have basically transcripted most of it already, so as to not set sail into the soil of your own imagination. Some of the crowd seem to be repenting right there in their seats. The person in question seems to be looked at by others (right or wrong). People know what is going on and what God is saying.

When the message is over and the service done, the "person whom you just knew was going to be affected, or should have been affected" comes to you and says that the sermon was great, was needed, and really should serve as a wake up call to some people.

You want to shout, "You're the man!"

In a sense, I have done that, more than once. I just ask the simple question, "Great, now how about you, how did the sermon affect you?" This is why I also try every once in a while to preach sermons about this very point, from Jeremiah 36:21-23, or Ezekiel 33:30-33, and especially 2 Samuel 12, aptly titled "Thou Art The Man".

Some think they have gone beyond where the preacher is and so he has nothing to say to them. But they have the wrong idea altogether. Even if they are greater in theological acumen, and even in personal piety, the man in the pulpit is bringing God's Word to bear, and they are not beyond that. Indeed, even if they are beyond the man in the pulpit, they are not beyond the pulpit itself. They have not heard it all before, and even if they had, it would be apparent that they haven't listened.

Balaam was a far superior creature to the donkey, but that donkey taught him something that day, well it tried anyway. Perhaps that is what some modern day Balaam's see their preacher as, a stubborn donkey that just won't clear the way for them...


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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stop the Worship?

You worship what you do not know…
(John 4:22 – ESV)

As a pastor you always need to be talking to the song leaders about the balance. We should review the songs in the rotation and look together at new songs that they want to bring in. In this way you can use these times as teachable moments. Indeed we should have feelings and responses because of God's grace, but we need more "Thou art" and less "I will" in the songs, God entranced and not man entranced.

Now sometimes songs can slip by you or they can slip by a congregation without anyone really focusing on what is actually being taught. Congregational singing is more than stirring up feelings, it is teaching each other in song, and it is important, albeit for reasons that are sometimes lost on “worship leaders”.

It should be more about “doctrinal led devotion” than simply proclaiming our increasing love for a God we aren’t increasing in our knowledge of. It isn’t how much more I feel Him means how much more I love Him, but how much more I know Him, and then this would produce the proper devotion. We more often than not get the order reversed, and think we are growing deeper in our love for Him when we are actually growing colder even as our feelings burn hot.

Considering this, I have literally “stopped the worship” more than once. Actually I just stopped the music and singing and focused our worship on some truth I was absolutely sure we needed to hear more clearly as we sang it.

It was during the song “unfailing love” that I stopped the music and went over to the screen and pointed out the lyrics and something I wanted to make sure people noticed. The lyrics were “Praise you God of earth and sky how beautiful is your unfailing love, unfailing love”… “And you never change Lord you remain the holy one and my unfailing love, unfailing love”.

From these lyrics I showed that they teach correctly that His unfailing love is grounded in His holiness, “you never change you remain the holy one”, and so therefore He remains unfailing in His love. His love is grounded in His holiness not in our faithfulness and His holiness is that from which His love springs, not vice versa.

I’m not sure whether or not the author intended it this way, but it was good to point out considering the sermon of the day, or any day, nonetheless.

Also I used the stoppage purposefully to stop people from just “going with the flow”. The atmosphere was starting to get moving, and not necessarily in a bad way, but I wanted to make sure people don’t always equate this “everybody’s into it” thing with “now we are really worshipping”. I pointed out that we shouldn’t bristle at someone, something, or some event stopping our “flow”.

I asked if anyone was thinking like, “I was just getting into it man”, and how their focus would be wrong. Well, no sir, you were just feeling it, but God was already here to be worshipped and you must renew your mind to the fact that feelings are a byproduct of worship, not the conduit of them. Feelings aren’t the way into His presence, as if we simply stir up our emotions by repeating some vague chorus over and over, and “poof!” God is there. No. Was I wrong to stop the singing, no, not at all, it was a good demonstration of the fact that if this hindered your worship than you were worshipping at the altar of your own feelings.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Complete Christianity 2

This is the last in a series of eight messages...here are links to the first seven...

Careless Christianity

Crisis Christianity

Compulsive Christianity

Compromised Christianity

Conforming Christianity

Continuous Christianity

Complete Christianity 1

And now our primary text for today

Philippians 3

Now here we are at the end of the highway to holiness series, and what do we have at the end, well it is the same thing we had at the beginning, the way to start on the highway to holiness is the same thing that is at the end of the highway to holiness and that thing isn’t a thing at all it is a person, namely Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus puts us on this highway and as we discover more about how we can fail and how He cannot we give in to His way and become more like Him as we travel on this highway. Jesus is the destiny and the destination along the highway to holiness. The highway of holiness is all about dying to self and living for Christ, and not simply morality but God’s power in us giving God the glory due Him alone.

We looked at four OT types and then we spent the last three weeks talking of the conforming process, the doctrine of perseverance, and we even stepped back into the OT to show a type of steadfast faith that trusts God despite any outcome. This week we will finish the series up by looking at the Apostle Paul, who gives us an example of Complete Christianity, a person who was in the process and had made progress and would persevere until the end on that road, the gospel road, and what we have been calling the highway to holiness.

We are talking about repentance and faith, and what it looks like in practice, and not just trying to do it in our own strength. It is about keeping our eyes on Christ more than we keep our eyes on our distractions, knowing Him more, growing in that, and showing forth that. That doesn’t mean isolation it means insulation.

Now let’s take a very quick look at where we have been using our operative phrases of these past seven sermons, so that we can get a grasp on the big picture. Those first four sermons, described the typical pitfalls on or forks in the road, the things we need to see for what they are and try and avoid. Remember? Looking for an opportunity outside the will of God, rebelling against the authority of God, misusing the power of God, and aligning with people away from God are all manifestations of wanting something other than God, and seeing God as a means not as the end. Even when we have moved “beyond” these things they crop up in new forms. We have to stay in a repentant and prayerful state, learning to lean on Christ.

The last three weeks we have been discussing the way that God brings us along the highway, where if we will not yield to one of the four pitfalls but trust in Him, we will have an increased awareness of God’s power in our lives and a sharper focus on our Lord Jesus, thereby becoming more like Him, walking in more of the fullness of God. Okay, let’s look at it using the operative phrases of the last three weeks. Realizing the purpose of God helps you understand how God uses trials in this life to shape you into the image of Christ, and realizing the power of God keeps you in that process without wilting away. Realizing the character of God is what happens when you keep continuing in the conforming process.

We saw last week that Complete Christianity starts with the bedrock of trusting God despite any outcome. This week we will see the Apostle Paul and his recipe for resurrection power, if you will. This is the big picture, the aerial view of the highway to holiness. It is the big picture of the process not the details because what God uses in your life is your own experience. This isn’t cookie cutter Christianity; just because we are all in the same process doesn’t mean we all go through the same experiences. It isn’t just “do this and this” and then “poof” like magic you get it all and you’re done with it. It is a continual process with, hopefully, continual progress. The more we submit to it the more we will see it work.

Now let’s look at what the Apostle Paul wrote for us in Philippians 3. This is but one of many applications of these verses of course, but with our particular emphasis in this series, we wanted to give you the penultimate example in the NT. Now Jesus Christ was walking in the Spirit in a way that was without measure (John 3:34), but Paul gives us an example that shows us without doubt that we can achieve a relatively high level of holiness. Holiness is not about morality, Paul already had more of that than any man on earth, but he knew his righteousness was as filthy rags before the standard of Christ (Isaiah 64:6). Paul wanted resurrection power.

Vs.1 – in order to renew your mind you have to hear it all the time
Vs.2 – beware those who make holiness working for it instead of a working from it
Vs.3 – we must realize the fact that God’s power is the only way to God’s fullness, use the means of grace He has established and don’t go trying to make up your own. We just continue to read our bibles and pray and stay out of the way of those hindrances and keep focusing on Him and continuing despite troubles and we will grow in grace and we will know God’s fullness.
Vs.4-8 – you must be willing to lose it all, you will lose some of it and perhaps all of it, and you must realize that all of it is worthless compared to Christ
Vs.9 – counting it all on the grace of God in Christ
Vs.10 – People today seek the fullness of God apart from personal crucifixion with Christ, and the result is either a limited or a counterfeit experience. The fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power flows from the cross, Calvary was before Pentecost historically and it is experientially. The only way into the riches of the fullness of the Spirit is through our acceptance of our crucifixion with Him. We are made conformable to His death, and then we know the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings.
Vs.11 – humility
Vs.12-14 – keep at it realizing you aren’t there yet but that you can make real progress, go for what God has got for you, forget the past and press on and press in to the fullness of God
Vs.15-16 – walk in the light you have and God will give more, if not the light will grow dim
Vs.17 – follow those that are doing it right in God’s eyes
Vs.18-19 – stay away from those who want to do it their own way
Vs.20-21 – stay focused; keep your eyes on the prize, the eternal reward. God can take you from the grave and into glory, and He can take your life today and get Himself glory

This was Paul’s plan, and he was ready to die the same as S/M/A. We say we are ready to die but we won’t even die to self, we still do these other four things and we let other distractions take our focus off Christ. You have got to be dead to those things; by giving in to it you’re giving life to it! We aren’t pressing on, pressing in, and persevering in this life, what makes us think we are ready for the power of the next? The disciples all thought they were ready to die for Christ, but they weren’t until they received the power of the Spirit. Even then they had troubles. However, more often than not they were walking in God’s fullness not out of it, and we can be too.

The truth is that we have placed God in a compartment of our lives, just a part of it, but the answer isn’t to just fill up the other boxes we have made, putting God in all our compartments. He could be in every part of your life and still not have your heart. That is why we see people whose lives are nothing but ministry still fall all the way down, because they thought that the only way to avoid themselves was to fill all their time doing things for God. Friend it isn’t about doing things for God. Doing things for God is great, but that isn’t what gets you further on the highway to holiness. Yes it is good to plant good seed but the root of the other tree is still there and we need to put the axe to the root of the problem. We have to pray through and stay through the pain of losing ourselves and finding Christ, and this isn’t done in a half an hour, it is done throughout a lifetime.

Then God’s love will come pouring out of you (John 7:37-39). Then you can know what the fullness of God is really like, and you will want to walk in it, and you will run back to it in prayer when you have fallen out of it, and you will fall out of it less and less as your love for God grows. When new situations arise and the Sprit of God reveals new roots of rebellion to you, you will know the process and the pain, which leads to power, and you will realize the character of God, and press on to victory in Jesus, into the fullness of God.

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