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Archive for September, 2013

It is better to trust in the Lord Than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord Than to put confidence in princes. Psalm 118:8-9

On the Decline

Have you read the articles or seen the news? Apparently the Christian church is in decline. Is this something you have sensed as well? I pulled this disturbing blurb from an article in the New York Times written in December, 2012:

LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Barna Group — have found that a majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church, and often the faith, entirely…Evangelicals, while still perceived as a majority, have become a shrinking minority in the United States. In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans…The global outlook is more optimistic, as evangelical congregations flourish in places like China, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa. But while America’s population grows by roughly two million a year, attendance across evangelical churches… has gradually declined, according to surveys of more than 200,000 congregations by the American Church Research Project.”

Should we be shocked by this news?

I’m not shocked and I’ll tell you why: I read my Bible. The Apostle Paul expressly tells us in 1 Timothy 4:1 that people will depart from our ranks and in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 he tells us why they will leave.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith…For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 

The Decline

What does the word decline mean anyway? Is it simply a decrease in the numbers of people sitting in the pews or is it something more significant than that? I discovered that the word pewdecline in the ancient Hebrew is ‘satah‘ (eerily close to satan, isn’t it), and it’s defined as, ‘to turn or go aside.’

There is no doubt that this occurring in the American church, just as our brother Paul had prophesied, but don’t be alarmed, for the reality is that those who remain are growing stronger and bolder in their faith. So while there may be less bricks in the walls, the Christ-centered foundation is alive and vibrant.

Fact:

The oppressed and/or persecuted church is a strong church. We see proof of this around the globe. Even the New York Times article admits that ‘The global outlook is more optimistic, as evangelical congregations flourish in places like China, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa.’ These are places of great oppression and persecution! Even Bible history bears witness to this truth. Look how the church grew when Peter and John were persecuted.

Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. Acts 4:1-4

And remember when scandal hit the early church; when Ananias and his wife Sapphira were struck down by the Lord for being deceitful?  Those on the peripheries fell away, but the true followers were strengthened.

So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. Acts 5:11-14

saeedEven current events demonstrate the truth. Have you read how American pastor, Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for his faith in one of the worst prisons in the world [in Iran] has led more than 30 Muslims to Christ Jesus while incarcerated?

Christ’s church is getting stronger!

Should we pray for persecution?

Um, no. We should not.

Rest assured this kind of persecution and oppression is coming to America, and it’s coming swiftly. As a result, the pews will empty as the ‘nominals’ succumb to their fears and seek comfort in those places where the doctrine is not sound, where they can focus on their latent desires, and where they can heap up teachers who tickle their ears, while at the same time fearfully dodging secular and governmental persecution. However, during this same period of time, the church will thrive in the revival of His saints and will become both vigorous and tenacious. This is the inspiring part of the equation — the numbers may fade but the body will flourish!

In the meantime

Be persistent in your prayers for the lost, praying for both repentance and revival. And pray for yourself that you’ll grow in the hope and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, submitted and obedient to His will in all things.

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:1-2

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So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5

A Good Thing

goodThe moment we read a title like ‘Courtyard Christianity’ we tend to think the worst, “Oh great, another dissertation on the reasons why I am a bad Christian,” but that is not the case here. Let me tell you right-up front, if you are a courtyard-Christian, it is a good thing.

However…

It is not the best thing.

Let me explain.

When I think courtyard, I think ‘Tabernacle’; that one hundred and fifty-foot, by seventy five-foot chunk of land set aside as God’s meeting place. A space that you and I might say would be too small for two million desert-roaming Jews, but God might have said, “Don’t worry, it’s big enough; not everyone will be interested.”

Bottom line (and as far as this pertains to the Christian life), if you are in the courtyard of the tabernacle, you are saved. Celebrate! But know this: you can go deeper. Going deeper doesn’t save you; remember: if you’re in the courtyard, figuratively speaking, you are saved.

Sanctuary Christians

There are two types of sanctuary Christians; both are saved, but one is better off than the other. (Please note that I am not saying one is better, but rather that one is in a more favorable position, spiritually speaking). The sanctuary of the tabernacle was the forty-five foot by fifteen foot tent that had two compartments within. The first room of the sanctuary housed the lampstand, the table of show-bread, and the golden censer. If you have left the courtyard and entered this first room of the sanctuary you are in a better place, for you have entered the realm of Christian service.

How So?

The utensils of the sanctuary are symbolic of (they picture) Christian service. A person who trims the wicks of a lampstand is concerned with the light going forth. The one who daily changes the show-bread is interested in feeding the flock. And finally, the one who tends the incense is steeped in intercessory prayer, offering petitions, pleas, and praises as a sweet-smelling fragrance to the Father.

But deeper still are the…

Mercy Seat Christians

maryEntering into the Holy of Holies is to sit at the feet of Jesus. The difference between this best place and the place of service is revealed in the story of Martha and Mary. We know from that account, Mary chose the best seat in the house; the mercy seat. This inner sanctum is the greatest place to be for it is here we are closest to Jesus. And what makes the space so uniquely special is it is a place of refinement and restoration. The veil has been torn, so we should take advantage of the opportunity!

Consider the Ark

The Ark of the Covenant held three things: manna, Aaron’s rod, and the Law; three things that are symbolic of man’s fallen condition. Covering the box (and more importantly these three items) was the mercy seat, symbolic of Christ’s mercy and the covering of our sins. It is in His Holy presence He can do what He desires to do. At this point, we are free to roam and function within the tabernacle!

Conclusion:

Simply put, in the tabernacle, all are saved, but perhaps not all are fulfilled. There is always more to be had if the believer is willing; there is always a deeper experience.

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart–These, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17

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The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. Romans 8:16-17

Are You a Child of God?

Sadly, the term ‘child of God,’ (or children of God), is far too often misappropriated. While it is true we are all of His making, we are not all His children. God’s word is explicit: all people childare God’s creation (‘For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth…All things were created through Him and for Him.’), but only those who are born again are children of God. That’s not to say God doesn’t love everybody. John 3:16 reminds us that God loves everyone and desires that all become His children. But know this: the ‘child of God’ designation is reserved for a very unique group of people.

Some will disagree.

To them I lovingly say that this isn’t my opinion; it’s the Bible, so we should examine what God has to say on the matter.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

This passage is pretty cut and dry: only born again believers have the right to be called children of God and subsequently are joint heirs with Christ Jesus. In fact it was Jesus who said,

“Truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3:5-7

Born Again?

The phrase ‘born again’ literally means ‘born from above,’ signifying that it is something we cannot do ourselves; it’s 100% Divine. Our re-birth is in reality an act of God that we receive by faith; believing that God’s word (His Bible) is true and that God sent Jesus (our Lord and Savior) to die for our sins. Therefore (and because God has already declared it), we believe we are new creations in Christ, that Jesus did the work that we were unable to, and that it was all according to His Grace and His mercy. A born-again person is a saved person, and a saved person is a child of God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Chastened?

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons (Hebrews 12:7a)

This verse reminds us that children of God (both sons and daughters) are willingly stusubmitted to their Father; it is a choice freely made. But don’t let the word ‘chasten’ frighten you away. While it’s true that chasten does mean to correct by punishment, that’s only part of the equation. The word used here [in the Greek] is paideiva,’ and it covers the entire scope of training and education, relating to holy cultivation of both mind and morals, employing direct commands, admonitions, reproof, and yes, occasionally punishment for the purpose of correcting mistakes and curbing passions.  In this regard children of God understand that whatever God does to us, is a benefit for us.

“If you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Hebrews 12:8-10

God’s Words, Not Mine

But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Hebrews 1:8 

Bastard is not a term I would have used, as it seems a bit unkind, but God uses it to drive home the point. Plainly said, if you’re not a born again Christian, you are illegitimate and cannot be considered His son or daughter, and therefore, you have no Heavenly inheritance. I’m not bringing it up in order to mock or belittle you, but rather to offer you a change and invite you into the family of God. As His child, I have His permission to do that. All that is required of you is that you believe (you don’t have to understand).

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Do you want to know more about coming into God’s family and being saved? Then please click on this link.

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By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. Hebrews 11:24-29

God’s Grace Through Faith

There’s a lot of hope found in Hebrews 11. As we read through the entire chapter we quickly catch hold of the theme: God through faith equips His children to do His work. By faith (we read) the church understands God’s word. By faith Abel made his offerings to the Lord. By faith Enoch spoke testimonies of the Lord. By faith Noah built. By faith Abraham obeyed. By faith Sarah was strengthened. By faith Issac blessed. By faith Joseph prophesied.

moThe Biblical Hall of Faith continues with the likes of such other notables as: Rahab, Gideon, Sampson, David, and Samuel, but in the middle of these hallowed halls the writer pauses over Moses in order to reflect upon 7 consequences of his faith. I find them conspicuous in that they were all allotted to one man and that they seem to be the same things that the Lord desires to works through us, His children.

Are these things in operation in your walk of faith?

The Magnificent 7

1) By faith we reject what the world has to offer.

By faith Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter

By faith Moses turned down the world’s offer; refusing the title and the position, and rejecting that which his flesh had previously craved. By faith, Moses was able to (as per Romans 12:2), ‘not be conformed to this world, but was transformed by the renewing of his mind, that it could be proven what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’

2) By faith we let go of sin.

By faith Moses…(chose) rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin 

By faith Moses repented and let go of sin, choosing to suffer the consequences associated with leaving one’s past behind. By faith Moses understood that, ‘Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.’ (James 1:12)

3) By faith we invest eternally.

By faith Moses…(esteemed) the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt

By faith Moses invested in things eternal. By faith Moses had the assurance of, ‘hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began (Titus 1:2). Missionary Jim Elliot must have understood the concept as well, otherwise how could he have written, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

4) By faith we stand.

By faith (Moses) forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king

By faith Moses was fearless. By faith Moses knew to, “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

5) By faith we see Jesus

By faith…(Moses) endured as seeing Him who is invisible

By faith Moses had spiritual vision. A Christian’s faith isn’t truly blind, for the reality is believers see more.  By faith Moses knew, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ (John 20:29)

6) By Faith we are religious

By faith Moses kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood

By faith Moses kept the precepts of our religion, knowing it was not the faith or the religion that saved. By faith Moses knew these components were given by God in order to brig him closer to God. Moses understood ‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.’ (John 15:7)

7) By faith we move.

By faith (Moses) passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned

By faith Moses moved forward, obeying the word that he heard; knowing that to reject the truth of God’s word was to die. I can almost imagine Moses saying, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14)

So what is this thing called faith?

Again, I found an answer during my research that is better than anything I could have come up with on my own. I found this definition from ‘The Complete Bible Answer Book,’ by Hank Hanegraaff (AKA: The Bible Answer Man). Hank writes:

“The Bible defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Thus, in biblical vernacular, faith is a channel of living trust—an assurance—that stretches from man to God. In other words, it is the object of faith that renders faith faithful. Furthermore, faith is the assurance that God’s promises will never fail, even if sometimes we do not experience their fulfillment in our mortal existence. Hebrews 11 underscores the fact that we trust God to fulfill his promises for the future (the unseen) based on what he has already fulfilled in the past. Thus, our faith is not blind, but based squarely on God’s proven faithfulness.

Finally, the faith that serves to protect us in spiritual warfare is not to be confused with mere knowledge. Millions worldwide believe in the trustworthiness of Billy Graham. They have heard him proclaim the good news on television and yet do not believe that his message corresponds to reality. Thus, they have the knowledge that it takes to be saved but do not have saving faith. Others hear the message, agree that it corresponds to reality, but due to the hardness of their hearts do not bow. Rather, like the demons, they continue to live in fearful anticipation of the judgment to come (James 2:19). Some, however, have what Scripture describes as genuine justifying faith—a faith that not only knows about the gospel and agrees that its content corresponds to reality, but a faith by which they are transformed.”

What kind of faith do you have?

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For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. 2 Corinthians 5:10-11

Persuading Others

This clip reminds me of the coming judgment.  Did you know judgment is coming? Did you know there are two separate judgments for two separate groups of people? When you mention biblical judgment, many people think of the Great White Throne judgement (although they may not know that is what it’s called). You should know that if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, this is not the judgment that you will receive.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

Perhaps you have heard it said, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess.” Well I believe this will occur at the White Throne Judgement. Everyone who stands before Jesus on that day will bow and proclaim that Jesus is Lord, but sadly, it will be too late for them.

Not so for you, Christian.

Your name is written in the book of life, therefore, you aren’t going to hell. However there is another judgment spoken of and believers refer to it as the Bema Seat judgement. I’d like to say it’s more akin to an awards ceremony for Christians, but I don’t believe that’s a fair assessment, despite the fact that there will be awards (crowns) presented.

The Apostle Paul speaks of that judgment day:

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Bema Seat

While searching for intelligence on the Bema Seat judgment, I happened upon these two paragraphs from the ‘Got Questions.org‘ website. Frankly, it was easier just to cut and paste their explanation, then to re-absorb the data and put it into my own words.

They say (and I concur):

Romans 14:10-12 says, “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat…so then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”Second Corinthians 5:10 tells us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” In the context, it is clear that both scriptures are referring to Christians, not unbelievers. The judgment seat of Christ, therefore, involves believers giving an account of their lives to Christ. The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation; that was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf (1 John 2:2) and our faith in Him (John 3:16). All of our sins are forgiven, and we will never be condemned for them (Romans 8:1). We should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. Yes, as the Bible says, we will have to give an account of ourselves. Part of this is surely answering for the sins we committed. However, that is not going to be the primary focus of the judgment seat of Christ.

At the judgment seat of Christ, believers are rewarded based on how faithfully they served Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27;2 Timothy 2:5). Some of the things we might be judged on are how well we obeyed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), how victorious we were over sin (Romans 6:1-4), and how well we controlled our tongues (James 3:1-9). The Bible speaks of believers receiving crowns for different things based on how faithfully they served Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27;2 Timothy 2:5). The various crowns are described in 2 Timothy 2:5,2 Timothy 4:8,James 1:12,1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 2:10.James 1:12 is a good summary of how we should think about the judgment seat of Christ: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

What does any of this have to do with the Schindler’s List clip?

Glad you asked.

Well first it reminds me that I can always do more. And just so we’re clear, I’m not referring to a ‘in-my-own-flesh’ kind of approach (Heaven forbid). No, I’m talking about in an ‘obedience to the Holy Spirit’ way.

Looking back over my [personal] Christian history, I know my stewardship-efficiency-ratio (SER), if there is such a thing, has been substandard. I’m not comparing myself to anyone else; I perceive because the Holy Spirit has revealed it. So at this juncture please do not accuse me of that, or worse, of beating myself up over my past. That is not what I am doing. I am merely reflecting upon my past in order that I might do better; that I might learn from my mistakes. I fully understand that I will fall short in the future, but it is my desire (placed there by God), to improve my performance, knowing full well I’m not earning my salvation, for that is a done deal, all praise be to Jesus.

schThe video clip also reminds me that there will be tears in Heaven. Just like the movie portrayal of Mr. Schindler, when the Heavenly books are opened and I see all that I’ve done in Christ’s name compared to what I could have done, there will be great remorse. Oh, I’m still going to Heaven, but this revelation will be gut wrenching. The only question that remains is,

“How gut wrenching do I want it to be?”

When I watch the movie clip, that’s what goes through my mind.

Heaven’s Gate

I envision it all going down like this:

I stand before the Bema Seat and watch in astonishment as most of my works burn-up before my eyes; praying, hoping that something survives the furnace. Sweat pours down my face, but it’s not due to the torridity of the blaze. Then Jesus turns to me and opens the book and shows me all the opportunities I’ve willingly and knowingly squandered. I want to protest and defend myself, except, “But, but, bu…” is about all I can say. Then it happens: perfect realization.  It will be the first time that the word perfect will be applicable to me, for with perfection I will fully understand how I quenched the Holy Spirit so much more than obeyed Him. With that, the tears will begin to flow and I sense this sobbing will be truly uncontrollable. There is no time in Heaven (so I have heard), but I picture this examination going on for decades, as every second of my Christian life is replayed with not one event being omitted.

Finally, mercifully, this occurs…

God (wipes) away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:4-5

Then I hear these words…

‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ Matthew 25:23

Hearing this pronouncement, I want to cry again, but I can’t! There is abundant joy and crying is now impossible for me!

I’ve made it home!

So why do I fret over a silly video clip? Well I’m not fretting over it, it merely serves to remind me that Jesus has work for me to do, or more accurately, Jesus has more work that He wants to do through me. The Holy Spirit, working somehow through the clip, prompts me to be tuned-in to His will, submitted and obedient to all this Kingdom stuff that’s going on.

I was thinking that you might want to be tuned in as well.

When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.1 Peter 5:4

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Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

For the Believer

Christian, I have a word of encouragement for you today.

Are you familiar with the ‘Hall of Faith‘ in the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11; that list of our Biblical heroes who triumphed in faith, by faith?  If you are, did you ever notice that this extraordinary list begins with someone very near and dear to your heart?

Who is this special person?

It’s you!

Check out what God recorded in His word:

“By faith ‘we’ understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” Hebrews 11:3

Did you see it? “By faith ‘we’ (that’s you and me) understand this Godly stuff! Isn’t that so cool that God took the time to put us at the top of the list, above such notables as Moses, Noah, Abraham, and Issac? What an honor!

But don’t be too surprised. After all, didn’t Jesus say…

“If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” John 12:26

Hold on there, Babalouie!

Is this Hebrew passage really talking about you? In order to find out you must ask yourself these questions:

quickDo you believe that the worlds were created by God through His  word?

Do you believe in the invisible attributes of all creation?

Do you believe in the Biblical ‘Genesis’ account of creation? Or do you embrace unbiblical doctrines or the unprovable theories of evolution and big bangs?

If you do believe in those things, then the Hebrews passage is not talking about you, and therefore your are not included in the Hall of Faith. Sorry. The facts would show that you just might be a nominal Christian; that is, a Christian in name only.

But…

It could also mean that you’re merely immature in the faith.

Not to worry!

I remember being right where you are. When I became a new-believer, I carried around the nonsensical teachings of the world for years and it wasn’t until I became a diligent and submitted disciple of Christ that the truth of the Bible was revealed to me. In the light of that truth, I could not help but embrace it!

It can happen to you!

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

Are you diligent in seeking Him?

The dictionary defines ‘diligently’ as steady application and care; with industry or assiduity (constant effort); actions not done carelessly or negligently.

Diligence of the Biblical sort is deliberate in its effort towards holy accomplishment, both attentive and persistent, and obedient to follow-through with the results that are discovered. In contrast, the unenthusiastic Christian is not rewarded, for God is not pleased if we are operating outside of faith. Would a parachute instructor be pleased if you refused to don the chute, even after being convinced it will save you? Similarly God is not pleased if you neglect your faith and His truth.

Diligent Christians believe by faith that ‘God is’ and that He rewards our faithful attentiveness.  It is not enough for us to just know God is God (head knowledge), we must seek Him with a persevering faith that says He will provide the things He knows we need.

To know Jesus is to know truth. For the Christian, ‘seeing is believing‘ is an errant and worldly concept, for it is our testimony that believing is the first step to seeing those things that truly matter. It is by this faith we understand God is the Creator and it is by this faith we are inducted into the Hall of Faith.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John 1:1,3,14

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For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. Hebrews 10:1-3

 A Shadow of Our Savior

We should recall that the writer of Hebrews is admonishing Jewish Christians to not return to their old sacrificial, ‘first covenant’ system. In the Hebrews 10 passage above, they are specifically being reminded that if these old ordinances were of any effect, they would not have to do them over and over. So while it’s true the rituals covered their sin (for a year at a time), it’s also true that they did not remove their sin, doing very little for the conscience and nothing towards salvation. With each and every sacrifice, the liturgies were doing little more than bringing their transgressions, and the guilt associated with them, into their memory.

How was this happening?

shoePut yourself in the Jew‘s shoes. Every year the sinner (in this case, every Jew) would bring his prized little lamb or mighty bull to be sacrificed. As per the law, these animals were to be the best of their best, born and hence maintained to be without imperfection. Naturally, their hearts would ache as they walked these beasts from their homes to the temple, knowing the animal’s fate. Finally, when the priest took possession of the their animal, and the knife was plunged in, and the critter would squeal, and the blood would begin to flow, how could they not lament that their sin caused this dreadful thing to occur. Animal sacrifice was never meant to be a pretty thing and subsequently they were reminded each year, “Nothing has changed; I am still an appalling sinner. Look at what I have done.”

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. 2 Cor. 7:9

God had a purpose in all this — these things were a picture of what was to come in Christ Jesus, but as we have come to know, pictures and shadows do not save a man. Our sin should make us sorrowful, but in Christ Jesus it is a one-time event. After the Law (the old covenant) has done the job of identifying us as sinners, we can take the offenses, along with the guilt and the shame, and leave it at the foot of the cross, once and for all. The accuser of the brethren might bring up our sin, but Jesus never will.

Not to worry…

Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. Revelation 12:10

Our new covenant in Jesus, His ultimate and final sacrifice, has done away with the old system. As a result, we no longer lament.

Today, Jesus says in our communion with Him, “Do this in remembrance of Me!”

Nowhere does Jesus ever say, or will He ever say, do this in remembrance of your sin.  So while Godly sorrow (appropriate sorrow) works to bring us to a place of repentance, we do not need to sacrifice Jesus over and over. For this reason we do not recall the sin, but joyfully recall the Savior of our salvation. We celebrate Holy Communion, we don’t bewail it.

The work is done, we are forgiven, we are free, and we are at peace.

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:13-14

Sacrificial System = Dead Works

But you say, “I’m not sacrificing animals for my sins; never have, never will.”

Me either. However, many are guilty of doing good works that they falsely believe will save them, while others are faulted in rejecting His grace and embracing their shortcomings, beating themselves up with the ugliness of their sinful past.  Jesus would not have us fall into that trap, which is why the Book of Hebrews is applicable to every believer.

Christ desires that we would celebrate Communion often as a reminder that He finished all the work on the cross, and that we need not get sucked back into our own little sacrificial systems; those “Oh, I sinned again,” pity-parties that we have a tendency to throw for ourselves.

Final Exam

Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (1 Corinthians 11:28-29)

Why are we to examine ourselves?

To give worth to Christ’s deed, and not to be consumed with our selfish impulses and false ideologies. When we acknowledge the work is done, we are free and we are at peace with the Lord, hence we do not condemn ourselves. In other words, the examination process is to focus on Jesus (giving Him worth) and not ourselves, lest we fall back into the practices as the Hebrews were doing. Behaving in an unworthy manner only serves to bring judgment upon ourselves.

So let us celebrate our salvation. The tomb is empty, we are free, and we are saved!

Rejoice and stay the course!

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“(Jesus) has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:6-12

Old vs New

The old covenant came with the stipulation that believers must do, while the new covenant’s only requirement is that believers must believe; that is, affirm by faith that Jesus finished the work on the cross. The writer of Hebrews truthfully pronounces that if the law of the first covenant were perfect, then there would be no need for the second covenant; i.e., Christ’s new covenant.  We Christians know that the Law (the foundation of the first covenant) is not perfect, for it is but a road sign signifying that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

We know this for (at least) three reasons.

First Reason

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith…But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Galatians 3:24-25

The Ten Commandments stand for all mankind to simply show us how far we all fall short, so while the law wasn’t perfect, it had its purpose (we could not have skipped it and jumped directly to Christ’s covenant). Believers know there has never been a person, nor will there ever be a person, save Jesus, who was able to keep the law. As Romans 3:23 reminds us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Therefore we are able to grasp the deficiency of the first covenant.

Reason Two

We know the first covenant is imperfect because we have Jeremiah (speaking prophetically) of the new covenant in the Old Testament (Hebrews 8:8-12 is a direct quote of the Jeremiah prophecy). This of course puts to rest any claim by the naysayer that the New Testament is a fraudulent text. As it turns out, the events and recordings of the NT confirm God’s Old Testament word. The NT also confirms something else that we will see later on.

 Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34

Reason Three

The third reason [why Christians know] is perhaps the coolest of them all. We see it in verse 10 of our opening Hebrews passage:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts”

Christians know because God has put the knowledge in our minds and upon our hearts. What a merciful God! By His grace He puts everything into His children that He wants to get out of His children (only Christians are considered children of God). The Father knows our weakness, therefore He divinely imparts and implants, by means of His Grace, His commandments, which of course go beyond Mosaic Law. That doesn’t mean we will necessarily obey consistently, but we most certainly have been given the capacity to do so.

Christians Know!

The Apostle Paul recognized this miracle, for he proclaimed it to the church at Phillippi:

 “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

It’s God who works in us!

Christians Know!

We see this concept in action in the early church. Obviously they did not have the New Testament teachings (as we do) to study and to pour over. They had the Holy Spirit and the Father’s impartation. They possessed, as Jeremiah had prophesied, God’s laws in their knowmind and written on their hearts. They needed not a teacher, for they all knew Him, from the least of them to the greatest of them, and they were obedient!

When the New Testament was finally recorded, it merely confirmed what these believers already knew. The same is true for us!  The doctrine of the New Testament serves to confirm, and if need be, correct. So, while it is proper to study the Bible (both New and Old Testaments), let us not become so caught up in the teaching that we lose sight of His speaking! Let the Bible confirm what the Holy Spirit is saying to each believer or let it correct us when we’re errant or disobedient. God’s spoken word and God’s written word work in conjunction with each other, therefore let us not forsake one for the other.

You Know!

“It is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the HolySpirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:9-14

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Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Occasionally I read commentary in social medias (like Facebook) and come away with material for a blog. This is one of those instances. Recently I happened upon a posting that suggested we spend too much effort in denying ourselves and taking up crosses, when all we dislikereally should be doing is focusing on following Jesus. The poster continued that by merely following Christ, the first two actions would take care of themselves.

At first glance it seems to make a bit of sense, but then the Holy Spirit steps in and reminds us that there’s one huge problem with the concept:

“It’s not what Jesus told us to do.”

So the question then becomes what was Jesus talking about when He referenced denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily? Let’s look at the verse in context.

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”  Matthew 16:21-24

Peter’s Mistake

Without rehashing the entire episode, Peter had not yet grasped the Spiritual doctrine of self-denial and taking up a personal cross; his actions demonstrate this reality, and the words of Jesus confirm it (in Peter’s defense, Jesus had not yet gone to the cross, but let’s not digress). Peter still had an emotional foot in the world which caused him to utter nonsensical things. Peter’s world-based emotions had gotten the better of him. Our heart aches for Peter, because whether we realize or not, we can relate to the character flaw.

Jesus continued…

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:25-26

Self Denial

Denying ourselves speaks to repentance; that is the turning away from our illicit, worldly pursuits, and turning towards Jesus. It’s the attitude of being all in for Jesus and it envelops the idea of dying to ourselves and reckoning our ‘old man’ to be dead. The Apostle Paul wrapped-up the doctrine tidily when he wrote:

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24

In the Ephesians passage we clearly see what self-denial of the holy sort is supposed to manlook like. No longer do we walk like the rest of the world; that path is the way of darkness. We put off that sinful, corruptible conduct of our old ways (our old man), and put on the behavior of the new man; that which was not accomplished by human hands, but created by His hands. Nowhere in God’s word are we counseled to bypass this step in order to simplify the process of following Jesus. We cannot for it’s the very thing Jesus told us to do. And just so we’re clear, it’s not our work, it’s an acknowledgment and reception of His work.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

Our Daily Cross

The notion of taking up our cross encompasses all the elements of self-denial, but without the toil. As we know, Jesus finished all the work, and it’s there for us to receive by faith. The daily hoisting of our cross involves remembering daily that which Christ has already done. We remember both His crucifixion and resurrection, and yes, our own baptism.

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” Revelation 2:5

For me, it typically occurs every morning before my feet hit the floor. In one sense it’s Holy Communion, but without the bread and the grape juice. I remember what Christ did, why He did it, my receiving of it, and my gratitude to Him for it. I also remind myself that my old man has been crucified and is now powerless over me. Oh he still may taunt and tempt me, but he has no hold on me. I then ask the Father for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit to instruct me, guide me, and empower me to do His will. Essentially I remember to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is my reasonable service (as per Romans 12:1).

Simply Put

I liken self-denial and hoisting a daily cross to making sure my parachute is on securely each and every day. In contrast, following Jesus without doing these things is akin to believing in parachutes, but refusing to put one on.

At the end of the day just remember, the reason Christians spend so much time denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus is because Jesus told us to.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

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Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday. Psalm 37:1-6

Guilty!

You have probably heard the old aphoristic saying, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

I was mulling that over after I read this item from today’s Washington Times:

The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have began forcing the roughly 15,000 Christian Copts of Dalga village in Egypt to pay a jizya tax as indicated in Koran 9:29, author and translator Raymond Ibrahim reported on Sunday.

Jizya is the money, or tribute, “that conquered non-Muslims historically had to pay to their Islamic overlords ‘with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued’ to safeguard their existence.”

I found that interesting. While I don’t mean to make light of the Christian oppression and persecution that is taking place in Egypt and around the world in alarming numbers, the headline gave me pause…

“If I were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to force me to pay a jizya tax or any other kind of abusive tax?”

Silly, right?

Well I haven’t been arrested or accused yet, but I have once again been sent a bill from the irsIRS for several thousands of dollars, making this two years in a row. Last year it was cleared up with a simple response to the agency, and I have no reason to suspect this time will be any different, but in light of one of our nation’s most recent scandal regarding the IRS and their sketchy (illegal?) dealings with conservative Christians, I cannot help but wonder — is this nonsense still going on, or is this merely a coincidence?

God only knows.

Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:19-21

Christian Persecution

While I might be experiencing a twinge of paranoia, the reality is that Christians are being persecuted by the millions around the world and it is rapidly coming to America.

Consider the statistics:

  • Christianity is the largest; most widely spread faith in the world (Reuters)
  • About 100 million Christians are persecuted around the world (Reuters)
  • Another 150 Million Christians are murdered each year (UCANews)

I’m not even dogmatic about the numbers. They could be off by 90% and they are still staggering –15 million Christians killed annually is satanically horrific.

What’s Our Recourse?

Prayer is always our first response.  God changes us through prayer and He gives us the inside scoop through prayer. What do I mean by the ‘inside scoop?’ By that I mean He reveals His will to us. The reality is that sometimes God allows a Christian to be in jail (the Apostle Paul, for example), because that believer can (perhaps) share the Gospel with a people group who might not otherwise hear the Good News of salvation through Christ Jesus. All the more reason we need to understand the biblical concept of incorporating “Thy will be done,” into our prayers.

What you do after prayer is between you and God.

Submit yourself to God, listen for His response, and then comply with His directive.

“Pray without ceasing” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

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