Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking for Christ or Selfish Gain?

I heard a great sermon a couple weeks ago, two in fact.  The first prompted me to ponder the thought of desiring Christ far above all of his benefits.  To ponder, to deeply consider the Person of Christ over and above the manifold benefits of Christ.  The text was Philippians 3:20-21

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

but the sticking point to me was this phrase, “from which we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  What struck me was the word eagerly and what I was waiting for, what I was anticipating.

How often do we as Christian people long for Christ to return, to usher us into the glories of heaven?  What is our typical thought pattern?  Where does it lead?  Usually we dwell on the truth that there will be no sin.  Can you imagine?  No sin, zero.  Or we dwell upon the truth that there will be no sickness, perfect health.  What a day!  No tears, for there will be no reason to be sad.  These are all good and true for it is part of what eternity holds.  Yet this kind of thinking is entirely self-centered and all about me, what I get.  It’s an errant focus.

How often do we soak up the thought that when our Lord returns we get Him?!  No longer the One we know intimately through His abiding Word but face to face.  

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12

No longer the One who has walked us through the valleys, through the darkness.  

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...You are with me. ~ Psalm 23:4

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” ~ Acts

The veil will be gone.  Our faith will be sight.  We will SEE Him, are you kidding me?  He who has been the object of our faith for years, for decades.  He who we have sought in times of trouble, doubt and fear.  He who we have sung in earnest with all of our hearts as we cried out with great tears of joy.  He who redeemed us, who bought us, who transformed us into His very image. This Christ, the risen glorified Lamb of God slain for me.  Slain for you.  Brethren, grasp that thought!

The picture of a happy dog was also presented to us.  I enjoyed the illustration.   I thought of my own dog and then I returned home and experienced my dog.  As his habit, he shook every bit of his 15 pounds as he wriggled and writhed and danced and squealed.  He licked my face, well he tried as he might as I kept him at length.  I then satisfied his desire and rubbed him and hugged him.  He wanted no more.  No treats.  No walks.  No toys.  He got me.  Everything else was secondary.  So guess what?  I tossed him his squeaky toy and he was in doggy heaven.   He got a benefit but he wasn’t even looking for it because all he wanted was me, my love.

The question is, do you look to heaven as that great place where you get to kick back?  Where you escape the corruption that is the world through sin?  Where you have no financial worries?  Where you have no health worries? Where you get away from the wickedness that is increasing upon this land? Is heaven simply your ticket outta here?  Are you anxious for the stuff but not the Substance?

Or is heaven that grand, anticipated place where there is no need for the sun to shine?

And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. ~ Revelation 21:23

The tabernacle of God will be among men!

He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them. ~ Revelation 21:3

So what we to do with all this?  How are we to look for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Savior as 2013 passes into oblivion and a New Year dawns?  

Me?  I want to be like my dog.  I want to purely and simply be so excited, so uncontained in my joy, so focused on one thing; seeing my Master.  

Perhaps you've read this far but you are on the outside looking in. Thinking that your goodness is enough to get you in when the time comes.  Oh do not trust that your filthy rags will grant you entrance into the heavenly realm of Christ!  The very Christ you denied all your life, the Christ who you told "later", the Christ who you believed would allow you in when you trampled His name in the mud. He will not allow you in but will say, Depart from Me into everlasting destruction, everlasting darkness, for I never knew you!  You cannot choose to reject Him all your life on earth and then expect Him to welcome you in.  

You must recognize you are a sinner. 

There is none righteous, no not one. ~ Romans 3:10

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ~ Romans 3:23

You must confess you sin.

That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. ~ Romans 10:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9 

and you must follow Him.

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. ~ Luke 9:23–24 

For you see dear friend, you cannot gain heaven while clinging to this world. You must let go of the trappings and comforts of this world and embrace Christ and all he offers.  Then, and only then, will you discover that His riches far outweigh all you hold now.  

So I ask, unbeliever, will you come to Him now and look for Him as this year unfolds?  I ask, believer, will you look for Him over and above all His benefits?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Life, Death, and the Gospel

A friend of mine, Lisa Veney, was murdered last night by her husband Dell Veney at
an Applebee’s restaurant here in Jacksonville, FL. You can find the story here. They were separated. I don’t know all of the facts that led up to the incident, but it is a tragic, senseless, and
unnecessary situation nonetheless. Their two children, who I once had the pleasure
of mentoring, now have no parents because one is dead and the other one is going to
end up in prison for life. My prayers go out to the family and friends who are being impacted by this.

It seems like a dream, however I know that it is reality. But as I began to ponder the
event in specifics, my mind couldn’t help but to go to a broader scope and look at the
big picture of how this tragedy fits in with all of the other tragedies and calamities
that are taking place all over God’s creation. So I would like to share a few thoughts
that I had as I wrestled with the loss of a good friend.

1. Death is inevitable.

Unless you will be here when Christ returns soon, death is an unavoidable part of
life. It will happen whether you want it to or not. There is no medicine, no pill, nor
any surgery that can prevent death from coming to your doorstep. You may be able
to prolong it, but the date on the calendar has been set. Why do I say that? I say that
because God is sovereign over life and death.

Paul explains this in Acts 17 when he addressed the Areopagus. He said:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the
earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling
…for in Him we live and move and have our being. ” – Acts 17:26, 28

There is no fate. There is no chance. There is no coincidence. God is in control of all
things and nothing escapes His watchful eye. God is in control of all things and
nothing escapes His powerful arm. God is in control of all things and nothing
escapes his presence. His will cannot be thwarted, nor altered. So the date that He
has fixed for all of us will come. As the writer of Hebrews says:

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” –
Hebrews 9:27

Here’s the kicker: if the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, had to set His face toward
Jerusalem for an inevitable and unavoidable death, then what would cause any of us
to think otherwise?

2. Death is unexpected.

Although the Lord has fixed a time for people to die, no one knows exactly when that
day will come. Only God knows. Now, some may have an idea, an inkling, a range of
time that they can prepare for; such as those who have been informed by doctors
that they have been given “x” amount of days to live. But no one can take a red pen
and circle the date. For most of us, it comes suddenly. It catches us off guard. There
aren’t always warning signals. No one really knows what will happen at any given
time of the day. We may think that we do, but we really don’t. And none of us can
predict the future, as much as we may like to. Death comes on us quickly, abruptly,
and in all manner of ways, so the odds of trying to figure anything out concerning
that day are astronomical. However, because death is unexpected does not mean
that we should not know with certainty that it will happen at some point. It happens
every day. All one has to do is turn on the TV, or the radio, or click your favorite
news link on the Internet, and you will see the evidence of this fact. It should give us
pause. James makes it clear why we should do so:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town
and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what
tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time
and then vanishes.” – James 4:13-14

A former pastor of mine said that on the timeline of eternity, one life measures
about eighteen inches. Now take a minute and really think about that length on the
timeline of eternity. Sobering. Sobering indeed.

3. Death is painful.

It is painful not only to the one who dies, but also to those who were close to that
person. Death affects everyone. Its tragedy washes over us in waves that crash deep
into our physical, mental, and even spiritual domains. Some can get over it in a short
amount of time, while others are impacted by it years down the road. Some never

But why is it painful? It is painful because death is a result of sin. Rewind back to
Genesis – the garden – and see there the beginnings of the throes of death, both
physical and spiritual. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden and ate fruit from
the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This set in motion decay in every domain
mentioned above. We see the first murder in chapter 4 as Cain kills Abel. We see the
depravity of mankind in chapter 6 – “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was
only evil continually” – and God’s flood judgment. On and on, throughout the Bible,
the effects of sin are clear. Many die in the Bible from various causes. Even creation
groans from the effects of sin waiting for restoration (Romans 8:18-25) as flora and
fauna feel the effects of death at present. Ultimately, it was sin that drove the Son of
God to death on the cross to atone for sin, which brings me to my final point.

4. Death is dead.

Because Christ died, death (and the grave) no longer has its sting:

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality,
then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Death is now a vehicle into the eternal. But here is the caution: this passage is not
applicable to everyone in the world. Not everyone will be able to experience the
beauty of this passage. Only those who have repented of their sin, and have believed
on Jesus Christ, the Son of God – in His life, death, burial, and resurrection – will
experience this glorious passage.

As Steven Lawson states, “If you are only born once, you will die twice. But if you are
born twice, you will only die once.”

Do you get the meaning there? If you are only born physically, you will die not just in
the physical, but you will also die in the spiritual as well:

“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 20:14-15

However, if you are born both physically and spiritually (i.e. born again), you will only experience death in the physical and you will dwell with the Lord for eternity:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is
with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be
with them as their God.” – Revelation 21:3

To my brothers and sisters in Christ, rest in Him, and live with the hope that one day
we will see Him as He is. This is not our final resting place; we are simply pilgrims
and sojourners here on this decaying earth waiting for the return of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ. Do not fear death, nor the grave; instead pray for the Lord to
come quickly so that we may experience the resurrection of our bodies from
corruptible to incorruptible, casting our crowns at the Lord’s feet, to dwell with Him

My unsaved brothers and sisters, today is the day of redemption. Take heed to what
I have said. You are a sinner who cannot by any means save yourself. No deed is
good enough. No part of you is good enough. Nothing you can say will sway the
Lord’s judgment upon you. Your righteousness is unacceptable to God. But God, who
is rich in mercy, abundant in grace, and abounding in love, sent His Son to die for
your sins. He took on your debt, a debt you are unable to pay as He bore the full
penalty of God’s wrath for you. He died for you. Not only did He die for you, but He is
risen! He is the resurrection and the life! Anyone who believes in Him will not
perish but will experience eternal life! Repent of your sins and believe the gospel.
There is no one too far from His reach, not even Dell Veney whom I mentioned
above. The time is now for your salvation.

Death is around the corner. Will you believe on Christ?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Earnestly Linking 12.29.13

Over the weekend, we will highlight some of the great things that we see around other blogs and on the web at large. You can find those things here in this weekly blog post entitled "Earnestly Linking."

We pray that you enjoy the links! So on with our first list!

Introverts in the Church - Here's a great two-part article on the struggles of being an introverted Christian. You can find part one here and part two here. Susan Cain has also written a great book on introversion in general, and has a blog of her own.

The Good Ol' Days - I was speaking with my wife last night and we were talking about the days of comedy when shows were funny, but also clean. It brought back to my memory the Cosby Show, and one of my favorite episodes where the Huxtables did a Ray Charles lip sync for their grandparent's anniversary (The video has a bonus lip sync). These days, it seems that comedy writers want to see how raunchy they can get without the FCC coming down on them. Sad. Sad indeed.

It's All Greek To Me? - Here's a great website for any reading this post who are interested in understanding the ins and outs of New Testament Greek.

Taylor Mali - My friend Milton Cassidy on Facebook reminded me of this great spoken word poet. I quickly remembered why I like him so much. This video is very telling of the decline of articulate speech in each successive generation.

To Everything, Learn, Learn, Learn - Here are some great seminaries and websites which have provided their resources for free. You can see, listen to, or read their classes online:

Reformed Theological Seminary: http://www.rts.edu/site/rtsnearyou/orlando/media.aspx
Covenant Theological Seminary: http://www.covenantseminary.edu/resources/
The Master's Seminary: http://www.theologicalresources.org/
Themelios: http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios
Ligonier Ministries: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/
Theological Studies.org: http://theologicalstudies.org.uk/
Biblical Studies.org: http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/

Be blessed and edified!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Doctrine? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Doctrine!

For some strange reason I like to put my finger on the “Christian” pulse by skimming the newswire.  Today the tractor beam was on and it sucked me right into the heart of the Christian Death Star.  I know.  It’s torture but a necessary torture to gauge the health of what America calls Christianity.   This is what I found and I was in no way surprised. 

Joel Osteen was being interviewed by Katie Couric. The interview turned to doctrine and he believes an emphasis on doctrine may be what is contributing to low attendance at other churches.  He said, “These days, people want to know, ‘if I come to church, how’s it going to help me live my life?’”  This was to say why he doesn’t like to get into doctrine at his “church.”

What?!  How in God’s world is anyone supposed to get help to live life without the pure doctrine of the God they claim to know or desire to know?   You may as well try to ride a horse with just a saddle while leaving your horse in the stable!

Well, we’re going to take a brief look at the word doctrine.  The Greek word is didaskalia.  We see it 21 times in the Authorized Version, 19 of which it is translated as “doctrine.”  Here is the definition; teaching, instruction, precepts, that which is taught.  The word referred to a standard of orthodoxy.  Open your bible and count the times this word is used in the Pastoral Epistles, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  I’ll give you a hint.  You’re gonna need all your fingers and a thumb in 1 Timothy alone.

With that in mind what does the Apostle Paul tell young Timothy as he instructs on what the man of God, the teaching elder, must do?

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance. (1 Timothy 3:10)
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (1 Timothy 3:14-16)
The very first thing mentioned is, yep, you got it, doctrine!  And just how was Timothy to follow? Carefully.  Did you see it?  Doctrine precedes manner of life.  Or to say it another way doctrine directs our life.  We live what we believe.  What Joel is doing here to millions of itchy eared folks is trying to teach people how to live the Christian life without telling them the very core of what it is to be a Christian.  What we’ve got here is a bunch of morality without any power behind it.  We’re purveying an entire culture to have a form of godliness and nothing more.  Or in construction terms we’re trying to power our house with conduit but forgot to install the wiring.  McFly?!  Hello?!
Then Paul says to "continue in the things." What things?  The things you have learned.  What makes him wise?  The scriptures!
Next Paul solemnly charges, commands Timothy, to preach the word! 
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. ( 1 Timothy 4:1-2)
He’s to convince, rebuke, exhort……..
And teach! Guess what the word is for teach?  Didache, do you see the connection?
This is just the tip of the iceberg.  So the next time you want to know how to get help to live your life, turn off preachers who love to scratch your ears and give you syrup for your souls when what you really need is meat that will provide the strength to live your life.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our Creative God, Part 1

The first book of the Bible.
The first book of the Pentateuch.

There is so much foundational information contained within this book that to simply skim it or breeze through it would cause any of us to miss out on what is being built  upon here in Genesis.

We have first and foremost God’s creating the entire universe from nothing by His divine speech. What a summary statement – a prologue – that begins our journey into the self-disclosure of God! In the beginning, God created. The Hebrew verb "bara" used there is only ever used of God in describing His creative activity. No one else has the power to bring forth tangible matter out of nothing, although there are some today who seem to think that they can speak things into existence. What a sad travesty and insult to the omnipotent God!

This summary statement also begins the polemic against the Ancient Near Eastern cultures and religions of that time, which had such competing stories such as the Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic. These stories were rival accounts of creation and the flood that displayed the activity of the gods of these false religions. But if you read these stories, you will see that the gods of these religions are impersonal, selfish, and only really concerned about themselves and the offerings that the human beings “presented” to them (Ps 115:4-8).

Not so with our God! Our God is personal and has given us a selfless example to follow in His Son, Jesus Christ (Php 2:1-11).

These gods are also not as powerful as they are made out to be. In the account of the flood in the Gligamesh Epic, the gods cannot control the flood, nor can they control the outcome. In their lack of wisdom, they destroy humankind and now cannot receive the sacrifices that they depend on.

Not so with our God! Our God is sovereign and rules over His creation with knowledge, wisdom, and power. All of creation is by His design and for His purposes (Ps 115:1-3).

And so begins the painting of a beautiful panoramic picture which will display God in all of his splendor, and reveal a plan of redemption which will span the lengths of time.

Here is our God, before a void and formless canvas, a dark and chaotic atmosphere and yet He is unfazed and unmoved. He is not intimidated, nor is there any concern in His mind.

He simply speaks.
And it is so.

The darkness must give way to the light. It will do the same thing in the end when we witness the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21-22). And so now God begins by using the first three days to form what was once formless: sky, land, and sea. You have to see the awesome display of God’s wisdom here, because what He forms will be the “arenas” in which the void will be filled in the next three days: sun, moon, stars, and birds in the sky, fish and other creatures in the sea, cattle and other animals on the land. Is that not amazing?

But it also tells us something else of God. He is a God of order. He is a rational God. He does not do things by impulse, nor does He do things randomly. Everything that He does is for a reason and for a purpose. There are many micro-purposes, which take place within creation, some that we can see and others that we cannot, but ultimately His main purpose for all He does is for His glory. Here in the book of Genesis, we see the beginnings of His plan in the heavens and the earth: that they be filled entirely and completely with His glory (Num 14:21; Ps 57:11; Ps 72:19; Isa 6:3; Hab 2:14).

If that is His ultimate plan, then what is any of His creation to rise up against Him in any form or fashion, especially His crowning creation, mankind?

As Bruce Waltke so put it, “The finite mortal, whose understanding of the cosmos and history is like a thimble of water before the ocean, has no right to challenge the Creator’s sovereignty; God fashions the creation, including earthly mortals, according to His wisdom and good pleasure, even as a potter fashions clay vessels (Job 10:9; Isa 45:9; Jer 18:6; Rom 9:20-21 et al.). In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:24-28).

We would do well to consider the deeper implications of this summary statement and first few verses of the creation account as our feet strike His earth day to day, as our faces are warmed and lighted by His sun, and as our bodies are cooled by His wind, among the many other aspects of His creative display of power for His glory and His glory alone. Amen.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gazing Upon the King of Kings

Come and behold Him born the King of angels. 

Familiar words at this time of the year.  We hear them sung over the airwaves from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  We hear them at the malls, at every shopping center, in our workplaces.  We’re so accustomed to these words that most have not taken a second thought to think upon the ramifications of such a simple line in a favorite Christmas Carol.

Come and behold Him! 

Sadly the large majority of the world does not behold Him.  They behold everything else but Him.  Him, this King of angels, this Christ the Lord, He gets a passing glance, a nod at the table as we say “grace.”  He gets a manger scene on the mantle while a fat guy in a red suit with a fake beard gets plastered all over the map.

What is it to behold?  To behold is to gaze upon or look intently at.  To behold is to inspect or examine John the Baptist told us

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! ~ John 1:29

Pontius Pilate cried out to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” ~ John 19:14

So the question begs, have you beheld Him, Christ the Lord?  Or is He a mere trinket on the tree or perhaps a plastic version on the front lawn?  Is the real beholding focused on family, on presents, on holiday cheer, on that fat guy that lives in that cold place with those funny little employees and those amazing flying deer?

Will we let another Christmas, mind you it’s Christmas not Santa-mas, pass us by while we glance at the cute little Jesus baby and make a mad dash for the stuff, the goods, the food?  Just what will we behold as the celebration of His birth descends upon us?

For after all, He was born the King of angels and is worthy of our adoration. This Word of the Father now in flesh appearing....

and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we BEHELD His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1:14 

This King who demands we fall on our knees and behold Him!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas is about what?!

As the custom goes with severe distraction from reality, from true value and worth, from the entire purpose and point of the sights and sounds all around us. Consider the following as you scurry around town.

~In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we s
aw His glory.~ The Gospel of John, chapter 1

God, very God came down from heaven and clothed Himself in humanity, emptied Himself by taking on the likeness of His creation.

Why did He come down, this Jesus, this God? Because every one of us entered this world lost in sin, in imperfection, and therefore damned to eternal separation from the presence of the Holy One.

So the question begs, how are we reconciled to such a Maker? Most assuredly not by mere intellectual belief that the events of 2000 years ago happened. Not by mere lip service that Jesus was born, that Jesus suffered, that Jesus died, that Jesus rose from the dead.

We can be and must be reconciled by a total belief in and upon the great work of Christ. The Incarnation was the start. The cross of Calvary was the purpose. The Resurrection was the culmination. This is a belief that is utterly dependent upon Christ's righteousness placed upon us and our sin placed upon Him. It is a belief that He is and that we obey all that He commands, everything. It is a belief that we are horrible sinners capable of the most heinous crimes and that apart from us falling on our face and pleading for mercy and grace to be given to us we are damned and destined for destruction.

Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." ~ John 14:15

John through the Holy Spirit said, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." ~ 1 John 5:3

Jesus said, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." ~ Luke 13:24

John through the Holy Spirit said, anyone who "does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son." ~ 2 John 9

All that's left is;

Will you believe?