God Uses “Insignificant” People

As we read and study the Bible, we are tempted to look for the “heroes“, those people whom we would expect to see in God’s “Hall of Fame“, and yet those great “heroes” are outnumbered by “insignificant” people God has used down through the ages to accomplish His purposes. God called some people out of relative-obscurity to become great heroes of the faith, however, there were many people who passed their lives in relative-obscurity, whose names we only know because God saw-fit to include them in the Canon of Scripture. We are going to look at a few from each “category“, beginning back in Genesis.

Who is THAT?
She was the unloved-wife of a scheming, conniving man who was trying to get what he wanted by hook or by crook, the girl who her father had pawned-off on a man who wanted to marry her younger sister. He had gotten the shock of his life when he woke up next to her on the morning after their wedding-night. Who was she?

She was the daughter-in-law her father-in-law grew to be afraid of. She had buried two of his sons, so he was afraid to give her his third son to be her husband. Her grandmother-in-law was the unloved-wife. Who was she?

She was a prostitute in a city God planned on destroying so that His people could enter the Promised Land. Who was she?

She was a foreign-born widow. Who was she?

There is a common-thread which ties these women together. What is it? Some of them are also mentioned in the New Testament. Any ideas?

She was a captive in a foreign land. Who was she?

She was a young peasant-girl from an obscure village. She was also an unwed-mother. Who was she?

Two of these women have Old Testament books named after them. Which two?

Do you recognize these men?
He was a nomadic sheep-herder. Who was he?

He was a shepherd-boy. Who was he?

He was the son of a slave? Who was he?

He prophesied naked. Who was he?

He married a prostitute. Who was he?

He had to take cold-showers for over nine months. Who was he?

He was a tax-collector? Who was he?

He fled the scene naked. Who was he?

He was a physician. Who was he?

They were fishermen. Who were they?

Who were they?

The unloved-wife…
Leah was the unloved-wife, the girl nobody wanted, including by her husband, Jacob. She was also the mother of Judah, from whom the Messiah was descended, and Levi, from whom the Aaronic priesthood was descended.

The “scary” daughter-in-law…
Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law, and after she buried Er and Onan, Judah didn’t want anything to do with her. She conned Judah into having sex with her by pretending to be a prostitute. Their son, Perez, was an ancestor of the Messiah.

The prostitute…
Rahab is described as being a “harlot“, a woman of “ill-repute“, who lived in Jericho. When Moses sent spies to check the land out before they began their conquest of the Promised Land, the spies who checked out Jericho found refuge from capture in Rahab’s home. When the children of Israel captured Jericho, she and her family were spared death, and she ultimately became an ancestor of the Messiah.

The foreign-born widow…
Ruth was the foreign-born widow, who, after she married Boaz, became the great-grandmother of David, whose “greater-son” was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. That story is recounted in the book of Ruth.

The captive in a foreign-land…
Esther was a teenage-girl, and a captive in a foreign-land. After she became the Queen of her adopted country, she was instrumental in saving her people, the children of Israel, from annihilation. That story is recounted in the book of Esther. The Jewish festival, Purim, celebrates this event.

The unwed-mother…
Mary was the unwed-mother, and her first-born son was Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Without her, our redemption, and the entire New Testament, would not have been possible.

The nomadic sheep-herder…
Abram (Abraham) was an idol-worshiping, nomadic sheep-herder before God called him to become the father of a nation. God told him that He would bless all nations through his seed. That ultimate-blessing came through the shed-blood and finished-work of Jesus Christ.

The shepherd-boy…
David was a young shepherd-boy, the “runt” of the family, before God chose him to be the next King of Israel. God promised David that one of his “sons” would rule and reign forever. Jesus Christ is that “greater-son“.

The son of a slave…
Moses was the son of a slave in Egypt, and even though he was raised in the palace by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was an exile in a foreign-land tending sheep when God called him to go back to Egypt and liberate His people. He is credited with giving us the first five books of the Bible.

He prophesied naked…
Isaiah was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, but few people realize that he prophesied naked and bare-foot against Egypt and Ethiopia for three years. That event is recounted in Isaiah 20.

He married a prostitute…
God called Hosea to marry a prostitute and to have children with her, as symbolic of how the children of Israel had whored after false-gods.

He “took cold showers”…
Joseph, Mary’s husband, kept her a virgin until she had given-birth to her first-born son, Jesus of Nazareth. He took full responsibility for raising Jesus, along with their other children, into adult-hood.

He was a tax-collector…
Matthew was a tax-collector before Jesus Christ called him to be His disciple. He gave us the Gospel of Matthew.

He fled the scene naked…
Mark came to the Garden of Gethsemane clad only in a linen sheet, and when one of the guards tried to nab him, he left his sheet behind and fled the scene naked. Mark became a ministry-companion with Birnbaums. He gave us the Gospel of Mark.

The physician…
The Apostle Paul called him “the beloved physician“, and we are indebted to Luke for the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. He was a close companion of Paul during several of Paul’s travels.

They were fishermen…
Fishing was nasty, tiring work, but someone had to do, and that is what Peter, Andrew, James and John were doing before Jesus Christ called them to be “fishers of men“. It would have been difficult for four men to get a more “obscure” start than by fishing. Peter, who had the habit of getting his foot caught in his mouth-trap, became the spokesman and leader of the church after Pentecost. He gave us 1st and 2nd Peter. John, the “beloved-disciple“, gave us the Gospel of John and the Book of the Revelation. Andrew didn’t write a book, but he introduced Peter to Jesus. James also served in the background.

From obscurity…
As should be obvious from this brief survey of characters from the Bible, God doesn’t always pick the “most-likely” candidates to do His work. He picked many “losers“, people we would have never known of if they didn’t appear in the pages of Scripture, but they all had significant roles in God’s plan of redemption. Some of them continued on in obscurity, while some of them became well-known, but they were all important.

God STILL calls people from obscurity to labor in His kingdom, and even though they may labor in obscurity, their labors are NOTinsignificant“. They are NOinsignificant” people in God’s kingdom. We ALL matter to Him, regardless of what He has called us to do.

Blessings,
Steve

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“HATE” Is NOT An Option!

We live in tumultuous-times and we are facing an election which may “make” or “break” America, so it is no wonder that emotions are running very-high about this election and its candidates. Many people have already chosen “their” candidate, and if it looks like “their” candidate is losing…well, there is plenty of blame to go around. While vitriolic and hateful speech from unbelievers doesn’t really surprise me, it REALLY distresses me when it comes from professing-Christians. Christians are supposed to be “new-creations“, not “religionized-heathens“. We are supposed to be “different“…

The way we were…
Before the grace of God got a hold of us and released us from our bondage, we were enslaved by “the ruler of this world“, the “father of lies“, the being that hates even God’s image, the most evil being in the universe, Satan. We acted like that “master” acts, we talked like that “master” talks, and we had that “master’s” values. We were like our “master“, Satan, because we were in bondage to him. It should come as no surprise to us that our world and society are in shambles, because all Satan can do is destroy, and he is VERY-GOOD at destroying. He destroys everything he touches. We see his destructive “handiwork” all around us.

We were born into the kingdom of Satan, and unless God intervenes in our lives, we will remain citizens of Satan’s kingdom for all eternity. Unlike national-citizenship, which a person can renounce if they leave that country permanently, we are NOT free to renounce our citizenship in Satan’s kingdom. We are “stuck“. Some people are simply “stuck“, while others are citizens by choice because they have chosen to serve Satan and his interests.

We have a different “Master”…
When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are set-free from the bondage to Satan. We not only get a new “address“, we get a new “identity“. We have renounced our “citizenship” in Satan’s kingdom and we have been made part of a different kingdom, the kingdom of God, and not unlike a person renouncing their US citizenship and taking up citizenship in another country, we have a new “leader“, new customs to learn and even a new language to learn. Part of learning that new language is learning which words we used to say are no longer appropriate. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) We can’t continue to talk like the world while we are claiming to be Christians.

Along with learning a new language, we have new customs and new values to learn also. Make no mistake, God can “save” us from anything, but unless we leave the old way of life behind with its values and customs, we are little more that “religionized-heathens“. We may “look-good” and “smell-good“, but we are still rotten to the core. We can’t have one foot in each kingdom. Following Christ is an “all-or-nothing” lifestyle-change.

A person may think that they can be a “Christian swinger” or a “Christian homosexual“, but “Christian” and swinger or homosexual are mutually-exclusive. They are trying to keep a foot in each “kingdom“, and that doesn’t work. Yes, sanctification IS progressive, but progress in sanctification is stunted and held-back if a person refuses to let go of their old habits and customs.

Hate” is another “custom” we must let-go of, because we have a new Master with a new set of standards. Jesus not only said “Love your neighbor as yourself“, He also said;
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

We see two distinct commands; “love your enemies“, and “pray for those who persecute you“. They are NOToptional“, because ignoring them has consequences, while following them brings blessings; “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven“. Jesus also gave us a reason; “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” If God gives grace even to those who don’t “deserve” it, how much more, as those who have been given grace, even though we don’t “deserve” it either, are we to extend grace, even to our enemies. As such, “hate” is NOT an option.

A world at war…
Yes, this world IS at war, but it isn’t just on the ground, it is a cosmic-battle, a spiritual-battle, a battle which has been raging since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. It is a war of “evil” versus “good“, of Satan versus God. Satan has been trying to dethrone God since before he was cast out of Heaven. What is going on, on the ground, is a “symptom” of this cosmic-battle.

We are to wage spiritual-warfare also, and one way we do this is by NOT acting and talking like unbelievers do. This is where “the rubber meets the road“; because it should affect everything we do, including what we say and what we post on Facebook and other social-media sites.

Tall orders…
Maybe we need a refresher on God’s “tall-orders“;

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly before your God? (Micah 6:8)

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – Celebrations

What will begin with celebrations will end in infamy. Thus begins “Holy Week” or “Passion Week“, the events which will climax in Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus was rapidly-approaching His “hour“, what He came to earth to do, to die on the cross and accomplish our salvation. The promise, given in Genesis 3:15, was soon going to be fulfilled. The “Seed of the woman” was going to “crush the head of the Serpent“, Satan.

Mary Anoints Jesus
12 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. 7 Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

This scene is interesting in how it contrasts the differences between the heart of love in one who has been set free and the selfish, self-centered heart of one who is in bondage to Satan. We see the love of self-giving Mary contrasted with the evil and selfishness of Judas Iscariot.

As we saw in John 11, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, so there was great reason to celebrate with a lovely dinner. Jesus and Lazarus were the guests of honor, while Martha, ever the faithful servant, served them. That left Mary to do what she thought was appropriate, anoint Jesus.

The parallel passages, Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, place this scene at the home of Simon the leper, but this setting is no less significant than it would have been if it was at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They also mention that Mary poured some of the perfume over Jesus’ head. Nothing else is mentioned in the Gospels about Simon, other than that he had been a leper, but it is probably safe to assume that Jesus had healed him and that he had become one of His closest friends. If Jesus had healed him, that would be even more reason to celebrate.

3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Nard is the fragrant-essence which has been extracted from the roots of a plant which grows only in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India, so it had to be imported and was very valuable and costly. It is one of those spices or perfumes where “a little-bit goes a long way“, but Mary wasn’t sparing when she poured the whole bottle on Jesus’ feet. Imagine being in a home filled with fragrant perfume.

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Judas showed his true-colors because he had no real concern for the poor, but was really a thief. How much had he stolen so far?

7 Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

Jesus makes an interesting statement for allowing Mary to anoint Him, “so that she may keep it for the day of My burial“. He has been predicting His death, burial and resurrection for quite a while by now, and He knows that those events are looming-large on His horizon. They are now just a few days away. There will always be poor people among them to help, but Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, will only be on this earth for about eight weeks. Time for honoring Him is growing short.

9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.

Raising Lazarus was the most significant miracle Jesus performed, and if there were doubts in anyone’s minds about whom He was, that event should have put them to rest. Who wouldn’t want to see someone who had been raised from the dead?

Raising Lazarus from the dead only fueled the religious leader’s hatred of Jesus, and because of the attention that miracle garnered, they plotted to murder Lazarus also. Murderous-hearts aren’t satisfied with just murdering one man, they would eventually go after all of His disciples.

Jesus Enters Jerusalem
12 On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” 14 Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. 17 So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. 18 For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.” (John 12:1-19)

This event, which is commonly called the “Triumphal Entry“, was the official start to Passion Week. Jesus entered Jerusalem making full claim to being the Messiah. Zechariah had prophesied about his event several hundred years earlier when he wrote; “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, l colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

The other Gospels mention Jesus sending two disciples to procure the donkey. The clothes that His disciples placed on the donkey’s back made a “royal-saddle“, while the clothes and palm-branches created a “royal-road” for Him to ride in on. These things symbolized the crowd’s acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, the “King of the Jews“. If Jesus REALLY was the Messiah, there was something missing. Where was His Army? How was He going to drive the Romans out if He had no Army? There was still that false-perception about the Messiah even among His disciples, as is evident in Luke 24:13-27 and Acts 1:6. They were still looking for a “conquering-king“.

Jesus came riding in, not on the mighty-steed of a conquering-king, but on a lowly donkey, a symbol of peace, because He wasn’t going to ascend the Throne by doing battle and throwing the Romans out, but by being nailed to a Roman cross. He was going to be enthroned forever as the King of kings and Lord of lords, by way of the cross. He was going to conquer the world, not with an Army, but with the Gospel, as He continues to do today.

Their joyous shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” were taken from Psalm 118:25 & 26. “Hosanna!” is a Hebrew expression which means “Save, now“.

16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. Things were going at a dizzying-pace, which didn’t leave the disciples much time to “process” what was going on. They also hadn’t yet been filled with the Holy Spirit, so these events would only start making sense after the fact. How many of us have had events in our lives which only began to make sense months, even years, later? I have only recently been able to start putting the pieces together of a puzzle which has been nineteen years in the making. I am here, in this time and place, because of events, both good and bad, which have unfolded over the last nineteen years, without which, I would have never made it here.

17 So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. 18 For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. The adoring-crowd was growing larger the closer they got to Jerusalem. Was Lazarus in Jesus’s entourage? We aren’t told, but he may have been with Jesus as He entered Jerusalem, which gave the crowd the opportunity to see Lazarus also. The Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with this spectacle.

19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.” In spite of their best efforts at quelling Jesus’ popularity, they had been steadily losing ground. People could tell that Jesus was “genuine“, just as they could tell that the religious leaders were fakes.

It never ceases to amaze me how joyous shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” quickly gave-way to angry screams of “Crucify Him, crucify Him“. That just goes to show how quickly evil can overcome good.

We will finish up with John 12 next week, because it really is an introduction to the events and discourses which will follow soon thereafter.

In Christ,
Steve

On A Hill Far Away…Take Two

I originally posted this article about a year ago, but I have been reading “Counter Culture“, by David Platt, and he pointed out something in the story of Abraham and Isaac which I hadn’t recognized before. So, with that in mind, I am going to update and revise this article and reissue it.

Two hills… Two fathers… Two sons… Two sacrifices… The first sacrifice was a foreshadowing and promise of the second sacrifice… The second son was descended from the first father and the first son… The first son didn’t die, but the second son did…

The Offering of Isaac
22 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:1-19)

The test…
God challenged Abraham to give up his only son, the son of promise, by sacrificing him to the Lord. Either Abraham was a blithering idiot, or he had a faith in God that was unshakable. God had promised that Abraham’s children would be descended from Isaac…

Notice how God said, “your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac“. Had Abraham quit trusting in God and His promises, and started trusting in Isaac, his son, as his hope for the future? Did Abraham “idolize” Isaac, putting Isaac in the place of God?

In that patriarchal-society, it was extremely-important to have a son, an heir, to inherit the wealth of the family and carry the family-name. It was so important to the children of Israel that God instituted the kinsman-redeemer model, which is the primary-theme of the book of Ruth, to make sure that families continued to flourish. Boaz, Naomi and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, was a type of Jesus Christ, our kinsman-redeemer. We see this also in the case of Judah, Tamar’s father-in-law, in Genesis 38.

Things really haven’t changed today, even though our daughters now get their share of the inheritance. Our family-name is still carried by our sons, because our daughters usually take the family-name of their husband. Yes, some women keep their maiden-name and tack their husband’s name onto it, as in Marge Bobo-Smith. Marge’s maiden-name was Bobo, and Moe’s family-name is Smith.

Back to those two questions… “Had Abraham quite trusting in God and His promises, and started trusting in Isaac, his son for his future?“, and “Did Abraham “idolize” Isaac, putting Isaac in the place of God?“. Lest we think that this is unlikely, we must remember that this event took place only a few years after God called Abraham to leave his ancestral-home. Abraham was born and raised in idolatry, so even though God had called him to worship Him alone, idolatry was still almost “instinctive” in Abraham. If Abraham did “idolize” Isaac, putting him in the place of God, that was sinful, and required an “atoning-sacrifice“, so to teach Abraham a lesson AND atone for his sin, he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. He would be “killing two birds with one stone“.

Things haven’t changed much concerning “idolatry“. Some parents still “idolize” their “high-achieving” children, whether they are academically-gifted, musically-gifted, or talented-athletes. We live in a world where “who” you are is less-important than your “titles” and “achievements“, a world of “stars“, “heroes” and “idols“. I am blessed AND thankful to be past that “achievement-driven” ideal.

Gut-wrenching decision…
I doubt that Abraham slept very much that night, because there were nagging questions in his mind, such as: “What if God does take my only son?“, or “How can I ever come back home without Isaac?“, and maybe “Is this God for real?“, and “Does He actually keep His promises?” If everything went horribly wrong, Abraham would be left without an heir, and this would be the last night Sarah would ever see Isaac, her only child, again. How could he ever face Sarah again?

Abraham’s confidence…
Isaac was a child of promise, a miracle-baby, because Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah, Isaac’s mother, was 90 years old. Sarah was barren, and well past the age of child-bearing, but Isaac came along anyway. God had also promised that Isaac would be Abraham’s heir, that Abraham’s family would be descended from Isaac. If Isaac died, Abraham would have no heir and no descendants.

5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”

Notice that Abraham DIDN’T say “We will worship and I will return to you…” Abraham had every expectation that they would both return.

7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

The altar…
Abraham built an altar as God had instructed. He also prepared to sacrifice his own son.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

I’ll bet Abraham was sweating-bullets as he bound Isaac, laid him on the altar, and raised the knife to kill his son. He had sacrificed many animals before, but this was his son, his ONLY son, the son whom he loved. Was God crazy? This was insane, but he still raised the knife… In a few more moments, his son would be dead, and all his hopes would be dashed…

Was Isaac terrified? The air was electric, and he had never seen that look of steely-determination in his father’s eyes before. Isaac had no doubt seen his father sacrifice many animals before, but it was his own life that would soon be snuffed out. Then…

Abraham, Abraham…
Abraham’s heart was already racing, and then… “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Did it take a few minutes for Abraham to recover? I am sure that his hands trembled as he untied Isaac.

Substitute sacrifice…
God did provide a substitute-sacrifice, in the form of a ram. Isaac was spared, and that is a foreshadowing of our own substitute-sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.

God provides…
14 Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord Will Provide”, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

God renews His promises to Abraham…
15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

God gave an incredible promise to Abraham, a promise that we are still seeing fulfilled today. “In your seed ALL the nations of the earth shall be blessed“. Who is that Seed that will bless all the nations? That promised seed was none other than Jesus Christ.

The other Father…
God didn’t have to offer His only Son for my sins and for yours, but He did. Was it a gut-wrenching decision for God the Father to ordain that His only Son would die on our behalf? We may never know, but this we DO know, that God the Father carried out that plan to the letter.

The other Son…
Jesus was the only Son of God, and He became the second sacrifice.

The promised Lamb…
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Jesus was the promised Lamb, the Lamb of God. He was born to die, born to give Himself for us. A cross-shaped shadow hung over Him from the moment He was conceived in His mother’s womb until He was hung on that cross.

Unlike Isaac, who was kept in the dark until the moment he was bound on that altar, Jesus was fully-aware of His mission. He told His disciples beforehand, but the reality didn’t sink in until they saw Him on the cross.

Leaps of faith…
God doesn’t call us to physically sacrifice our children, but sometimes He does call us to step out, to move out of our comfort-zone for our good and His glory. When I got married and moved to the Orlando area, I had no idea that my wife would abandon me less than six weeks later, but God knew. I didn’t know that I would have to step totally out of my comfort-zone and take on missions for which I feel totally-unequipped, but God knew. If God had told me the details, would I have moved anyway?

God needed for me to get out of my comfort-zone so that He could do some hard work on me, because I was too comfortable where I was for God to do what needed to be done. I also couldn’t take on the new missions He had for me while living where I was. Was a “wife” merely the “bait” to get me to move? Perhaps, but she is also totally-responsible for her actions.

God doesn’t call us to hike for three days into the wilderness to sacrifice our child on an altar on top of a mountain, but sometimes He does call us to make leaps of faith that are equally life-changing.

On a hill far away…
On a hill, far away, stood an old, rugged cross…

Because of that old rugged cross, your debt is paid. You may still have mountains to climb and sacrifices to make, and you may face tests of faith, but they are for your good and God’s glory. You will never be called to sacrifice your own flesh and blood, as Abraham was, and as God did, but you can rest assured that you aren’t going anywhere God hasn’t already gone. He understands, and His promises are sure, so whatever leap of faith you are called to make, you won’t make alone.

Are you ready?
Steve

Blessings!

The day dawned gloomy, which matched my gloomy-mood. It was Father’s Day, my least-favorite holiday. I dread Father’s Day because it reminds me of the dysfunction and bad-events during my years on this earth. When I should be celebrating, I am reminded of why I am NOT celebrating. Yes, I had planned another “Thoughts On Father’s Day“, but my train of thought got interrupted by a series of blessings which could have only come from the Lord. SO, instead of gloom, I am going to celebrate for a different reason.

At the gate…
When I got to the gate at Cypress Cove, I was greeted by Connie, my favorite gate-attendant. She knows me by name, so she automatically checks me in. Connie is a sweet Christian, and we have formed a bond which only Believers can understand. If there is not another vehicle behind me waiting to get in, we usually talk for a few minutes. Today was no different. I poured out my hurting-heart to her, and she said something to me that I will never forget. She said “What you are doing now is far more important than everything in your past.” I need to hear that!

I will never forget the first time I told her I was leading a ministry at the Cove. Her face lit up like a light-bulb! It was then that I discovered that she is a Sister in Christ. We have shared our faith many times since then, and I count her as one of my true friends. As I was leaving the gate this afternoon, she said “Smile, and have a better day.” That was what I needed to start breaking my gloom.

Regis…
Regis is the Activities and Entertainment Director for Cypress Cove, and he championed the effort to get our Bible Study recognized as an official group. We have talked several times over the past several months, and I was privileged to be there for him when his young son was seriously-sick a few weeks ago. We have become friends, and I cherish that relationship.

I stopped by his office to see how he is doing, and he gave me the great news that the name-change for our Bible Study is official. We are no longer simply “Bible Study“; we are now “Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship“. Visiting with him and that great news lightened my mood even more.

A hug…
Does a simple hug tend to brighten your day? I hug can certainly help brighten my day, and today was no exception. As I was getting ready to go into the office at the Cove this afternoon, a lady, who I only know by face, walked up to me and gave me a hug. I NEEDED that hug! Why don’t I know her name after seeing her many times? Because I am absolutely-horrible at remembering names. I need to make it a point to learn her name sometime soon. She had a hug for me when I badly-needed one, and her hug did its job, lightening my mood even more.

George…
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my faithful friend, George. I began the Bible Study with him last November, and he has been a faithful attender ever since. George makes it worthwhile for me to spend the time and effort necessary to prepare a lesson each week. Many people have come and gone, but George is always there unless he is out of town. His attendance has been vital to the continuation to this ministry. George needs a lot of “feeding” because he was never taught the Word earlier in his life. “Feeding the flock” is a vital-part of being a pastor.

Relationships…
Ministry is about relationships – PERIOD. As a pastor, our primary-relationship must be with God through Jesus Christ, and then our commission is to lead others to a deeper-relationship with God also, but to do that, we must form relationships with those around us, particularly those in our flock. I have been blessed to start forming relationships with many people at Cypress Cove, including both staff and permanent residents. I don’t take those relationships for granted, but try to nurture them every chance I get. Only God knows when I am going to be given the privilege of coming-alongside one of those people when they need someone to talk to.

Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote; “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;(1 Peter 3:15) We are called to be prepared to share the Gospel when and where we can, and that includes to those who are hurting from some situation or event in their life. That is part of ministry.

Gloom to blessings…
From gloom to counting blessings, all in one day. How awesome is that? We serve an awesome God and He knows what we need. God is good, and He is good ALL of the time! This reminds me of a song which I sang MANY years ago:

Count Your Many Blessings

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Refrain
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Refrain
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Refrain
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
(Johnson Oatman, Jr.)

Final thoughts…
God knew my mood this morning, but He wasn’t going to leave me that way, so He had some surprises along the way. I AM counting my blessings, because I am richly-blessed.

In Christ,
Pastor Steve

Bible Study – The Plot Thickens

As we saw at the end of our previous study, Jesus’s popularity, fueled by having raised Lazarus from the dead, enraged the religious authorities even more. They will not only plot to kill Jesus, they will even plot to kill Lazarus. The religious authorities had been trying to derail Jesus’ ministry since almost the beginning, but we really couldn’t decipher their motives…until now. They had tried to trip Him up in something He said, they had tried to have Him arrested, and even tried to stone Him, all to no avail.

They were on an endless “gravy-train” because God had commanded that they be fed from the sacrifices and offerings from the Temple. They didn’t have to do any “useful” work because their “groceries” were brought to their front-door. Imagine a former CEO having to dig ditches or pick up trash for a living. It was no wonder that they lived a life of privilege and luxury. They also had supreme-authority over all of the religious life of the Jews, and as long as they “kept the peace“, the Romans pretty much left them alone. That was all about to change, but not immediately.

Note that we will skip over the Anointing at Bethany this time and pair it with the Triumphal Entry next time. Also note that these are the opening scenes and events leading up to the Crucifixion, which were only a few days away.

Conspiracy to Kill Jesus
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” 51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.

47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Did you catch their motives? In light of my introductory comment, their motives become blatantly-obvious. How about greed, envy and jealousy? They couldn’t care less about “pure and undefiled religion“. All that mattered was their “exalted-positions“, and in spite of their “scholarship“, they had forgotten that Micah 6:8 applied to them too. He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Jesus had delivered a scathing-indictment against the religious leaders in Matthew 23:1-36, which we will look at at the end of this study.

49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Did that statement justify MURDER?

51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. Little did he know, but he was prophesying about the spread of the kingdom of God throughout the world.

53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him. Can you say “PREMEDITATED MURDER“?

54 Therefore Jesus no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews, but went away from there to the country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there He stayed with the disciples. Jesus was fully in control of the timing of His crucifixion, but that didn’t mean that He could live “recklessly“.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 So they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him. (John 11:47-57)

Passover was one of the most important Festivals on the Jewish calendar, and every able-bodied person was encouraged to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so it was inconceivable that Jesus wouldn’t attend. The religious leaders had warned everyone to be on the lookout for Him so they could put their nefarious-plan into action. Again, Jesus was still in control of everything, so He was going to show-up when He was ready.

The Plot to Kill Lazarus
9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)

How much more corrupt could they get? For what Jesus had to say about the Jewish religious-leaders, we are going to look at Matthew 23.

Pharisaism Exposed
23 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. They liked to strut around with their noses in the air, crowing like Bantie-roosters, trying to gain attention for themselves, but their religion was all for show…They were totally self-centered. Can you think of any “preachers” who are like that today? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Eight Woes
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. They had made themselves the “gate-keepers” of God’s kingdom, but they were far from following God faithfully themselves.

14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” Hypocrisy piled on injustice.

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” They heaped legalistic requirements on their converts which they couldn’t even keep.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.” Oaths can be dangerous things.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” They had forgotten that Micah 6:8 also applied to them.

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” They “looked- good and smelled-good”, but they were rotten to the core.

27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” A casket, regardless of how pretty it is, still contains a DEAD body.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” The rotten fruit didn’t fall very far from the tree…

These are the same men who will have Jesus put to death, MURDERED, crucified because of the evil in their hearts, and in accordance with God’s plan.

34 “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

They aren’t going to be satisfied once Jesus is “out-of-the-way“, they would continue their murderous purges even among the Apostles and others who believed in Christ.

Lament over Jerusalem
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23)

When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, He also foretold the destruction that would come upon Jerusalem in 70 AD. He was also foretelling the spread of the kingdom of God to those outside of Israel, the Gentiles.

It is easy for us to look at the Pharisees and say; “What a bunch of scum-bags“, but how much “Pharisee” is in us too? How often do we “clean ourselves up” before we go to church, and then act all “holy and pious” in church, when the reality in our lives tells a far-different story? We need to be honest with ourselves, and with God, that we aren’t all that we should be. It is only by the saving grace of God that we made right with Him, and only He can “clean us up“. We can’t do it on our own.

We must also remember that it wasn’t just the religious leaders and the Romans that nailed Jesus to the Cross, we were part of that conspiracy. We were there too, because it was OUR sin, MY sin and YOUR sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross. He was there because of US.

Jesus chose a bunch of “misfits” to be His disciples, but it was only after Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit, that they started becoming the men God could use to spread His kingdom. When we look at the lives of the Apostles, it should give us hope, because they were in a far-different place than when they started following Jesus.

We will look next time at the Celebrations which kicked-off Passion Week.

In Christ,
Steve

 

Do You Want To Be Humble? Emulate Christ!

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

He who is the eternal Word, very God of very God, entered into our humanity in much the same way we did, as a divinely-fertilized egg, a single cell, an embryo, totally-dependent on His young, teenage mother for His very existence. She wasn’t a princess, living in a fine palace; rather, she was a country-girl. He was born in the same manner countless babies have been born, through His mother’s birth-canal, not in a palace or even a hospital room, but in a stable. His incarnation began His descent from glory into the depths of Hell itself. He traded Heaven for a smelly stable. He traded His crown for a crown of thorns. He traded His throne for a cross, and ultimately He traded His life for ours, that we might be able to live with Him forever.

He was only eight days old when He experienced the pain of being circumcised. Circumcision wasn’t a clean, tidy hospital-procedure; rather it was done in the Temple with one of the crude cutting-implements of the day. He wasn’t dressed in cute little baby-outfits; rather, he was dressed in strips of coarse, hand-woven cloth. He wasn’t born walking and talking, potty-trained and able to feed Himself, rather, He was a baby with all its infant limitations. He and His parents became fugitives in Egypt from a ruthless king who had dozens of young boys slaughtered in hopes of “eliminating” Him. He grew and learned as any normal child does, and He experienced the trials of puberty as countless boys have since time began.

He was perfectly-obedient to His parents and to His Father, fulfilling all the requirements of the Law. A debate has been raging for centuries about whether Jesus could have sinned, and its answer has enormous-consequences on our salvation. If it would have been impossible for Jesus to sin, His righteous fulfillment of the Law would have been passive, because He could not do differently. If it was possible for Jesus to sin, His obedience was active and deliberate, which I believe the Bible supports. If Jesus could not sin, He has no righteousness to impute to us in our salvation, however, if He could have sinned, but didn’t, His perfect righteousness CAN be imputed to us in our salvation. We are the beneficiaries of His perfect righteousness, of His perfect obedience.

His humanity wasn’t just an “appearance“, He was, and is, as fully-human as you are, as I am. He had all the same physical “equipment” every male human has had or has. John the Apostle, in his Gospel, penned these beautiful words: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a)

He felt all of our human-feelings and experienced all of our human-emotions. He hurt. He was hungry and thirsty. He felt anger, sorrow and even grief. He worked with His hands and didn’t have an entourage of Angels to cater to His every whim. He came not to be served, but to serve, and just before His crucifixion, He took upon Himself the lowliest position as a Servant, stripped naked and washed His disciple’s feet. Ultimately He served us by taking our sin upon Himself and taking the full-wrath of God for our sin on the cross.

Jesus didn’t just die-physically; He experienced the wrath of God, including being separated from His Father’s presence. He plumbed the depths of Hell, experiencing all of its horrors. As the first Adam began mankind’s descent into disobedience in a Garden, the Garden of Eden, so the second Adam, Jesus Christ, began His journey for our redemption in a Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane.

Before Jesus Christ was arrested, tried, tortured and crucified, God the Father gave Him a foretaste of what lie ahead. As He entered the Garden of Gethsemane, He started feeling the weight, the gravity of what was about to happen. He wasn’t just afraid, He was overwhelmed. As He clawed at the ground praying to His Father, He was staring into the gaping hole that is the abyss, Hell. He could see the never-ending flames, feel the heat, smell the acrid smoke, and hear the screams of those already trapped there. There was only one entrance, and there was no exit. That was where He was going, for you, for me.

His closest friends had all-but deserted Him, so He had no human moral-support. The question came down to whether He loved them, whether He loves us, enough to continue that journey. Had it been left totally up to Him, He might have avoided the cross, forsaking us and our salvation, but He had a job to do, a mission to accomplish. God’s whole plan of redemption was on the line. Ultimately, He never wavered. The mission went on final-countdown when He said Not as I will, but as You will“.(Matthew 26:39) The physical-agony of being tortured and crucified was a walk in the park compared to what He was going to endure in Hell, but He didn’t shrink back from those who came to arrest Him. He was totally-confident that He could, and would, accomplish His ultimate mission, our redemption.

As Jesus hung there on the cross, between Heaven and Earth, and saw the gaping-entrance to Hell open up, He cried out; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His Father had abandoned Him. He was utterly-alone. When He took His last breath, He fell head-long into Hell, the cosmic-incinerator of sin and evil, as the wrath of a Holy and Just God was poured-out on Him. He died, not for His own sin, but for OUR sin. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Our response…
As we consider what our Lord has done for us, how can we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think? How can we not serve Him and those around us in loving, gentle humility? I’ll leave you with the passage we opened with:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

In Christ,
Steve

Is “Universalism” Biblical?

When tragedy strikes, such as the recent Orlando Massacre, many people want and need to be comforted and consoled, so it is tempting to quote the first phrase of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world“, while leaving out the equally-vital third phrase, “that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life“. The thinking and narrative goes something like this: “Since God loves everybody, He wouldn’t send anyone to hell, so they must all be in heaven.” It seems inconceivable that someone we knew and loved, and who was such a “good” person, might be in hell. Is that concept Biblical? So, in light of the entirety of John 3:16, we are going to examine whether “Universalism” is Biblical.

I was a Bagpiper for several years, so I piped nearly a hundred funerals and committal-services. If it was a committal-service for a deceased Veteran, and an Honor Guard performed the service, the message went something like this: “He served faithfully and honorably in this life, so he is in the care of our great Commander in the sky. He has joined that great Army in Heaven.” There was just one sad problem with that narrative; nobody really knew the true spiritual-condition of the person when he took his last breath. They were making a comforting, but dangerous, assumption.

One of the most difficult, yet most comforting funerals I piped was for the Chief of a small, rural volunteer Fire Department, which was held at a small country church. I was a Firefighter at another volunteer Fire Department in the area, so I had met and worked with him a couple of times. His pastor described his great faith, how he loved the Lord, and how he loved to read and teach from his tattered, dog-eared Bible. That was music to my ears and comfort to my soul, and if there is a Fire Department in Heaven, he is there when he isn’t teaching others more from the Bible.

Do you see the difference? “Universalism” provides a false hope and false comfort; while we have the true hope of seeing those we knew and loved again if they were trusting in Christ alone for their salvation.

Into John 3:16…

For God so loved the world…
Yes, God DOES love His creation, and we were created to have a relationship with Him, but our sin has separated us from God and destroyed that relationship. Sin has real consequences, and one of those consequences is eternal-separation from God. God could have terminated or rebooted His human-project after Adam and Eve sinned, but He didn’t. God could even have accepted the “new-normal“, but He didn’t. He kicked His plan of redemption in high-gear with the promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15. It wasn’t going to be easy for God to restore us to a right-relationship with Him. His own Son was going to have to become a human and bear the just-punishment we deserve in our stead. If “Universalism” was true, we would have had no need for a Savior.

That He gave His only begotten Son…
Jesus Christ came to earth with a mission, sent by God the Father, to enter our battle, to stand in front of us in our fire-fight, to take the bullets we would have taken, to stand between us and the wrath of a Holy God, to die the death that we deserve, to become our Savior. He came willingly, even relishing the battle, because He loves us that much. If “Universalism” was true, Jesus Christ would not have needed to come to earth to die in our stead.

That whosoever believes in Him…
This isn’t just passive-acceptance that Jesus is God-incarnate and came to save sinners; it is active-belief, marked by a changed-life and a fresh love for God. It is a heart-felt understanding that we can’t save ourselves, but Jesus Christ came to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. If “Universalism” was true, it wouldn’t matter what you believe, because even Atheists are going to Heaven.

Shall not perish…
This isn’t some empty-hope; it is an iron-clad promise. If you are trusting in Christ alone for your salvation, your eternal-destiny is secure, guaranteed by Christ himself, but if you are trusting in “Universalism” for your salvation, you are dead in your sins, and when you take your last breath, you will go into eternal-separation from God, Hell.

But have eternal life…
There is an eternal-reward for putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, entering into His joyous-presence and being with Him forever. That alternative isn’t pretty.

Is “Universalism” true and Biblical? Don’t bet your soul and eternal-destiny on it, because you WILL lose. There is ONLY one way into Heaven, and that is by accepting and believing the truth, as laid-out in John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

In Christ,
Steve

The Orlando Massacre

I was shocked and deeply-saddened when I opened my news-feed on Facebook this last Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, to read that there had been a mass-murder at a nightclub in Orlando, just thirty miles from my home. It is with grief and a heavy-heart that I am writing about this heinous event, an event I had hoped and prayed that I would never write about, but have to.

Those who have died or were injured were innocent victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have happened anywhere in Orlando, or anywhere in America, anywhere large groups of people are gathered. There are many “soft-targets” within the metro-Orlando area, some of which receive over fifty-thousand visitors every day, seven days a week. The Pulse nightclub may have been chosen if the killer harbored anti-gay ideology, but we can’t read his mind after the fact. We all have targets on our backs because we can never know who will be targeted next, so it behooves all of us to be vigilant.

There will be lots of blame passed around over the coming days and weeks, and many “solutions” offered to help keep this from happening again, but they will all fall far-short of the true reason this happened. There will be many “scapegoats“…

Some people may blame the FBI for not “doing something” when they investigated the killer at least twice before he committed this heinous act. However, in a free society, where we value free-speech and free-thought, it isn’t against the law to hold to beliefs that aren’t “politically-correct“, or we would all be behind bars, myself included. As a Christian, in this increasingly-godless society, my Christian beliefs are not “politicallycorrect“.

Some will call for more “background-checks“, however the killer was a licensed Armed Security Guard and had passed a couple of “background-checks” already, so more “background-checks” would not have prevented this heinous act. “Background-checks” can only assess prior activities, but they are not good-predictors of future actions.

Some people will blame the weapon, an inanimate object, a tool, for what happened, however no gun has ever killed anyone without a human-operator. Guns and bullets don’t kill people, people kill people…PERIOD.

Some people will scream for more “gun-control“, claiming that if that type of weapon, an “assault-rifle“, hadn’t been “readily-available“, this might not have happened. That stance ignores the fact that if a person is determined to kill someone, they will ALWAYS find a way. Lest we get caught-up in this kind of rhetoric, Cain killed Abel with a ROCK. We must also remember that terrorists are using explosive-filled vests, “suicide-vests“, very frequently to kill large number of people. The fact is that an explosive-vest, with the right kind of high-explosives, could have killed far more people. Another thing to remember is that this type of weapon is readily-available in the underground-market even if it can’t be bought legally.

Some people will blame the religion or political-ideology of the killer for this heinous act, and that may have been part of his motivation, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The problem goes far-deeper than that, which we will explore shortly.

Some people will even blame the LGBT community for what happened, saying that if they weren’t so “open“, so “out“, even “in your face” about their sexuality choices, this might not have happened. Again, this may have been a contributing-factor, but it is only a symptom of the breakdown of the moral-fiber of our community. Orlando is home to one of the largest LGBT communities in the world, and Disney is their largest employer. My friend and neighbor work at Disney, and she lost several friends and co-workers. It was, and is a real human-tragedy, regardless of how you stack it up.

The root-cause…
Yes, there IS a far-deeper problem than just one deranged man massacring over fifty people, and that problem is SIN! We ARE sinners. Every last one of us, and without the restraining-grace of God, any one of us could do what that evil man did, kill many people. Nobody is “exempt” from the problem of having an evil heart, and it isn’t that we are “better-people“, because we aren’t. The Bible states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?(Jeremiah 17:9) Jesus also said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.(Matthew 15:19) That, my friends is the “root-cause” of what happened in Orlando this last weekend.

The “cure”…
Yes, my friends, there IS a “cure” for our sin-problem, but it isn’t: being a “better-person“, being “more-religious“, or even being “more-spiritual“. God provided the “cure” almost two-thousand years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, like you, like me, because we are ALL sinners in desperate-need of a Savior. Trusting in the shed-blood and finished work of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation is the ONLYcure“. That, my friends, is the Good News of the Gospel. I need to be reminded of the Gospel every day lest I become just another “religious-person“.

There is a faction of people, who call themselves “Christians“, who are celebrating this event, but they aren’t truly Christians if their hearts are so full of hate. Jesus said that the second Great Commandment was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no room in that commandment for hate.

What was the spiritual-condition of those who died? Only God knows for sure, so I can’t even presume to make any assumptions. If they died, having never accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are reaping what they sowed, eternal separation from God. If they were Believers, trusting only in the shed-blood and finished-work of Christ for their salvation, they are in the joyous-presence of their Lord and Savior. What grieves and saddens me most, as a Minister of the Gospel, is that those who died without Christ will not get a second-chance. They will never have another opportunity to hear and believe the Good News of the Gospel. Their destiny was sealed the moment they took their last breath.

I am gratified by the outpouring of support that has flooded in over the last couple of days. The downtown-Orlando blood centered had way more willing-donors than they could handle, and had to ask potential-donors to make an appointment for later in the week. I don’t think that it was coincidental that I donated blood just last Friday, so my “pint-of-life” was already “in the bank” and ready to use. Food, water and other supplies also came pouring-in for those in need.

My message to fellow-Christians:
Homosexuals are NOTworse-sinners” than we are, so before we join in condemning the LGBT community, we need to examine our own hearts. Examine them for what? PRIDE!!! PRIDE is rampant among Christians, but we have nothing to be “proud” of. Everything we have is by the grace of God, including our salvation. Maybe we need a lesson in humility, because God hates PRIDE more than all the other sins combined.

Final thoughts…
I am deeply-saddened by what happened, and I join in mourning those who lost their lives, and you should too.

In Christ,
Steve

Are We Too Busy?

A special visitor had come to town and there was a lot to do to get ready to entertain him, but one of the sisters refused to help with the preparations. Instead of helping with the cleaning and cooking, she wanted to hear what their special guest had to say. The other sister was furious…

38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus was SUCH an important visitor that Martha thought that she had to get things “justright” for Him. The floor has to be swept, the dishes had to be washed, and their food had to be prepared. After all, she WAS entertaining the Son of God, the most important person who has ever walked this earth. Does this sound familiar?

We succumb to the “tyranny of the urgent” far too often and leave more important things undone, such as being a good mate to our spouse or parent to our children. I mentioned the song “Cats In The Cradle” in my post “Regrets“, and it really brings to light our relentless pursuit of things we may think are “urgent“, but really aren’t.

I wrote about having proper priorities in our time-management in “Priorities – Time“, and the more I study the Bible, the more strongly I believe that, counter to what our culture would say, I really did place things in their proper order. If you haven’t read it already, I invite you to read it and prayerfully consider your time-priorities.

You may be thinking that there are some things which truly are “urgent“, and you are right. True emergencies require immediate attention, and I have responded to plenty of those. I have dropped everything to rush my neighbor-gal to the hospital many times, and I have spent countless hours with her in hospital rooms. On her part, if she was in the hospital on Sunday, she has insisted that I go to church before I come up to see her. I also take the time to give her my undivided-attention when she calls or needs to talk, and recently I set-aside a Saturday to go with her to see her father, who is in an assisted-living facility. She wanted the companionship and needed the emotional-support. Sometimes I am the only “sanity” in her otherwise-crazy world.

Jesus highlighted what our priorities should be; “but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” People and relationships MUST be our highest-priorities, and all else MUST be secondary.

Are YOU too busy?

In Christ,
Steve