Wednesday, July 31, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:10-31 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 1:25 (ESV)
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

As believers we are not to brag about our own tribe, or the particular leaders we follow. They are only fallible humans. Neither do we brag about our wisdom nor our spiritual power. We have no wisdom but that which is from God. We have no power but that which we possess in Christ. We brag not about our own wisdom and/or spiritual power, but in the wisdom and power of God.

Over the years God has raised up some incredibly intelligent individuals in the church. As a young man in Bible College the arguments of Francis Shaeffer and C. S. Lewis for the existence of God left my brain spinning. More recently apologists and spiritual leaders like Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, and others have written powerful arguments for the truth of the Bible, yet with or without them the Bible is true.

When the Apostle Paul came to Corinth he had just argued powerfully for Christianity in Athens. The response? “We will hear you again about this” (Ac 17:32). Paul’s powerful model for communicating the gospel cross-culturally bore little fruit. In fact, the response was so little that this is what he wrote about coming to Corinth, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:2-3). The Corinthian church was not established because of the wisdom of Paul, but because of the power of God (see 1 Cor 2:5).

Given that foundation, you would think that they would know that their bragging is not in man’s wisdom but in God’s power. Unfortunately we forget so quickly. People start coming. The church starts growing, and we begin to think that it must be because of our great wisdom, skill, or ability. We assume that our new program, or our new pastor, or our new outreach plan is the key to our new growth. Any wisdom and/or power we have is a gift from God. Any growth is a result of his grace. We need to spend less time chasing after new programs and ideas and more time focused on the simple Good News of Jesus Christ. Anything we accomplish is by his grace. We forget that often God’s blessing is in spite of us, not because of us. Our only bragging rights, as believers in Jesus Christ, is the grace and power of God. Let us never forget that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:10-31 (Pt 2)

Sporting events are essentially about bragging rights. Who is the best? The church has nothing to brag about except the God we serve. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 the writer reveals that the Corinthian church was divided. They were bragging about the leader they chose to follow. “What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Cor 1:12). Today is no different. We divide by denominations. We divide by authors that we exalt, or seminars we attend, or conferences we never miss. This is wrong.

We have become followers of men. For one person, John Piper is infallible. For another, it is Beth Moore. Still another will follow anything that Craig Groeschel says. Some will go back further. If the Puritans wrote it then it must be right. Don’t get me wrong. There is value in reading soundly biblical authors. Some authors are more soundly biblical than others. But we must never unreservedly accept what any author says. It must always be tested against the scriptures. Further, we must never divide over our favorite authors or our favorite preachers. Just because John McArthur said it, that does not make it true. Just because you don’t like John McArthur does not mean that everything he says is wrong. The Corinthian church was divided over who they were following. We have done no better.

This shows up an several ways. We become divisive, arguing at the drop of the hat over doctrinal minutiae. We spend more time talking about what is wrong with the other churches in town than about what the Scriptures teach. We are more interested in “stealing sheep” than in seeing unbelievers coming to faith in Christ. We imply that only those who attend our church are truly saved. We call everyone who disagrees with us dangerous or heretical. We pride ourselves in not being like “them.” That is not the Spirit of Christ. Was doctrine crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of your church or your pastor?

Sound doctrine is important. A proper understanding of Scripture is essential. Distorted doctrine leads to all sorts of abuse. I get that. But if we will one day be worshiping God together in Heaven, perhaps we should be a little more gracious toward one another here and now. Perhaps building a relationship with others, listening well to one another, and praying together is more important than always being right. Jesus said that it would be our love for one another that would convince the World that God sent Jesus and that God loves us (See John 17:22-23). What does it convince the World of when we are divided? We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Too often we act as though we were commanded not to love them, but to point out all their faults. God forgive us. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7).

Monday, July 29, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:10-31 (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 1:28-31 (ESV)
[28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Sporting events are essentially for bragging rights. The winner of the World Series can brag that they are the best baseball team in the world. The World Cup winner can brag that they are the best football (soccer) team in the world. The Olympics are all about getting the gold medal and which country brings home the most gold medals. It is all about bragging rights. So, what does the church have to brag about?
There are no Church Olympics to determine which is the best Christian in the world. Unfortunately there are sometimes articles proclaiming the Top Ten Preachers of our day, or the most influential people in our century. But no true preacher of the gospel sets a goal of being on that list. As believers in Jesus Christ, our bragging rights are not in who we are or what we do, but in who we serve. In the last verse of 1 Corinthians 1 the writer quotes from Jeremiah 9:23-24a which reads, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.’”

Our bragging rights are not in the size of the church we attend, the amount of money we send to missions, the size of our budget, the number of programs we are involved in, who our pastor is, or who we know. Our bragging rights are not in how many followers we have online, how many meetings we have in a week, or how many people look to us for counsel and guidance. Our bragging rights are in the one we serve. Here is my boast, my master is Lord of lords, King of kings, and God of gods. He is the God “who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jer 9:24). That is my boast. I have no other. When we fail to live that truth we have embraced idolatry of the most insidious kind for we have robbed God of his glory.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (Pt 6)

Branding is important in our world of commerce and merchandise. Levi and Wrangler sell their brand as much as they sell their blue jeans. Mercedes and Harley Davidson sell their brand as much as they sell cars and motorcycles. You can find boots, jackets, coffee mugs, and all sorts of other merchandise with their brand. Sometimes, in our fickle world, a brand loses its influence and products need to be re-branded. They need to create a new atmosphere surrounding their product. But Christianity never needs to be re-branded. The real problem is that we fail to live up to God’s branding on us.

Cattle are branded to identify their owner and to communicate ownership clearly to anyone who sees them. Rustlers will try to change a brand so that another rancher’s cattle appear to belong to them. We have been branded with the blessings, the gifts, and the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Arrogant self-indulgence disfigures that brand making it look as if we belong to the world and not to Christ. Understanding that all we are, all we have, all we hope for, and all we have to offer, from beginning to end, is a gift of God’s grace protects us from that disfigurement of God's brand. What does the world see when they look at you?

Friday, July 26, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (Pt 5)

1 Corinthians 1:7 (ESV)

[7] so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, [8] who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. [9] God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 1 the Apostle writes that the Corinthian believers were holy and blessed. He then goes on to assure them of their future and reminds them that they were called into fellowship with Jesus. What Paul writes is so different from what I would expect. Corinth is such an ungodly church that I would expect Paul to question their future and their fellowship. I would have written something like, “Are you sure you are saved? Look at how you are living. No true believer lives like that. You should be in a passionate relationship with Jesus Christ that transforms how you think and live. I am not seeing it. You need to examine your heart and change your ways!” But that is not what he says. He tells them that they have an eternal future, that God will sustain them to the end, and that he will keep them guiltless. He then reminds them that in God’s faithfulness they were called into fellowship with Christ.

The Apostle Paul will later challenge their behavior, but he starts his letter by pointing them to the faithfulness of God rather than questioning their faithfulness. Isn’t that as it should be? Hebrews 12:2 doesn’t say, “Examining yourself to see if you are really walking with God.” It says that we should be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” In 2 Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle will tell them that they need to examine themselves to see whether they are in the faith, but even then he will point them back to Christ. After telling them to examine themselves, he queries, “Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor 13:5b). We must always come back to Christ.

The Christian life is not about the flesh trying to change itself. It is not about working hard to turn over a new leaf. The Christian life is about faith in Christ and identity in Christ. Who I am is not about what I do, but about who Jesus is. As a believer, I need to be reminded often of these three truths.
  1. I am waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is coming back and my hope is not in this world.
  2. He will sustain me to the end presenting me guiltless in that day. My hope is not in my own power and ability, but in the sustaining power of God and the cleansing power of Jesus death and resurrection.
  3. It is the faithfulness of God that called me into fellowship with Jesus Christ my Lord. It was not my faithfulness. It was not my will and desire. It was not my great passion for all things spiritual. It was the faithfulness of God that called me into fellowship with Jesus Christ, and that is where I live.
The Christian life is not about the flesh trying to change itself. It is about the power of God, the grace of God, and the loving fellowship of Jesus Christ. It is time that I spent less time trying to examine myself and more time fixing my eyes on Jesus. He is my hope. He is my strength. He is my life. In him I rest. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (Pt 4)

1 Corinthians 1:4-7
[4] I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, [5] that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— [6] even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— [7] so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The Apostle Paul wrote of the Corinthian church that God had blessed and enriched them. Corinth was a wealthy city. It is likely that at least some of the believers there were wealthy. But, when the text says that God enriched them it does not mean that God made them rich. He enriched them in Christ, and he enriched them in speech and all knowledge (see verse 5 above). He also enriched them by gifting them with spiritual gifts (see verse 7 above). In Christ they were wealthy in that which really mattered.

This makes me wonder about how many of our prayers are directed at seeking God’s enrichment in other ways. We pray for better health. We pray for more money. We pray for comfort and an ease of our troubles. I wonder, when was the last time you thanked him for giving you the right words at the right time. When was the last time you expressed gratitude to God for the insight he gave you to minister to someone? When was the last time you gave him thanks for the spiritual gifts that he gave you? When was the last time you gave him thanks for the spiritual gifts that he has given to others in your church? Whether we are strong or weak, healthy or sick, rich or poor, as believers in Jesus Christ we have been tremendously blessed and gifted. I wonder how he feels when we fail to recognize that. Today, let us give thanks for his grace and his gifts. He has blessed us with grace and greatly enriched us with his gifts. May we use them to his glory. Give thanks!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 1:2 (ESV)
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

The letter of First Corinthians was written “to the church of God . . . to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:2). The word sanctified means to be made holy. It means to be set apart from the profane unto God. The verse calls believers “those sanctified in Christ,” or those who have been made holy. Some time ago I asked a group of young believers to stand against one wall if they believed that they were sinners and to stand against the opposite wall if they believed they were holy. Most of them identified as sinners. One student argued that because he commits sin he is therefore a sinner. But that misses the point of the verse above.

The Corinthian church was not a holy church is you look at their behavior. They were divided. They were excusing and even celebrating sin. Much of the profane culture of Corinth had been carried into their church and had diluted the gospel message and the impact of the church on the city. How could God call a church like that holy? And yet he does.

The mistake we make is that we assume our identity is discovered by looking at our behavior. We identify others or self-identify that way all the time. When I wore a broad-brimmed hat to a T-ball game the catcher looked up at me with wonder and asked, “Are you a cowboy?” When I ride up on my motorcycle wearing my leathers I am identified as a biker. When I stand in the pulpit I am identified as a preacher. We identify people by their dress and/or behavior all the time. But that is where we make a mistake when it comes to faith.

Identity is not defined, for the believer, by what they do, but by what God says about them. Those who are in Christ Jesus are identified by God as sanctified and holy. The church in Corinth, as unholy as it was, was considered holy by God. We make the mistake of looking at behavior and identifying as sinners. God says that we should look at Christ and identify as holy ones. That identity is the foundation of holy behavior. The behavior follows the identity, the identity is not defined by the behavior. We have it backwards.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ then you are holy. Believe it. Rest in it. Celebrate it. Then live it out through faith in God’s grace and in the power of his indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit, for you are holy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

1 Cor 1:1-9 (Pt 2)

In First Corinthians the Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that they are a very blessed and gifted church, but that they are not the source of their own giftedness. God is the only source. Their gifts and their blessings are the direct result of the grace and faithfulness of the God who called them out of sin and into holiness.

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (1 Cor 1:2).

As believers in Jesus Christ, they were “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2, bold emphasis mine). Note that as believers they are called with those who call upon Jesus’ name. Their faith was not about their great wisdom in choosing to call on Jesus. Their faith was not unique and special above that of others who call on Jesus.  Their faith was rooted in the call of God. God was the source of their call as he was the source of their grace and peace.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:3).

Grace is not something we earn. It is gifted to us by God and by the Lord Jesus Christ. Peace is not something we created or find. It is gifted to us by God. We too often pride ourselves in having called on Jesus to save us. We pride ourselves in being good. We pride ourselves in finding and/or creating a peaceful environment, or we are constantly in search of a peaceful environment. The truth is, all of that is me-centric. It is about me. The result is division and divisiveness. The result is pride and arrogance. It results in looking down on others and/or criticizing them for being less spiritual than we are.

Where do church divisions come from? What are the roots of a critical spirit? Why do we find it so easy to see fault in others but not in ourselves? Largely because we have forgotten this simple truth: Our gifts and blessings are the direct result of the grace and faithfulness of the God who called us out of sin and into holiness. We are no better than anyone else sitting in church, playing at the lake, or sleeping in on Sunday morning. All we are and all we have is a gift from God. When we remember that we can afford to be a less critical of others.

Monday, July 22, 2019

1 Cor 1:1-9 (Pt 1)

The Church at Corinth was a key church with significant problems in a major city full of gross immorality. The question addressed in First Corinthians is: How does the church live out the holiness of its calling, both internally and externally, in order to testify to the truth of the gospel in a city where everything they claim to believe runs cross grain to the culture in which they live and in which they were raised? To put it in simpler terms, how is the church to function in an ungodly world?

The Church in Corinth had been called out of a culture of greed, immorality and self-indulgence unto holiness, unity and love. In practice they still looked much more like the city they came out of than like the called out ones they were. They were a gifted church, but not a holy church. They were a blessed church, but not a church of blessing. Much of their culture had penetrated their church and diluted the gospel message and the impact of the church on the city. So, how does the church live out the holiness of Christ in a culture which is running cross grain to their faith? How do we, as Christians, live in an ungodly world? What does the culture of Christ look like in contrast to the culture of a world that does not know God?

Where do you begin when addressing and issue like that? The Apostle Paul began by spotlighting their position in Christ. At the core of the problem, and emerging repeatedly throughout this letter, is the problem of pride and selfish self-indulgence. It seems to seep into everything they do. The cry of our culture, “But what about me?” is the distinguishing characteristic of the Corinthian Church. In light of that Paul begins his letter by jerking them back to reality, reminding them that they are a very blessed and gifted church, but that they are not the source of their own giftedness. God is the only source. Their gifts and their blessings are the direct result of the grace and faithfulness of the God who called them out of sin and into holiness.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Firm in Faith

Isaiah 7:9b (ESV)
If you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all.

Judah was being threatened by neighboring Syria and Israel. God’s message to Ahaz, King of Judah, and to the people of Judah was, “Trust me.” That’s hard to do when multiple enemies are threatening an attack. That’s hard to do when you can’t see any way out. The natural tendency is to either panic, or make preparations to protect yourself. Preparation is not wrong, but when not mixed with faith it becomes idolatry. When we act, and think as though our hope is in our ability to defend ourselves we are putting our trust in something other than God.

The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps 20:7). When Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would fall to Babylon, Judah was warned not to fight or try to avoid it. This was God’s judgment. It could not be avoided. When Isaiah promised Ahaz, years earlier, not to fear Syria and Israel, that was God’s promised protection. It would happen as promised. Sovereign God is ultimately in control of our world. The real question is whether we trust him.

The early church took great risks to serve others. When Rome threatened to kill anyone who was a Christian, Christians faithfully admitted their faith and died as a result. When Romans abandoned their babies because they were unwanted, it was Christians who rescued and raised those little ones. When plagues hit Rome, it was the Christians who stayed behind to nurse the sick. The pagans abandoned the sick and fled. Christians trusted God and God honored their faith. Christians died for their faith, but the church grew. Christians took a risk by rescuing babies, but God honored their choice. Christians nursed the sick back to health and God protected them. A smaller percentage of Christians died in the plagues than any other group in Rome. These things happened, not because the church chose to be safe, but because the church chose to do the right thing and trust God.

What are you facing today that brings you fear? Where has fear kept you from serving others? How has fear crippled your life, hindered your relationships, and robbed you of peace? God’s words to Ahaz still stand. “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Is 7:9b). Trust Him.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Ministry and the Holiness of God

Isaiah 6:5-7 (ESV)
[5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
[6] Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. [7] And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6 is a harsh denouncement of God’s people, but it flows out of a revelation of God’s holiness. God doesn’t judge sin because he is an angry God. He doesn’t judge sin because he is grouchy. He judges sin because he is holy and sin is contrary to his very nature and character, and his created purpose for us. He is angry with sin because it has defaced his highest and greatest creation. In reflecting on this chapter, three thoughts stand out to me. They have to do not with judgment, but with ministry. The word ministry means service.

First, Isaiah was overwhelmed by God’s holiness. This caused him to see his own sinfulness. An encounter with holy God exposes our own brokenness. Years ago, we had a grease fire on the kitchen stove. It left the white ceiling streaked with soot. When we began to clean the ceiling, we realized that the ceiling wasn’t as white as we thought it was. It was dirty and grease caked from years of cooking. It looked white until we swiped a clean cloth across it. Then we saw what white really was. Similarly, we tend to think of ourselves as pretty good people. We know we have our issues, but we’re not nearly as bad as a lot of people. It is only when we get a clearer view of God that we begin to realize how broken we really are.

Second, Isaiah realized not only sinful he was, but how God had cleansed him and prepared him for service. Cleansing had to precede ministry. That wasn’t something he had to do, it was something God did. That is the Good News! When we begin to recognize our own sin, our first response is either despair or self-confidence. We either give up, thinking we can never be good enough, or we think that we have to fix it. We make promises. We work harder. We look for solutions, programs, and fixes. The bad news is that we can’t fix ourselves. The good news is that God has already provided the fix in Jesus. When one of the Seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips to cleanse him, he didn’t respond by saying, “Let me have those tongs. I don’t think you got it all.” He responded, “Here I am! Send me.” Understanding and believing God’s cleansing leads us to ministry.

Third, ministry does not usually look like what we expect. For Isaiah, it meant giving an unpopular message to people that didn’t want to hear it. Sometimes we develop unrealistic expectations of what ministry is. “Children’s ministry? Sure, I love children!” Do you love children when three of them are all screaming at the same time? Do you love children when one has pulled his dirty diaper off, a second is crying for her Mommy, and a third is eating the crayons? Do you love children when unholy parents are complaining about how little Sally didn’t get enough attention today, or little Johnny should not have been given a snack because now it will ruin his lunch? Do you love children’s ministry when you begin to suspect that abuse is going on in the home and you need to do something about it? Ministry is hard. Ministry is uncomfortable. Ministry is not all chocolates and roses.

So how do we do it? Ministry is done by going back to where this passage began. Ministry flows out of being overwhelmed by the presence of Holy God. Ministry flows out of an understanding that we have been washed clean by the blood of Christ. Ministry is not about seeking self-fulfillment. It is about falling down broken before a holy God and rising purified, grateful, willing, and equipped by his grace. We are all called to ministry. The real question is not so much whether we are willing, but whether we have encountered God. Willingness flows out of relationship.

Isaiah 6:8 (ESV)
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Service or Self-Preservation?

Isaiah 5:2 (ESV)
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

Isaiah goes on in chapter 5 to explain that Israel is the vineyard. Because they have not been fruitful God will make them even less fruitful. Because they have been more interested in expanding their wealth and enjoying their prosperity than in serving others and working for justice, God will take away all that they have. In their loss, two truths are significant. First, God does not see their prosperity as a blessing. It is the very thing that has distracted them from what they should be doing. Their comfort has turned them into wine aficionados and mixed drink experts. What they should have been doing was using their wealth for the benefit of the less fortunate. It sounds a bit like our world. God’s church has been more interested in its own comfort than in the fate of the desperate and hurting masses around them. The ease of God’s people will be turned to dis-ease.

Isaiah 5:6 (ESV)
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
 I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

God does not see their prosperity as a blessing. It is the very thing that has distracted them from what they should be doing. Second, God will get his work done without us.
Isaiah 5:15-17 (ESV)
Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture,
and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich.

Man is humbled, but the LORD is exalted. Those to whom God’s people should have shown hospitality and compassion will now eat where the people of God used to eat. God will accomplish his purpose, but his people will suffer loss. God has given his church the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). We have instead pursued our own comfort and safety. We have acted as though our purpose is to stay safe and hang in there until God comes to rescue us. That is not our purpose.

Israel was supposed to be a light and a blessing to the nations. Instead they turned inward and sought safety. God removed their safety. The church is supposed to be a light and a blessing to a broken world. Too often we have turned inward and sought safety instead. When you read the history of the early church and the martyrs who died simply because they were Christians, and then you look around at our 21st Century North American Church culture it is hard to believe that we are the same church. Will we embrace God’s mission, or will we continue to turn inward and choose safety? God will accomplish his purpose either way, but wouldn’t it be better to be a part of it?

This passage causes me to reexamine my own life and priorities. It causes me to wonder whether I too have chosen self-preservation over ministry. It reminds me that ultimately self-preservation leads to loss of self in God’s economy. It is in selfless service that we find real meaning, and God’s full provision.
Matthew 19:29-30 (ESV)
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Humility or Humiliation

Isaiah 4:2-4 (ESV)
[2] In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. [3] And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, [4] when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.

Humiliation precedes glory. In chapter 3 everything is backwards. Leaders are brought down. Children lead. The ease and beauty of women is gone. God’s people are judged and humiliated. In chapter 4 their glory is restored, but it is not their glory. It is the glory of the God they serve. The description recalls the days in the wilderness when the pillar of fire guarded them by night and the pillar of cloud led them by day. The glory of their God was their protection.

Romans 1:25 says that people “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” This is the very thing Israel had done. They became enamored with their own glory. They became enraptured with their own ease of life. They became self-focused and lost sight of God. God will not share his glory. This worries me because so much of what we call church has become about us. So much of our country and culture has decided that truth, righteousness, and goodness is decided by us and our own passions. We have become our own standard. Measured against ourselves we measure up pretty good. When we get to that place, humiliation must precede glory.

We have a choice; we can choose humility or humiliation. When we fail to choose humility, we choose humiliation by default. God said, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Is 42:8). We can enjoy his glory. We can rest in his glory. We can walk in his glory. But, we cannot take his glory on ourselves. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6). “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Prov 3:34). Isaiah 3 is a terrible description of how God opposes the proud and scorns the scorners. Isaiah 4 is a beautiful promise of how God restores his people. He may take us through humiliation because of our pride, but he never abandons his peoples. We have a choice we can choose humility or humiliation. Let us choose humility.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Pride and Humility

Isaiah 2:11-12 (ESV)
The haughty looks of man shall be brought low,
and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled,
and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
For the LORD of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;

Isaiah 2 begins by talking about the restoration of Jerusalem. It will one day be a world center. People will come there for justice, and peace will reign. But, before Israel can be exalted it will be brought low. False religion, greed, and pride permeate God’s people. They will be brought down before they are lifted up.

Isn’t that how God works? Jesus repeatedly taught that the last shall be first, the first shall be last, greatness is found in serving, and pride leads to destruction. What is it about pride that is so bad? Aren’t we supposed to be proud of our accomplishments? Shouldn’t we be proud of our children? Isn’t a good self-image a good thing? The Apostle Paul wrote “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor 1:30). He recognized the danger of self-sufficiency. Pride fails to recognize our utter dependence on God. It fails to acknowledge Jesus’s words, “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Pride keeps us from faith, but Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb 11:6). In other words, pride undermines the very basis of a relationship with God.

How many ministries exalt a man? How many churches have been ineffective because of pride? How many lives and families have been torn apart because someone was too proud to admit that they were wrong? How many relationships have been destroyed because of pride? Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  We can quote those verses, but the truth of them seems to pass right over our heads. We can see pride in others, but we miss it in ourselves. Pride keeps us from the rest and peace found in abiding in Christ by faith. It isolates us from others. It focuses on Law rather than grace. It is blind to one’s own indiscretions while dealing harshly with those of others. Pride is dangerous and deadly.

At the heart of pride is independence. At the heart of faith is dependence. The foundation of pride is self-sufficiency. The foundation of faith is Christ’s sufficiency. Pride separates. Humility draws together. Pride leads to destruction. Faith leads to rest and peace. Whether we are talking about individuals, families, churches, communities, or nations, humility is essential. Before God can bless Israel, he must first deal with their pride. The same is true in each of our lives. How is God dealing with pride in your life today? Even as I read Isaiah 2 he reminded me of my own pride. God, forgive me. Today, may I walk in humble dependence on you.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Who do you love?

Isaiah 1:14-16 (ESV)
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,

The religious activities of God’s people are despicable to God. They carry on their religious festivals and prayers, but God refuses to acknowledge their worship. Why? Their “hands are full of blood,” and their deeds are evil. A conservative, evangelical Christian is likely to point fingers at the liberal church and say, “That is a description of them.” They appear religious, but their hands are full of blood and their ways are evil. They support the killing of unborn children and they reject the truth and authority of Scripture.

Let me challenge you to consider that it is equally the conservative evangelical being described here. What does God mean when he says that their hands are full of blood and their deeds are evil? The very next verse explains what he is talking about. 

Isaiah 1:17
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

There was a time when Israel was involved in the despicable practices of child sacrifice like the pagans around them. But here God speaks of something else. They need to “learn to do good.” They need to “seek justice and correct oppression.” They need to “bring justice to the fatherless” and the widow. These, unfortunately, are areas of life that conservative evangelicals have often neglected. Years ago, those areas of life were delegated to the government. It is the government that is responsible for justice. It is the government that is to cover the needs of the widow through Social Security. It is the government that oversees the foster care system. That is not the churches role. That sounds too much like a Social Gospel. We don’t go there. And therein lies the problem.

Jesus said that the greatest command was to love God, and that the second was to love others. The Apostle John wrote, “And this commandment we have from him (Jesus): whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21 ESV). I have heard love described as obedience. If you love God you will obey him. This is true, but obey him in what? Jesus only gave us two commands. Love God. Love others. Too often we have defined loving God as not going to bars, not hanging out with sinners, and not doing “bad” things. Jesus says that loving God is primarily defined as loving others.

There is not a Gospel and a Social Gospel. There is only the Gospel that changes hearts and turns self-centered, self-focused sinners into loving servants of the poor, disenfranchised, and underprivileged. Maybe we are not as godly as we would like to think. Israel certainly wasn’t. Let’s stop pointing fingers at others and take a good hard look in the mirror. Who do you love?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Advice to Husbands

Esther 1:22 (ESV)
He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people.

I was just reading through Esther 1 again when this verse caught my eye. The King of Persia commanded that “every man be master in his own household.” Many might read that and cheer. “Yes!” we might say, “that is as it should be. That is what the Bible teaches.” And we would be wrong.

Yes, the Bible teaches that a wife is to submit to her husband (Eph 5:22). But that submission is a willing submission, not a forced or enforced submission. The Husband is told to love his wife as Christ loves the Church. He is not told to be master in his own household. We too often misread and misapply that text.

How did Christ love the Church? He gave himself for her. Is Christ Lord? Yes, absolutely, but submission to him is willing submission. Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her (Eph 5:25). He gave himself in order to beautify her and make her holy (Eph 5:26-27). In response to this a husband is to hold fast to his wife and nourish and cherish her as he does his own body (Eph 5:29-31). Where in that passage does it say, “Husbands, be masters of your household?” It is time we, as men of God, learn to love our wives and stop worrying so much about being masters.

Ephesians tells us to be lovers, not masters. Masters command and demand. Lovers die for the good of another. Masters act in their own best interest and seek to protect themselves and their image. Lovers act in their beloved’s best interested and seek to protect them and their image. Masters are concerned about self. Lovers are concerned for the one they love. Isn’t it time we learn to love as Christ loved? A Persian king said, let “every man be master in his own household” (Esth 1:22). The Apostle Paul taught, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church” (Eph 5:25). Whose advice do you think we should follow?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dealing with the Mess Sin Leaves Behind (Pt 5)

It is not uncommon to hear, or to think, “God will forgive me. All I need to do is confess it and it will be done.” But that fails to take into consideration the mess sin leaves behind and the incredibly destructive nature of sin. In Genesis 3, one bite of the forbidden fruit and the world became broken and messy. Sin is always messy. We might be tempted to think that a particular sin won’t hurt anyone, but the mess always spills over into the laps of others. When Ezra called the men of Israel together because of their sin, he called every man in Israel to come. They all sat in the rain and trembled because of the rain and because of their sin. Not every man in Israel had taken a foreign wife, but it affected them all. Dealing with sin and its mess takes surgery, not a Band-Aid. We can’t just say, “Oops. Sorry, my bad” and move on as though nothing happened. Sin often leaves us with no easy answers, and it is astonishingly infectious. 1 mg of ricin ingested or inhaled is fatal. Sin is just as deadly, and the mess it leaves behind is not easy to clean up.

So what do we do with this? First, don’t sin. As believers in Jesus Christ we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who empowers us to holiness. Second, keep short records. When God reveals or convicts of sin in our lives, own up to it immediately and begin steps to correct it. Third, be patient and prayerful for those who have been caught up in sin for generations. There are often no easy answers. A quick, black and white fix often doesn’t work. Be patient and prayerful. Fourth, pray for one another. Jesus said to his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). So pray. It doesn’t much bacteria to make a batch of stew inedible. It doesn’t take much sin to undo a lot of good in a community. Pray.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Dealing with the Mess Sin Leaves Behind (Pt 4)

Cleaning up the mess sin leaves behind takes surgery, not a band-aid. It is messy and often has no easy answers. Finally, it is dangerous because sin is infectious. Among those who had taken foreign wives were priests, Levites, and temple singers as well as ordinary citizens. They were all guilty of this sin, but those listed in Ezra 10 are mostly upper class citizens. Leaders and influential individuals had gotten caught up in the sin.

Out of several thousand returnees there appear to be less than 150 men involved in this sin. That is less than one half of one percent of the people. So, why is this such a big deal? The very existence of Judaism was dependent on keeping their marriages pure. In Greek culture the children would stay with the father and take the father’s religion, but in Eastern and Israelite culture the children stayed with the mother and took the mother’s religion. To marry a foreign wife who worshipped a foreign god was to guarantee that your children and their children would abandon the God of Israel. This was a big deal.

Remember Ai and the impact of Achan’s sin in Joshua 7. Under Joshua’s leadership Jericho had fallen without a battle. Ai was a small town. In light of the quick and successful capture of Jericho, Ai looked like a cake-walk. Instead, thirty-six men died and the people were ready to give up and quit. The sin of one man out of two million caused their army to fail. His sin? He had taken one cloak, two-hundred shekels of silver and one fifty-shekel bar of gold. Why was that a problem? Because God had instructed his people to destroy it all. It had been dedicated to a false god. God did not want his people to be distracted by or attracted to the false religion of the people in the land. Second, he did not want his people to forget their dependence on Him. He knew that in independence is arrogance, selfishness, and failure. Notice that Achan made no confession until he got caught. He was not broken over his sin, he was just caught with his hand in the cookie jar. One man who took a few things that he was not supposed to take caused the loss of a battle and the death of thirty-six men. Sin always has consequences.

Furthermore sin is infectious. What if he had gotten away with it? He would have been likely to take more from the next city. He might have invited a close friend to join him. Soon the command of God would have meant nothing. Sin is infectious. When dealing with the mess sin leaves behind we must be careful not to get caught up in it ourselves. Thus, Galatians warns, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1). Jude warns,
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:20-23).

Dealing with the mess sin leaves behind takes surgery, not a band-aid. It is messy and often has no easy answers. Finally, it is dangerous. Sin is infectious. It must be dealt with decisively but with great care.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dealing with the Mess Sin Leaves Behind (Pt 3)

Cleaning up the mess sin leaves behind is messy with no easy solutions. Ezra 10:9-17 demonstrates that reality. Verses 6-7 reveal that when the men respond to Ezra’s call to assemble, they face heavy rain. The text says that they are trembling because of the sin matter and because of the rain. Rain was a sign of God’s blessing under the Mosaic Covenant, but “heavy rain” had a different significance. Years earlier, in the time of King Saul and King David, the prophet/priest Samuel warned the people about their unfaithfulness. Then “Samuel called upon the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel” (1 Sam 12:18). Heavy rain was an expression of the fearsomeness of God in Samuel’s farewell warning to the people of Israel. In Ezekiel 13:11-13 a heavy rainstorm was an expression of God’s displeasure with false prophets. It is likely an expression of God’s displeasure with his people in Ezra 10 as well.

The people were instructed by Ezra to make confession of their sin and to separate themselves from the people of the land and from their foreign wives (Ezr 10:11-12). The scriptures teach that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), and yet Deuteronomy 24:1 allowed for divorce “if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her” (Deut 24:1). The indecency in this case is idolatry and the worship of false gods. Malichi 2:10-16 shows that this was even messier than it may appear in Ezra. It seems that at least some of the men may have put away their Israeli wives in order to marry pagan wives. The issue did not have an easy, black and white solution. They acknowledged that it would take some time to sort everything out (Ezr 10:13-17). In fact, not only did they recognize that it would take time, but not everyone was in agreement as to the solution (Ezr 10:15). It ended up taking three months to deal with this sin (Ezr 10:16-17).

We like quick, easy, black and white solutions to problems. We like one verse answers. But life is not always that simple. Consider the following: A woman has been living with a man for seven years and has two children with him, but he is divorced and his wife is still single. The simple solution is for him to put away his live-in girlfriend and remarry his wife, but what happens to the two children? This woman has given seven years of her life to this man. Is she just to be put out on the street? A pastor has been married three times, but in the third marriage he asked the officiant not to file his marriage certificate so that his third wife would not lose her medical benefits. They have now been “married” for some time but not legally. What counsel should be given to him? A tribal chief comes to faith and has five wives. What does the missionary tell him? A woman comes to faith and wants to follow Christ but she is in a same-sex marriage. Is she to get a divorce? Sin is complicated. There are no easy answers to many of these questions.

Cleaning up the mess sin leaves behind is often messy with no easy solutions. It takes time, prayer, and discernment. We want to quickly sweep things under the rug and go on as though the sin never happened, but that is not how sin works. Sin always leaves a wake of destruction in its path. When dealing with the mess sin leaves behind we need to learn to move slowly, deliberately, and with much prayer and discernment. The best thing is to avoid the sin in the first place. Life is much less messy that way.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Dealing with the Mess Sin Leaves Behind (Pt 2)

Sin is deadly and messy. Cleaning up the mess sin leaves behind takes surgery, not a Band-Aid. Ezra was not just angry or upset over the sin of his fellow Israelis, he was broken. They had taken foreign wives which would lead them to worshiping foreign gods and losing their children to the service of foreign gods. They had just rebuilt the temple of God and here they were essentially cheating on him with other gods. In Ezra 10:1 Ezra wept and cast himself down before the house of God over their sin. In Ezra 10:6 he fasted through the night, mourning their faithlessness. Israel had “broken faith” with God. (see Ezr 10:2). In Deuteronomy 7:1-4 Moses had clearly warned Israel against the very thing they were doing. A generation later Joshua gave the same warning (Josh 23:11-13). Yet in their faithlessness they had done the very thing they had been warned against (Mal 2:10-16; Ezr 10:2).

In dealing with their sin they proposed a covenant with God to put away their foreign wives. Ezra led them in an oath of obedience and then spent the night in prayer and fasting. Additionally a proclamation was made calling for all those involved in this sin to assemble within three days, or forfeit their property and be banned from the congregation. To forfeit their property probably meant that it would be given to the temple of God. Sin is serious business. When we gloss over it, excuse it, or make light of it we are as faithless as Israel. Sin is to be taken seriously.

We are a society that is more interested in appearance than in reality. The truth is, plastic chrome is still plastic, not chrome. Criminals are often told to dress nice for their court appearance, but dressed up criminals are still criminals. A nice fa├žade on a building changes the outward appearance of the building from the front, but it doesn’t change the actual building. A paint job doesn’t get rid of termites and a Band-Aid doesn’t cure skin cancer. You can dress up a sow, put perfume on her, and call her cute, but she is still just a pig who prefers mud on a hot day. We can dress sin up, give it another name like mistake, accident, or misunderstanding, but sin is still sin.

To effectively deal with the mess that sin leaves behind we must first be honest with God and with ourselves. Sin is an offensive expression of faithlessness. Appearance doesn’t change reality. We can cover up sin, but it doesn’t make it any less offensive to God. Maybe it is time we got honest with God instead of looking for someone or something to blame for our own faithlessness.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Dealing with the Mess Sin Leaves Behind (Pt 1)

In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus said,
 Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

Psalm 11:3 asks the question:
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

Israel was built on the solid foundation of a Covenant Relationship with God that guaranteed their blessing and protection as long as they lived according to the Law. Unfortunately that same Covenant guaranteed God’s judgment if they broke his Law. Because of their sin the nation of Israel divided and eventually was carried off into captivity. Their capital city and their temple were left in ruins. In Ezra, by God’s grace, they were reunited and allowed to go home and rebuild. The big question is: Will they live according to the Law or will they default to the same old sins that caused their downfall in the first place? The sad answer appears to be that they very quickly went back to the filth of sin like a sow returns to her favorite mud hole on a hot day.

Like Israel, our natural tendency, apart from the Word and the Spirit, is to default to our old ways. If we are not intentional, and if we are not in the Word and walking in the Spirit, we default to the very attitudes, words, and actions that created the mess we in which we live. Sin is infectious. Ingesting or inhaling just one milligram of the poison ricin is fatal. Sin is even more deadly.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Threats to Freedom

Freedom is not the freedom to do whatever we want, but the freedom to love God and others. True freedom is sourced in Christ and carries with it responsibility. There are two primary threats to freedom. One might be tempted to think foreign armies, despotic rulers, and gun laws are primary threats to freedom, but that misses the point.

Freedom found in Christ is threatened first by false teaching. 2Peter 2:19 says, “They (false teachers) promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” False teaching leads to slavery. It moves away from the power of the gospel, the Word, and the Spirit. It focuses on self, law, or a false god that brings only slavery. As believers, we need to be careful who we are listening too. We need to use discernment, and test what we are hearing just as Paul commended the Bereans (see Acts 17:11). False teaching threatens freedom.

A second threat to freedom is a false understanding of what freedom is. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13). Freedom is not the freedom to indulge the flesh. Freedom is not the freedom to do whatever we want. Freedom is not the freedom to use, abuse, or manipulate others. Freedom is the freedom to live according to the purposes for which God created us. Freedom is the freedom to act and speak in sync with the nature, character, and purpose of God. Freedom is the freedom to love God and others as we were intended to do.

Thinking of freedom as self-indulgence, or as no personal limitations leads to slavery, not freedom. We become enslaved to our own appetites. We enslave others to our will and whim. We find less and less joy in life while pursuing what we think will bring us fulfillment. Self-indulgence leads to slavery not freedom.

The primary threats to freedom are not the cultural shifts we see around us, the foreign nations that seek to exploit us, nor the hordes of immigrants wanting in. No, the true threats to freedom are false teaching and self-indulgence. The false teaching that freedom is self-indulgence is what will ultimately destroy our freedom. Rather, turn to Christ and find the true freedom to be what God designed you to be. “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

Friday, July 5, 2019

Freedom and Responsibility

With freedom comes responsibility. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13). Freedom carries responsibility toward others, especially brothers and sisters in the faith. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul argues that we have a responsibility to curb our freedom for the sake of others. He concludes, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God” (1Cor 10:32). We have a responsibility to live in such a way that we do not cause others to be drawn into sin or to act contrary to their own conscience. Freedom does not mean that I can do whatever I want without consideration of how it affects others. My actions always have implications for others. As one who is free in Christ, I am responsible to consider how my words and actions will affect others. Will it draw them to Christ or draw them away from him? Freedom is not freedom without responsibility.

Free carries not only responsibility toward others, but also toward God. 1Peter 2:16 warns,  “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” Freedom means freedom to serve God and others, not freedom to indulge self. Freedom is not freedom to sin. It is not freedom to harm others. It is not freedom to offend. It is not freedom to thumb our noses at God and do evil. It is freedom to serve. It is freedom to live in relationship. Freedom is always freedom with responsibility.

In fact freedom is not freedom without responsibility. Freedom without responsibility leaves devastation, brokenness, and pain in its wake. Freedom without responsibility leaves emptiness, loneliness, and hurt. Freedom is not freedom without responsibility for it enslaves all those around us to our whims and desires. Freedom without responsibility is slavery.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

True Freedom on Independence Day

July 4 is the day the United States of America celebrates freedom. The Declaration of Independence, which was approved July 4, 1776, was not a declaration of freedom to do whatever we want. It was a declaration of independence from Great Britain. It was not a rejection of government and law. It was a declaration of the right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under that oversight of government established by the people. It was not a government established by God, which is what so many despotic kings claimed, but a government established by the people.   

It is a good system, yet every system has fault. The primary fault of any governmental system is that is it run by broken people. The Bible teaches that true freedom comes not from declarations or human efforts but through the gospel, the Word, and the Spirit. Is 61:1 is quoted by Jesus in Lk 4:18.  
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

It is through the gospel of Jesus Christ that good news is preached to the poor. It is through the gospel of Jesus that the brokenhearted are bound up and captives are released. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This is not freedom to do whatever we want, but true freedom from the sin and brokenness that holds us in slavery. Paul goes on to write, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal 5:13). Freedom, true freedom, is the freedom to willing and freely serve out of love.

Freedom is found in the gospel. It is also found in God’s Word. Ps 119:45 says, “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Freedom does not mean the freedom to determine for yourself what it right, true, or proper. Freedom is found in the truth of God’s Word. Freedom is found when we enter into the life for which we were created. Freedom is found in the gospel and the Word of God.

Finally, freedom is found in God’s Spirit. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Cor 3:17). It is the indwelling Spirit of God that gives us understanding of God’s Word as we meditate on it. It is the Spirit that comes to dwell in every individual who responds to the gospel in faith. He empowers us to serve. He grows in us the love of Christ. He guides us to live out our freedom in a way that honors God. “Where the Spirit . . . is, there is freedom.”

Freedom is celebrated with a day off from work, barbecue, family, and celebration, fireworks and carnivals. But true freedom is found in the gospel, the Word, and the Spirit. This is not the empty freedom that leaves us with a hangover and a yearning for something more. This is the freedom of true life. It is the freedom to enter into the fullness of who we were created to be. This Independence Day let me challenge you to declare your dependence on God. Trust that He will accept you, forgive you, cleanse you, fill you, and give you true freedom not because you have turned over a new leaf, but because Jesus loved you enough to die for you and raise from the dead. Believe it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


In the first chapter of Haggai the Jews had three excuses for not rebuilding God’s temple. In verse 2 they argued that it was not the right time. In verse 4 they argued that it was not convenient. In verses 6-8 they argued that the did not have the resources. Those excuses sound familiar. We use the very same excuses for not fulfilling the Great Commission. “It’s not the right time. It’s not convenient. I don’t have the right resources, information, gifting, or ability.” Yet Jesus said, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Act 1:8). He did not say, “You ought to be my witnesses,” or “You should be my witnesses,” or “I hope you will be my witnesses.” He said, “You shall be my witnesses.” This Independence Day will we embrace the commission to take the news of real freedom to a broken world, or will we continue to make excuses, while maintaining our own personal peace and affluence and ignore a broken world? Let’s be honest, we make lots of excuses, but we have no excuse. Let you light so shine!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A City Set on a Hill

For the Puritans, the American Dream was directly related to the Great Commission. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mt 5:14). The American Dream was that the world would see who God is by seeing him at work in the lives of a nation that honored him. We could argue about how well that has been done, but the vision was right.

In Haggai, the Jews were supposed to be rebuilding the temple. In 539 B.C. the Persians gave the Jews permission to rebuild. Almost 20 years later the job still wasn’t done. Haggai was written to motivate the People of God to get on with the Work of God. In Matthew 28 Jesus gave us the Great Commission to make disciples. Over 2000 years later the work still isn’t done and we, the People of God, are more interested in the 21st century American Dream of personal peace and affluence than in that of our founding fathers. We, as the church, are a city set on a hill. We have the Good News of Life. As we celebrate liberty, let us proclaim the liberty of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The American Dream

What is the American Dream? A nice house? A good job? Food to eat and clothes to wear? The American Dream is defined by personal peace and affluence. Or to put it another way, “Leave me alone and let me enjoy my stuff.” That seems to be the epitome of the American Dream. Francis Schaeffer warned back in the 1960s and '70s that we would sacrifice every right and freedom for the illusion of personal peace and affluence.

In Haggai the Jews had everything that we define as the American Dream, yet they didn’t have enough. They ate, but they weren’t satisfied. They drank but there wasn’t enough to become drunk. They had clothes to wear but they were never warm. They had jobs but there was never enough money. They had the American Dream, and it was never enough.

That sounds a lot like our day, but it is 180o from the American Dream our founders held. In 1630 John Winthrop gave a challenge from the prophet Micah, “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (Mic 6:8). Maybe it is time we pay attention to those words.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...