Category Archives: theology

NONTHREATENING CHRISTIANITY IS COMPROMISED CHRISTIANITY

 

One of the popular buzzwords in the church today is “nonthreatening”. I’ve seen many churches tout their “nonthreatening” services, “nonthreatening” Bible studies, and I even saw one church invite people to their “nonthreatening” prayer meeting. When they say “nonthreatening” what they really mean is that they don’t want to offend anyone and want everybody to feel comfortable. It is their desire that everyone enjoy the service, Bible study or prayer meeting without feeling uneasy about what is said.

Simply put, “nonthreatening” Christianity is compromised Christianity.

This “nonthreatening” Christianity compromises the gospel message. You see, the gospel, by its very message, is very threatening. It tells me that I am a sinner separated from God, and the result is hell forever. It tells me that I’m not okay, and that I cannot earn, bribe, work for, or persuade my way into heaven. It tells me that Jesus had to go through a horrible physical death on the cross because of my sin, and had to endure the wrath of the Father that I deserve. It tells me that I must repent of my sins and put my trust solely in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

The “nonthreatening” gospel is crossless and bloodless. People are invited to “accept Jesus in their heart”, and they will be on their way. There’s no mention of confession, repentance, conviction of sin, the cross, or the blood of our awesome Savior. Just accept Jesus in your heart. It’s nonthreatening and not offensive, but it is also worthless. Today;’s church is filled with people who think they are saved but have no clue what the true, biblical gospel is, and are on their way to a lost eternity. The “nonthreatening” gospel is cheap grace at its ugly best.

Additionally, “nonthreatening” Christianity compromises discipleship. To be a follower of Jesus, the Bible says that I need to surrender totally to Jesus and follow Him unconditionally. It tells me I need to die to self daily and, in spiritual brokenness, live as a bond slave of Him. It tells me that the cost of following Jesus may indeed be everything, and that I must be willing to forsake all for Him if He should ask me to do so. In a “me” focused culture, this is definitely offensive, and is very threatening to our self absorbed mindset.

“Nonthreatening” discipleship is void of any mention of holiness, sanctification, surrender or dying to self. In the minds of many in today’s church, following Jesus means owning a Bible, coming to church when it doesn’t conflict with other activities, and throwing a twenty in the offering plate once in a while. It is a cheap imitation of what the Bible clearly defines as being a Christian. This Christianity “lite” had weakened the church dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Yes, the truth may be hard to take because it is so convicting, but it is still the truth and the only way to real life. When we compromise the truth to make people feel comfortable and safe, we lead them on the dangerous path of eternal destruction (the “nonthreatening” gospel) and the pathetic road to a mediocre, shallow relationship with Jesus (“nonthreatening” discipleship).

We don’t need to be cute with Biblical truth. Just preach it, teach it, and share it, and let the Holy Spirit do His job in the hearts of people. Yes, the uncompromised proclamation of the gospel will be threatening and offensive to the unsaved, and the uncompromised truth about discipleship will be threatening and offensive to Christians .  But do we dare teach anything less? We were never called to make comfortable people in all nations. We were called to make disciples of all nations.

The truth may hurt, but the truth will set people truly free.

THE THREE WORDS THAT CHANGE EVERYTHING

In my last post I wrote about how most Christians never rise above the level of mediocrity in their walk with Jesus because the bar has been set too low. Most Christians just aimlessly float through life with a “oh well, I’m just a sinner” mindset and never experience all that God has planned for them. However, God has blessed us with everything necessary to live a holy, God glorifying life, and to reach the destiny He has planned for us.

You see, as born again believers in Jesus, we have it all. Why, then do so many believers miss this? Why do so many live such a defeated Christian life and settle for mediocrity? Because most never appropriate the profound truth found in Romans 6 that every believer has died with Jesus to their sins. Romans 6:5-7 says: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,
knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  for he who has died is freed from sin.”,  and Romans 6:11 tells us: “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” . Add to this Colossians 3:3: For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. “ and Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me”.

You see, my friends, the totality of the Christian life can be summed up in three words: DIE TO SELF.

“Self” is that part of me that wants to be God, that part of me that wants to call the shots. Simply put, “self” is the old, sinful me. When we, by faith, repent of our sins and trust in Jesus as Savior, we become new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  What an incredible truth! However, when we become this new creation, it is important to remember that the old self is not eradicated, The old, sinful “me” is still hanging around.

This is where dying to “self” comes in. I must, based on Romans 6, Colossians 3:3, and Galatians 2:20, consider that my old “self” is dead, having been crucified with Jesus. How, you may ask, is this possible? Obviously we weren’t living two thousand years ago, and we certainly were not crucified with Jesus. So what does this mean? Simply put, we must consider it a fact that positionally, (not physically), our old sinful “self” was put to death with Jesus on the cross, meaning that the power of sin has been broken in out lives.

Two phenomenal truths happened at the cross – 1. Jesus died for our sins, which is justification; 2. We died with Jesus to our sins, which is sanctification. All Christians (if they are truly born again) grasp the first truth. But very few grasp the second, which leads to a mediocre life. 

The Biblical truth of dying to “self” impacts every aspect of our lives. When I counsel married couples having problems, or when I talk to an individual struggling with sin, or an individual who is just going through the motions of Christianity, the common cure is very simple – DIE TO SELF. “Self” is the cause of virtually all sin and problems in life. Why? Because “self” is rooted in pride, and pride is the root of all sin.

In talking to couples with marriage problems, I have heard so often the phrase: “he/she is not meeting my needs”.  Well, marriage is not about “you”. It is about being a humble servant of your spouse. Just think, if every married person would die to “self”, would there be as many marriage problems?  No! The “I” and “me” focus would be replaced by the focus on “my spouse”.

If every individual would die to “self”, would there be as much shallow Christianity as we see today? No! Believers would die to the old desires and replace the  attitude of “I’m going to do what I want to do” with “I’m going to do what Jesus wants me to do”. This would impact our entertainment choices, our relationships, our handling of money, our attitude at work, how we use our time, and what comes our of our mouths. Dying to “self” is, in effect, making Jesus Lord of our lives (instead of calling Him Lord but never giving Him the reigns of our lives) and living in obedience to His commands. You see, we mess up our lives when we (“self”) call the shots instead of God.

Practically, dying to “self” means that:

  • I don’t need to get my way
  • I don’t need to be recognized when I do something
  • I don’t need others to validate me
  • I don’t seek retaliation when I am wronged
  • I don’t need to be served or coddled
  • I don’t need to be popular
  • I care more about what God knows about me than what others think about me
  • I am content with whatever God determines for me
  • I care more about my holiness than my happiness
  • I am not impressed with myself, and realize that life is not about me
  • I put others before myself
  • I surrender myself without any condition to God
  • My number one goal in life is to bring glory to God

You see, my friends, this is the only way to deep intimacy with God, to experience the power of His awesome presence, to experience the true meaning and purpose in life, and to be used by God to advance His kingdom. There is no lifestyle on the planet that can compare with a life that has died to “self”.

Why do we find it so hard to die to “self”? Because we are told by our culture that life is all about us – about our happiness, our comfort, our pleasure, our way. We are told that we are the captains of our ships and the masters of our fate, when in reality we are neither. Our life is about God – bringing Him glory, serving Him, and walking in intimacy with Him. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but life is not about you. Never has been and never will be. It is about our awesome God.

Have you died to “self”? It is a daily choice that we must make. You see, since the old “self” is still in existence, there is a continual battle raging between the old “self” and the new “self”. The one you nurture will be the one that you will serve. If you feed your new “self” daily with prayer, studying God’s Word, and communing with Him, you will experience victory in your life. If you neglect these and feed yourself with worldly things, your old “self” will dominate and you will make choices that are destructive to you and dishonoring to God.

It’s our choice. Do you want to rise above the level of mediocrity in your Christian life? Are you tired of being shallow in your knowledge and love for Jesus? Then die to “self” daily. It is the only way to bring glory to God and reach the destiny He has planned for you. Not a life of perfection, as we will never be perfect in this life, but a life where victories far outweigh the failures, and a life that goes deep with Jesus.

Remember, the entirety of the Christian life can be summed up in three words, the three words that change everything – DIE TO SELF.

My friends, die, and live!

DOES GOD REALLY FORGET OUR SINS?

It is very popular for Christians to quote Psalm 103:12 – ” As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us“, with the idea that since east and west never meet, so our past sins (once repented of) will never again be brought up.  Also often quoted is Jeremiah 31:34 – “…for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more“, again, with the idea that our past sins are forever forgotten. While this makes us feel good, are these verses interpreted correctly, or have they been taken out of context? Remember, verses are part of a paragraph, which is part of a chapter, which is part of a book which is part of the Bible. The three most important words in interpreting Scripture are context, context, context.

What is conveniently forgotten when saying that our repented of sins are forgotten forever are passages like 2 Corinthians 5:10 –   For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” and Romans 14:10-2 : For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’  So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God”

You see, the texts that speak of our sins being forgotten forever by God must be interpreted in light of the texts that teach that all of us will give an account of ourselves to God for everything we did in this life “whether good or bad”. The word “judgment seat” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:10 is the Greek word “Bema“, which means an elevated seat or a tribunal in which someone with authority sits and declares judgment. Since every human being will undergo some kind of judgment by our great God, biblical theology teaches that even believers will be judged. This judgment is not to determine our eternal destination in either heaven or hell, as this has been decided by Jesus on the cross, and true believers are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. This Bema seat judgment will be for rewards in heaven (these rewards, while not specifically detailed in Scripture, could pertain to what our service will be in our heavenly home). 

So, then what does Psalm 103:12 and Jeremiah 31:34 mean? They don’t mean that God gets amnesia when we repent and can never remember our sins. What they mean, when taken in context of Scripture, is that God no longer holds our sins against us in our relationship with Himself. Sin is a barrier that blocks our intimacy with God. When we, as born again believers in Jesus, sin, we offend our holy God and our relationship with Him is affected. We don’t lose our salvation, but our relationship with Him is marred. When we confess and repent, we are forgiven (1 John 1:9) and our intimacy is restored, even though the consequences of our sin are still experienced. However, we will have to give an account of our lives at the Bema Seat judgment for every word we uttered, every deed we did, every thought we pondered, and every motive that caused these words, actions, and thoughts. 

Makes us think twice about our lives, doesn’t it?

Do you see, just because born again believers are adopted into God’s family and are now His sons and daughters, it doesn’t mean we have the green light to do whatever we want, confess when we sin, and then go on our merry way. It does matter how we live. God requires His children to walk on the holiness journey, to live a life that is honoring and glorifying to Him, and to live in absolute surrender to Him. Modern Christianity has adopted a “cheap grace” attitude of living which is totally foreign to Scripture. This cheap grace pseudo-theology says “since we are saved by grace, our actions and words don’t really matter; we can do whatever we want, confess the behaviors that are sinful, and then just move on without any repercussion because, after all, God forgets them”. This is just wrong-headed theology. While it is true that we are saved by grace, the Bible also teaches that we must live in holiness and obedience to God’s moral standards (1 Peter 1;15-16). There are consequences to sin in this life, and we will have to give an account of our lives to God when our earthly lives are over.

How, then, shall we live, knowing that, at the end, we will give an account for every aspect of our lives to God? My friends, the only way to live this life is in humble, total surrender to God. To die to self and give the reigns of our lives to Him.  To cling to Him in brokenness and holy desperation acknowledging that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him, and need Him desperately. Living this way doesn’t mean that we will be perfect, but it will certainly have God’s approval. Yes, we will sin, as even Christians have a fallen nature, but when we do sin and immediately confess and repent, our loving Father picks us up, dusts us off, gives us a hug, and takes our hand to lead us on. Oh, He will allow the consequences of our sins to occur, but these serve us well in the future to remind us to run from temptation. What a merciful, loving God we call our Father!!

So, my friends, rejoice that, when we repent of our sins, God doesn’t hold them against us in our relationship with Him. But remember that we will, someday, give an Him an account for everything word, action, thought, and motive in our earthly journey. And, finally, live in surrender to Him so that you won’t be ashamed when you stand before Him at the Bema Seat judgment. 

THE DEISM OF AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY

While, there are different theological and philosophical ideas in deism, it’s basic belief is that there is a Supreme Being who created the universe, but then stepped back and distanced Himself from it. He established the laws of nature and then let the universe run itself. This idea includes human beings – God is not involved in our lives and is not interested in what we do. Theism, on the other hand,  holds that God created everything and is intimately involved in His creation, including the lives of human beings.  He cares what we do and is active in our daily lives. Evangelical Christianity is anchored in theism because theism is built on biblical truth.

However, by looking at evangelicalism today, it seems that many Christians live a deist type of Christianity. Most Christians today live as though God doesn’t really care how they live their lives. They acknowledge Jesus as their Savior but leave Him there. They become the “god” of their own lives.

How else can we explain the staggering divorce rate, premarital sex, addictions to pornography, unwholesome entertainment choices, self absorbed life styles, lack of honesty and integrity, and materialism that is so prevalent in the church? Over the years I’ve talked to countless believers who made choices that are so contrary to God’s holy standards, and seemed oblivious to the horrible witness they were to the world of what it means to be a child of God. Recently I heard a DJ on a national Christian radio show say that he viewed a certain movie and approved of a caller to the station who said that he saw it too. Not knowing about this movie, I read a review of it on a Christian movie review website and was absolutely horrified at the film’s sexually immoral and profanity laced content that the reviewer summarized. And yet here were two Christians, one who has a national platform, saying that they saw the movie without any real sense of shame.

The current mantra among many believers is “God wants me to be happy”, which then allows them to pursue anything they desire. This is deist thinking. No, my friends, God isn’t concerned with our happiness, He is concerned with our holiness. When we are walking in holiness we have His approval, and when we have His approval we have His presence in our lives, and when we have His presence in our lives we have joy. And joy, which is rooted deep in our hearts, is infinitely better than happiness, which is dependent on outside circumstances.

The worldview of a deist leads to disastrous results. Since all human beings are fallen creatures that are born with a sin nature, it is natural for us, even Christians,  to be selfish, self serving, and egocentric.  And that is the way many Christians act. Without dying to self and grasping the reality of Romans 6 that our old self was crucified with Jesus so that when we surrender to Him and His will sin has no power over us, we act just like the unredeemed.

A very popular saying in Christendom is “Christianity isn’t a set of ‘do’s and don’ts’ but a relationship”. While this sounds good and eases our consciences, it is only half correct. Salvation is not a set of “do’s and don’ts”, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone (not by works, religion, or anything else). However, as followers of Jesus, discipleship is very much a set of “do’s and don’ts”. God has set the parameters of what is acceptable for His children and what is not. He has set the standards of holiness which we are all to strive for. Just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:33, 1 Peter 1:16-17, and Philippians 4:8 as just a small sample of the definition of how a follower of Jesus should live.

Sadly, deism has dominated the thinking of the church today, leaving biblical holiness by the wayside. My friends, God does care how we live. Since He created us and is active in our lives, He knows what’s best for us, has laid down the definition of how we are to live, and expects us to follow it. When we treat Him in a deist way, we become the gods of our own lives and shame His glorious name and bring misery to our lives. Yes, it does matter what we watch on TV or at the movies. It does matter what we read or look at on the computer. It does matter what we say how we treat others, how we define marriage, and how we define sexuality. God has given us the standards for each of these, and we can’t just ignore them and convince ourselves that “God wants me happy” trumps them all.

God is our Creator, He loves us and has set the standards of behavior by which we are to live (for our own good and for His glory), and is active in our lives. The question is – will we surrender ourselves totally to Him? Will we give Him all rights to ourselves to His will, die to “self’ and live for His glory instead of our happiness? We will all give an account of ourselves to Him when our lives on earth are over and we stand before Him. May we live in such a way that we will not be ashamed of how we conducted our lives, and then hear Him say: ‘I know you weren’t perfect, but I know your heart was sold out to Me and you heart’s desire was to follow Me. Well done!”.

THE QUESTION OF EVIL

The existence of evil has perplexed people for centuries. Philosophers have pondered its meaning, sociologists have studied its impact, psychologists have analyzed its behaviors, theologians have questioned its origins, atheists have embraced it in their argument against the existence of God, and all people try to survive in a world filled with it. Everyone must wrestle with the question of evil, regardless of one’s belief.

As mentioned above, atheists say that the existence of evil proves that the “good and loving” God of the Christians doesn’t exist because how could a “good and loving” God allow such horrible things to occur in His creation. As renowned British atheist Bertrand Russell famously said: “No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God”.

And if we are to be totally honest, most Christians struggle with this also. When we hear about rape, murder, sex trafficking, child abuse, torture, Ponzi schemes, children with fatal diseases, innocent people dying in at the hands of drunk drivers, birth deformities, etc. we wonder: “How could God, who created and controls everything in the universe, allow such wickedness?”. And many also wonder: “Since God created all things, did He, then, create evil too? How can this be if the God we believe in is perfectly righteous and holy?”

And this can leave our faith shaken to the core.

In order to have a deep, unwavering faith and a proper understanding of God we must wrestle with the existence of evil. How, then, do we as believers in the one true God answer the problem of evil?

First we acknowledge that, indeed, God is the creator of all things as the Bible says. The first two chapters of Genesis make this clear.  Additionally, when talking about Jesus, the Bible says in  John 1:3: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” and in Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” As Christians, we believe this without any reservation. Well, some say, does this mean that He also created evil?

The verses cited above tell us that God created “all things“, but we must be careful about how we understand this. In interpreting this statement, we must also understand the nature and character of God. The Bible tells us that God is perfectly holy and righteous, and cannot think of doing evil, cannot actually do evil, and can’t force us to do evil. Thus, when we read that God created all things, we must understand this to mean that He created all things in perfect agreement with His nature,  and therefore cannot create anything that is evil. Simply put, God cannot create anything that is inconsistent with who He is. Indeed, five times in the creation narrative in Genesis, Scripture says that God saw that what He had created was good. And, after His creative work was completed on the sixth day, He saw that everything was very good.

Well, then, where does evil come from?

To answer this question we must first answer another question – what is exactly is evil? Evil is not a “thing” in the sense of something tangible. You can’t hold it or touch it like a rock, a rose, or a cat. Evil is what we see played out in our world when human beings choose to rebel against God’s holy standards.

God created humans with a moral will and therefore with the ability to make moral choices. When we choose to obey His moral standards the result is goodness. However, when we choose the opposite, when we choose to disregard God’s commands, goodness is absent, and therefore something else must naturally occur to take the place of goodness. That something is evil. The evil we see played out in our world is the result of people making “anti-God” choices.

When God created man with free will, He allowed for the possibility of evil to exist. This is very important to grasp so allow me to repeat it – God did not create evil but in creating human beings with free will He allowed for the possibility of evil to exist if these human beings He created chose to violate His laws. And in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did exactly that – they chose, out of their free will, to violate God’s command concerning the eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when they did eat of the tree evil entered God’s “good creation”.

The question that naturally follows, and that is asked quite often, is: “Well, then, why doesn’t God do something about the evil that exists in our world? Why doesn’t He rid the world of evil? After all, He is all-powerful, right?” The answer is simple – He definitely could rid the earth of all evil. But if he did get rid of all evil in our world five minutes from now, where would you and I be in five minutes and one second? The earth would be absent of human beings (you and I included) because we all have violated, and continue to violate, God’s moral laws in some fashion. We may not be murderers or rapists, but we are selfish, proud, gossips, liars, and envious at times, and all of these are violations of God’s moral standards. You see, if God would rid the earth of evil He would essentially have to unmake the present earth and start again. So instead of complaining about evil, we all should be thankful that God is patient with us and extends his mercy and grace to sinners like us.

However, when people ask why God doesn’t do something about evil, we do have a powerful answer to give them: “Yes, God indeed did do something about evil. Something profound. He came to earth as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for all the evil that all humans do by dying on a cross. Now, for those who trust in Him as Savior, there is forgiveness and eternal life”. Profound indeed!

Going back to Bertrand Russell’s statement mentioned above, we can reverse his question and ask: “What does an atheist say at the bedside of a dying child? ‘Oh well, that’s the way it goes.Only the strong survive and I guess that you’re not one of them. Tough luck.'” Not very comforting words are they. However, what does a Christian say at the bedside of a dying child: “There is a God who created you and who loves you and has paid the price for your salvation. If you trust in Him as Savior, you will live with Him in perfect peace and joy forever”.

That’s quite a difference.

Yes, evil does abound in the world, and will until Jesus comes back in all His glory, but don’t let that shake your faith. God is still on the throne and is sovereign over all. In the end He will make all things right. When we get to heaven evil will not exist and there will only be utter perfection, beautiful goodness, and absolute holiness. And that’s something to truly look forward to!

THE MR. POTATO HEAD GOD

Remember Mr. Potato Head, the toy that let you grab a potato and create many different kinds of faces, depending on what you liked? It was fun, and your creativity was only limited by the number of combinations in the box. We felt empowered to create a potato man just as we desired.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have created what I call a “Mr. Potato Head” God. Many have, in their minds, created a God as they desire, a God that fits their lifestyle and makes them happy, instead of holding to a Biblically balanced knowledge of God.

Some have created a God who is like a benevolent old grandfather rocking in his chair in heaven, looking away at our sin because He is loving and just wants us to be happy. This God has dropped His absolute standards of morality because we are living in an ever-changing culture, and the measurement of happiness has changed with it. This God allows us to have premarital sex, live in a homosexual lifestyle, divorce our spouse for any reason, view pornography, cheat, lie, view unwholesome movies and television, and gossip without restraint. He is like our own cosmic bell hop who is at our beck and call to give us whatever makes us happy including health, wealth, and pleasure. This type of God can be loved but not truly honored, feared (respected) or worshiped. This view of God leads to a lifestyle characterized by license.

Others have created an angry God who is ready to stomp on us like a bug when we sin. This God takes great pleasure in making us squirm with guilt and fear, being constantly afraid that we will offend God and be slapped with His wrath. This is like a dictatorial father who rules with an iron fist and strikes terror in his kids. This type of God can be feared (honored), but cannot be truly loved with any depth because He is distant and unknowable. This view of God leads to a lifestyle characterized by legalism.

In both of these extremes, we have created a lesser God, a God of our own imagination, and a God who is far from the truth.

My friends, it is imperative that we have a Biblically balanced view of God – an understanding of God that is taken from His Word, not from our imagination.

What is a Biblically balanced view of God? What does the Bible tell us about our incredible God?

Our great, awesome God is :

  • Eternal (self existent) Exodus 3:13-14; Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 44:6 ;1 Timothy 1:17
  • Omnipotent (all powerful)  Genesis 17:1; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26;   Revelation 19:6
  • Omnipresent (all present)  Psalm 139:7-10; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:23- 24
  • Omniscient (all knowing)  Psalm 147:5; Psalm 139:1-6; Romans 11:33-34
  • Sovereign (in total control of everything in the universe) Isaiah 45:23; Isaiah 46:9-10; Psalm 103:19
  • Immutable (unchanging in His nature and attributes)  Numbers 23:19; Psalm 33:11; Malachi 3:6
  • Righteous/Just  Deuteronomy 32:4; James 1:13; Revelation 15:3-4
  • Truth  Psalm 31:5; Psalm 117:2; Titus 1:2
  • Merciful  Psalm 130:3; Psalm 145:8-9; 1 John 1:9
  • Love  John 3:16; 1 John 4:8;1 John 4:16
  • Holy  Genesis 32:30; Exodus 3:4-5; Isaiah 6:3-5; Revelation 4:8-11;   Revelation 5:14

This list is by no means exhaustive (and each attribute is a monumental study in itself), but gives the essential basics of God’s character, and there are many more verses to describe these attributes than the ones listed.

Going back to our two extremes mentioned above (the “Old Grandfather God” and the “Dictatorial Father God”) we must keep a Biblically balanced understanding of God when addressing these two views. Yes, God is loving, but He is also just. We cannot just focus on one or the other. And no where do we see these two meld together so wonderfully than at the cross.

You see, a righteous, holy God must punish sin, if He didn’t He wouldn’t be righteous and holy. And since we are all sinners, He must punish us for our sin (which, according to the Bible, is death – both physical and spiritual). Yet, he loves us with a perfect love and wants us to be with Him in heaven forever. Now, this creates a seemingly impossible dilemma. How will perfectly holy and just God punish us for our sin (being separated from Him forever in the torment of hell) and still retain His perfect love for us (being with Him forever in the splendors of heaven)? The answer is the cross.

On the cross Jesus carried our sins upon Himself and took the full, undiluted wrath of the Father for our (and all mankind’s) sins. Our sin was punished, so God’s justice and righteousness was rightly meted out. And, since His punishment for our sins was directed on His Son, His love for us remains intact and we, when we repent and trust in Jesus as Savior, go free.

At the cross God’s love and His justice collided, and the result is grace. How absolutely glorious is that? My friends, do you see that when we grasp a Biblically balanced  view of God, we then can enter into a relationship with Him that is both reverent and intimate; a relationship that is based on both mental ascent (knowledge) and emotion (love). This is a God that can be both worshiped and loved. A God who is worthy of our total devotion and praise, and a God who we can come to as Daddy (Abba). What an incredible God we have!!

Oh, my friends, dig deeply into Scripture in order to go deeply into intimacy with our God. Don’t create a Mr. Potato Head God that is of our own creation. Let Him reveal Himself to us through His word, and then fall at his feet in worship, adoration, and love.

THE CROSS AND RESURRECTION IN CHRISTMAS

The Christmas story is so simple, and yet it is so profound. The prophecies that were fulfilled when Jesus was born are numerous, God’s plan of redemption went against everything a human being could think of, and the raw humility of the scene that surrounded the Incarnation is staggering. The Son of God, one of the three persons in the triune Godhead, came to earth for the ultimate destiny of the cross on which He died for the sins of mankind.

And when you look at the events surrounding the Christmas story, you see an incredible picture of the events surrounding the cross and resurrection. As we take a look at these, it is almost breathtaking, and I hope it will bring a deeper, richer meaning to your Christmas.

At Jesus’ birth, a decree from a Rome (Caesar Augustus’ command for a census) is what sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, setting in motion then events of His birth (Luke:1-6). Likewise, it was a decree from Rome (Governor Pontius Pilate’s execution approval) that set in motion Jesus’s crucifixion (Luke 23:22-25).

Many scholars believe that Jesus was born in a cave (not a wooden barn) and laid in a manger, which would have been carved out of the stone walls in the cave. When He was taken off the cross, Jesus was laid in a tomb that was a cave cut out of a rock hill (Luke 23:53). So He was laid in a rock bed at both His birth and His death.  Additionally, these two caves were “borrowed” from others (the cave stall certainly wasn’t theirs as they were from Nazareth and Mary gave birth in Bethlehem, and the tomb was borrowed, Matthew 27:59).

When He was born, angels announced His birth to lowly shepherds (Luke 2:8-12). When Jesus rose from the dead, angels announced His resurrection to “lowly” women, who,in ancient culture, were considered as second class (Matthew 28:1-6).

The message of the angels at both His birth and His resurrection started out the same: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10, Matthew 28:5).

At His birth Jesus was wrapped in cloth, which was cut into strips and tightly wrapped around Him, following the custom of the day (Luke 2:6-7)). At His death, Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth, which was the burial custom of the day (John 19:40).

Additionally, the strips of cloth were a sign to the shepherds of the Savior’s birth (Luke 2:12). Likewise, the empty strips of cloth were a sign to Peter and John that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:1-9)

After Jesus was born, He would have been washed in order to be cleansed of the blood and other body fluids from birth (as we do with newborns today). When He was taken off of the cross, in order to follow usual burial customs of the day, His body was washed in order to be cleansed of the blood that He shed and the other fluids He had been subject to (His own sweat and spit from those who mocked Him).

After the shepherds had seen the newborn Savior they ran to tell everyone in the town (Luke 2:17). After the women had seen the empty tomb of the risen Savior they ran to tell the rest of the disciples (Matthew 28:8).

When the Magi came to see Jesus (although they came around two years later they are usually included in our modern Christmas scenes) one of the gifts they brought was myrrh, which was a spice used in burial (Matthew 2:11). When Jesus was wrapped in His burial cloths after his death, He was buried with the spices aloe and myrrh (burial customs included putting spices in the cloth strips that the deceased was wrapped in; John 19:38-39).

And finally, after the days of purification were complete (Leviticus 12:1-4 states that a mother had to wait forty days after giving birth to a son before entering the temple to offer sacrifices for her purification) Jesus was brought to the temple to be presented to God (Luke 2:22-23). Likewise, forty days after his resurrection, He ascended into Heaven to be “presented” back to His Father (Acts 1:1-11).

Do you see the incredible similarities in the events of the birth and death of Jesus? Are these coincidences? I don’t believe so. Jesus came to die on the cross, and His whole earthly life was lived for this ultimate goal. And His coming, His death, and His resurrection was for you and me. How awesome is that?

This Christmas celebrate our wonderful Messiah. As you look at your nativity scenes don’t just see the baby and the manger, let the scene bring you to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And let this bring a fresh, new perspective as you worship Him and celebrate His birth.

Merry Christmas my friends!!





WHY YOUNG PEOPLE LEAVE THE CHURCH AND HOW TO STOP IT

Statistics reveal that the majority of young people who grew up in church leave it soon after graduating from high school, and most of them will never return. I’ve seen some statistics that speculate that the rate could be as high as eighty percent. This shocking reality should cause us to take a long, hard look at how the church “ministers” to youth.

Why do they leave? While I’m not a professional statistician or sociologist, I have interacted with young people and observed how the church relates to them, and I have come to conclusions that won’t be very popular with some.  Here they are.

When our kids are elementary school age, they go to Sunday school and Children’s Church which is great. However, what are they taught? By the time they reach fourth or fifth grade they have heard the story of the Walls of Jericho, Jonah and the fish’s belly, the parting of the Red Sea, Joseph and the many colored coat, and David and Goliath a zillion times. Oh, the story is presented in a more advanced level as they get older, but it is still the same story. By the time our kids finish elementary school, they have been storied to death. And they are bored.

Then they get to junior high and high school and join youth group, which is great. But what do they get in these gatherings? Silly games, greasy pizza, and a brief devotional that is as shallow as a wading pool. They are taken to stadium events once a year where there is a smorgasbord of continuous high tech emotional hype including blaring music, skits, games, and speakers that have the corner market on “cool”. These speakers dress like a sixteen year old and talk the latest “lingo” as they feed our kids a rah-rah message. At the conclusion of their talk, kids, who have been swayed by all the emotional hype, come forward by the hundreds to “surrender” their lives to God, not having a clue what that means. They come back to church the next week chanting “God is cool” and give the appearance of being transformed from the event. However, within a couple of months they are right back to who they were before the attending the event. While these gatherings do impact some kids, the vast majority are ultimately left unchanged.

Then they leave for college, the military, or jobs, and church is all but forgotten. I believe there are two main reasons for this mass exodus.

First, they have never been challenged in their faith. They haven’t been taught theology and doctrine and thus are clueless on what they believe and why they believe it. When challenged by a college professor or coworker about matters of faith, specifically Christianity, they can’t answer. Then doubts creep into their minds and they see no great reason for their faith. They never had anyone explain theology and how it relates to all matters of life, and have not dug deeply into the Bible. Their church experience has left them empty, and they find no relevance in following Jesus.

Second, they have not seen authentic discipleship lived out by adults in their lives – at church or at home. They see the adults in church bickering about the color of the carpet, the loudness of the music, and the length of the pastor’s sermon. They see adults who gossip, criticize, and live lives that are unholy. Young people are very impressionable, and when they see adults clueless about their faith and living like the rest of the world they think “Jesus really doesn’t make a difference, so why should I follow Him?”.  And they plunge headlong into the “goodies” the world dangles in front of them.

We are losing our kids to the world, and we scratch our heads in confusion and anger and wonder why. My friend, we have failed our kids both intellectually and practically. But their is hope.

I strongly believe that we need to teach our young people theology so by the time they graduate high school, they have a firm grasp on what they believe and why they believe it. Our kids are hungry to know truth, and we must be the ones to teach them. A few years ago I was invited to teach at a local church’s youth group. As I started to my lesson, the discussion took a fascinating turn. The junior and senior highers started to ask deep, penetrating questions about spiritual issues and how these truths impacted their lives. We went straight, without a break, for almost two hours. These kids were hungry. They had questions that were not being addressed at their church, and they wanted, and needed, to have answers.The adults in church basically said “just believe’, and wouldn’t, or couldn’t, answer their questions. I also had the privilege of leading a Bible study in a high school (before the school day began) for three years and found these kids to be hungry for truth and knowledge (evidenced by their willingness to get to school at 6:45 am for the study).

I’ve been told that we can’t bore our youth with theology and deep Bible study. I couldn’t disagree more. There is nothing boring about learning about God and how His precepts shape our lives. Too many kids have been told what not to do without explaining the biblical reasons why. A young woman came to me once and said she had always been told not to engage in sex until after she was married, but was never told why. The pat answer of “because the Bible says so” didn’t satisfy her question of “why not?”. So I opened my Bible and, going systematically through Scripture, explained why God limits sexual activity to marriage. After I was done and answered her questions, she looked at me and said that no one had ever explained it biblically before.

My friends, we must take the risk to teach biblical theology to our young people. Ignorance of theology and the Bible is ignorance of God. And ignorance of God leads to chaotic, messed up lives.

The other thing we must do is to live out discipleship in our own lives. Our kids need to role models in church and at home who show them what a follower of Jesus looks like. They need to see passionate, sold out, surrendered believers who love Jesus and who desire to live out biblical Christianity in all aspects of life. I’m not talking perfection, as no one is, but true, humble followers of Jesus who know what they believe and why they believe it, who apply His Word to their lives as they walk on the journey of holiness, and who openly repent when they blow it. When they see the impact Jesus has on the lives of the adults around them, it will hopefully impact them.

Will these two measures guarantee that our kids will be strong, uncompromised followers of Jesus? No. We are fallen human beings and some will choose not to follow. However, I believe that if we do these two things, we will dramatically lower the mass exodus of young people from church that we are currently experiencing.

My friends, lets turn the tide and start giving our kids what they really need. We’ve lost way too many. Let’s resolve to lose no more.

THE FIVE FINGERS ON THE HAND OF GOD’S GRACE

Grace – the key word in our salvation. We are saved by God’s amazing grace. It is so profound, so incredible, so powerful, yet we often take it for granted or don’t really understand it. You see, we are helpless to save ourselves, no matter how “good” we are or try to be. God’s grace is His free gift to all those who trust in Jesus and His finished work on the cross for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Ephesians 2:8-9 says;”For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift from God, not as a result of works,so that no one may boast”. Indeed God’s hand of grace is powerful, but what does it include? In order to help us understand the depths of grace, I like to use, what I call “the five fingers on the hand of God’s grace”. Here they are:.

JUSTIFICATION   This is a legal term that, simply put, means that our guilt is gone. Romans 4:25-5:1 says:He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ“.  The eternal weight of our sin has been lifted from us through the blood of Jesus as He took our guilt on Himself, and we go free. Think of it like this…you are in the Supreme Court of Heaven and the Heavenly Supreme Court Justice sits on His throne to determine your eternal destination. The prosecuting attorney, Satan, stands up and presents an eight hour detailed case of every sin you have ever committed, accompanied with exhibits and documentation. Finally, when he is done, he glances at you with  a smug look of victory and wheezes, “the prosecution rests”. Now it is the defense’s turn. Jesus your defense attorney stands up and gives only a three sentence case as He says “This person has repented of his sin and has trusted in me as his Savior. I took His guilt upon Myself at the cross. He is Mine”. And then he sits down. The Supreme Court Judge asks you to stand up, looks you in the eye and pronounces His verdict: ” You are declared innocent because the debt of your sin has been paid in full. Your guilt is gone. You are free to enter into My heaven”. That’s justification!!

REDEMPTION   This is a word taken in the context of the slave market when a slave obtained his or her release through the paying of a ransom.  Romans 3:23-24 says:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;  and Colossians 1:13-14 says :”For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins“.  We have been redeemed not with money or material things, but with the blood of Jesus. You see, a price had to be paid for our sins, and God set down the mandate that blood had to be the price: “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).  A pretty steep price to pay, a price that we couldn’t pay. Only perfect blood could pay the price . The only perfect One is God, but God is Spirit. How could this be done? The incarnation of God. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity became man to shed his blood so that the price of redemption could be paid. Because we are redeemed by Jesus’ perfect blood, our redemption is eternal. The price has been paid in full and cannot be “refunded”.

PROPITIATION  This literally means to gain or regain the favor of; an expiation.  1 John 2:2 says: “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world“, 1 John 4:10 says : “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”. and Romans 3:25 says: “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith…”. Propitiation basically means that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross totally satisfied the demands of our holy God. God accepts the blood of His Son on our behalf and because He does so, the enormous barrier of sin that separated us from having a relationship with God has been obliterated. We can now come into the presence of the Father through the blood of His Son.

RECONCILIATION  This parallels propitiation and means to change from enmity to friendship.  2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says: ” Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Think about your checkbook. When you receive your bank statement the balance of the bank is different from what you have in your checkbook. In order to make sure you have the correct balance you must reconcile your balance to the bank’s by adding and/or subtracting outstanding checks, deposits, and other charges. Thus you bring the two into agreement. The same with us and God. He is the standard and we must be reconciled to Him in order to have a relationship with Him. Jesus brought us, sinners condemned to eternal hell, into agreement with God’s holy standards by dying on the cross for us. The result? We are now have a wonderful relationship with God!

SANCTIFICATION  This means to set apart. 1 Corinthians 6:11 says: Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God“. and Hebrews 10:10 says:By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all“.  SInce we have been justified, redeemed, propitiated, and reconciled, we are now children of God. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us everything necessary to live a life of holiness that brings honor to God. We are His people belonging to Him, and now we must choose to be His bond slave and turn away from enslavement to the world. We must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ, because we have died with Christ to our sin (Colossians 3:3; and see my 4/8/10 blog  “Dying to Self – the Key to Life”).

Those are the five fingers on the hand of God’s grace – justification, redemption, propitiation, reconciliation, and sanctification. What a marvelous grace we have been given. The next time you sing “Amazing Grace” remember the incredible truths that are inherent in God’s grace.