Our Redeeming God

1 Sep

What is God’s heart for people? What did Jesus come to accomplish? We know that God is out to redeem our lives, but could there be even more to his plan of redemption? Today we examined the heart of our God and looked at the implications this incredible truth has in our lives. Please listen and be blessed in Jesus’ name!

To play or download the message, click here.

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Love, Justice, and the Heart of God

21 Jul

I was given the opportunity to speak at our church service today! What is justice? What is the heart of God? Does the world see justice in the same way God sees it? This was straight from my heart by the power of the Spirit. Be blessed in Jesus’ name!

To download the MP3, click here.

On Fruit and Trees

17 May

“Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:17-8

Jesus was a master of word pictures and showed this in his brilliant parables and through countless analogies. One common word picture he used was that of a tree and its fruit. In this picture, people are divided into two groups which are distinguished by the “fruit” of their lives. Those who bear through their lives the fruit of righteousness and love are “good” trees and those who bear the fruit of selfishness and idolatry (in other words, sin) are “bad” trees.

When we see a fruit tree we often notice the fruit first. We see an apple tree and know it is such because we can clearly see the apples. The same goes for other trees. In the same way, when we see people we often judge them based on the fruit we see in their lives. But while the recognition of the fruit is an essential first step in understanding a person, it is not the only step.

We in the church are notorious for looking at the fruit of one’s life, judging it as wrong and then pressuring that person or group to bear different fruit. But the question I want to deal with here is whether that is a loving or effective way to deal with sin in someone’s life.

Jesus taught that the fruit is not the problem, but a symptom of the problem. The reality is that you cannot change a tree by pressuring it to bear different fruit. The ONLY way the fruit can be changed is if the tree itself is changed. In the same way that outward pressure can not change a tree, outward, judgmental pressure put on a person or group will not lead to lasting change. And when someone uses outward pressure (usually guilt) to try and change another person’s life, the pressure causes division because it is seen as judgment. It makes sense that if I turn to someone and say, “You are wrong!” that their first response will most often be, “Oh, so what makes you right!” When this happens, love is lost and a barrier is put up which will make it even harder for someone outside of truth to accept the gospel.

There is only one solution to the problem of bad fruit, and that solution is Jesus. Jesus is the one who cleans us and redeems us and it is only through him that we can be born again into the life that He has designed us for. Love has to look past past the fruit to the tree itself, to the life which Jesus longs to redeem.

Blessed Are Those Who Read & Hear

14 Mar

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Revelation 1:3

The book of Revelation is most-likely the least read book in the New Testament. This is most likely because of the many disagreements surrounding the different interpretations held today and throughout the generations. But at the very beginning of this book, Jesus Christ’s Revelation to John (Rev 1.2), we are told that there is a particular blessing for those who read or hear the words of this prophecy. No other single book of the Bible begins with such an audacious claim.

I must admit that I am somewhat new to the study of this book. I was taught in younger years that we—the church—would be gone from the earth when the foretold events took place and that the message contained in the vast majority of the book was for and about the nation of Israel. So if the message is for other people in a future time in which I will not even be present, why would I spend time and energy studying it? Thankfully, I have grown in my understanding and now greatly enjoy this book.

The fact of the matter is that the book of Revelation was written to seven specific churches in the first century and contains truths meant to benefit all generations following. It was never meant for someone else, it was always meant your for you and me.

We who follow Jesus are unique in that we are meant to live in the presence of the future. The famous verse in John’s gospel tells us that “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but [is having] eternal life.” Eternal life is not a destination to which we are headed, it is a condition or state of being which we are in now. We live today in the presence of eternity. Or to put it another way, we live in such a way that we pull the future into today. For example, we know that Christ’s coming kingdom is one of peace and love. So knowing that, we live lives of peace and love today. There is no place for violence, greed, perversion and pride in his kingdom, so we refuse to allow those into our lives today.

Revelation is a book of redemption. We see what happens when God removes his restraining hand and allows the earth to experience the full fury of mankind’s wrong choices. But when the world is at its worst, we see that Jesus will come and rescue his people and redeem this world and are willing to join Him. That’s good news!

But the fascinating part about Revelation is that it has more to it than just stories of what will happen in the future, it teaches us truth about today. The Old Testament prophecies were meant to teach as well as foretell events and in the same way the book of Revelation is meant to teach us today about our lives. For example, in times of trouble and persecution we take comfort knowing that Jesus is on our side and is coming to redeem us and this world. Also, when we spend our money on certain brands of clothing or other products we must consider what we are investing in, knowing that in wearing or using those products we could in fact be taking on the mark of the beast whose spirit is alive and well today (1 John 4.3).

The book of Revelation is not meant to conceal truth, but to reveal it to those with willing hearts hungry for truth and open to the work of God in their lives. We can and we should read this book so we will understand God’s ultimate plan for us today and into the future. God loves us and wants to reveal to us his life-changing truth. With that in mind, we are able understand why God specifically pointed out that our lives would be blessed by reading and hearing the words of this marvelous prophecy.

A Time To Be Set Apart

18 Jan

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12.17-19

We live in a world obsessed with violence. You turn on the news and hear of wars fought both overseas and at home. The United States government has turned video games into reality and now war can be waged from behind a computer screen while heartless drones injure and kill countless thousands. Then, when robots won’t suffice, they send well-programmed human killing machines to do the work. And as if that is not bad enough, the government is now making its intentions clear that it plans to invade the lives and homes of its own citizens in order to steal more of their property, guns in particular. But the violent government is not the only group obsessing over guns and violence. While they plan their attack on American citizens, many otherwise good people are buying weapons and preparing to defend themselves and their families with violent force.

What I am about to say here is for those of us who follow Jesus. When he walked the earth, he laid out a brand-new way of living in a world much like ours today.

When Jesus came into the world, he came into the very center of conflict. Israel was a crucial junction between Rome to the west and Asia to the east. It was critical that Rome keep control of it, no matter the cost. The Israelites were a proud people and armed resistance was common. Assassinations were a daily reality. When Jesus arrived, the Jews were looking for a leader to defeat the Romans and drive them from their land. That is why his disciples asked him, “Now are you going to set up your kingdom!?!?” (Luk 19.11; Act 1.6) They expected him to send out a call to arms at any moment.

But that was never his intention. The kingdom he came to set up is “not of this world” (Jhn 18.36). In other words, it does not fit within the structure and ways of the world. The kings of this world vie for power and take it by force (Mat 11.12; 20.25). But Jesus knew that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Mat 26.52). He instead advocated a way of life where if someone takes your goods, you willingly let them take them and do not even ask for them back (Luk 6.30). To the world’s way of thinking, that is absolutely crazy. But Jesus took it even further and told his followers to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luk 6.27-28). While their desire had been to kill and drive out their enemies, Jesus left the people with a new challenge, a challenge to love (Jhn 13.34-35). They had to ask themselves the important questions, “Can I love my enemy while killing them? Am I doing good to my enemy by using violence against them? Can I bless and pray for my enemy while attempting to spill their blood?

The church was primarily pacifist until the time of Constantine when the church came to believe that it could make Jesus’ kingdom physical through force. That was a terrible experiment which we are still suffering through today.

Jesus’ followers are to be set apart from the world, and a life lived the way of Jesus is very different from the way of the world. It is impossible to not be set apart when you only pledge your allegiance to God (Act 5.29), when you love your enemies and do good to those who oppress you. Everyone around you will know you are different when you begin treating every living human being as your neighbor (Luk 10.29-37), and love them as yourself (Luk 10.27).

We have seen these truly set-apart people throughout history. Two examples are the Quakers and the Anabaptists. During the Catholic church’s wars against the Muslims, the Anabaptists experience extreme persecution because they were unwilling to join in the fight. Their stance of non-violence made them stand out and they became seen as a threat and were dealt with violently. Then later, during the American Revolution, the Quakers stood their ground as pacifists yet were treated as enemies by the American “patriots.” History shows time and again that the nonviolent lifestyle brings violent persecution. Maybe that is why Jesus warned his followers multiple times that persecution would always follow them.

Today we have a chance to stand out once again, to truly live like Jesus and let our lives be a clear contrast to the world around us. By the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we can live out Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6. This is our chance to be salt and light (Mat 5.13-14) in a world set on its own destruction. This is a time for us to be set apart.

Speaking Truth

12 Sep

 “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion useless.” James 1.26

Did you know we can deceive our own heart by our words? The truth is that the words we say are extremely important, more than most realize. In the wisdom of Proverbs, we read:  “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health” (Proverbs 12.18). “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, But perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15.4). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18.21). “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue Keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21.23).

We can with our own tongue speak truth to what is right, or what is wrong. When we speak truth to what is right, we promote healthy lives. But when we speak truth to what is wrong, we can break our spirit and the spirits of those around us. The world we live in is full of lies, and it is our responsibility as Christians to speak truth to what is right.

To those outside of relationship with Jesus, we need to speak truth to the fact that they are special, unique creations by God, who are so loved by Him that He gave his own life for them on the cross. We need to stop speaking truth to what is wrong. What is accomplished by going on and on about how sinful people are? From our pulpits we continually condemn people and groups of people for sin, but we forget that Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” John 20.23. Could it be that those people we condemn are actually stuck in their sin because we refuse to speak truth to their forgiveness in Jesus’ name? I am convinced that if we would stop condemning our cities and people, the power of sin could be broken from them.

But who I want most to focus on in this post are those of us who follow Jesus. The Bible speaks many wonderful things about us, yet we have a tendency to speak the opposite about ourselves. Holy Spirit tells us in Ephesians 2.10 that “we are His workmanship.” This means that our lives are a reflection of his work, not our own. Once we give our lives to Jesus, we are born again by the Spirit. In the past we were our own workmanship, but now we are his! So what does the Bible say that this “new creation” looks like?

The number one truth spoken of us throughout the New Testament is the fact that we are now “saints.” This is in contrast to what we were before, “sinners.” So if the Bible says we are saints, what right do we have to call ourselves sinners? I hear it from fellow Christians over and over and over again, “Well, we are all sinners” and “I know I am a sinner.” But that is no longer our reality! Romans 6 explains that we died to sin and that because our old body of sin was done away with, we are no longer slaves of sin! But the apostle Paul takes it even further and tells us that we are now slaves to righteousness! THAT IS THE TRUTH ABOUT US. If we live outside of this, it is not because we are sinners, but because we are believing lies within our minds that we need something outside of Him. But even if we do sin, it does not make us sinners, because the Bible tells us that we are saints. And I have mentioned before in blogs the important distinction made in 1 John where he says “if” we sin, not “when” we sin. Our default is no longer sin! So let’s stop talking as if it still is. And also, let’s stop taking Paul’s words in Romans 7 out of context and presenting them as if they are the reality for those of us who are saved. If Paul’s words there are about us, then they are in direct contradiction to what the rest of the NT says about us. Paul is clearly speaking of his experience BEFORE salvation, setting up a contrast between our old life before Christ and our new life after salvation.

Our words betray what we have faith in. If we speak as saints, we show that we have faith to live sinless lives. But if we speak of ourselves as sinners, we show that we have put faith into living lives of sin. Do you get what I am saying? If you say, “I know I am a sinner, and I know I am going to stumble” then you are putting faith in your stumbling or sinning. You are in fact saying, “I have faith that I am going to sin.” Is that what we want to put our faith in? Instead, we need to speak truth to what we know from the Bible to be truth! The confession from the lips of Christians must always be, “We are saints and have been freed from sin!” When we speak that way, we are putting our faith in Jesus’ work in us.

1 Peter 3.10 tells us, “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit.” We need to stop speaking deceit and instead dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to only speak truth about ourselves and those around us. That is the kind of speech that leads to “life” and “health” and “good days.” That is the kind of speech that glorifies Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith.”

The Pursuit of Truth

14 Aug

What is the pursuit of truth? Ask many people this question and chances are that you will get many responses. Some pursue truth through observing nature. Others pursue it through studying books. Some think they can find truth through science and other find it by digging deep inside their own souls. But there is one large block of people which would most likely agree on what it is. Within the church, most would say that the pursuit of truth is the study of the scriptures. I have to agree, to an extent, but while truth is found in the scriptures, it is not the summation of truth.

As I have written before, truth is a person, Jesus. He told his followers, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14.6). So if we are pursuing truth in its fullness, we must be pursuing Jesus. I would then define the pursuit of truth as: the focused pursuit of Jesus in EVERYTHING.

This means that when we read and study the Bible, we are actually pursuing Jesus in the pages. We are not merely observing disconnected lines of truth, we are reading the revelation of Jesus. If we look at the scriptures apart from Him, we are led to wrong conclusions about God, life, salvation and many other things. In John 5.39, Jesus observed that the Jews loved to “search the Scriptures” thinking that within them they would find “eternal life.” But then He pointed out that they were missing the point because the scriptures are “these which testify of Me.”

I heard many times in Bible college that “the New Testament is just commentary on the Old Testament.” I parroted that for a few years, but realize now that I was totally wrong. The truth is that the Old Testament was a progressive record of revelation pointing toward Jesus. Then Jesus–the Truth–came. The rest of the New Testament then is not commentary on the old, but commentary on Jesus. In Jesus we are able to see the “fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2.9). In Hebrews 1.3 we read that Jesus is the “express image” of the person of God. Colossians 2.17 points out that the OT scriptures were a “shadow of things to come” but the “substance is of Christ.” And what about the New Testament? The author of Hebrews points out that God has been speaking in these “last days by his Son” (Heb 1.2) and we all remember the rebuke God gave Peter where He said, “This is my beloved Son… hear HIM!” (Mat 17.5) So whether you are in the Old Testament or New Testament, the complete truth can ONLY be found by looking at it through Jesus. As I said before, the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of Jesus.

But then can we only find truth by pursuing Jesus in the Bible? The obvious answer is no! If we pursue Jesus in everything we study, everything we observe, everything we take part in, then we will find truth everywhere! If our focus is on Jesus, the lines between “sacred” and “secular” fall apart and we are able to find truth in everything. This is not to say that there are equal amounts of truth to be found in everything, but it is to say that because Jesus is the Creator of everything and author of all we see, we cannot help but find his fingerprints in everything.

We will never find complete truth apart from Jesus, whether inside or outside of the Bible. We need Jesus. He is our complete sustenance. Truth is found in the focused pursuit of Him.

If God Is Love

24 Jul

If God is love, then…

God is patient,
God is kind.
He does not envy
He does not boast
He is not proud.
He is not rude,
He is not self-seeking,
He is not easily angered,
He keeps no record of wrongs.
God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
He always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.
God never fails.

(taken from 1 Cor. 13)

Who Is Your God?

12 Jul

I have been attending Harvest Chapel School of Kingdom Living online and was blown away by what our instructor, Ryan Bastress, was speaking about in last night’s class. What follows is my take on his message.

Who is your God? I realized today that my view of God has fallen somewhat short. When I think of my heavenly Father, I think of the word “God.” The word itself is very impersonal, almost hollow. It is a general term which people can use in endless situations without really reaching the reality of who God is. I say I love God. I pray to God. When I need help, I reach out to God. Now those are all true and good things, but the reality is that I want more than a three-letter God. I want to know Him by who He is, not just by a general title. So who is He? We find in the scriptures many names for our Father, and I want to look at a few. (You will notice that I am using Old Testament references of God, but I am applying New Testament truth)

Yahweh – This is God’s personal name and points to who He is. He identified himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM.” Yahweh is our God, our Father, and He is ever-present with us. He loves us and will never go away. Yahweh is the God who Is.

Yahweh-Jireh – “The Lord Will Provide” (Genesis 22.14) Everything we need to survive comes from Yahweh, because He is the one who provides. We can attempt to do life on our own and makes life better by our own power, but unless we accept that our provision always comes from Him we will constantly fall short of who we were created to be.

Yahweh-Nissi – “The Lord Is My Banner” (Exodus 17.15). We are represented by Him. We live life and fight our battles in the name of Yahweh. And when He is our banner, we know we will be victorious.

Yahweh-Shalom – “The Lord Is Peace” (Judges 6.24). When we look into the face of our Creator, we do not see anger and judgment, we see and feel that perfect peace which He purchased for us. Our God is a God of peace, which He supplied to us at his own expense.

Yahweh-Sabbaoth – “The Lord Of Hosts” (1 Sam. 1.3). We are never in the minority because our God is the Lord of Hosts. In the midst of the most daunting enemy force, we can always look out the window like Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6.17) and see that our LORD is greater and mightier. No army can stand against the Lord of Hosts.

Yahweh-Maccaddeshcem – “The Lord Who Sanctifies You” (Exodus 31.13). We do not sanctify ourselves, but are instead sanctified by our Father. He pulled out of the guilt and condemnation of our former self and has set us apart as chosen vessels who bring glory to Him in everything we say and do.

Yahweh-Roi – “The Lord Is My Shepherd” (Psalm 23.1). As a shepherd cares for his flock, so Yahweh cares for us. He is our Father who stands between us and the lions and bears. But along with protecting us, He also guides us to where we need to be. And if we ever do get lost, we can rest assured that our Shepherd is coming to find us and bring us back home.

Yahweh-Tsidkenu – “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jer. 23.6). We have all missed the mark and at some point and lived outside of perfect righteousness. But rather than pour judgment out on us, Yahweh decided to pour it out on Himself. He offers us perfect righteousness in exchange for our guilt and condemnation. Our righteousness does not come from ourselves, it comes from Him.

Yahweh-Shammah – “The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48.35). This name of Yahweh was used in reference to the city of God which had His temple at its center. But our reality today is that we do not have to go anywhere, because WE are his temple. The Lord is always present, always there in us and He will never leave us or forsake us. He would rather live in us than in a billion dollar temple structure made of gold.

Yahweh Rapha – “The Lord Our Healer” (Exodus 15.26). There is nothing the devil or this world can do to us that our Father can not heal. We were made for perfection and He offers healing for our body, soul and spirit. He is the Lord our Healer.

I want to know Yahweh so well that when I am faced with lack, I have perfect faith because I know that He is the “Lord who Provides.” When I feel surrounded by my enemies, I never lose heart because I know that He is the “Lord of Hosts.” If I truly know who Yahweh is, I never have to fear or worry. When trouble comes, I stand firm, having built my life of the reality of who He is.

The Gospel Illustrated

3 Jul

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8.12

I have been pondering the story in John’s gospel of Jesus and the adulterous woman for the last few weeks, and I have come to see it as one of the best illustrations of the gospel in the whole Bible. This post is a follow-up to my earlier post, The Gospel of Eden. I would suggest you read that before reading this post.

The story of Jesus and the adulterous woman is found in the book of John, chapter eight. There are only a few verses recording this event, but there was much going on which might not be immediately apparent to the reader. Before we look at this story in light of the gospel, let us quickly recount what happened.

The scribes and pharisees had been trying for a long time to trap Jesus in his own words and shut him up. This case was no different. The apostle John records that they came to Jesus in the temple “testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him” (John 8.6). They threw a woman down at Jesus’ feet and told him that she had been caught in the very act of adultery. Then as she cowered in shame, they pointed out to Jesus that according to the Mosaic law, if a person was caught in the act of adultery, they and the person they were committing the act with should be put to death (Lev 20.10). We do not know why her partner was not also brought before Him, but that is another whole issue which we will not address here.

Jesus had been preaching a message of hope and salvation up to this point, but now the scribes and pharisees had put Him in a very sticky situation. It would seem that He had no good option. If He forbade them from stoning her, they could call Him a hypocrite since He had been very clear that He had not come to abolish the law (Mat 5.17-18). But if He publicly consented and they stoned her to death, then they could accuse Him to the Romans for breaking the law (John 18.31). Either way, He was appeared to be in big trouble. But what followed was incredible. Jesus received what is a classic example of a “word of wisdom” (1 Cor 12.8) and responded brilliantly by saying, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Upon hearing this, the crowd disbursed, having condemned their own self-righteous hearts. Then Jesus turned to her and said, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She responded, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (Jhn 8.10-11).

From the time of Jesus’ early ministry until this point, the crux of his message was consistently a message of repentance. Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” How we think of and see ourselves is everything in this life. Jesus had earlier said, “…if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” This woman was a perfect example of this. She saw herself as a sinner, a shameful person, and lived her life out of that identity. Her occupation as a prostitute was not the problem, it was a symptom of her problem. She was living out of a wrong identity. Her truth is the same as our truth. Every human being is created in the image of God. He created us because He loves us and we are each unique, precious people to Him. But rather than living in that identity, we believe the lie that we are lacking in this life and then try and find fulfillment in things which will never satisfy. True satisfaction only comes from God, who created us. It is His desire that we live lives of wholeness and freedom in Him. He wants us to be happy and knows that our greatest joy can only be found in Him.

This woman had no concept of her created identity and was living out of the lie. But her only rewards were shame and condemnation. Yet even while the other people around saw her as a condemned sinner, Jesus saw her true beauty and value. So he addressed the heart of the issue.

When the crowd had left, Jesus spoke to her and set her identity correct. His words were, “Neither do I condemn you.” Her identity had heretofore been one of shame and condemnation, but her new identity was “FORGIVEN.” The chains of her former life had been loosed and she was shown her true value for the first time. Then having set her identity straight, he said “Go and sin no more.” There is no greater joy than living with a pure conscience. A life of righteousness is a life of fulfillment and peace. Deep communion with God is not possible for one living the lie, trying to find fulfillment apart from the life we were created to live.

Then Jesus let her go, with her new identity: Forgiven, and her new lifestyle: Righteousness.

As Jesus preached then, He still preaches today through his Word. “Repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1.15). Jesus gave his life for us on the cross and buried our shame and condemnation in hell where it belongs. Then he rose from the grave and invites us to take his hand and enter into the life which He designed for us even before the earth was made. We must all repent, change our way of thinking and realize that we were not made for the sin and condemnation the fallen world offers, but for life and joy through Jesus. And then we need to accept the forgiveness Jesus offers us and enter into that perfect life of righteousness which  we were designed to live!

Jesus’ final words at the end of this story were, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jhn 8.12). The formerly-adulterous woman passed from darkness into light, death into life.

That is the gospel illustrated.