Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I want to talk about the word "worthy." We seem to use the word "worthy" in songs a lot when describing God: "You are worthy! You are worthy!" and the word is sort of IN there.  We say "you were worthy" and then we end up not continuing.  But if you go to any concordance in the back of any Bible, you will see the word worthy always has some sort of context: worthy of death, worthy of his support, worthy of me, worthy of his wages, worthy of the gospel, the world was not worthy of him.

"Worthy is the Lamb!" We hear that in songs: "worthy is the lamb, worthy is the lamb" and sometimes our songs finish there, but then others realize that we do need some sort of context, so we get "worthy is the Lamb OF MY PRAISE."  Worthy are you, Lord, of my praise.  Now that just seems to turn God into a wallflower at the dance, saying "pick me! pick me!"  Oh, okay, God, since you were jumping up and down the highest and waving your arms the widest, I will pick you!  Worthy are you of my praise...this time around.  Tomorrow it'll be Jeff, over there in the other corner, who will be worthy of my praise, but right now..."

I know what we are meaning. I know we're trying to say, "I used to worship other things, but now I have realized that only you, Lord, are worthy of my praise," but that's not exactly how it comes across.  If we go to the book of Revelation, here we have in chapter 5 the long "worthy" context, the "worthy is the Lamb" statement starting at verse 12 of chapter 5:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

So, we have seven things that the lamb is worthy of.  Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.  He is worthy to receive these seven things: power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.  Let's unpack each of these seven things to try to understand exactly what the Lord's worthiness is all about.

Power: I've talked to you before about how Jesus in his resurrection body is going to accomplish three things at the end of time.  Those three things are to abolish power--authority--essentially inequality.  He is going to abolish that first thing, and he is also going to abolish evil, and he is going to abolish death. Now, here is one of them again: worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive POWER.  All power is transferred from the leaders of this world to our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the one worthy of power.  Now, WHY is he worthy of power? Because he is the only one who knows how to use power.

Here we begin to get into something that all seven of these things fall into. Jesus is worthy of power, because he is the only one who has the power to lay down his life for the world.  Let me repeat that: Jesus is the only one with the power to lay down his life for the world.  We, as it says in scripture, aren't even willing to lay down our lives for a friend. If a gun is put to our heads, then we MAY lay down our lives for our friends.  We may lay down our lives for the truth, but as a matter of course we do not go out of our way to lay down our lives for even a friend.  Jesus went out of his way to lay down his life for his enemies. He lay down his life for the world while the world hated him.  That is true power: to be able to give up your life for people who hate you.  That is why he is worthy to receive power.

Do you see what's happening here? Jesus is the only one worthy to receive something, because he is able to use that something in a unique way, and that way is the opposite of what we, as fallen human beings, think that power, for example, should be used. So we have riches. Why riches? Why is he worthy of riches? Because he was able to give up everything.  As it says in Philippians 2, he who deserves wealth and power and glory, and all of these things that he already possessed in heaven--the glorious throne room--this Jesus gave up all to come to Earth as a poor person, to be spit upon, to be the poorest of the poor, to be rock bottom, to be at the bottom of the heap.  He humbled himself even to the point of death, death on a cross. That that is how Jesus gives up riches, and that is why he is the only one worthy of riches.

We can't take it with us, but in Jesus we find riches, just as in Jesus we find power.  While we are here on earth, we can acquire power--not in the world's way but through Jesus Christ.  Likewise, while we are here on earth we can acquire riches, but the riches ARE Jesus Christ.  This is not the prosperity gospel, where they say you do not have faith if you're not wealthy.  Your wealth IS Jesus.  It's not "having faith in Jesus will get you money."  That is a lie.  Having faith in Jesus will give you riches, which ARE Jesus, because he is the only one worthy of riches.  He is wealth, he is power, he IS these things.

The next thing is wisdom.  As it says in the letters of Paul, God's foolishness is wiser than our wisdom.  As humans, mankind's wisdom is pure foolishness to God's foolishness, which is wisdom.  Once again, we have the turning of wisdom on its head.  It says elsewhere that Jesus Christ IS wisdom.  Jesus is wisdom, so if we want to be wise, the only place to be wise is in Christ.  We could go to Proverbs and memorize the proverbs and become "wise" that way, but that would be only us taking the word of God and trying to memorize it and trying to use the wisdom for our human purposes, but if we seek Christ, we find wisdom through Christ.  His Holy Spirit guides us; it's an easier way to wisdom, if you think about it.  It's the path where we acquire true wisdom, because we have sought Christ and not tried to find wisdom on our own.  It's the same difference as trying to keep the law ourselves and following Christ who brings us into compliance with the law.

Jesus came and was humbled.  He came to Earth, gave up his wisdom, and brought foolishness to the people.  Everybody knew dying on a cross was a foolish thing, and here it is: the power, the glory of everything, saving the world, the wise thing, appears to be the most foolish thing--dying on a cross.  What seems to be the most foolish thing turns out to be the wisest, and dying on a cross, giving up your life for a world that hates you, is foolish to us, but it turns out to be the wisest thing.

Next, we have might.  Look at the image of the lamb.  Have you ever heard of a mighty lamb?  What comic book artist would come up with a superhero called the Mighty Lamb? It's an oxymoron!  It doesn't fit our sensibilities.  He is the only one worthy of might, because he's the only one who understands what might is.  Being mighty is being slaughtered like a lamb.  A lamb who sits on a throne is not what the world wants.  The world rejects a lamb.  The world likes to EAT lambs, because they're tasty.  They taste really good.  We slaughter them, we eat them, we forget about them, and here is the Lord of heaven coming to earth and becoming a lamb for the slaughter, and we are told that this is a mighty act.  We don't understand how it's a mighty act.  Scripture text tells us how it is a mighty act, and our faith believes, and so if we wish to be mighty, we don't try to become mighty on our own.  Instead, we turn to Jesus Christ, who is our might.  We can only be mighty through Jesus Christ, the lamb who was slain for us.

Honor: who deserves the honor?  Who is the only one worthy of honor? Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of honor.  Why?  Because he did what is considered by the world a very dishonorable thing.  He allowed himself to be killed like a criminal, the most dishonorable thing.  He allowed himself to be destroyed like a common crook.  To the Jews, their God doesn't die at all, and to the Gentiles, their God doesn't die like a criminal.  It is the most dishonorable thing, and it turns out it is the most honorable thing, because we do not really understand what honor is.  Honor is laying down one's life for one's friends, for one's children, who were once enemies, but through this particular death have become children of God.

Picture the man with the tux, and the cufflinks, and he's going to be honored this night, and his wife is in the sequin dress, and his children are dressed up, and they go to the party, and they hobnob with all the people and they sit at the table of honor, and the man at the podium stands up, and he says, "we are here to honor the person who has made this company the greatest," and the CEO and his wife are sitting there, and they're thinking, "this is it! This is the moment that we've been waiting for, that we've been living for all our lives," and the man at the podium says, "we are here to honor...the janitor, because the janitor is the one who cleans up this place day after day, night after night, and keeps it clean."  He's not the one who made the company what it was, the greatness, the man-made greatness that it was.  He's the one that keeps everything smooth, because he cleaned it up.  Jesus came to earth and cleaned it up with his blood, his white blood, which covers us all and makes us appear as snow.  He is the only one deserving of honor, because he did what is considered the dishonorable thing: dying in our place.

Glory.  Glory means heaviness.  Nothing is heavier than Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the anchor.  Think of a heavy anchor, think of our flimsy little boats on the river of life rushing toward the cliff edge, and we are about to go over the side and crash down onto the rocks and be destroyed forever on those rocks below.  Think of that.  What would we need to stay at the top of the falls and remain in the river? We would need a heavy anchor.  We would need to put down a heavy anchor to keep us from going over that edge, and Jesus is the only anchor that will keep us firmly planted until his coming again.

When we have the anchor of Jesus firmly planted, we will not go over the side.  We will see all of the things that we used to praise, that we used to hold onto, that we used to glorify.  We will see those musicals like Les Mis going by like driftwood, and they go over the side.  We will see all those rock bands that we used to listen to, like big driftwood going over the side.  We will see all the amazing celebrities, and we will see all the politicians, and we will see all the people that we used to look up to, just like driftwood in their little flimsy boats going over the side.  But we will not go over the side, because we have finally put our glory into Jesus Christ.  We are glorifying God.  He is our weight.  He is the one that keeps us steady, and if we try to grab onto anything else that appears to be strong, swooshing by in the current, like, "oh wow I'm really into that philosophy or political stance right now, so I'll jump on that piece of driftwood!"  Over the falls you head again; it's just another piece of driftwood.  It's not going to survive.  Jesus's glory: he's the only one worthy of glory, because he did something glorious.  We think, "high and lifted up," when really Jesus is low, he's heavy, he's an anchor, and he keeps us firmly planted in the river.

Finally, blessing.  Jesus is the only one worthy of blessing.  Blessings seem to fall on believers and unbelievers alike.  Curses also seem to fall on unbelievers and unbelievers alike, but for the believer curses are not curses.  They are God's sanctification, making us into better people, into children of God through the Holy Spirit.  Blessings are good for the Christian, but blessings also seem to fall on the unbelievers.  Why is that? Why should they be allowed to have blessing?  We know one unbelieving couple that doesn't just not believe but they reject God.  They call themselves atheists.  They believe there is no God, and yet they had a child, and the child is beautiful and sweet, and we think, "God granted them a blessing!"  But is it a blessing if that child will never learn about Jesus Christ?  If that child will never know God, and that child is doomed to destruction?  How is that a blessing in the end?

Jesus is our blessing.  He is the only one worthy of blessing, because he did not bless himself.  He became a curse for us. He took our place under the curse, and as a result he is the only one worthy to be blessed.  He blessed us with his presence, with his perfect person in our lives. God had this plan from the beginning; he had this planned, where we would finally have blessing, when he told Abraham, "through you the world will be blessed."  He didn't mean through Isaac; he didn't mean to Jacob; he didn't even mean through David.  He meant through Jesus.  Jesus was the seed promised to Eve at the beginning of the curse, that her seed would defeat the devil and bless the world.  We are all blessed through Jesus.  He is the narrow way.  When we go through Jesus, we are blessed.  It doesn't matter what blessings we seem to get from God while we are here on this tangible earth.  As soon as it is over, and it all passes away, if we have not put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are cursed forever.  There is no blessing after.  Never will an unbeliever know blessing as good as what he or she has right now, and never will a believer know curse as dark as the one we live through right now.

Jesus Christ, the lamb who was slain: is he worthy? Yes! Is he worthy of our praise?  Of course! Is he worthy to receive all of these seven things? Power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing? Why is he the only one worthy to receive those things? Because he is the only one who knows what they mean, and how to use them.  Where can we acquire all of those things?  Only through Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 29, 2013


When we go through trials and tribulations, it's easy to think that we are on some sort of divergent course from "normal." Why, this isn't normal, we tell ourselves. I was living a normal life, and then this trial slammed down on me! Sometimes it's a sick loved one who needs care.  Sometimes it's a needy friend, who hangs onto us, who unloads all of their problems onto us.  Sometimes it's pain and suffering ourselves, our physical bodies being in disrepair.

What do we think about this, when we look at this passage:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-3)

This is not a "suck it up" gospel.  This is not a "get over it and deal with it" gospel.  Sometimes you'll hear Christians telling you to do that very thing.  You will hear Christians saying "suck it up" and "get over it."  But this passage is a word of encouragement to us.  It is not saying "suck it up." It is saying, "this is what God is doing in your life." This is reality.  This is normal.  What path you were on before is NOT normal.  Normal is NOT 500 channels. Normal is not the Xbox.  Normal is not flyfishing.  Normal is not leisure.  God rested on the seventh day, but he didn't play Xbox on the seventh day.  Rest is different from leisure.  He didn't kick back and watch the Discovery Channel.  That is not rest; that is leisure, which is different from rest.

Suffering is normal for the Christian.  It is a sanctification process.  Let's look at 2 Corinthians 11.  Here Paul is describing the suffering that he is going through:

[I've been] in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11: 23b-28)

Is Paul worth less than we are?  Is Paul under God's wrath?  There's this new thing--it's not really a new thing--it's a wicked, false gospel that has been spread for ages--it's called the prosperity gospel, and it's running rampant in all the churches now.  What the prosperity gospel says is that if you are not prosperous, you're doing it wrong.  If you are suffering, you are doing it wrong; you have no faith; God has not blessed you.  You should be wealthy; you should be healthy; and you should have a good relationship with God.  You should not have any doubts, you should not have any suffering, if you are truly a child of God, if you are truly faithful. This is a lie!  All throughout, Scripture says that suffering is normal.  In fact, suffering is preferred, because we know that it is God's process of sanctifying us, of making us more a child of God.

This is God's work: the testing of our faith that produces endurance, and that endurance is going to have a perfecting effect on us.  Perfection is happening, which will be fully realized at the moment of physical body death.  Our life agent continues on, and it's perfected.  This is normal.  Paul was being perfected with all that punishment.  He wasn't under the wrath of God; he was under the sanctification of God.  So don't let anyone tell you that this is not normal, that as soon as this is over, you can get back on with your NORMAL life.  You don't WANT to get back on with your normal life.  This is how you know you are a child of God.

Caregiving is the exercising of the second great commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.  This is hard work, but it is true work; it is godly work.  When God placed Adam in the garden, he set him to work immediately.  This is BEFORE the fall.  We think of the fall as being a punishment, and that work and toil and labor is a result of the fall.  What God says in the curse on Adam is that his work is going to be tough.  The earth is not going to yield up it's harvest as easily as it did before.  But work, labor is part of normal life.  It's when we think that it is not better, our flesh is rubbing against our souls, and we end up feeling the toil of the curse of life.  We, too, have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we don't want to believe anymore that work is good. God worked six days out of the seven days.  That is normal.  God works.  He gives you rest one day out of the seven.  The work is not tough.  The work brings pleasure.  To work is not toil.  There is work before the fall and work after the fall, but the work after becomes toil.

I want to talk about forgiveness.  When you forgive someone, who is benefiting the most?  Who is the one who benefits the most from forgiveness?  We automatically assume it's the person who is forgiven, because obviously a great load has been removed from that person's shoulders.  Thank goodness I have been forgiven! Now I am at peace!  But in actuality, it is the person who forgives who benefits the more, because they have obtained a spirit of forgiveness.  They are training their flesh to forgive.  Their perfect soul that has been justified by God is teaching its body--it's captive body--to forgive.

Once we understand the spirit of forgiveness, once we have the spirit of forgiveness, we can then understand the God who forgives us.  When we are able to forgive, we can then hear and understand why God has forgiven us our transgressions, our wickednesses, which we commit daily. God forgives us.  Likewise, when you care for another individual, who is the person benefiting?  Obviously the person being cared for.  You're keeping them healthy; you are comforting them.  They obviously benefit, but guess what?  All of us are destined for the dustbin.  To dust we shall return.  You can only stave off death of the physical body for so long.

The person who benefits the most from caregiving is the caregiver.  Just like forgiveness, the caregiver is receiving a spirit of caregiving; and will understand what caregiving is; and will then better understand Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate caregiver, who came to earth and suffered for us and died for us and washed our feet and took care of us.  Caregiving is God's sanctifying work in us.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Soul Speaker

Imagine your soul.  It's a part of you.  It has mass.  At the point of death, our bodies get 21 grams lighter.  The soul physically weighs 21 grams.  And yet, this soul stands in the supernatural realm as well.  It has senses.  It needs to be fed.  What does it eat?  It eats and lives on the Word of God.  When we read, study, and inwardly digest the Bible, our soul is fed.  What do we do?  We avoid reading and studying the Bible, and our souls atrophy.  It's much easier to feed the body, which we can see, than the soul, which we can't.

Our souls wither and die, because we are unwilling to feed them.  However, hear what Peter says in Acts 5: "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."  The Holy Spirit is also in the spiritual, or supernatural, realm.  He is God's soul, his spirit, and he is a real part of the Godhead, the trinity, one of the three persons.  God's soul speaks directly to our souls.

Our souls are quickened, awakened, when the Holy Spirit speaks directly to them.  Our bodies feel the quickening.  Our souls cry out, "feed me," and our bodies respond by picking up the Word of God.  All of this is initiated by the Holy Spirit.  Otherwise, we would have no urge to feed our souls.  When we say that the Holy Spirit is living inside us, what we are really saying is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to our soul.  Our souls are functioning together.  He is waking our souls up, interpreting scripture for us, and generally strengthening the "real" part of us.  The body will fail and waste away.  It is dust and to dust it shall return, but our souls are the imperishable part of us.  They last forever.  Do we want shriveled up raisins for souls, or do we want vibrant, healthy ones?  The Holy Spirit begins this sanctification process in us.

How do we know that this is happening?  Beyond actually picking up the Bible and reading it, feeding our souls, look at the other verses in that Acts passage:

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." (Acts 5:27-32)

The disciples were told not to teach in Jesus' name, and yet what did the disciples do?  They taught in his name.  They couldn't help themselves.  This is the sign that we are living in the Holy Spirit, that our souls, and therefore our bodies, are obeying the call.  We won't be able to help ourselves, we will insist on teaching in Jesus' name.

Another thing we learn from this Acts passage, is that not only did the disciples disobey the authorities and teach, but as they are confronted by those same authorities, they begin teaching the authorities.  The second sentence Peter speaks begins the gospel message.  Here is another encapsulated version of the gospel that we can share with others.

We won't be able to help ourselves.  We just have to get the subject to Jesus, and we will find every opportunity to speak about him to others.  His Holy Spirit commands it, and our souls obey.  They grow in love through God.  They thirst for knowledge of God.  They beg for our bodies, our flesh, to give them the only food they can survive on--the Word of God, truth itself, nourishment and sustenance.  The soul speaker commands us, we obey, and we grow.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bodily Resurrection

Today is Easter! Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! We think of the resurrection on this day.  The resurrection is very important.  The resurrection was preached by Paul in all of his sermons. We see in Acts: every time Paul preached a sermon on Christ, he preached about Christ and the resurrection.  Without the resurrection, the gospel falls apart.  It's not just a resurrection; it's a physical, bodily resurrection!  This is crucial: Paul found that it was crucial to his sermons, so that when people heard him, they thought he was preaching two gods: Anastasis and Jesus.  Anastasis means resurrection.  He was only preaching one God, Jesus, but the resurrection was so important, so prominent, it figured so prominently in his sermons, the people thought he was speaking about two gods.  

Resurrection needs to be a bodily resurrection, and very importantly.  Why?  Because without a bodily resurrection, all religions can be true.  Anything goes!  If we have just a spiritual resurrection to look forward to, any kind of philosophy or religious afterlife concept could be true.  What sets Christianity apart is a bodily resurrection: us being raised and being given a new body wholly different, yet wholly the same, as our previous bodies.  People will be able to identify us as who we are, even though our bodies will be different. The bodily resurrection is crucial to the Gospel.

If we look at first Corinthians 15, verse 19, it says, "if we had hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied."  If there is no bodily resurrection, then we are essentially hoping for Christ in this life only.  When there's only a spiritual resurrection, the next life is not real, it's not substantial, it can be anything. It could be a hallucination; it could be an acid trip; it could be 2001: A Space Odyssey, flying through space with streaks of light; it could be anything.  When you have a bodily resurrection, the reality is narrowed down to really only the Christian concept of the afterlife. So we hope in the next world, not in this life, and what helps us hope in the next world is the bodily resurrection.

Christ's bodily resurrection is the first fruits of those who are asleep, and that is what gives us physical hope, because when you say firstfruits what you're saying is that we are all going to follow in the same way.  However, once again, because we're self-centered creatures, we stop there.  We think to ourselves, "that's awesome!  We get good, neat, fun new bodies in the next life. I'm looking forward to that! What's for dinner? Let's go to Dairy Queen for dessert!"

Look at our situation: we have people who believe in a bodily resurrection; we have people who don't believe in ANY of this stuff: atheists, agnostics, other religions; we have people who don't believe; and then we have people--millions of people--who claim to be Christians, who do not believe in a physical resurrection, who only believe in a spiritual resurrection, if they believe in a resurrection at all!  These may be the, "everybody's going to heaven, and live like angels, like little ghosts with angel wings on our backs and halos over our heads," kind of Christians.  They don't have an accurate concept of the afterlife, and it affects the entire doctrine of their Christianity.  It affects everything.

Here in this passage, we have something really important.  It says here, "each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, after that those who are Christ's at his coming, then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power." There is the first thing: power.  The second thing: "for He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." Verse 26: "the last enemy that will be abolished is death." That's the third thing.  So, it's not just that Jesus gets a cool new body and we are going to get cool new bodies.  No, the physical resurrection of Jesus is crucial to understanding the gospel, because there are three things that Jesus is going to accomplish with his physical body.

The first thing is he will abolish all rule and all authority and all power.  This is essentially the situation we find ourselves in on Earth all throughout history.  We have warlords; we have powerful people; we have authorities; we have people always lording it over others; we have wars, because one guy wants to take the other guy's land; we have the big wigs; we have Congress; we have all sorts of caste systems and hierarchies.  We have an unequal system of life here on Earth.  We do not have . . . equality.

Second, we also have enemies of Christ.  We have evil, evil that needs to be eradicated. Jesus is undertaking that as we speak, eradicating evil in his physical resurrection body.  The third thing we have is death.  Now, what do these three things have in common? These are the things that we as fallen human beings desire with all of our hearts to eradicate in this world. What the Scripture is saying is these are the jobs of Jesus in his resurrection body.  These are the things that he is fulfilling at the end times, the end of the world, the judgment day. These three things: inequality, evil, and death will be destroyed. There will be no more of these things.

What do we do?  What are the three things that we as fallen human beings, as people who do not believe in a physical resurrection, are trying to accomplish right now? We are trying to do away with death.  We are trying to do away with evil.  We are trying to do away with inequality.  Look at Facebook!  You got = signs all over the place.  All anybody talks about on the news is how unequal everybody is, and how we need to fix it, and how we are going to put all of our money, all of our resources, all of our faith in the leaders who are going to solve this problem and make everybody equal.  What do we see as a result?  We see MORE inequality than ever!  It seems worse than ever.  The inequality that is going on in the world today is rampant. Things seem to be even more unequal, especially now in this modern age, where we have a lot of resources and a lot of money that we can pump into it.

The same with evil: we are trying to eradicate evil.  We are banning guns.  We are banning everything that could possibly be used for evil.  The results? There seems to be more evil running rampant on this earth and at any time in history.  Now, it may not be more.  It may be equal to the amount of evil running through history, but is definitely not LESS! And then death: all of our science is going into eradicating death.  We mask it as temporary things, like, "oh we're trying to get rid of cancer."  Of course! What a noble cause; nothing could be more noble than getting rid of cancer.  But what we are really trying to get rid of is death itself.  We all die.  Cancer is just a quicker form of death.  It's tragic, but only because it is a faster, more painful version of what we all go through eventually.  Shoot, let'd find the quickest, most painful form of death right now.  If somebody gets hit by a car outside right after the service: there's a quicker form of death.  So maybe we should get rid of cars. You see what is happening?  The three things--inequality, evil and death--are constantly being waged war upon by all, because we do not believe in a bodily resurrection.  We do not really believe in the kind of afterlife Christianity espouses.

We do not believe in the type of afterlife that is physically real, so what we are trying to do is solve things on our own here. Christianity therefore becomes no different than a social justice program.  Social workers unite, and we're going to solve all of this together! This is wrong, because these three enemies--inequality, evil, and death--are to be destroyed by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ only.  Only Jesus Christ can do these things.

So, does that mean we should just do nothing, we just stay home and watch Downton Abbey?  No, we, according to James, have two things that we should do.  To be truly religious people on this earth, we are to keep ourselves from being stained with the world's brush.  That means to keep the culture from affecting us.  Keep strong, understand the culture, but don't let it take us over.  The other thing is to help widows and orphans in their plight, essentially help the poor, help the needy.  These things are important, but the goal is no longer to eradicate the big three enemies.  Jesus Christ says the poor will always be with us.  We will always have the poor, because it is not our job to get rid of them.  In fact, when we try to get rid of them, there end up being more poor in the world as a result.  That's Christ's job.  What our job is, we as the bride of Christ--because we are essentally Jesus' helpmeets--we are to aid in helping Christ, but we are not to eradicate the stuff ourselves.  We are to work on a local level; we are to work in our immediate surroundings; we are to love each other; we are to help each other here, to guard and keep each other.  We are going to suffer together--that's another important thing--we are still going to suffer together, but our goal is not to eradicate the things that we have no chance of eradicating.

We will be clinging to Christ.  Give over the power, the keys, the authority to Christ, where it properly belongs, and we can then, as ambassadors of Christ, help in his glory, help him do his job, but when we try to take over the job from Jesus, we end up with the watered-down Christianity that is no different from a secular institution, and we end up lost.  We end up a shadow of real Christians; we end up still stuck in our sins, trying to be the ones in control, essentially re-grasping what Adam tried to take, to run the whole show, to not obey God, to not be subservient to God, but to try to be masters of our own destinies.  And we fail and are lost.  Put Jesus first; put his physical, resurrected body first.  He is the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep.


I want to talk about suffering.  There is this thing called the Prosperity Gospel, which is telling people that if they are successful, it means God has blessed their lives, and that if they're not successful, it means God has cursed them.  Faith involves being successful, and if we are not successful, we are not really Christians.  Unless we are successful monetarily, in our relationships, in our jobs--if things are going our way, that means God is good and has blessed us, and we have a relationship with him. But if we are not prosperous, something's wrong.  We're not walking the Christian life.

This flies in the face of everything that is in the Gospel, in the New Testament.  We as Christians face trials: trials are an important part of the Christian life, but unlike those of someone who doesn't believe.  Trials and suffering for someone who does not believe is the wrath of God upon them, but trials and suffering, which still exist for the Christian--they have a purpose.  For the unbeliever, trials and suffering have no purpose: it is pure wrath, because they are living outside of God's love.  They are living outside of God's protection and the wrath of God penetrates them.

People ask, "why is it that God has to protect people from himself?" Well, because God is the life force behind the universe: he sustains everything.  That means we are running on the fuel of God.  Everything exists because of God.  Everything is sustained because of God.  We are running on God.  Well, God is purely good, and when we who are evil are running with good fuel in us, there's pain. We are feeling the wrath of God.  We're feeling the wrath of a good God who can't help but burn up that which is evil, so as humans outside of the will of God, outside of God's life, as nonbelievers, those people feel the wrath of a good God burning up their wicked lives.  It's painful; it's suffering; it hurts.

Christians also feel suffering and pain, but it has purpose. We are protected by God, but with suffering and pain.  As it says here in first Peter 4:1, suffering helps us to cease from sinning. The suffering that we endure is a different kind of suffering than the wrath of God, because the blood of Christ protects us from the wrath of God, but we still suffer, because it is a testing ground, sanctifying us.  Suffering for the Christian has purpose.  We are sanctified, we sin less and less.  It is very hard to sin, when one is suffering.  Think of the times when you suffered the most.  Think of the times when you were in pain, when you were in sickness, when you were in despair, when you were anxious about things happening in your life or about a future event.  Were you interested in sinning?  Were you interested in fulfilling your bodily lusts? Were you interested in hating? Did you hate someone in your illness?  Did you hate?  Did you murder in your heart?  Did you lust after someone, when you were suffering?  No!  Suffering helps us to cease from sinning.

Jesus Christ suffered.  He suffered on the cross.  He never sinned, and yet he took that suffering on himself, so that we could live and have eternal life.  He took the suffering of our sins and suffering that we deserve from sinning.  He took in on himself, and he imputes his righteousness to us.  We still sin, we still backslide, but this suffering that comes with trials, that comes with being a Christian in this world, we must consider it joy, because it is God working on us.  It is God strengthening us.  It is God making us stronger, so that we can survive another day and fulfill his will on Earth.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Wednesday Morning Prayer

Each week Good Shepherd has Morning Prayer Rite II every Wednesday at 7:30am.  This is for OBXers who get up early and are on their way to work.  The prayer meeting gives a spiritual re-centering for the day and the second half of the work week.  This is a service and benefit for not only our Good Shepherd family but anyone else on the Outer Banks who needs the extra spiritual nourishment.  Please join in each Wednesday morning from 7:30-8am, and invite friends and family who need this in their lives.  We meet in the sanctuary at 2910 S Croatan Highway, Suite 1, Nags Head.


I want to talk about shadows. Hebrews 10:1 says, "For the law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year-by-year, make perfect those who draw near." We look at the good news of the whole chapter--and even the book--and are thankful that we do not have to sacrifice animals to appease God's wrath.  We do not have to destroy these creatures; Jesus has effectively taken the place of those sacrifices.  He is also the real sacrifice: we no longer have to obey the old system, because the new system--Jesus--has taken the place of the old system. We personally and selfishly think of this as, "whew! I don't have to sacrifice animals: that's really good! Jesus did all the work for me! I can sit at home and play with my Xbox."

But that's not all this passage is saying.  We have to look deeper, and I want to look at this word "Shadow." The sacrificial system is a shadow of the reality of Jesus's death on the cross. Jesus' sacrifice is the reality. The animal sacrificial system was a shadow. Do you understand what this means? This means that the old system NEVER worked; it NEVER appeased the wrath of God, not even temporarily. It was a false system, which did not work.

Likewise, the law doesn't work, either.  In verse one, the writer of Hebrews is talking about the law itself.  The law itself is a shadow of the reality of Christ.  The law itself is a mere shadow, and we think we understand what this means when we read Paul in Romans or Galatians.  We say to ourselves, "oh! I don't have to obey the law anymore; all is now replaced by the system of faith in Christ! I have faith in Christ! I do not need to keep the law anymore! Bye-bye!" But in the back of our minds--I know we don't consciously think this--but if we don't understand that the law is a shadow of the reality, then logically, if someone were able to perfectly keep the law, then that would be a second way to God.  We know we can't keep the law; we've read Paul; we understand what faith in Jesus means.  The only person able to keep the law is Jesus Christ, the righteous. No one else can keep the law, and we can understand this, and we say, "yes, I cannot keep the law. I need Jesus to keep it for me, and then he imputes his righteousness to me, and I impute my sin to him, and I am safe, by Jesus fulfilling the law. I understand, but hypothetically, if someone WERE able to keep the law--someone other than Jesus--if I, for example, were able to keep the law perfectly to the letter, would not that be a second way to God?  Would not the law be a second way to go?"

Hebrews 10:1 emphatically says NO!  Even if you were able to keep the law, the law is a mere shadow of the reality: you would succeed only in becoming the shadow of a Christian. You wouldn't be a real Christian.  You wouldn't be really saved.  You wouldn't really have the relationship of God, even if you were able to keep the law perfectly.  You would fail.  It is impossible, because Hebrews 10:1 says the law is a mere shadow.

Think of Heaven: Heaven is where we will not break the law. We will always obey the law, not because Jesus gives us the power to fulfill the law in Heaven but because the law is automatically the way of life in Heaven.  We won't break the law, because we we won't even be thinking of HOW to break the law. The law will be an alien concept to us.  The law doesn't exist in Heaven.  There aren't rooms with the 10 Commandments hanging on the walls, because the 10 Commandments would be in our blood. Our behavior reflects the 10 Commandments; the law IS Christian behavior, the behavior of someone whose residence is Heaven. We won't murder, not because we will remember not to murder, trying hard to make sure we don't murder and succeed, thanks to Jesus.  We will succeed in not murdering anyone, we won't even think of murdering anyone, because it will be an alien concept to us.  We won't hate, because it will be an alien concept.  It won't make any sense. Hate won't exist. Lust won't exist.  Sin won't exist!

It's not like we will still be able to sin and finally in Heaven succeed in not sinning. No, we won't sin because there's no such thing as sin. The law, given to us as earthly beings, is to remind us that we fail here on Earth.  It is to remind us of our sin.  The law's sole purpose is to bring sin to the forefront.  One of the biggest challenges to Christianity is the massive hurdle of convincing people that they sin.  People do not believe that they are sinners.  They think the whole system of sin is an archaic, stupid thing. I heard one person tell me that the bad things that happen in the world--it's just life. Things just happen; life just happens.  Sorry, that is wrong. Sin is an aberration. Sin was not part of God's original plan. Sin was not supposed to enter into it.  Sin is a poison in the world; the world has been dying--IS dying--because of sin.  The law is there to put in sharp relief sin's existence, so that we know we will need a Savior. The law serves no other purpose because  to live for the law for the law's sake is to live for a shadow, and ineffectual shadow.

Hebrews 10 also gives us the solution to this problem:

"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (Hebrews 10:16-25)

I don't know if I can elaborate on that, it is so clear.  Suffice to say that living a life as a future resident of Heaven involves doing two things: holding fast to the confession of hope and meeting together often so that we can encourage each other.  That is what we do here each week, and some of us even more often.  These two things seem easy on the surface, but they are difficult to do on our own.  Many do not want to assemble together.  They just want to have their own private devotional to God.  Fellowship is a principal part of the Christian life.  Holding fast to the confession of hope is difficult, too, because the culture's tide is running in the opposite direction, and if we don't spend our time in the scriptures, we actually forget, because our minds want to lock on other things.

Jesus is the reality, not the shadow.  He draws us to the Father, through himself, and he enables us to confess Jesus as Lord and to assemble together often, so that we can encourage each other in our Christian walks.  We need community and Christ, and only Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross, keeps us tethered to this reality.