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Absolute Jesus

In our current societal range, those who hunt for truth usually come back to the lodge with an empty rack. Emoticons and experiential propositions rule the day. “I feel” and “I think” are the royal guideposts that overlook “I know” and “It is”.  When one dares to speak in absolute terms they are inevitably called opinionated and arrogant or just plain out of touch. They are branded as intolerance purveyors and relegated to the old school cage. The problem for believers, however, is that the gospel itself is an absolute and Christ is completely exclusive.

There is no negotiating with the Word of Reconciliation. There is no deal making at a back room conference table.  He is THE way, THE truth and THE life and no one comes to the Father but through Him. (John 14:6)  This is a non-negotiable fact straight from the mouth of God Himself; Christ is not a “life choice that works for me”.  By the prerogative of His unstoppable grace, God seeks His own (John 10:27-28). By faith alone, they believe and trust in the completed work of Christ for His sheep hear His voice and they follow him.  There is no alternative plan. There is no broad road. There is only a narrow gate. (Matt. 7:13-14)

Some would like to believe that perhaps zeal and passion can circumvent this singular faith and its object, but deep devotion and unwavering sincerity to the wrong cause only ensure error, destruction and condemnation. Fixate on truth, not fiction.  No matter how zealous you are, if your sincere commitment is to a lie, you will be responsible for your misplaced trust.  If your Jesus is not the Christ of Scripture, you are believing in and following the wrong One.

“He is so devout” means nothing if that devotion is to a different Jesus or to no-Jesus at all. Remember who it is that you claim to worship.  Seek Him and you shall be saved.

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A Moment of Thankful Reflection

We are thankful for our friends and family who endure our weaknesses daily as we learn to imitate Christ.
We are thankful for our spiritual family who must do the same as we sojourn in the bond of peace towards the new city of unending joy.
We are thankful for the government’s role in our community keeping us safe and secure and we are even thankful for its inefficiencies, for it gives us an opportunity to remember our own personal responsibilities. Our hope is not in princes.

We are thankful for the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that have come to labor along side of us during a trying season of life.
We are thankful for the yearly cyclone reminders of who controls all things.
We are thankful for all who have donated goods and services to us and for those who have given to us monetarily.
We are thankful for community organizations that are not ashamed to serve openly under the banner of the living God.

We are thankful for the church.
We are thankful for food and shelter no matter how meager it may be for against the world’s standards the United States is still extremely rich.
We are thankful for having clothes to wear and clean water.  We are thankful for liberty and the means to operate freely despite her receding glow.

We are thankful for your prayers. We are thankful for the Trinity’s unstoppable work in our lives. Thank you Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. May we press on till the final coming.

The Judgment Feast

judgment feastFrom the preaching of the text in Revelation 19, verses 17 – 21:

The graciousness of God’s love, even in merely not casting us away into darkness immediately, only becomes amazing in front of a canvas of understood evil. His purposed affections towards mankind are made ever beautiful only when displayed before a backdrop of hopelessness… before a canvas of coming wrath and right judgment.

The Babylonian mural galleries, where snapshots and paintings dishonor the imago dei, capture and promote our vanity, rebellion and utter helplessness. This exhibit provides a vivid outline of worldliness for the light of grace to reveal. Without the contrasting balance of shade and tone and scaled character, God’s love becomes mere duty and the gospel’s radiant purity and shalom becomes simply another option on a religious Ferris wheel; carrying off visitors in pretty circles and lights.

However, the cross of Christ envelopes the darkness and destroys death and hopelessness for it is the Father’s decreed desire to save His people for His own glory and pleasure.

It is the truth of this display of judgment, the truth of this carnage, the truth of this destruction, the truth of righteous repayment; the truth of awaiting birds of prey… it is the truth of a real hell and just punishment that should reinforce for us the need to speak the Words of Life to all men from every nation, tribe and tongue…to speak them loudly and to speak them well, to speak them often, to tell the world of its fate, to call all men to repentance and pray that the Spirit opens their blind eyes.

Hear the full sermon here. Click this.

Obligation or Grace ?

crime stoppersI was raised in a Roman Catholic family, brought up on a system of morals and law.  Jesus, it was said, died for the sins of the world and if I were to believe that truth and be a ‘good’ person by being faithful to the Church and to God’s law, I should see heaven or at least make it to Purgatory.  Yet, somewhere in my mid-teens I saw a problem with a benevolent and loving God who seemed powerless to help those around me who needed Him the most.  During that adolescent time my sister was diagnosed with an incurable neuromuscular disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia – a degenerative disorder that eventually leads to premature death.  So as I wrestled with the implications of her permanent disability and my theology, I began to ask what seemed to me to be the obvious, “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why this?

Answers came from various areas and channels of philosophical persuasion, but no one gave me a Scriptural answer.  I received the padded answers that are more connected with making God out to be not-so-bad rather than the revealed answers of the Bible.  I’m sure you have heard them before – “God has a plan.”, “There are some mysteries we just don’t understand.”, “She can be healed if she just has enough faith.” and “This is the devil’s work not God’s.” All of these responses are commonly given to struggling sojourners and unbelieving denizens in a hopeful attempt to appease their grief and heartache, yet they are misguided replies.

The truth is that this world is under the curse of sin and death and with that comes diseases, disasters and heinous crime.(Gen. 2:17; Rom. 1:17ff) The better question to ask is whether or not God is obligated to do something about it. Is He obligated to cure all diseases? Is He obligated to prevent every murder and rape and theft? Is God obligated to stop every war?  Certainly, He is all-powerful so why doesn’t He? If we answer that He is obligated, then God has failed and if we answer that He doesn’t intervene because of our lack of faith or works, then we are more powerful than God for we can thwart His will.

crutch walkerHowever, the biblical answer is that God is not obligated to show mercy towards sinners; that is why we call it mercy. (Exodus 33:19;Rom. 9:15) Obligated mercy is duty, not grace and since everyone is guilty before God for every person falls short of the required obedience to the Law (Rom. 3:23; James 2;10), He owes us nothing. (Dan. 4:35) In His benevolent grace and chosen mercy, He does aid humanity for He restrains judgment upon mankind in His supreme patience so that all who will hear can hear the Word of Reconciliation in the preaching of the gospel.  As a result, this world is not as wicked as it could be through divine intervention. It is the purpose and joy of the church to bring the good news of His mercy found in Christ to a condemned race for  “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Come to Me

depression“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Here, in the gospel of Matthew, is a call and invitation to rest by faith in the completed work of Christ. Jesus is not asking for everyone to come, He is commanding everyone to come.  He says to all men indiscriminately, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” He did not merely make an offer, He gave mankind a command. (Acts 17:30)

If you have been laboring to please God for a long time and are weary, find refuge in Christ. (Psalm 31:1) If you are trying to live according to the Law of God and find yourself exhausted in every imaginable way, rest in the completed work of Christ for He has already earned the favor of God. (John 7:37)

Christ led the perfect life, never disobeying the Law. Christ is the perfection we need and by faith His perfection is our perfection.  He is our righteousness before God; rest in Him and what He has done. (Hebrews 4:15-16)  Christ lived as we should so that we may be saved from the punishment we deserve. No one will ever satisfy what is lacking in their performance. He alone is our all in all.

Are you tired of trying to please God in your effort? Are you burdened by hard things? Are you overloaded with guilt for failing to live up to what you know God requires of you? Come to Christ and He will give you rest.  No one else has the words of Life. (John 6:68)

Believe in Him who died and suffered for sinners just like you. Focus your eyes upon the One who shed his blood so that we might live forever. Turn your head towards Calvary where the Savior died a cruel death at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles so that His people would be reconciled to God. (Hebrews 9:13-15)

Turn from your own efforts, they only earn you more trouble and debt. (James 2:10)  Forsake your attempts at pleasing God for Christ has fully pleased the Father. See the Cross that redeemed us from the curse of the Law.  Embrace forgiveness by faith. See the love greater than all our pride.  Come to Christ and live.

999 – 9.09.09 – 9/9/09 and the Nines

the NinesYesterday was a unique numerical day.  If I were inclined to love zany Zeitgeist theories and Van Impe fantasy tales, I would have taken out my binoculars and searched the horizon for an upside down Antichrist leaping from Harpo’s latest infomercial broadcast.  Instead, I tuned into a virtual leadership conference called The Nines.

I confess that at first, it seemed really nerdy and just another attempt at being ‘cool’ and some of the names I saw in the lineup were folks that I do not believe have a firm grasp of either the gospel or church.   Then I thought about it from a technological standpoint.  I looked at it as a unique use of a great time in history where how we communicate with each other changes so fast, that by the time you learn one niche, it seems to be obsolete. Every advance in technology is met with both awe and criticism. I remember when I was in college and cell phones looked like those huge GI Joe battle radios and people thought it was absolutely ridiculous to have one.  Only the wealthy had them and very few saw what was coming down the pike re: tiny hand-held flip phones and text message mania.

So now we’re here in multi-platformed communique where if you can’t use a browser you’re considered ‘out the loop’. Only dinosaurs can’t type on keyboards.  So why not use these great advancements for the Kingdom? Why not embrace technology as God’s providential means of connecting us more easily to education and encouragement?

I tuned in at nine minutes to nine just to have my own little geeky fun since the conference was supposed to start at nine after nine.  I watched about an hour of the conference and have assembled, in continued geek fun, a list of nine observations about The Nines.

999

1. The technology involved in the video stream and connectivity amazed me.

The video was seamless and the sense of being right with the speaker was attractive even though one particular speaker was so close to the cam that I felt like I was in a Seinfeld skit about close talkers.

2. The technology still needs to improve.

I have only recently entered into the Twitter zone and have been pleasantly surprised with Facebook after boycotting it for many years.  While some nitwits feel compelled to broadcast every inane and boring detail of their lives through social media, I have found a great benefit in being edified by good posts and keeping up with friends and the world.

That being said, there needs to be more real time text applications. Instant messaging isn’t always very instant and the delays in postings create an un-dialogue.  For this reason, I’m very much looking forward to Google Wave’s launch.

3. I kept thinking some speakers were trying too hard to be cool.

I’m not judging hearts, I’m speaking about my own perception.  A danger in newness is that it tends to lead us into trendiness. Trendiness is hip at the time but can lack genuineness. If authenticity is replaced with ‘fitting in’ the smell of plasticity will overpower the message. So, if you are already hip, stay hip. If you’re a nerd, be one.

4. Having over nine thousand participants logged in is encouraging.

As the apostolic prayer requested that the gospel run rapidly through the cities (2 Thess. 3:1), what better way to spread truth than through such incredible technologies.

5. We still equate church growth with numbers and virtually  ignore internal growth.

God builds His church and while we should always rejoice in more and more people coming into the Kingdom, it does not happen because of our strategy. While we should be focused on functioning well in our labors, we should be more focused on whether or not we are making true disciples.

6. I think sometimes I’m too critical of honest attempts at doing things better and in the process lose focus on what is good.

Just because someone may be overboard in their approach doesn’t mean that they have nothing good at all to say. Just because they miss the mark in one are doesn’t mean that I can’t grow from something else they may have right. Just because I agree with this doesn’t mean I won’t stop criticizing. May I do it in the right spirit.

7. Leadership is best taught by the art of do

Show them. Teach them. Identify them. Let them. Help them. Lead them. Duplication.

8. There is so much to learn.

Wherever I hear so much from so many I feel overwhelmed and it reminds me that I will be a student my entire life while at the same time teaching. We transfer from one baton to the next what has been given to us to learn and pass on. Mentoring facilitates discipling.

9. Nine really is a good number.

Short, simple and clear means more effectiveness especially in front of the backdrop of busyness. We spend far too much time being distracted and much less time staying focused. The Nines helped me remember to focus more precisely.

A Reminder of the Good News

crossDeath comes swiftly and death comes expectedly for none of us escape its call. Suffering, death and decay are all effects of the fall of man where sin entered the world and so, too, did death.  Through Adam’s transgression, his single disobedient act of the will against the Law of God, all of us will see death; yet those who believe in the gospel of Christ will escape its finality.  No one avoids their funeral, but we can be rescued from our final judgment. Like Adam, we eat what we shouldn’t eat and think what we shouldn’t think and as a result we will be held accountable for each and every action and heart attitude.

However, those who trust Christ as their Savior and righteousness will not taste the tomb forever.  Those who know Him know that just as the Lord’s tomb was found empty, one day in the final Day of the Lord, their tomb, too, will be vacant. And not only that, but when it comes to the time where the Lord of all Creation examines their life in accordance with His prescribed Law, they will be found guiltless.  This verdict will not be because of their righteousness or ability to ever have lived up to God’s requirements, but rather their freedom from punishment will be because they, by faith, believed in the perfect work of Jesus Christ. He was sent here by the Father to invade time as a man so that he could accomplish fully the redemptive work of our Triune God.  Christ paid what we owe in full and He alone was qualified to do so.

It was His flawless life in thought, word and deed that is accepted by God.  It was His sacrificial death at the hands of the world where He paid the penalty owed by His adoptive faithful; where the wrath of the Father was poured out into His every being – where the satisfaction was satisfied. His atoning death covers the sins – past, present and future – of all who believe that this gloriously good news is true.  God proved the truth of Christ’s mission on earth with a resurrective seal of authenticity. Christ being raised from the dead on the third day proves that this grand narrative of God’s ultimate work in human history is not merely a fable.

Helpless men radically corrupted by sin, incapable of rescuing themselves or even fully understanding just how deep they are drowning are saved by the grace of the Living God so that God may receive the glory of his mighty work in salvation. God changes hearts so that they will believe and worship in spirit and in truth. This, friends, is the good news. The good news is not what God will do for you; the good news is what has already been done on behalf of His people.  The gospel is not man-centered self-help, it is a Christ-centered miracle that points our eyes to the Cross where the Lord of Glory died so that men who deserve nothing from Him might live forever in perfect fellowship with their Creator.

Death Comes Quickly

no cementaryBy now, no doubt, we are all weary of the seeming avalanche of celebrity reports in the news related to the high profile deaths in Hollywood as of late – Jackson, Fawcett, McMahon, Malden, Mays, Travalena, Storm… These deaths bring to mind the quick passing time scroll that we call life.  In some ways we think that time is paralyzed in movies and pictures and with those whom we haven’t seen in quite some time. How often have you run into someone you haven’t seen in years and suddenly find yourself in shock that they look so different?  Time is the ferry that waits for no one.

God tells us that our expiration date has been sealed in heaven for “there is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Eccl.3:1-4)  While our end is fixed we are not given the hour or day of our departure (Deut. 29:29); instead, we are firmly told to redeem the time we are given here on earth wisely for we do not know what tomorrow’s events may bring.

As James tells us in his epistle, “…you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that. But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:14-16)

jazz funeral

Thinking that tomorrow is ours is evil. Not acknowledging God’s providence over each inhale and every exhale is arrogant boasting. Our lives are indeed in His hands.  As we age, we become acutely aware of our inevitable stop. Our ‘vaporism’ is revealed. Skin loosens. Bones ache. Our frailty is made more and more evident as we ante up more frequent co-payments and attend more frequent funerals. The ferry plows on.

Death’s immediate impact on us is directly proportional to how close it is to us relationally.  The impact of a Sudanese dying in England whom we’ve never met is not even close to the impact of our spouse or parent passing. According to the U.S. Census bureau, there are approximately two and half million deaths per year in the United States – that’s five deaths per minute.  Interestingly, we don’t live as though this is the case; taking each day more precious than the next.

As you continue through your activities this weekend, remind yourself of these passages and another truth from the book of Ecclesiastes – It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (cf. 7:2)  May we take life to heart as the gift that it is and may we continue to warn those who are in danger of losing it forever.