God and Country: An Inadequate Vision

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$(KGrHqVHJBsE-M9cSWtmBPpo,ty8Dw--60_35I’ve heard a lot of bad “God and Country” sermons. Quite frankly, I’ve preached some myself. You’ve probably heard them as well. They usually equate America with Israel in the Old Testament and claim the conditional blessings and cursings outlined by God in Deuteronomy and other passages as applying to America. II Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted. While I affirm that obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings judgment, we live in an upside-down world and sometimes God’s blessing doesn’t look like the blessings of Deuteronomy. We are following a crucified Savior, after all. The recent ruling by our Supreme Court which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States ought to help us understand that God and country are no longer one and the same.

THE TRADITIONAL CONCEPT OF “GOD AND COUNTRY” IS DEAD

We also need to understand that our American concepts of “God and Country” are incompatible with both the gospel and the current culture in America. American is becoming more like the Roman culture into which the church was born 2000 years ago. As Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has said, “On the wrong side of history? We started on the wrong side of history—a Roman Empire and a cross. Rome’s dead and Jesus is fine.” The church survived and thrived in 1st century Rome. The church will not be overcome now. The Church has divine promises of victory over the forces of evil (Matt. 16:18). America has no such promise. Even in this dark hour, God is sovereign and I believe that God is using this present evil to call Christians away from our American dream fantasy and calling us to great gospel faithfulness and Great Commission vision. God is darkening the canvas against which we are to shine. We’re marching away from Mt. Rushmore and marching toward Mt. Zion.

HISTORY HAS A PREDETERMINED GOAL – HIS NAME IS JESUS

In Revelation 19:6-16 two important events are depicted at the end of this age: the marriage of the lamb and the second coming of Jesus. History is moving toward this glorious goal when the last marriage will be between Jesus and his spotless bride, the Church. This passage also depicts Jesus as a conqueror. He rides upon a white horse, he judges and makes war, his appearance is fearsome, and he strikes down the nations with a sharp sword a rules them with a rod of iron. He is called King of kings and Lord of lords. When Jesus stood before the high priest to be condemned he told him, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64, ESV). Jesus was facing crucifixion, yet told those who condemned him that he would be revealed at his second coming with power. When Jesus comes again he will shatter the nations like clay pots (Psalm 2:7-9), all rule and authority will be put down (1 Cor. 15:24-25), and the kingdoms of this world will belong to him (Rev. 11:15). These are the same kingdoms that Satan offered Jesus during the temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:8-10). As American Christians, we need to remember that America is a kingdom of this world, currently under the dominion of Satan, destined to be judged and conquered by Christ. The Gospel is not a message of national recovery, but a declaration of divine takeover and a call to unconditional surrender. God is not interested in fixing nations. God is interested in establishing his kingdom and putting down all earthly rule and authority.

THE “RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY” IS THE OTHER SIDE OF A CROSS

For Christians, this world is not our home and neither is this country. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven living in a foreign land. We should not sound like complaining citizens of an earthly kingdom, but as prophetic ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom. While it is true that Jesus is coming again to conquer the nations of this world, it is important to notice that his robe is stained with blood. In Revelation chapter five, Jesus is presented as both a conquering lion and a lamb that has been slaughtered. The path to glory leads to a cross. We cannot forget that we are following a crucified savior. Let us not be surprised if we walk the same road of suffering he walked. Jesus left nothing unclear when he said, ““If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

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God Doesn’t Have a “Plan B”

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Do you ever feel like lifScreenshot 2014-06-25 00.23.59e is out of control and there is no purpose or meaning in the ups and d owns of life? I think we’ve all felt that way. For the Christian, however, God tells us that this is not the case. That even when life seems out of control, He is very much in control. The 8th chapter of Romans is a treasure trove of encouragement and hope, and verse 28 is the pinnacle of this chapter. Through the pen of the apostle Paul, God tells us:

 

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Those who are called according to God’s purpose and love God have the benefit of knowing that all things work out to the good. This good is not necessarily our temporal good, but eternal good. The good of God’s perfect plan. This assures us that there is a method to the perceived madness around us. There is rhyme and reason to the rat race we find ourselves in. Even in the chaos, there is cosmos. There is order in the circumstances in our lives because the Spirit is praying for us perfectly and God has planned our steps precisely.God works sovereignly in the events of our lives to shape and position us for calling he gives us.

The Greek word translated “work together” is συνεργέω (synergeō) which means “to work together with.”[1]  If something unfavorable happens to us it is for good. We see this in the life of Joseph who had suffered because of his brothers, but God used it for a greater good (Gen. 50:20). Also, if something favorable happens to us it is for good, but not our good only. God allowed Esther to be promoted to be the queen of Persia, but this was so she would be able to save her people, the Hebrews (Esther 4:14). Ultimately “good” or “bad” things don’t happen to us for our pleasure, promotion, pain, or persecution. They happen to bring about God’s purpose. We should recognize this in all aspects of life. This principle is no doubt why Paul could say, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (Philippians 4:11-12, ESV).Has God blessed you with wealth, position, or power? It is for His purpose, not yours. Has God allowed you to experience need, weakness, or sorrow? It is also for His purpose.

The following verse (vs. 29) informs us that the “good” that is being produced in us is conformity to the image of Christ. Whatever makes us like Christ is good. Believers becoming more and more like Christ brings God glory and is our ultimate purpose in life. When we recognize that God has not called us primarily for our benefit but for His purpose, it gives our lives transcendence and meaning because we are rooted in the purpose of God. We are called, for His purpose. This is why all things work together for good.

2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV)  who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

[1] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Basically on My Way to Australia

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In the movie Support Your Local Sheriff, James Garner plays a gold prospector who takes the job of sheriff in a small western town. The people get attached to him and he even falls in love with a young lady, but he continually reminds the townfolk that he’s just there temporarily as his ultimate goal is to get to Australia because “its the last of the frontier country.”  His ambition is to get to Australia and being a sheriff is just a temporary stop along the way.

Yesterday, I announced my resignation to the congregation at Reed Springs Baptist Church. Katrina and I have been there for four years and these have been the best four years of my ministry. Reed Springs has loved us and treated us like family and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as pastor there. Nevertheless, God is calling us onward to the next chapter of the story He is writing with our lives.

southern2Just as God called Abram to leave his “country and… kindred… father’s house” to go to the land of Canaan, God is calling us to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where I will complete a Master of Divinity and God willing, my doctorate. This is a decision that Katrina and I have prayed about for over a year and we are sure that this is God’s will for us.

In the time I have been at Reed Springs, I have been blessed to complete both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Reed Springs has been very gracious in allowing me to be a student while also being their pastor. Were it feasible for me to complete my education while at Reed Springs, I would be quite tempted to stay here. However, to finish my education in a reasonable amount of time, it is necessary for us to relocate and for me to be a full-time student.

Katrina and I would appreciate your prayers as we fulfill God’s plan for our lives. We are wholly trusting God’s provision and direction as we set forth on this great adventure. Our last Sunday at Reed Springs will be July 13th, after which we will move to Louisville and spend a few weeks getting settled in before classes start in August. Also pray for Reed Springs as they begin the process of searching for their next pastor.

I’ve already been asked about what happens after I finish school. God hasn’t let us see that far ahead yet, and that’s Ok. We’ve got enough to focus on at hand and sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof… but who knows? “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that basically I’m on my way to Australia.”

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Why God Gave Us The Bible

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big_ten_std_t_nt“All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). These words were written by Paul the apostle to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul is instructing him to be faithful to what God has revealed in the scriptures in the face of opposition and pressure from others who have abandoned the Word of God. How did these Scriptures come to be, and why was it necessary for God to reveal Himself through written words? The answer is as old as time…

In the original design of creation, man had fellowship with God in Eden. That fellowship was lost in the Fall and all humanity was separated from God in that one act. All Adam’s descendants are born estranged from God, aliens to truth and righteousness and in such a sinful state that we only rebel against God. Even when men try to worship what they think God is, the result is false religion, paganism, polytheism, and creature worship. We are often convinced from creation and conscience that God exists, but we cannot know Him on our own.

From Adam till Moses, humanity continues to sin, die, and live in separation from God. Paul says that during the time from Adam to Moses “death reigned.”“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses…” (Romans 5:14 KJV). There is no written revelation from God to show what God expects of humanity and people are left to grope in the darkness and to die in their sins. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes and is in bondage to sin and enslaved to death.

During this time, God revealed Himself personally to individuals as He chose. God revealed Himself to Abel, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Melchizedek, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and others. The faith of these individuals was based on their personal experiences with God. They had no Bible, no law to guide them; only their own consciences and personal revelation from God and perhaps, oral traditions passed down about God.

But in Moses’ lifetime (approx. 1500 BC) something very important changed. God began to break the reign of death by providing mankind with His written Word. God wrote His law on tablets of stone, delivered them to Moses who gave them to Israel. Moses would record all of God’s laws and ordinances for Israel, ultimately writing the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. For the first time in human history, God had given His holy, inspired, written, indisputable Word to humanity. God would continue to inspire men to write Scripture from this point forward until about 400 years before Christ. Malachi was the last prophet to write under the inspiration of God in the Old Testament. It is believed that Ezra the scribe was the first to formally organize the Old Testament canon as we have it.

After 400 years of silence from God, God started speaking again. He began speaking through John the Baptist, continued through Jesus Christ who is the supreme revelation from God. He is called the Word of God (John 1:1-3). After Jesus’ ascension, the church began growing and men began writing. The four gospels tell of Jesus’ life and ministry, Acts gives the history of the early church, while the epistles contain the inspired teaching of the prophets and apostles of the New Testament. The final contribution to the New Testament canon is the Revelation, or Apocalypse of Jesus Christ penned by the Apostle John. With the completion of this book in 94-96 AD, God again ceased speaking written revelation. The Bible is complete.

The reason God inspired men to write the books of the Bible was to perfectly reveal Himself to us and provide a means of redemption and reconciliation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible makes this great plan of redemption known and tells us how we can be reconciled with God. Without the Bible, we would have no message to share with the world, and we would have no hope ourselves because the only reason we are saved is because we have believed what God says about Jesus. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible is His way of reconciling fallen, sinful humanity to Himself based on the redemptive work of Christ.

Why is the Resurrection Important?

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Picture1Have you ever played Jenga? It’s the game where players take turns removing wooden blocks from the stack until someone finally makes the tower fall. If so, you’ve probably made a huge mess by pulling out the block that supported the whole stack. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central “block” of Christianity. Without it, nothing else matters. Without the literal resurrection of Christ, the Christian faith is pointless and empty. If the resurrection is not an historical event, then all New Testament preachers are liars and deceivers including myself. Without the resurrection, we are not forgiven and our sins are still counted against us. Without the resurrection all who have died trusting in Christ are lost forever. If Christ was not raised from the dead, we will not be raised from the dead either. In short, without the literal, historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; there is no forgiveness of sins, we are not justified and saved, we are all false prophets, Christianity is a waste of time and pointless, there is no heaven available to us, and when we die we either cease to exist (best case) or spend eternity in hell (worst case). Christianity falls apart. Everything we believe falls apart (1 Cor. 15:12-20).

The resurrection is the most important truth claim of Christianity. It is the pinnacle of all Christian truths, and all truths, period. All other Christian truths unite in the resurrection of Christ: heaven, hell, sin, judgment, the love of God, the person of Christ, faith, unbelief, and the list goes on.

The only thing necessary for the Roman government or the Jewish leaders to have crushed Christianity before it got “out of hand” would have been to produce the crucified body of Jesus. Yet this smoking gun has never been provided.

What has been provided, however, are four eyewitness accounts by men who were present during the crucifixion, burial, and following days who maintain with uncanny harmony that they saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion. One of whom was a medical doctor who asserted that Jesus showed himself alive by many “infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). We also have the testimony of Paul who claims that over 500 individuals saw Jesus alive at one time and at the time of his writing, many of them were still alive to verify that claim (1 Cor. 15:6). Add to this the fact that all but one of Jesus’ disciples were brutally killed for this testimony and many were tortured and imprisoned but never changed their story. Many others in addition to the disciples were martyred as a result of their faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

Without the resurrection, Christianity falls apart. God has provided ample evidence for the reality of the resurrection, however. This Easter, I pray that each of you reading this post will “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).

A New Life, an Angry Wife, and a Bloody Knife

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exodus_no titleTwo Sundays ago, I preached one of the strangest passages in the Bible. It is perhaps the second most debated Old Testament passage there is. It is a passage that talks about Moses and his family on their way to Egypt.

Moses had fled Egypt at 40 years old after killing an Egyptian man. He settles down and lives in the land of Midian. Moses meets a man named Reuel, also known as Jethro, and marries one of his daughters, Zipporah. Moses and Zipporah have two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Moses lives as a shepherd and at the age of 80, God calls to him to go back to Egypt and lead the Israelites to freedom. Moses reluctantly agrees, packs his things, and heads to Egypt with his wife Zipporah, and two sons. This story picks up at rest stop on the way to Egypt.

Exodus 4:24-26 (ESV) At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

We don’t have all the details. There are a lot of questions that are unanswered about this passage and there are several theories about the meaning of this passage. I want to simply take what we know, and recreate the most likely scenario with the information God gives us.

  • Moses and Zipporah have two different cultures and sets of customs
  • Moses most likely circumcised their first son, Gershom
  • Zipporah doesn’t like circumcision and refuses to allow Eliezer to be circumcised
  • Moses keeps peace and doesn’t circumcise Eliezer
  • God calls Moses to be the leader of the Jewish nation
  • Moses reluctantly agrees to obey God and go to Egypt
  • Moses ignores the command to circumcise his son
  • Moses leaves for Egypt with Zipporah and his two sons
  • God (Angel of the Lord) intercepts the family in order to kill Moses
  • Zipporah circumcises Eliezer and God spares Moses

God has called Moses to lead the nation of Israel, but he first needs to learn to lead his own family. God expects for men to be godly husbands and fathers and provide spiritual leadership at home (Eph. 5:22-24; Heb. 12:9). Too many men have been content to opt out of spiritual leadership and leave the task to their wives. This is disobedience to the pattern for the family in the Bible. Men aren’t fit to lead anywhere else if they will not lead first at home. One of the basic qualifications for spiritual leadership in the New Testament is that a man leads his home (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

Concerning Moses’ situation, Ronald B. Allen says “Moses was guilty of not carrying out circumcision in his own family, yet he was the one who was to lead the circumcised nation of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land.” This wasn’t some peripheral matter that could be excused. Circumcision was an important commandment for the Jewish people. It identified the males as belonging to God. Failure to be circumcised resulted in being rejected by God and cut off from the nation (Gen. 17:12-14). God was so serious about this that he would rather kill Moses than let him attempt to lead Israel while failing to obey the most basic of instructions to all Jews. We all do things to keep peace and we all pick our battles from time to time. However, we don’t get to pick battles where God’s Word and God’s will are concerned. We should value obedience to God’s commands more than the artificial peace born out of a lukewarm, compromised lifestyle.

There are two extremes of spiritual disunity in the home – the absentee, passive husband who just lets the wife make all the decisions to keep peace and the apathetic wife who does whatever the husband wants because she really doesn’t care. Men and women are both fallen and sinners, but we are sinners in different ways. Genesis 3:16 demonstrates that there is a power struggle between men and women. Men try to get their way by force and power, while women try to get their way with manipulation and cunning. Sinful but different. The best way for an unmarried person to avoid these types of struggles is to resolve to marry someone with the same faith and values as you. This will keep you from the trap of an “unequally yoked” marriage (2 Cor. 6:14).

God doesn’t want the family to be divided over spiritual issues; rather He desires spiritual unity. This was what Moses failed to achieve in his house. Moses and Zipporah had different social, religious, and cultural views. This resulted in a pagan compromise to withhold circumcision from their son, even though this was the most important expression of belonging to God. Zipporah either did not understand or did not care about the importance of obeying God completely. Moses should not have been content to leave her in this complacent spiritual state. He should have been concerned with his wife’s spiritual condition.  Don’t be content to let your spouse be the “spiritual one.” Also, don’t sit by and let your spouse die spiritually. Say as Joshua did, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). When Joshua made this declaration, he didn’t have to run it by his wife. Neither did his wife have to push him out to make it, nor did she make it for him. He stood there and boldly made this declaration and somewhere in the crowd, his godly wife was nodding her head in agreement saying, “That’s MY husband!” Let’s work with our family to build a godly home that brings glory to God and reflects the love of Christ.

Obadiah: A Message of God’s Justice

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       The book of Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament, consisting of twenty-one verses. The book supplies no information of the author other than his name. We know that Obadiah was a prophet of God about the time of Judah’s destruction by the Babylonians and he prophesied against the Edomites. Obadiah’s prophecy, therefore, occurred after Judah’s captivity in 586 BC and before Edom’s demise in 500 BC. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:9), the brother of Jacob. Although the Edomites were Israel’s enemies, they were also their distant relatives. Obadiah’s prophecy foretells of Edom’s destruction because of their wicked treatment of Israel during the Babylonian overthrow of Judah.

 
 
      Edom’s capital city, Petra, was located in mountainous terrain and was an impregnable natural fortress. The city was surrounded by deep gorges and enormous mountain peaks. God promised to destroy the Edomites despite their false sense of security (vs. 3, 4). God further declares that Edom will be betrayed by all of her allies and pillaged until there is nothing left (vs. 5-7). Obadiah says that this judgment is deserved because of Edom’s wicked treatment of Israel that began during the wilderness travels under Moses (Num. 20:14-21) and reached their a climax during the recent Babylonian invasion of Judah.
      God gives four different charges against the Edomites: they refused to help Judah during the attack of the Babylonians, they rejoiced at Judah’s demise, they plundered Jerusalem, and they captured and sold as slaves those who fled from the attack (vs. 11-14). By refusing to help Judah in their time of trouble, Edom was considered by God to be just as guilty as Babylon (vs. 11).  Edom had shown no mercy to Judah, and would receive no mercy from God. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).
      God’s judgment on Edom is a preview of God’s judgment on all nations during the Day of the Lord (vs. 15). God says that He will cause them to “drink continually” until they are “as though they had never been.” This refers to the cup of God’s wrath, which Jeremiah spoke of, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and make all the nations I am sending you to, drink from it.” (Jeremiah 25:15). Judah had tasted this cup for a time (Isaiah 21:22-23), but now Edom would drink from it until they were destroyed as will all nations and individuals who sin against God.
Obadiah’s message ends with a promise of future blessing. Obadiah prophesies that Israel will be victorious over Edom (vs. 17-18), and will reclaim their land according to the God-given boundaries (vs. 19-20). The only time in Israel’s history that they possessed all the land promised them was under the reign of David and Solomon, but God says they will possess it again. Obadiah’s last words leave us with a promise of the land being governed under the rule of Yahweh (vs. 21). God is reminding Israel, Edom, and all the nations of the world that they will one day become “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15).
We live in a fallen world that is temporarily under the control of Satan and it often seems that there is no justice when wicked nations and individuals go unpunished. God allowed the Edomites to persecute Israel for centuries, but the time of their judgment was certain as is the judgment of all nations. In the midst of all the global turmoil and injustice, God promises a day when “He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). The Day of the Lord will bring God’s perfect justice to a world that desperately needs it.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 15, 2013.

Yahweh Our Righteousness

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            In the midst of his trials, Job asked a question that ought to resonate within the heart of every individual, “…how can a man be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2). Job was a godly man and had defended himself against the false accusations of his friends, but he knew that his righteousness was nothing compared to the righteousness of God. All of our works and morality may be impressive when compared to other fallen men and women, but cannot begin to meet the standards of Yahweh our God. The good news, however, is that God doesn’t simply leave us in our fallen, guilty state. The same God who demands righteousness also provides righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21-22 teaches us that God revealed His righteousness in Jesus Christ. Jesus displayed this perfect righteousness by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the Law with His sinless life, He fulfilled the judicial demands of the Law by his sacrificial death, and He fulfilled the ceremonial demands of the Law by his supreme nature; Jesus is the high priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the true temple. Where men had failed to keep God’s Law, Jesus prevailed and now provides His righteousness for us. No wonder the Messiah is called “Yahweh our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6); He is our God and our Savior!
            In Romans 3:22-23 we discover that anyone can receive this gift of righteousness and everyone needs it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how clean our lives may appear to other people, each and every one of us has “missed the mark” of God’s righteousness. Like the Babylonian ruler, Belshazzar, we “have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (Dan. 6:27). Paul had a shining record according to the law prior to his conversion, but he recognized that he was spiritually and eternally bankrupt without the righteousness that Christ gives (Philippians 3:4-9). No person is so good that he doesn’t need Christ, and none is so wicked that he can’t receive Him.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the gift of righteousness to sinners is the way it is provided. Jesus is the possessor of righteousness and He is the provider of righteousness, but He is also the propitiation for our sins. The fact that Jesus is our propitiation means that He is the means through which we are forgiven. Salvation and righteousness did not come without a cost; in order for us to receive His righteousness, Christ had to receive the punishment for our sins. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). There could be no justification for us without the sinless sacrifice of Jesus in our place.
In our busy, task-oriented society we are often evaluated by other people for our works and productivity, but we need to remember that while God rewards us for our performance, He accepts us based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Many of the Israelites rejected Christ because they were depending on a works-based righteousness which is totally incapable of justifying us before God (Rom. 10:1-4). In contrast, Abraham, the father of the Israelites was justified by his faith and not by works (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). Although we are called to live in obedience to God’s commands, we find righteousness and salvation through faith in Christ, not by the incomplete, fallen works that we have to offer. 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 11, 2012.

Yahweh Our Father

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God relates to us in many ways, but no title represents His love and faithfulness for us as well as “Father.” While everyone may not have the blessing of a loving, earthly father; our God, Yahweh, longs to be the Father of all who will receive Him. God is presented as Father in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus addressed God as his Father (Matt.11:25) and instructs his followers to address God as Father as well (Matt. 6:5-15). In Psalm 103, David presents Yahweh as Father by praising Him for all his benefits and His mercy.  

God’s care for us is inexhaustible. David mentions at least five different benefits from our Father in verses 3 – 5. In verse 3, we find forgiveness and healing. Forgiveness is the first and primary provision for us. All earthly blessings we enjoy are of little value without the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. Our healing, physical and spiritual, is a wonderful example of God’s complete care for us and we are to praise Him for all healing we experience. In verse 4, we see redemption and exaltation. David says God has “redeemed us from the pit.” Redeem means to “buy back,” or “deliver” while the pit refers to the grave. David is saying that Yahweh has rescued us from death and the grave. He goes on to say that we are “crowned with faithful love and compassion.” The word “crown” implies that we are given an important position such as royalty (Rev. 1:6). God’s love doesn’t only rescue us from the death we deserve, but His love exalts us to a position we do not deserve. In verse 5, we see our restoration. In Psalm 23:3, David said that God “restores my soul.” Through the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, our heavenly Father can restore and renew us because “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

Because we are His children, we experience the spiritual blessing of God’s unconditional love. David assures us that this is not because of our goodness but because of God’s compassion and grace and because He is “slow to anger” and “rich in faithful love” (vs. 8). His love for us is as “high as the heavens are above the earth” (vs. 11). While we will receive chastisement and correction for sin (Heb. 12:6), God does not give us the punishment we truly deserve (vs. 10). Verse 12 tells us that our sins are forever and infinitely removed from us. God has separated the sin and the sinner in order to show love to us and punish our sins separately without condemning us to Hell. We know that the reason for this mercy is that Jesus bore our sins and was punished in our place at the cross (Isa. 53:5).

God gives us wonderful benefits and extends unconditional love to us, but this would be of little comfort if God were not true and unchanging. What if God changed His mind? We can be assured that He never will because of His eternal, unchanging promises. Verse 17 tells us that God’s love is faithful to us from eternity to eternity. This is amazing when considered in light of verses 15 and 16 which tells us how small and fleeting our human lives are. The eternal, unchanging God is faithful through all ages to small, insignificant people like us! I can be sure of God’s benefits tomorrow because of His truthfulness today.

It is easy to take the blessings of God for granted and even overlook them, but David charges us to “forget not” the many material and spiritual blessings that God has given us. We should remember the blessings of the past, enjoy the blessings of today, and be assured of the blessings of tomorrow.

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 4, 2012.




Yahweh Our God

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            Have you ever been discouraged? Has it ever seemed that God hasn’t kept a promise? Have you ever suffered for following God’s plan? You aren’t the first to feel this way. In Exodus 6:2-8, we find God confronting a discouraged Moses. Moses has just appeared before Pharaoh and not only did he not succeed in gaining Israel’s freedom, he actually made their working conditions worse! They now have to gather their own straw for bricks and continue the same level of productivity. Moses has upset both Pharaoh and the Israelite foremen. Moses is understandably discouraged, but God encourages Moses with divine promises of deliverance.

            God first reminds Moses who He is: “I am Yahweh.” God is revealing Himself to Moses with His personal, covenant name. This is the name that represents God’s personal dealings in the affairs of the Israelites. The divine name, Yahweh, is closely related to the Hebrew word “hawyah”, meaning “to be.” He is “I AM,” the only self-existent God whose promises are bound up in His true and eternal nature. God then recalls the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them a great nation of descendants and the land of Canaan as a possession. God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He is Yahweh, then He gives Abraham seven “I will” promises to give to the Israelites: I will deliver you, I will free you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people, I will be your God, I will bring you to the land, and I will give it to you (vs. 6-8). God gives His people two, short statements for comfort “I AM” and “I will.” He is saying “I am God, and I will keep my promises!”

            We now fast-forward to chapter 15. God has just given Israel victory over the Egyptians who had enslaved them for 400 years. The Israelites are now standing on the shore of the Red Sea after walking through on dry ground. Pharaoh and the Egyptian army are drowned in the sea. Israel is free for the first time in 400 years. This generation had never known anything but slavery and oppression and God has just delivered them. God has kept His promises! It is time to celebrate and that is exactly what the Israelites are doing. Chapter 15 records their victory song.

            In verse 15:1, Moses and the Israelites give the reason for their praise (vs. 1); they are singing because of the victory that God has given them. Israel also recognizes that God is their salvation (vs. 2). They were not delivered by an army or their own strength, but by a miraculous act of God. Israel also does something very significant in this passage; they acknowledge Yahweh not only as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but also as their personal Lord and God. Israel is making a public, personal, and national commitment to God! In 15:11, Israel publicly acknowledges that Yahweh is unique and exclusive: there is none other like Him. The false gods of the Egyptians are seen as weak and powerless against the backdrop of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.
Perhaps you have been discouraged like Moses when it seemed that your best efforts had failed. Or perhaps you’ve been angry like the Israelite foremen when following God’s plan seemed to land you in more trouble than you were in to start with. These are not times to give up, but rather they are times we should recall God’s promises and remember those two phrases “I AM” and “I will.” God never changes and God never breaks a promise. 

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, November 27, 2012.