Thursday, December 31, 2015

Did Jesus Pay It All?

Jesus, when He died on the cross, said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). In the Greek language this can also mean “paid in full.” The question then arises: Did Jesus really do enough to pay for sin? In Galatians 2:21, it says that if righteousness came through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. Grace and works as a way of salvation is like oil and water: they do not mix (Romans 11:6). But there are those who would minimize Christ’s work and feel they need to add something to it. The question we then need to ask is: What is the requirement? And if Christ did not pay it all, what is left? Now God’s standard is absolute perfection (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10; 4:17). He says that the one who continues angry with another or calls him names is guilty of murder (Matthew 5:21-22). He says that the one who takes a long look at a woman to desire her is guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). He demands total honesty with no attempts at equivocation (Matthew 5:33-37). He says that anything we do for the purpose of impressing other people rather than pleasing God is worthless (Matthew 6:1-18). He says that if we live our life ruled by the desire to make money, we cannot serve God (Matthew 6:19-24). 

As a result, God concludes that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), that none of us do good (Romans 3:10-18), that our hearts are deceitful above all else (Jeremiah 17:9), and that even our righteous deeds are filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, Scripture portrays us as helpless (Romans 5:6-8) and dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 2:13). In this condition, does it make any sense that we can do something in order to earn our salvation? But Christ came to pay the penalty we deserve for our disobedience to God (Colossians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24,25; Ephesians 1:7) so that He could offer salvation as a free gift (Romans 3:240; 5:16,17) to those who have faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Acts 16:31).

Does this mean that, being saved by grace, we can just go out and sin? No; while we cannot obtain salvation by our good works (Titus 3:4-7), putting genuine faith in Christ results in good works (Titus 2:12; James 2:20; 2 Corinthians 3:18). But we cannot use them to earn our salvation. And Christ, by His death on the cross, paid the penalty for sin so that the consequences of the sin that entered the world through Adam’s fall (Romans 5:12-14) can be undone by the cross of Christ (Romans 5:15-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22) for those who have faith in Christ, that they may have access to the tree of life (Revelation 2:7). Christ, in His death on the cross, offers a new kind of righteousness to those who have faith in Him (Romans 3:21-28), leaving no place for boasting (Romans 3:27; 4:2; Ephesians 2:8,9).

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


One of the main things required in dealing with those who are hurting is to have real sympathy (Romans12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26; Proverbs 17:17). This is an application of the basic commandment to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; Philippians 2:3-11).  If we really care about people and show we really care about people, we can can frequently get away with things like giving advice and quoting appropriate Bible verses. If we do not show we care, virtually everything we say will tend to bounce off. We can show we care by being there and listening. The problem with showing we care is, it hurts. It is easier to throw out a quick cliche or a Bible verse (a Bible verse in this context tends to become a cliche). Real caring means we hurt with the person. And this is almost never easy. But it is what God calls us to do.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Going It Alone

Should we take the attitude of “just Jesus and me”? Are there not so many problems with the church that I am better off just going it alone? Or even if I am part of a church, do I really need to be that involved? If I just show up once in a while on a regular basis, won’t that do? Now we need to be honest; the current Christian church is not perfect. Nothing on the planet will ever be perfect until Jesus Christ comes back to rule and to reign. But the church is Christ’s body; it is what He uses to accomplish His purpose in the world (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Colossians 1:18). Now we, as part of that body, are to be nourished and built up by one another (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:19; Hebrews 10:24,25). But even if we ourselves did not need to be built up by others (which is a dubious conceit), we are obligated to build up others (1 Peter 4:10,11; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Jude 20). C. S. Lewis (in another connection), says that if you complain that someone does not do more, the last thing you want to do is cut off some of his fingers. If you complain that Christ’s church does not do enough, you should not deprive it of your contribution. The fact is, if an individual were in a place where they did not need the help of others (and none of us are), they would have a greater obligation to assist others who were still struggling.   

One of the problems we face is we live in a culture where we are taught to value our independence. But we are not really independent. We are dependent on God for life (Acts 17:24-28; 14:15-17; Psalms 8:3-8). And we need Him even more for His salvation (Romans 5:6-8; 1 Peter 1:18,19; 1 Corinthians 6:20). Which should result in our trusting Him with every area of our lives (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Matthew 6:33). But sometimes we can deal with trusting God if we can just get away from having to trust other people. But God tells us to reach out, to connect with others, and to serve others. Now it must be admitted from the outset that this is dangerous business. We are all imperfect people. People will fail you. You will fail other people. But it is only as we trust God who is at work in our lives (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18) that we can reach out beyond our comfort zone to be built up by others and to build up others. For we are all part of the same body. And none of us are really strong enough to go it alone; we need other people.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Meddling

How do we avoid reading our preconceptions into Scripture? What things can encourage us to do so?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Amazing

The most amazing thing is not that God became a man, but that God became a man to save us.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Leo the Great

David's Lord was made David's Son, and from the fruit of the promised branch sprang One without fault, the two-fold nature coming together into one Person, that by one and the same conception and birth might spring our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom was present both true Godhead for the performance of mighty works and true Manhood for the endurance of sufferings.

Leo the Great, 400-460 AD, Sermons, Sermon XXVII, On the Feast of the Nativity, VIII, III (translated by Rev Charles Lett Feltoe, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T &; T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, p. 142

Why is the union of strength and weakness important for the mission of Christ? How might this apply to us?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Debate - A Fantasy

On a popular talk show, in a realm outside our normal reality (The views expressed are an attempt to reproduce the opinions of the individuals involved and do not necessarily reflect those of the author.)

Host: Tonight we have two men on our show who represent the very spirit of Christmas; Saint Nicholas of Myra and Mr. Santa Claus from the North Pole. Mr. Claus, what do you think is the essence of the Christmas?

Santa Claus: The essence of Christmas is giving. Which is why I give toys to children around the world.

St. Nicholas: I am in favor of giving, especially to the poor and needy. But the essence of Christmas is God giving His Son, and we must stand firm for His truth against all opposition.

Santa Claus: That seems rather narrow. I am in favor of good little children, whatever they believe.

St Nicholas: But are any of us really good? That is why Jesus came to redeem us. He reaches out to the immoral and imperfect with forgiveness.

Santa Claus: I reward those who are nice and not naughty; how else are we to get children to behave? I even keep tabs on them all the time to see that they mind.

St Nicholas: But God reaches out to those who are naughty. Even men who will sell their daughters into prostitution because they cannot afford to support them. And we are motivated to obey Him because He loved us so much.

Santa Claus: I think all religions basically say the same thing. The important thing is to be good.

St Nicholas: We are not good enough to be rewarded for it. We need to be forgiven. And all faiths are not alike. The pagans have gods who are capricious and lustful and bicker among themselves. They imprisoned and tortured me because I would not join them in their worship. Are you surprised I worked to close their temples and tear down their shrines?

Santa Claus: I still think we should leave aside this dogmatic stuff and just be nice to each other.

St. Nicholas: And I think, apart from the birth of the Lord Jesus, Christmas is just a meaningless holiday. Niceness is futile unless God changes your heart. I am tempted to slap you in the face, but last time I did that I got in a lot of trouble.

Host: And now for a word from our sponsor. After which we will have Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Grinch in to explain how, in spite of many reservations, they came to find a meaning in Christmas.   

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Concepts of Power

We live in a dangerous world. This is nothing new. We see this even at Christmas, with the evil of King Herod (Matthew 2:16-18). One of the things Satan and his demons use to work evil in the world is a distorted view of authority. And we need to be aware of this, so that we do not fall into this way of thinking.

There exist in the world different concepts on the nature of power. There are those who hold that power is to be used and abused for the benefit of those in charge. That greed and exploitation are simply a normal part of life. But the Bible puts forth a very different concept of authority. It says that true leadership is service to others (Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 22:24-27; Philippians 2:3,4). But God not only requires that kind of authority; He demonstrates it. God Himself was willing to leave the center of all authority in heaven and become a human being to save us from our sins (Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18; Hebrews 2:9-18). To do this He was willing to undergo suffering, culminating in an ignominious death to pay for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18,19; Colossians 2:13,14). 

To accept this is to accept a new concept of what authority is and what authority should be. This puts the central focus of the universe on the kind of love that reaches out to give to others, rather than to acquire for itself, because that is who God is (1 John 4:7-10; Romans 8:6-8; John 3:16). God is the one who needs nothing (Psalms 50:7-15; Acts 17:24-28; Isaiah 40:28-31) and gives to us out of His bounty. Human rulers can become grasping ,wanting only to benefit themselves. From Herod the Great down to the modern totalitarian tyrants, they want only to collect power and wealth for themselves, and to accomplish this they commit acts of infamy. But Jesus, the real King, who is the God-man, is not like them.

How then should we respond to the true King? We should put our faith in Him for His salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). We should also trust Him with all of our life (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Hebrews 11:6). But we need to demonstrate His love to the others around us who so desperately need it (Romans 13:8-10; Ephesians 5:1,2; Luke 10:25-37). For only then will we prove ourselves the representatives of the true King, who needs nothing but gives everything (2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 John 4:11-21; Matthew 5:43-48). And whatever greatness we possess must come from being a servant of all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Promise of His Coming

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were part of the well-orchestrated plan of God (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27,28; 1 Peter 1:18-21). Now God ultimately controls all things (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Isaiah 43:13). But the life of Jesus is specifically significant for the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. One demonstration of this is the detailed fulfillment of the prophecies of the events of Christ’s life. There are various approaches someone can take to try to get around the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. You can claim they were written after the fact. People have used this to explain away certain Old Testament prophecies. But with the life of Jesus, there is too much proof that the Old Testament was already in existence before His time for this to work. There are cases, such as with Nostradamus, where you can claim the prophesies are vague and open to interpretation. But while there are some Old Testament prophecies that are cryptic, there are others that are very detailed. (See the number of details surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion in Isaiah 53.) You can claim the prophecy was a clever deduction on the part of the prophet. But there is too great a time gap and too many details in the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus for this to work. So what are we left with?

You can try to claim Jesus and His apostles rigged it all. This would work for some things, but not others. The events of Christ’s death mentioned above could not have been rigged. The only option left is that the apostles changed the story after the fact . But we need to understand that Christianity, from the very beginning, had critics. And one of the earliest arguments for Christianity was that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. The critics did not seem to be able to disprove this. There is also one prophecy that could not have been rigged even after the fact. In Daniel 9 it says there will 69 sevens (commonly translated “weeks”) between the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem to the coming of Messiah the Prince and His being cut off. If these sevens are sevens of years, what result do we get? There is a question whether the years are prophetic years of 360 days or calendar years, but even if it is calendar years, it comes uncannily close to the time of Jesus of Nazareth. (The prophetic years put you just about right on.) Now if God does have a plan for the world and Jesus Christ is the key to that plan, should we not want to be part of that plan? Should we not then put our faith in Christ for salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), trust Him with the other aspects of our lives (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Matthew 6:25-34), and live for Him (Romans 12:1,2; Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10)? So that we too may carry out God’s purpose in this world.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Friends

What does it mean that we are Jesus' friends? How should it affect how we live?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Worthwhile

Living for God does not make things easy, but it makes them worthwhile.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Luther

There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: "If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the Baby! I would have washed his linen. How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the mange!."  Yes, you would! You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done nt better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don't you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, Martin Luther's Christmas Book, Nativity (translated and arranged by Roland Bainton, The Westminster Press, 1947, p. 38)

What are the implications of helping Christ when we help our neighbor in need? How should that affect how we live our life?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Too Hard or Too Easy

We need to be careful of making sharing Christ too difficult. The Bible says we are all to be witnesses of what Christ has done for us (1 Peter 3:15; Acts 1:8; Colossians 4:5,6). We do not need to have gone to seminary, know the Bible backwards and forwards, hold a particular office in the church, or be a perfect person to do this. But there can also be a danger of making it too easy. There are leaders who give the impression that there are vast numbers of people just waiting for us to share Christ with them, and if we do so they will all immediately be converted. Or that all that is keeping people from coming to Christ is some misunderstanding, and if we can just get this corrected they will all come. This does not seem to fit with reality. It also does not fit with Scripture. Scripture says that the truth of God is foolishness to the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 1:21-25; 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3-5). It also says there is a work of God in an unbeliever’s life that is necessary to bring them to Christ (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; Romans 10:17). (It is not my intention here to go into the complicated subject of Calvinism versus Arminianism, but merely to point out that, whichever you believe, there is a work of God involved.) The result of this is that we should expect resistance to God’s truth (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:16-28).  

Now I do not want to discourage people from sharing their faith, but there is nothing more likely to discourage a person then to be told something is easy, only to find out the hard way it is not. It is ultimately setting them up to fail. It is like starting a regimen of physical exercise with the idea, not that it will be hard but worth it, but that it will be a piece of cake. Now there are people out there whose heart God has prepared and who are ready to hear the message. But there are also many others who will only come to Christ after considerable exposure over a period of time (and there are those who will never come). Therefore, evangelism is often a long term process. And we need to be careful of giving up too easily. Also, there is the importance of presenting the message of Scripture (Romans 10:14,15; 1:16; Hebrews 4:12). It is not enough just to live the Christian life (though this is important), but we also need to deliver the message. And we need to deliver it with the understanding that it will not always be readily accepted. In fact, without the working of God it would never be accepted. Therefore, we need to go forth trusting in Him and His power (Psalms 127:1,2; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Ephesians 2:10). Then we will be prepared to be involved in sharing Christ over the long haul.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Seeks Not Its Own

Love does not seek its own things (1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:3,4; Romans 13:8-10). This goes against our fallen human nature ,which often responds violently if we are deprived of anything we think is our due.We also in American tradition complain loudly of being deprived of anything we think we have a right to have. (I do not deny that the idea of rights has a value on the judicial level, but taken into the area of personal relations it can be very destructive.) And as C. S. Lewis points out in the Screwtape Letters, there is a tendency for us to make claims of more and things and feel deprived if we are denied them. As Lewis also points out, there is a tendency to reduce all the senses of the word, "my": "my boots," "my wife," "my country," "my church," "my God," all down to the level of "my boots," something that belongs to me. This can even try to sneak its way into supposedly spiritual things, "my denomination," "my church," "my ministry," "my Sunday School class," allowing me to convince myself I am serving God when I am really only contending for things I claim are mine. I can also become concerned with furthering "my people," however I define them, and run roughshod over others in their defense (James 2:1-9; Romans 12:16; Matthew 9:10-13). It does not help that all these things can look justifiable and be hard to distinguish from legitimate concerns.

We have in this the example of the Lord Jesus, who, though God, was willing to become a man and suffered to redeem us from sin (Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 10:42-45; 2 Corinthians 8:9). Therefore, we also ought to be willing to give up the things that we have to help others. Also, we should trust God (Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6; Proverbs 3:5,6) and His provision (Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Timothy 6:6-10). I am not here speaking against reasonable planning, but the idea that I must hold on to all I have in order to protect myself and therefore cannot help others. And we also ought to carefully examine our "my" claims and put them in perspective.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Coming to God on His Terms

Imagine a grand wedding. The wedding hall is beautiful and decked with flowers. There is a large wedding party and many guests. There is beautiful music, with all the couple’s favorites. There is a sumptuous meal with all the trimmings laid out for all after the ceremony. This is to be followed by a lovely honeymoon cruise to some exotic location. There is only one problem. The bride is not interested in the groom. Sounds absurd. But I sometimes get the idea that this is how some people picture heaven. The Scriptural pictures of heaven are that we will forever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17), that He will be our God and we will be His people (Revelation 21:3), that He is the groom and we are His bride (Ephesians 5:21-33). Therefore, our goal as Christians is to be with Christ. This is at least one answer to the question: Why doesn’t God let everyone into heaven? If the whole purpose of heaven is to be with Christ, then for the person who has no desire for this, heaven would not be heaven but only another type of hell. Heaven is only heaven for those who love God. As C. S. Lewis points out, there is nowhere in the universe we can be truly happy following our own selfish desires. Our whole purpose is to know Christ (Philippians 3:7-11) and be conformed to His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). If we are to do this, one of the first things that has to go is the perception that we are the center of the universe.  

This goes along with the fact of trusting God through suffering (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Acts 14:22). Now this can be difficult, wherever you are coming from, but it is made more so if we see God as someone who solves our problems for us, rather than someone we build our lives around. If we see knowing and following Christ as our goal, then suffering can be something that Gods uses to bring us closer to that goal (Romans 8:28-30; 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). But if we see God as someone who does things for us, we can struggle with any difficulties we face that are not immediately surmountable. That does not mean that God does not take care of us (Philippians 4:19; 1 Peter 5:7; Psalms 23:1). But He often brings us through the trials, rather than taking them away (John 16:33; Romans 8:18; 1 Peter 1:6,7). Unfortunately, they are often what we need to turn our eyes away from the temporary things of this world to the things that are eternal (2 Peter 3:10-13; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). Jesus rebuked those who followed Him for the immediate benefits of the loaves (John 6:26), and they ended up walking no more with Him over His hard sayings (John 6:66). Therefore, we need to center our lives around love for God (Matthew 22:37,38; Psalms 5:11; 1 Peter 1:8) and not our own desires.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Side of a Barn

What is a teachable moment? How do we recognize one?