God With Us!

-Proof He Is Who He Says He Is!

Try and imagine, with me, what it would be like to be a spy working undercover for the CIA. Imagine you’re in a hostile country; and, your assignment is to discover enemy secrets and send them to the home country. Imagine you’re approached by a man you’ve never met; and, he claims to also work for the CIA; and, he’s received new information from the U.S. government and your new assignment is to take orders from him. What do you do? You’re going to demand proof that he really is who he says he is; and, confirm that headquarters really did send him! 

-Can We Believe Jesus?

As you open the Bible to the start of the New Testament, you’re introduced to a man named Jesus; who claims to be the Jewish Messiah; the Son of God! How do we know we can believe Him? How do we know He’s not a fraud? Well, let’s return to our spy story! But, this time let’s imagine that before you left for your assignment, that you were given Top Secret instructions that you would meet a new contact; and, it included his picture and described him as 6’5” tall with one blue eye & one brown eye; that he walked with a limp; and, he would identify himself as “the mongoose.” He would give you all the necessary information you need to complete your assignment. With that kind of detailed information, you could easily identify the true agent, couldn’t you?

-Confirming Jesus Was The Messiah!

In a very similar way, God the Father has given us all the detailed information necessary to confirm who Jesus Messiah would be! And, only God is capable of formulating a plan, from the past, for the future; and, then implementing it & making it happen! Every other religious leader was born into this world unannounced, making claims about new information or revelations from God, with no way of verifying their claims! Think through that! Whether it’s Mohammed or Joseph Smith or Krishna or Mary Baker Eddy or Charles Taze Russell or Sun Myung Moon or Buddha; all of these were born first; and, then came up with their own religious movement they claimed to have come from God. It was the exact opposite for Jesus!

-Unique Details About The Messiah!

Long before He entered the world, God shared with the world, through His prophets, all the  unique details about the Messiah who would come so there could be no missing Him. The Old Testament; or, the Torah, contained all the necessary proof to either confirm or deny the one claiming to be Messiah. The only difference between Christianity & all other religions is Jesus Christ. It is the absolute uniqueness of Jesus that sets Him apart; and, makes Him distinct. Was Jesus the Messiah? That was the entire purpose for the first four books of the New Testament— the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-Testimony That Verifies Jesus’ Claim!

Each writer describes a different facet of Jesus’ ministry; so, together they provide a complete testimony to verify His claim that He was the Messiah. Matthew, especially, records the way the Jewish leaders— especially the Scribes & the Pharisees— examined the claims that Jesus was the Messiah; and, how they came to the negative conclusion that they came to. As Jesus became more & more popular, with the people, He also came under more & more scrutiny and disapproval by the religious leaders; especially, as He began working miracles & claiming that He was ONE with YAHWEH. And, by way of background, these were difficult times for Israel. Once again, as happened in the O.T., Israel had been invaded by a foreign power— this time the Roman Empire. As God promised, in the O.T., their sin had led to judgment & their hope was deliverance through God’s Messiah! We’ll pick it up from there next week!

Careless Worship!

-God Confronts Carless Worship!

In recent posts, we’ve identified spiritual drift as a relational stumbling block between God and His people, Israel. They were guilty of slowly moving away from authentic worship as they became skeptical of God’s love and faithfulness toward them! Their spiritual drift became evident as their worship became more and more casual! And, what God’s word reveals, in the book of Malachi, is that He will confront us when we become careless about our worship.

-Spiritual Drift Is Subtle!

From the opening chapter, Israel’s priests had become guilty of despising God’s name by the way they handled the sacrifices in the temple (v.8).  They whined that going to the temple to worship had become a nuisance (v.13-14). It had gotten “in the way” of the rest of their lives! Sound at all familiar? Be careful church! It’s a subtle drift! We can try and justify our decisions not to be in a Small Group; or, not to have our kids in Sunday School; or, not to go to Sunday School ourselves as adults; or, become careless about being the worship service at the start; or, our unwillingness to minister & serve others! But, God tells Israel that it’s because they failed to see & feel the greatness of God that they’d become careless, casual; and, calloused in their worship.

-A Heart In Love With The Creation!

Careless worship is the by-product of a heart more in love with the creation than the Creator! If you fail to see God’s greatness, then all the stuff money buys becomes more impressive to you. A flashlight is pretty cool until you see the sun! You’ll ooh & aah over July 4th fireworks until you experience thunder & lightning! Once you’ve tasted the Creator, the creation is no longer that thrilling! If you’re bored with God, it’s because you haven’t felt the greatness and the weight of Who He is! You need more time with Him in His word; not, less! Your kids need more time in family worship; more time in Sunday School and AWANA; not, less! You need more time with God’s people in a Small Group; more exposure to what God’s doing in other people’s lives; or, the world will tantalize you; and, you’ll find yourself in a slow spiritual drift away from God.

-The Need To Stand In Awe Of God!

Through Malachi, God shows us that He will confront God’s people when they become indifferent to truth (2:1-9). God calls out the priests, of Malachi’s day, for failing to speak the truth; and, He calls out the people for failing to keep the priests accountable to God’s word. God points to Levi, Israel’s first priest, as the example to follow. Levi stood in awe of God; and, the people sought to be instructed by him from God’s word. God testified that Levi “…revered Me and stood in awe of My Name… he walked with Me.” There’s an indifference, across our nation, toward God’s word! And, incredibly, the church is equally guilty!

-Indifference Toward God’s Word!

Even those who profess to follow Jesus have become indifferent to reading from their Bibles, claiming not to have time to read it regularly! But, the same individuals spend hours on HULU, Facebook & Netflix. Many of us have become numb to the spiritual drift of our souls as we entertain ourselves to death! The American church has become complicit in the spiritual apathy of our nation!  Rather than vibrant lives of faith that are impacted dynamically by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, many in the church have fallen into “moralistic deism” instead of the Gospel. If you’re good enough; if you keep the checklist of moral behavior then God will love you & bless you! That’s moralism; but, it’s not dynamic salvation in Christ! It’s no wonder that we live in a day of spiritual “deconstruction”; whereby, many are walking away from the Church. We desperately need genuine revival among God’s people in the church! God help us!

Skeptical Of God’s Love?

-How Does God Answer Skepticism?

The Old Testament book of Malachi opens with an interaction between God and the nation of Israel. “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you ask: ‘How have You loved us?’” (1:2). Israel had become skeptical of God’s love for them! They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. So, how does God answer their skepticism? “‘Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.’” What does that mean? How is that an answer to their question about God’s love for them? Well, let me try and walk you through it.

-God Loves With Free, Sovereign, Unconditional Love!

Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Yes! The answer was yes! Though Israel descended from Jacob, every Israelite knew that Esau was Jacob’s twin brother born to Isaac & Rebecca. They also knew that Esau was the older brother; which meant, according to the customs of the time, that he should have gained all the rights & privileges as the main heir of the father’s blessings. So, what is the point? He answers their skepticism, about His love for them, by reminding them that He could have just as easily chosen Esau instead of Jacob; because they were twins & Esau was, in fact, the older brother! But, God chose Jacob and passed over Esau! Are you tracking with me so far? Because here’s the hard part; God answers their skepticism by telling Israel that He loved them with free, sovereign, unconditional love!

-The Difficult Doctrine Of God’s Election!

It was “free” because God’s love cannot be earned! It was “sovereign” because God is in absolute control of all the world’s affairs! And, it was “unconditional” because Israel didn’t have to perform under certain conditions to receive it! If you’re at all like me, you’ve found the Biblical doctrine of God’s election to be one of the most difficult doctrines to receive. Why? Because it doesn’t seem “fair” does it? We’re all about “fairness”; aren’t we? This is such a hard doctrine that I’ve known many preachers try and explain it away; or, to just avoid it altogether! But, what about “free will” we want to ask! Didn’t Jacob have free will to choose or reject God? Yes! But, didn’t God choose Jacob & reject Esau? Yes! But, doesn’t that seem like a contradiction? Yes! It seems like one! But, it’s not!

-The Difference Between A Contradiction & Tension!

Because we know there are no contradictions in God’s word! There’s a tension here; as there are many tensions in the Scriptures, aren’t there? And, there’s a big difference between a “contradiction” and a “tension.” There can be tension between 2 truths! We can’t avoid preaching the 2 truths just because they create tension! If both are taught in Scripture; then, both must be preached! Does Scripture teach the “free will” of man? Yes, Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; and, Revelation 22:17, among other Scriptures, all convey that anyone desiring to be saved can be saved!

-Living With Tension In Scripture?

At the same time, Jesus says, “NO ONE can come to Me unless the Father draws him…”; and, He says, “You did not choose Me, I chose you…” (John 6:44; 15:16). And, 1 John says, “We love Him because He loved us first” (4:19). So, which is it; “free will” or God’s “election”? Yes is the answer! Did Jacob choose God; or, did God choose Jacob? Yes is the answer! Do we have “free will”; or, does God “elect” us into His family? The answer is YES! Somehow God’s sovereignty covers my free will in a way that only God can make it happen! I choose Him because He chose me! I’ve learned to live with the tension; and, I’ve learned to love it! I’m okay with not figuring it out! I’ve memorized Proverbs 25:2 just to remind myself on these occasions:  “It is the glory of God to CONCEAL a matter…” I believe that says it’s to God’s glory that we can’t figure it out! He’s so much bigger than our intellectual abilities! Don’t become skeptical of Him!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Sound Asleep!

-A Disturbing Prejudicial Response!

For anyone claiming to follow Jesus, the Old Testament story of Jonah is a disturbing one! Our posts the last few weeks have focused on Jonah’s story. And, while it’s startling to observe Jonah’s prejudicial response to the revival of the people of Ninevah, we may be more like Jonah than we know; or, than we care to admit! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation, or religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group. To make us useful, in His kingdom purposes, God must awaken us to souls nearby!

-Wake Up! Call To Your God!

Just turn back to Jonah, chapter 1, with me, and pay close attention to the words of the ship’s captain. Remember, this is the ship that Jonah chose to take passage on as he ran away from God’s calling to share the gospel message with the city of Ninevah. Starting at v.4, “Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea & such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel & had stretched out & fallen into a deep sleep. The captain approached him & said, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us & we won’t perish’” (1:4-6).

-Silencing The Call Of God!

As I studied my way through this passage, the words of the ship’s captain arrested my attention. As I read it, I just let it play out in my mind like a TV drama; except, I saw it from Jonah’s vantage point— a believer;  a prophet of God; commissioned by God to take His word to another people group! But, he ran from that call! Getting on that ship; and, finding a place deep in its belly, he was determined to silence the call of God by just “sleeping it off.” He’d just wake up in a new place where, hopefully, God would just give up on him. But, as he slept— a deep sleep it says— a violent wind & storm arose on the sea; and, all the crewmen feared for their lives! So much so, that it says they, “…each CRIED OUT to their god…”

-What Are You Doing Sound Asleep?

Then, while beginning to throw the cargo overboard to keep the ship from breaking apart, the captain stumbles onto Jonah, wakes him; and, asks him:  “What are you doing sound asleep?” And, then he rebukes him, “Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.” What an embarrassing role reversal this was for Jonah! Who was the spiritually motivated one? The more I meditated on that picture the more it kind of morphed into an image of OUR day! Have you noticed that there’s a major storm brewing all around us with wars & rumors of wars with the constant threat of nuclear weapons? There’s fear of a worldwide economic collapse!

-Down In The Belly Of The Ship!

There’s political unrest; and, a huge racism problem. And, to personalize the drama of Jonah’s story, WE are down in the belly of the ship! Many of us, who claim to be followers of Jesus, are running away from our calling! And, just like Jonah, we’re sound asleep! Even the unbelievers around us are recognizing the grave danger we’re in. All the cargo— the stuff of this world— isn’t worth keeping. Many of the lost all around us are crying out for help; and, in my mind I see the lost discovering me down in the ship; and, they’re angry! Angry at my non-loving, non-caring attitude toward them. Why wasn’t I helping them? They cry out the same words as the ship’s captain, “What are you doing sound asleep?” If you’ve been asleep; and, God’s Spirit is rousing you, let me remind you that He is the God of 2nd chances! Even as He gave Jonah a chance, He offers you a chance to repent & jump into God’s work?