Yahweh: Merciful & Gracious!

-Living With Shame & Guilt!

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi leaders, who founded the Gestapo Secret Police & helped organize the holocaust. In a newspaper interview, from May 2016, she revealed how she & her brother were voluntarily sterilized.  “I had my tubes tied at the age of 30,” she said, “because I feared I would create another monster.” Monika Hertwig lives with the haunting memories of her own father, who was the commandant of an Auschwitz prison sub-camp. He was hanged, in 1946, for the murder of 10’s of thousands of people, at least 500 of them by his own hands.  “He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house,” she recollects, “to see if one bullet could kill two.” And, then she asks out loud, “How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me.”

-The Shadow Of Family Sin!

I find it haunting how the relatives, of Nazi war criminals, try and deal with the shame & the guilt they feel. What a tragedy that they continue to live in the shadow of the sins of family members! Could that be, in part, what Exodus 20:5 is referring to when it says, “You shall not bow down to idols or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Could the guilt & shame, their offspring feel, be, in part, the punishment that they endure?

-Yahweh! God Of Compassion!

There’s a similar passage, in Exodus 34, that follows Israel’s breaking of the covenant, with God, when they made an idol, of a golden calf; and, worshipped it! “The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh.  Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped” Exodus 34:5-8.  There’s perhaps no greater example, of God’s grace & compassion, then that passage! Israel broke the covenant with God! They didn’t believe God at the Red Sea! They complained against God & Moses in the wilderness! When would enough be enough? I wanna tell you that you all ought to be glad that I’m not God! I’m equally glad you aren’t; because, none of us have God’s love, grace & mercy for sinners!

-The Way To God!

Sin devastated man’s relationship with God! So, God established the sacrificial system for Israel, His covenant people, as a way for them to worship Him & restore fellowship with Him! It provided for repentance and forgiveness! Hebrews reflects back on the Old Testament sacrificial system:  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Hebrews 9:33. No sacrifice! No forgiveness, God says! If you study each of the 5 sacrificial offerings, in the book of Leviticus, you’ll see how they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross! Galatians 3:24 says, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.”  The old KJV says, “The law was our SCHOOLMASTER…” that hands us off to Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate sin sacrifice!

 

Jesus Fulfilled The Law!

-The Law Reveals God’s Character!

The law, of God, reveals the character of God! It speaks to His righteous judgment & His love! Some people want to “judge” God because He judges people! But, His love clearly balances out His judgment:  “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands “ Exodus 20:5-6.  He judges & punishes sinners to the 3rd or 4th generation; but, He shows love, His “faithful love”, to a thousand generation those who love Him and keep His commandments! He is a kind, benevolent God!

-But, We Have A Problem!

Our problem, as the human race, is our pride & arrogance that keeps us from being open to God’s revelation about the truth of our sinfulness! The depth, of our brokenness & depravity, is such that we’re not even aware of all the times we sin against God. This is why God gave us the law; to, reveal our sin! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome:  “What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet” Romans 7:7.  Paul, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, says that I wouldn’t even know that it was a sin to covet or lust after my neighbor’s wife if God’s law didn’t call it sin!

-The Law Is A Mirror!

So, the law acts as a mirror, revealing & reflecting our sin back to us! As Israel moves into the land, one sacrifice God tells them, to offer, is for all their “unintentional” sins.  In other words, God points out, to us, that it’s impossible for us to even name & confess all our individual sins because there are so many! God’s law reveals God’s 2 overarching concerns; and, we talked about this last week— Love GOD & Love PEOPLE! In that order! When we get our “vertical” love— for God— right, we’ll get our “horizontal” love— for our fellow man— right! Though God gives us His 10 Commandments, in Exodus ch.20, He actually expands on them in Exodus ch.21. He gave them laws in regard to slavery; and, laws regarding personal injury; and, laws, about theft; and, crop protection; and, personal property. He gave them laws about seducing someone & capital crimes; and, laws about protecting the vulnerable, the foreigner & the marginalized. And, Jesus came to fulfill the entire law!

-The Heart Of The Law!

That’s what He said! He didn’t come to abolish the law; but, to FULFILL it! Jesus loved God & His fellow man perfectly! There was no sin found in Him! Jesus also taught that the “spirit” of God’s law was more about the “heart” than the “letter.” He said, for example, that when we hate our brother that we murder them in our hearts! And, when we lust after someone, we commit adultery with them in our hearts! There is no way we can overstate God’s concern for the way that we treat each other; or, the way we think about one another; or, the way we talk about one another! God is concerned with justice! And, God’s law reveals the principle of “sowing and reaping” also! We’ll talk more about this next post! But, God’s bottom line is that the obedient life really is the best life we can experience! God honors those who honor Him!

 

God’s Plan Is Relentless!

-His Program For Restoration!

Genesis is the book of beginnings or origins; and, that’s an appropriate title because it unpacks the “genesis” of Creation and life! It also reveals mankind’s first sin and how it messed up the perfect world God created. Thankfully, we’re also introduced to the “genesis” of God’s divine program to restore His broken world & our broken lives, to the greatest fullness possible, through Jesus.  Genesis announces God’s relentless plan to restore fellowship with humanity & fulfill His purpose for Creation.

-Objections To God!

One of the most frequent objections— to God— that I hear, is in regard to all the pain & suffering that goes on in the world. “If God is capable of doing something about it,” the argument goes, “Then, why doesn’t He?” And, my answer is that He DID respond & He CONTINUES to respond; and, I can understand your anger over all the injustice & inhumane activity in the world! But, if you’re directing that anger @ God, then it’s misguided! You need to look in a mirror! WE ALL DO! Because, WE are the reason for all the evil, the suffering, the injustices, the wars, the slavery & human trafficking.

-He Is Relentless To Forgive!

It’s the book of Genesis that reveals where it all went wrong! Genesis also reveals God’s anger over all the perversity in the world; and, He’s devised a flawless plan— in eternity “past”— to restore His fellowship with us & His purpose for His Creation.  And, that’s the thread that runs throughout the entire Biblical narrative. From Genesis— the BEGINNING— to the last book of the Bible— the Revelation of the END— God is relentless in His commitment to love every man, woman, boy & girl who’s ever walked this earth; or, ever will walk it! He’s relentless to forgive the sin of every man, woman, boy & girl who will humble themselves before Him! He saves everyone who confesses their sin & unworthiness; and, accepts His plan for their lives!

-An Assumption That God Exists!

The very first verse, of the Bible, says:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, the Bible begins with the assumption that God exists. It doesn’t try & prove it. It just says, “THERE IS A GOD!” The New Testament book, of Hebrews, says, “Now without faith, it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

-Pleasing God!

According to the author, of Hebrews, the 1st step, in pleasing God, is believing He exists. In the beginning, there was God! There was nothing else. He existed before the universe! He TRANSCENDS the heavens & the earth. He’s OUTSIDE of it! That means He created time & space. He created all the physical laws of the universe; so, He’s not subject to them! Rather, the laws, of the universe, are subject to HIM! That’s what we mean when we say that God TRANSCENDS creation. The 1st verse, in the Bible, also makes it clear that God is the main character in the Bible! That may crush our little human egos; but, we’re NOT the center of the universe! GOD is at the center of it all; and, His infinite worth & value is the ultimate value in all the universe!

 

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

Lead Like Jesus!

-Not Like Rockstars!

The more I read the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ interactions, with His disciples, the more convinced I am that the prevailing world view, of His day, was really not much different than that of our own. The disciples all wanted to be “ROCKSTARS.” That’s why they followed Jesus at the start! He was popular! They thought He was going to be king over Israel & deliver their people from the Romans. Who wouldn’t want to latch onto that star, if given a chance, and, ride it as far as it would go? If ever they were going to be His disciples, Jesus would have to retrain & reteach them! His kingdom was not of this world, He told them!

-Jesus’ Kingdom Way!

The way of Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different from the kingdoms of this world. Listen to what Jesus told them, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In essence, Jesus is teaching them to live their lives out in the hidden places of service rather than the public places of being noticed. One of my favorite pastors & authors challenges us to make that our prayer! We’ll have to pray that God changes our heart & makes us a servant; because we’ll never choose the place of obscure service in our flesh.

-Jesus Is Attractive To Many!

You see, Jesus & His Gospel have been misrepresented by much of the western church! So many self-identified “Christians” live such a selfish, mean-spirited, ugly way of life that our unbelieving neighbors want nothing to do with whatever it is they’re peddling! But, many unbelievers do find Jesus attractive! And, many find the true church— that strives to follow Jesus & His teachings— to be attractive like Him! Just think about it church—Jesus won us over because He served us at our deepest need! He loved us in spite of our sinful brokenness! Our cities & our neighbors will begin to pay attention to the church again when we serve them, in their need, like Jesus served us! When we love them like Jesus loved us!

-Jesus’ Model Of Greatness!

That’s how Jesus discipled His followers, according to Mark’s text. This is what true greatness looks like, in Jesus’ kingdom! Don’t steal the world’s model for greatness because it doesn’t look anything like greatness in God’s realm! True greatness, in God’s kingdom, is counter-intuitive to this world’s standard. The “…rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them…” If you’re going to rule or lead, in the Gentile world— or, among unbelievers— you have to dominate them! You have to show ‘em who’s in charge! Like the former Russian Communist leader, Lenin, once said: “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.” That’s worldly leadership! It’s not Jesus’ way!

Free To Serve Others!

-A Dog Eat Dog World!

In the world, it’s “dog eat dog.” If you wanna climb up the corporate ladder you have to be a relational piranha— taking advantage of the brokenness & inconsistencies of your co-workers to gain a personal advantage! That’s not Jesus’ way! He was known as the “friend of sinners.” He healed the wounded! He forgave even those who nailed Him to the cross! The Gospel frees us to serve— even those with whom we may be in competition for that promotion! And, it’s all because we can trust a Sovereign God’s plan!

-Our Freedom & Our Calling!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Galatian church,  he says that our call to freedom & our call to serve are synonymous! In other words, we actually lose our freedom when we fail to serve! We were saved FROM slavery to sin & self; so, when we fail to serve— and, even expect to BE served— we fall back into the old slavery to the flesh! He says we, “…submit again to a yoke of slavery…” Galatians 5:1.  Don’t surrender the freedom you have in Christ— who satisfies your every need— for the fleshly desires of the world to be served or to be promoted! When we serve others instead of using them, we testify, to the world, that Jesus truly is enough! He is all we need!

-Jesus Served Us!

We don’t need to fill any emptiness inside us with the need to be served! Jesus served us and that’s enough! It’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to love others… even strangers! More than service, the Gospel actually gives us a heart of love for those we serve— “For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:14. Paul is quoting Jesus answer when He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment”; and, Jesus said: “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, with all your mind & with all your might! And, the 2nd is like unto it (OR, 2nd only in importance!) love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself” Matthew 22:34-40. And, then, Jesus illustrated that with His parable about the Good Samaritan who acted as a neighbor to someone he didn’t even know! That’s why a “neighbor” can actually be anyone we have opportunity to serve, even someone who’s a stranger! “And, love them,” He said, “in the same way that you love yourself.”

-Gospel Freedom!

Only the Gospel sets me free to WANT to feed someone that’s hungry just as much as I want to feed myself when I get hungry! Only the Gospel sets me free to WANT to help my neighbor find a job just as much as I want to find a job; or, to WANT a raise or a promotion for my co-worker just as much as I want that raise or promotion for myself! And, to care about what happens to that guy down the street— that you don’t even know— just as much as you care about what happens to you! That’s powerful! And, only Jesus’ Gospel empowers us to love that way! And, when we grow in our love for others like that, it’s an incredible endorsement to the validity of the words we share, with others, about our faith! It makes us real! Genuine!

 

How Pain Brings Us To Our Knees!

Going On Vacation! Next Post July 17th

-Does God Really Love Us?

We are tempted to ask how it is that God could truly love us if He allows us to suffer through painful experiences. In fact, it is because He loves us that He choreographs pain and suffering into our lives. Let me explain. It is not our natural tendency to seek closer fellowship with God when our lives are filled with blessings attached to this world. No, it is our tendency to stray from God when life is good! We get more comfortable leaning on this world’s blessings for our daily support. So, God— in His Love & Sovereign grace— places a “wake up call”, in the form of a painful experience, in front of us. He shakes us back to reality with something to get our attention re-focused on Him. To force us to our knees in prayer to Him.

-Our Greatest Satisfaction!

He does this because He knows that nothing will ever offer us greater satisfaction than a Spirit-filled relationship with Him.  All of this world’s goods and services are but cheap substitutes for a walk with God. If you follow the narrative, from the first chapter in the book of Acts, you’ll see 120 disciples waiting, in an upper room in Jerusalem, for the promised Holy Spirit. And, in chapter 2, the Spirit comes to indwell and fill the believers so they’d have the supernatural power, of the Spirit, to obey Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to every people group & to disciple them.  Immediately, God begins to use them in His supernatural work as 3000 were saved & became disciples that day! And, then, more and more were added!

-Comfortable & Complacent!

But, as you read the next few chapters, it seems like the church becomes complacent & comfortable with their success and God’s work begins to slow down! So, God, in His Sovereignty, brought persecution! Stephen is stoned! And, then James is killed & Peter is imprisoned. And, it’s this crisis of faith that unsettled them & they returned to their knees in prayer! They were humbled! They got back to Biblical prayer! They expressed their helplessness & total dependence on God’s power to see Peter released from prison! “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church” Acts 12:5.  In the verses that follow, God sends an angel to spring Peter from prison (vs 6-11).

-The Lost Confronted By Answered Prayer!

There’s another prayer principle that God reveals to us by His answered prayer to release Peter from incarceration. God will use a mighty display of His power to confront the lost with their sin! King Herod had imprisoned Peter and assumed he had more power than he actually had! So, God says, “No, Herod, you’re plans to kill Peter won’t work!” Someone once said: “We make our plans & God laughs!” I love that! Don’t lose heart, church! It may appear the world is out of control. But, God hasn’t lost it. In His Sovereign timing He will display His power again & confront the lost with their need for repentance. So, let’s get the bigger picture when we find ourselves in a painful place! Don’t pray that God will take it away! He may be doing a special work in your life or the life of someone watching! Trust His plans!