We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Why We Preach The Gospel!

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Nations!

Over the last couple of posts we’ve mentioned that only as the church returns to the mission that Jesus gave her— to preach the Gospel & make disciples; only then will the church become relevant in the world once again! According to the Apostle Paul’s 1st chapter of his letter to the Church of Rome, we note several reasons why it’s necessary to preach the Gospel. First, because it remedies the needs of every nation: “We have received grace and apostleship through Him (Jesus),” Paul writes, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name” (1:5).  All the ills of every nation are healed by the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. Through Jesus, we receive grace to take the Gospel to the nations.

-We Have Supernatural Support!

In context, Paul is saying that grace is the supernatural “support” that Jesus gives us to carry out the commission that He’s given us. Grace is not just supernatural in the way that a totally depraved soul comes to salvation. Grace is also God’s supernatural “gift” of support that He gives us to do the ministry He’s called us to do. The biggest need of our nation is not to place the 10 Commandments in front of every courthouse. It’s not to overturn Roe v. Wade (although we pray that it would be overturned). Those types of issues are just symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. Our nation needs to obey the Gospel! Our nation needs to repent of our sin & come to Jesus for salvation. That’s why we must preach the Gospel. That’s how we see our nation change—by making 1 disciple at a time! 

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Godless!

And then, we preach the Gospel not only because it remedies the needs of every nation; but because it remedies the needs of the godless. Have you ever assumed that the lost are perfectly content & happy in their sin? That they wouldn’t be interested in the Gospel if we shared it with them; because they love their sin too much? I have! It’s a mistake to make that assumption! Oh, they may have initially been tempted by the fun sin promised. But, sin turns into a cruel slave master. It enslaves our friends and loved ones! The sin that started as fun becomes an addiction; and, they turn to treatment centers & counseling because their lives & their families are ruined! The Gospel of Jesus Christ remedies that.

-Jesus Is The Answer & The Solution!

Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution! Jesus is the solution to everyone’s sin problem. His sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God toward our sin. Look at what God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write next: “For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v.18). Sin has its own built-in wrath. It creates pain in people’s lives, and they often become open to the Gospel because of it.

-God Delivered Them Over!

We also preach the Gospel because it remedies the needs of the sexually impure. “Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity,” Paul continues, “so that their bodies were degraded among themselves… For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error” (1:24-27). If you’ve ever tried to help someone caught in the trap of sexual sin, it’s extremely painful to watch. Their lifestyle of sexual sin came about because they “…exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” We live in an incredibly confused world sexually speaking; and, the carnage is piling up! Only God has the answer for true sexual satisfaction because He created sex!

Our Savior Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Christ’s Humility!

The humility of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is apparent in the cloth the shepherds found Him wrapped in after His birth. Luke records that they would, “…find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger.”  There’s significance to the swaddling cloths that can easily be overlooked at first glance.  But, those cloths foreshadowed Jesus’ death. According to the Mishnah, which is the collection of the Jewish oral traditions, these cloths were used to wrap the lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs. As soon as the lamb was born, they’d wrap them with these cloths or bands to keep them from injury; because the lamb could have no blemishes or broken bones.

-He Was Wrapped In Burial Cloths!

And, it’s interesting that the same type of cloths was also used for burial cloths; and, the manger, used for cattle, was typically a cave; though, caves were also used as tombs to bury the dead. Someone put it like this:  “On the first day of Jesus’ earthly life He was wrapped up like a Passover lamb and laid in a cave, and on the day of His death He would be wrapped in the same type of cloth and laid in a cave” (Robby Gallaty). Our great God is humble! To the Church of Philippi, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus; and, said, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross” Philippians 2:8.

-Jesus Christ’s Humanity!

But, the Bible affirms not only the humility of Jesus; but, the humanity of Jesus. And, what makes Jesus’ humanity unique from the humanity of every other person who’s walked this earth is His “incarnation.” The “incarnation” is just a big, theological term that means Jesus “took on human flesh”; or, the act of being made flesh! So, why is that significant? For Jesus to be our Savior, He had to live the life of a perfect, sinless man to die as a substitute in our place. The Gospel writers are methodical in pointing out that Jesus was a human baby planted in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.

-The Holy Spirit Will Come Upon You!

Luke wrote that Mary had a conversation with an angel; and, when she asked how she could become pregnant when she had never been intimate with a man, “The angel replied to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). So, Jesus was a real human baby born to a real human mother; without a human father. The Gospel writers bear that out!  Jesus had all the typical needs of a human man. He slept. He ate food. Luke says He perspired (ch. 22:43-44). He bled; and, He died like a man. He also showed the human emotions of joy & sorrow & anger. Luke also records that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature (as a man), and in favor with God and with people” (2:52).

-Our Great High Priest!

The N.T. book of Hebrews calls Him our High Priest; and, says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).  He shared in all the human weaknesses of the flesh without sinning; so, that He could be the sacrifice that God required for the remission of our sins. But, the Bible also affirms the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was God! The divine nature of Jesus was joined with His human nature; so, He became the God-Man. He didn’t come out and say, “Hi, I’m Jesus & I’m God, and here are 10 reasons why!” But, it’s clear each & every time when the Jewish religious leaders understood Jesus to be making that claim! They called it blasphemy & picked up stones to stone Him! He fulfilled all the O.T. prophecies; which, one mathematician calculated to be 1 chance out of 13 trillion. If it’s true, God visited our planet! Do you know Him?

God, Jonah & A Big Fish Too!

-Trying To Run From God!

If you’re at all like me, you have a hard time passing up the story that is the book of Jonah. I find myself identifying with Jonah in several ways! Not in the most obvious, of course; I’m not a prophet in the Jonah sense of the word! I’ve never received an oracle from the Lord! I’ve never been thrown into the sea by a bunch of sailors; or, swallowed by a big fish! But, I have tried to run from God! I have been reluctant to go to a new place of ministry!

-Leaving The Deep Roots!

Sara & I were almost newlyweds when we moved across the country to do ministry in Denver, CO. We started our family there; and, for the next 20 years we did youth ministry, adult ministry; and, we owned 2 different businesses! But, the Spirit of God began to stir a desire in my heart to sell the business and become a lead Pastor at a local church somewhere. So, we began to pray about where IN DENVER the Lord would have me to pastor; because, I was very reluctant to leave Colorado! After all those years we’d developed some deep roots. I loved Colorado— I still do— but, God had a way of preparing us to go where He was leading! Once He depleted our savings, God broke my will; and, moved us here, to Sioux City, IA.

-Feeling Too Comfortable!

So, in a small way, I get Jonah’s response, in v.3, of the opening chapter:  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.’ However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence”.  In Jonah’s mind, there was nothing great about the city of Ninevah for many reasons! He was comfortable where he was; and, clearly, he wasn’t on the same page with God on this one! God would have some work to do in Jonah to change him. We need the message of Jonah; because, if we’re all being honest, we all look a lot like Jonah! And, the same kind of “spiritual surgery” that Jonah needed, we need!

-God’s Sovereign Directive!

Jonah’s story reveals how God includes us in His disciple-making work; and, then prepares us for it! Until we submit to God’s Sovereign directive, for our lives, we’re going just keep getting swallowed up by one big fish after another, like Jonah. So, let’s talk about God’s Sovereign will & plans for you. The greatest fulfillment you will ever realize, in your life, comes only from obeying Him! We tend to operate life with this weird idea that God’s plans for us just aren’t going to be as satisfying as our plans are; like, obeying Jesus and sacrificing everything for Him will be a drag & a burden to us.

-His Commands Are Not A Burden!

The Apostle John addressed that sentiment:  “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commandments. Now His commands are not a burden” 1 John 5:3. It’s no burden to love God & obey His will for your life. God has created you! He has downloaded the best path for your life into your heart by His indwelling Holy Spirit; and, your plans will never offer you the meaning in life that you long for! The best path for Jonah was the road to Ninevah; NOT, the boat ride to Tarshish that he chose for himself! And, because he rebelled, God would need to apply some pressure to get him back to the best place possible for his life; which, was the center of God’s will. Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples; and, we’re living in disobedience if we’re not doing it! And, the blessed life you’re looking for is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of your life in God’s work in other people! We’ll talk more about Jonah next post!

Death By Neglect!

-Don’t Neglect Your Spiritual Life!

In my last post I referred to a great revival that God brought about, in Israel, under the leadership of an 8-year old king named Josiah (2 Kings 22).  Only God can spread revival, through an entire nation, by using an 8-year old boy! And, in the reforms, which King Josiah incorporated, it’s clear that neglect had been the cause of Israel’s spiritual death.  Genuine revival is evidenced when God’s people no longer neglect meeting together! Josiah was concerned with repairing Israel’s temple (v.3).  The temple was the place where God’s people gathered together to worship Him & offer sacrifices to Him!

-Signs Of Revival!

But, the temple reflected the moral condition of the nation! It had been neglected; and, rundown! It had fallen into a state of disrepair as the people had quit coming together for worship. So, one of the 1st signs of revival, in the faith community, is a renewed zeal for coming together! It is recognizing that it’s impossible to live out the Christian life in isolation from other believers! That’s something we struggle with here in the west, don’t we? We’ve been taught that the Christian life is an individual thing! It’s NOT! God’s people have always been a “community”; from, Israel, as a nation, to the local church today! In fact, it’s absolutely impossible to even live out & obey the more than 60 “one another” or “each other” commands, in Scripture, apart from a Christian community! So, when Josiah “…began to seek God…” the place of worship became a necessity once again (2 Chronicles 34:3). 

-Don’t Neglect The Word Of God!

For those of us who are part of the Morningside Bible Church community, that’s “big church” on Sunday mornings; and, “small group” gatherings throughout the week! We need each other to effectively live out the Christian life! To speak truth into one another! To hold each other accountable! Meeting together matters! There was a 2nd sign of revival under King Josiah— the nation no longer neglected the Word of God! The text reads, “Hilkiah the high priest told Shaphan the court secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,’ and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it… Then Shaphan the court secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book,’ and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king” (vs.8,10).  In the repairing of the temple, they uncovered a copy of the book of the Law. That’s a reference to Moses’ writings; or, the 1st five books of the Old Testament. 

-Proper Response To God’s Word!

And, notice the king’s response: “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then he commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us’” (vs.11-13). As the book, of God’s law, was read to him, Josiah realized how far the nation had drifted from the Lord. His shock points to the fact that the people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time! Again, I’m afraid that this is so relevant to our own nation & the church here in the West. So many sermons have become little more than the reading of a “token” Scripture verse misused to support our human efforts through self-help strategies! Josiah said, “Go inquire of the Lord.” And, so must we!

Stop Your Whining!

-Complaining Spreads Like Cancer!

If you’ve ever been part of a team, you know how deadly whining & complaining can be to team morale. Complaining spreads like cancer in an athletic locker room & it creates a losing culture! Whining has the power to kill an entire company! It’s devastating! Personally, I do everything I can to avoid too much contact with whiners & complainers because I don’t want to catch what they’ve got!

-You Can Catch A Bad Attitude!

I remember playing sports with guys who complained about practice or whined about the coach, “This stinks, man! Playing basketball is the dumbest decision I ever made.” In my mind, I’m thinking, “Adios amigo! I need to get away from you! Because, If I keep listening to you, you might persuade me to start agreeing with you; and, I’ll end up with a sucky attitude just like you.” The Old Testament book of Numbers reveals how a complaining attitude dispersed throughout the Israelite camp like a disease. Too many people listened to the whiners & just listening weakened their ability to resist; and, they slowly became whiners also! And, God became angry with them. And, for good reason!

-Blind To God’s Goodness!

He had delivered them from their slavery and bondage to Egypt! He had agreed to dwell with them & lead them on their journey! He protected them when Pharaoh pursued them with his army! He stopped up the Red Sea so they could cross over safely! He fed them manna & they complained about that! In a desert, with no water, He provided water for them from a rock! Their complaints had blinded them to God’s generous love for them. Complaining poisons the heart with a spirit of ingratitude & it acts like a plague! We read how it spread among the Israelites & that should be a lesson to us because it can happen in a local church community too!

-God Knows Best!

We tend to complain whenever someone— usually in a position of leadership— makes a decision or sets a policy that we don’t like or we disagree with! And, we think we know better! Like Israel, we tend to think our way is the right way! Listen! God wants us to believe that HE KNOWS what He’s talking about! That HE KNOWS what’s best for us! Always! What God tells us is always true! It’s always for our good! And, He wants us to trust Him, regardless of what our friends & others around us are whining about! This is a big problem for us! Our greatest struggle in life is to trust God instead of our own reasoning! That struggle started in the Garden of Eden with Adam & Eve’s failure to follow God’s instruction! Things haven’t improved since, either!

-A Renewing Of The Mind!

As followers of Christ, our only hope, for overcoming this way of thinking, is a transformation by God’s indwelling Spirit! “Therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” Romans 12:1-2.  Listen, if you tend to be a whiner or a complainer; or, think your way is always best, the book of Proverbs contains a verse you need to memorize: “There is a way which SEEMS right to a man, and its end is the way of death” Prov 14:12. If your way is contrary to the teaching, in God’s Word, it will always end badly for you! If you’re one of God’s children, He will spank you for it!

 

Holy People!

-God Is Determined!

Every book, of the Bible, is all about God’s determination to call out a people, for Himself, who will confess their sin & submit to His plan for their life. That’s the thread of the Gospel that runs through the entire Word of God. That’s the call, of God, for Israel; and, that’s His call for your life also! To Israel, God said:  “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine” Lev. 20:26.  I think, of that, as the key verse in the book of Leviticus. God is determined to assemble a people, with whom to dwell, for all eternity! A people that He sets apart; that He sanctifies; that He separates to Himself— that’s what it means to be holy!

-Set Apart For God!

God was determined, with Israel under the Old Covenant; and, with the church under the New Covenant, to set apart a people for Himself from all nations! God has always had a love for the nations! For every ethnic group! One reason that any kind of racism or favoritism, for one’s own people group, is so reprehensible is because of God’s plan to have every ethnic group represented in heaven. God desire’s to dwell among all earth’s people groups for all eternity!

-To Bring Glory To Himself!

I don’t know that I’ll ever understand why God would desire to dwell with us sinful, undeserving people; other, then to highlight & bring glory to Himself for His faithful love, mercy & grace toward us! That, though He condemns our sin, He makes a provision for fellowship with Him through the atoning sacrifice, of Jesus, on the cross.  And, the moment any Israelite; or, anyone else will confess that they’re a sinner— that they’ve broken God’s law— and, they humble themselves by bowing, in worship, before Him & giving up their lives to Him, God will save them because He desires to dwell with us! It’s His desire to add you to His family!

-The Purpose Of The Tabernacle!

That’s the point, of the Old Testament tabernacle. The tabernacle became the visible place, of God’s dwelling, among His people, even as they wandered through the wilderness on their way to the promised land.  “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” God said (Exodus 25:8).  The tabernacle & the temple—that King Solomon would build in the future—was for the purpose of giving Israel a visible sign that God was real & that He dwelt among them. And, just as God was determined to set Israel apart, He’s determined to set us apart also.  We are called to be God’s kingdom of priests.

-A Royal Priesthood!

God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to write:  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9. That’s the New Testament church! God doesn’t intend that we would live our lives in pursuit of selfish interests! He saved us to make us “priests” who minister to the world! If you’re saved, you belong to Him! You need to align your life with His plans for you:  “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary (the WORD is TENT or TABERNACLE) of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor 6:19,20. As God’s tabernacle, we are the visible sign of God’s presence to the nations!

 

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!

 

You Reap What You Sow!

-God Honors Those Who Honor Him!

The life of obedience, to God’s word, really is the best life! It’s a happy life! God honors you when you honor His word! He blesses you! The Prophet Hosea said that sinful disobedience, to God, is like sowing the wind; and, when you sow the wind, you reap a whirlwind! It’s that “reap what you sow” principle! For the last several posts, we’ve been looking at the 10 Commandments & the rest of God’s Law in the book of Exodus! In Exodus 11, God tells Israel, His people: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today.”  There’s that “reap and sow” principle again!

-We Need A Mediator!

If you sow “OBEDIENCE” you’ll reap a “BLESSING”! But, sow “DISOBEDIENCE” and you reap a “CURSE.” It’s because of our proclivity to sin, that God’s law reveals our need for an “intercessor.” God gave Israel the Levitical priesthood. Only the priests could enter the tabernacle & the Holy of Holies; and, then only once a year! And, when they entered, they were required to bring an animal blood sacrifice. The priests were also responsible to wear special clothing & had to be washed in a special ceremonial fashion. The point was that God is HOLY! And, we are NOT HOLY! We need a go-between! A mediator! And, the entire sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ— the LAMB who was slain! “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself—a ransom for all” 1 Tim 2:5,6.  We cannot make it to God on our own! We need Jesus to be our mediator!

-Sin’s Consequence=Death!

Even in the Old Testament, God’s Law required the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice to cover our sin! In a very graphic way, the Law depicts God’s requirement for the blood of an innocent sacrifice to atone for the sins of the guilty! That burning carcass, on the altar, was a vivid reminder that the consequence, of our sin, is DEATH! God chose to accept the sacrifice of a spotless lamb as representative of the One who was to be the ultimate sacrifice—Jesus, God’s only Son! When we say that Israel’s sacrifice, of a lamb, was “efficacious”, we mean it was “capable of having the desired result! It was effective!” God said a substitutionary atonement was effective in curbing His righteous judgment! It appeased Him! But, only because it was a Gospel picture of Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Was Always God’s Plan!

Every lamb offered, on the altar, was a foreshadowing of God’s own Lamb—His own Son—who would be offered as the ultimate sacrifice to take away ALL SIN FOREVER! And, all the furniture, in Israel’s Tabernacle, pointed to Jesus. The Lampstand pointed to Jesus, who was the light of the world! The showbread pointed to Jesus, who was the bread of life! Jesus was always God’s plan. It wasn’t because the Law of Moses failed; and, God was forced to come up with a “Plan B.” No, the law finds it’s ultimate fulfillment in the Gospel, the good news about Jesus! Paul makes this point crystal clear for us: “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” Galatians 3:24. The law acts as our guardian, to deliver us to Jesus! We’re justified, not through the law; but, by Jesus’ sacrifice!

 

Serving Those Crushed By Circumstances!

-The Unwanted & Discarded!

I grew up, in a home environment, where I never doubted my parent’s love for me! I never felt abandoned or neglected! But, there are those, in the world, who have experienced the pain of being unwanted and discarded! Most of the 153 million orphans, in the world, have been forsaken by their parents! They’ve been shunned and left to fend for themselves! So, when James addresses this matter, in Scripture, he says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27.  This is what “pure religion” looks like, he says.

-Look After Orphans In Their Distress!

Pure, or genuine, faith, in Jesus, takes care of orphans who’ve been crushed by abandonment! That’s what it means to “…look after (them)…in their distress.” For the orphan, they’re distressed or crushed by the fact that they’ve been abandoned by the very people who are supposed to care for their well-being at any cost! One, or both, parents abandon their children because of custom—baby girls, for example, are considered undesirable in many non-Christian cultures. Many are killed just for being born as a little girl! The fortunate ones are just abandoned! I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain and distress that would bring these precious little ones! Some have become orphans because a war has separated them, from their parents; or, their parents were killed and they were spared!

-Look After Widows In Their Distress!

Whatever the reason, these orphaned children have been crushed by the weight of their situation.  And, those who have pure, genuine faith, in Jesus, will be moved to take care of them as much as we can. I don’t know about you; but, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough! But, James doesn’t limit his description, of a pure religion, to caring for those children who’ve been crushed by abandonment! He also says that genuine faith, in Jesus, takes care of widows who’ve been crushed by spousal loss! Again, I’ve never experienced the painful loss, of a spouse, to death! I have, however, observed it enough to know that it’s a crushing blow to the spouse left behind! It’s distress, in their life, that they never quite get over! The separation is devastating for many!

-Proving Faith By Caring For The Hurting!

The church shows genuine faith, in Jesus, by taking care of the widow who’s been crushed by the loss of their mate. We may need to sacrifice our own time to spend time with them in fellowship! We may have to sacrifice financially to help meet their needs! That’s why the ministry to orphans & widows is very much like Jesus’ 3 1/2 year ministry here on planet earth. No one ever cared more for the broken & the hurting, for the abandoned & the marginalized than Jesus! So, how do we apply this? There are ministries to get involved in, especially, in the area of orphans! Become foster parents! Find something to do! Remember, pure religion is not the result of good deeds; but, results in good deeds!