Category Archives: The Gospel

Is that a shovel in your hand?

For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

holes shovelsOne of my favorite kids’ movies is the movie “Holes” from the book by Louis Sachar.  The kids at the juvenile detention camp, “Camp Green Lake” have to dig holes in the desert day in and day out.  The warden  is in search of a generations old treasure and the teens are the forced labor.  The song that plays as they dig has the line of “Keep digging those holes, diggin’.”

As we hew cisterns for ourselves that are broken and can hold no water, that song might has well be playing in the background.  “But wait a minute,” you cry, “I’m a Jesus lover.  I have not forsaken Him, nor have I dug my own well that can hold no water.”  Really?

I am reading a challenging book by Brad Bigney called, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel With Hidden Idols (P&R Publishing).  In it he talks about how we can give our hearts and our affections, our first love, over to something else.  That thing becomes our driving force to what we do.  Then we become idolaters.

I often read through the Old Testament and wonder how they could have altars to Baal or Asherah poles in their back yards or high hills and not connect the dots.  Like someone should have said: “Wake up!  How did we fall so far?  Get rid of these idols!”  Yet when someone looks back on our culture, they might see the things that we’ve allowed and  there will be certain idols that will be so clear to them that aren’t clear to us.

If we move away from the Bible, from Jesus, from what Romans 1:21 describes as essential: knowing God, honoring Him as God and giving thanks to Him–then we engage in the ‘Great Exchange.’  The ‘Great Exchange’ of Romans 1 is exchanging the truth of God for a lie, worshiping the created things instead of God the creator, exchanging  natural pleasures for unnatural ones.  Turn on the television or the computer and you see it and hear it.  Again, that’s not us!  Or is it?

I don’t have a shovel in my hands.   Or do I?  When the Israelites fashioned the golden calf at Mt. Sinai, again, I judge.  How could they?  God had just parted the Red Sea.  Do they have amnesia?  God was too slow–Moses was up on that mountain too long.  How often do I turn to something I can control, instead of waiting on God, even though it serves me poorly?  It’s a broken cistern, an idol, sin, rebellion–whatever you want to call it.  I’ve got a shovel in my hand and gold dust on my clothes.

My broken cisterns cost me.  They might be more predictable than God is, and they might keep me in the driver’s seat, but they cannot hold water.  They don’t deliver.  I might have pride if I succeeded in some plan, but there is fear lurking around the next corner about ‘what happens if I blow it next time?’ Or if I don’t get what I want and can’t conjure it up, there are things like depression and defeat to contend with.

I’m pretty good at spotting other people’s golden calves.  I can see them running around with their kids to all kinds of sporting events, or their preoccupation with keeping up with cultural norms.  I’m not so good at spotting my own.  Even if I am, I’m not so good at calling them what they are.    When I first set out in my 20’s after college, I was determined not to own any more things than what I could fit in my car.  I thought people who were tied down to mortgages, jobs and responsibilities were “sell out’s.”  It kept them from being all-in for the Kingdom.

Well, now I’m one of those sell out’s.  I stand on the edge of breaking away from it, contemplating an early retirement to go back to my radical lifestyle of my 20’s.  I didn’t know how God was going to provide then, but I knew He was.  I was ‘about my Father’s business,’ and I loved it.  Now I have much more to give up, but so much more to gain.  Is my job and  my position my broken cistern?  Is money my golden calf?  Is the control that the good salary offers, the self sufficiency, the power, and the me-time, standing in the way?

Brad Bigney:  “When you’re craving something other than God, even something good, God takes it very seriously.  In that moment, He’s coming after you.  He’s coming after you for His glory and your own good, because life for us is better without idols.  Life for us is better when we’re delighting in the gospel and living Christ as our highest treasure.  Life for us is better when we’re focused on God and free from idols.” p. 26

Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!  Psalm 139: 23-24


A Gospel Ambition

I endeavor to bring the Gentiles to obedience of the faith, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God…so that I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and this I make it my ambition to preach the gospel not where Christ has already been named.  Romans 15:18-20

That was Paul’s gospel ambition, to go where ‘no man has gone before’ to preach about hands upJesus.  He had dreams and he was fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.  A Gospel Ambition.  That sounds so lofty, reserved for heavy hitters like Paul, or pastors and missionaries.

Maybe the rest of us get ‘life ambitions.’  Now we call them ‘bucket lists,’ after the Morgan Freeman movie.  It doesn’t have to be spiritual, at least that’s what we think.  So our bucket lists include things like: seeing the Grand Canyon, or running a half marathon, or getting on Jeopardy (that’s mine).

**But does God put spiritual bucket lists on our hearts?  Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “We are HIs workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  The NIV words it “that God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  He’s given us a mission just like He gave Paul.  It might not be as sweeping and far reaching as his, but my point is that God gives us all a ‘Gospel ambition’ a life purpose, and He burns it on our hearts.

That means we don’t have to look hard to find it.  We know what it is.  And God gives us the Holy Spirit to give us the power and the boldness to carry it out.  That’s what Acts 1:8; 4:31 and Colossians 1:27-29 say.  It wasn’t just for guys back then, it’s for us too.  Jesus lives in us and gives us His power, energy and boldness.

I occasionally get dreams that I know have spiritual significance.  I had  one this week.  I knew that there was something to the people and events in the dream, so I sought out a friend that is a pretty good interpreter and encourager.  One thing he has taught me is that if I have a dream about somebody else, I need to tell that dream to the person because God has a message for them.  God has been speaking to me about several things since that dream, including not letting me back pedal from my Gospel ambition.

In my dream I was walking a co-worker’s father home.  It was a snowy evening, and I was walking him home on a trail to his daughter and son-in-law’s cabin.  They had the fire going and they welcomed him in.  The father and I didn’t talk, nor did the couple invite me in.  My concern was that he got ‘home’ safely and I was successful.  I have never had a personal connection with this father until about three weeks ago when I rode with him and several others to a sporting event.  He is almost 80, so no spring chicken.

As I turned to head back down the snowy trail, the sun was going down almost completely and I saw that I had a head lamp.  My co-worker, who is not a Christian, called out, “Don’t you love those head lamps?  I have one every where I go.”  But within a few steps it dimmed.  I looked down the path and about 30 yards ahead there were four or five bears in my path.  I saw them, they didn’t see me.  My head flashlight went out completely and I laid down on the ground and back pedaled up hill and woke up.

The father that I walked home is not a Christian.  One of his daughters is, and I felt led to call her and ask about his spiritual state.  The night before my dream they had just had a family meeting to say that her mother had breast cancer and they were talking about where their burial plots were.  He is a skeptic and a debater.  She said, “I won’t be in that grave long.”  He said, “I’ll be in that hole for a long time.”  He needs Jesus.

As she told me this, the Michael W. Smith song played strongly in my head, “I’ll Lead You Home.”  Some of the words: “It won’t be long before your sun goes down, just leave it to Me, I’ll lead you home;  A troubled mind and a doubter’s heart; You wonder how you ever got this far; Leave it to Me, I’ll lead you home.  Hear Me calling, Hear Me calling…”

I had just watched the movie, “A Case for Christ.”  It’s about Lee Strobel, the big skeptic who tried to disprove Christianity and ended up becoming a Christian in the process.  The father was a lawyer and reads a lot.  I ordered the book and am going to give it to the Christian daughter to give to him this next week when they get back from a trip.  We’ll see where it leads from there.

The bears in the path are/could be resistance, nay sayers, overbearing people who would cause me to back pedal and to not be bold–hence, my light for the Lord dims and goes out.  It doesn’t shine and doesn’t do it’s work.  That so hits the nail on the head.  It is so easy to back pedal and avoid confrontation.  It took boldness just to call the Christian daughter out of the blue and tell her that I had this dream and to ask her about her dad.

When I read these verses about the Holy Spirit being the one who gives us the boldness, as well as the  ambition to be used by God in the first place, it gives me the confidence that God will do a work in this father’s heart before He dies.  He will lead Jim home.  I just get to walk with him down the path.

 

 


The Power of the Cross

the cross.pngFor Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  1 Corinthians 1:17-18

Oh how we try to rely on everything but the simple message of the cross to get by and to get ahead in life!  We rely on eloquent wisdom, fancy words, glitzy images, good looks, muscle, craftiness, slick tricks, sometimes manipulation…anything but the simple message of the cross.  It’s a fitting Easter thought–the cross.  I need to return to it again and again.

In reading through Isaiah 53, and back through the corresponding Gospel passages, I am struck with the basic message:

  • Jesus was sinless.  Pilate said he found no fault in Jesus (Luke 23:4).   Hebrews 4:15 states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  In other words, Jesus never sinned.  That’s why He was able to be the sacrifice for our sins.
  • The sinless one took our sins.  Back to Isaiah 53:4-5,  we find that Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.  That’s the good news of Easter.  Jesus paid the price for sin so we don’t have to pay it, if we allow Him to.
  • Jesus gave up His life willing for us. Sin brings death and demands that a price be paid.  We’ve all sinned, and we all deserve death.   Isaiah 53:6 says, All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  Jesus said in John 10:18 No one takes (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  Jesus willingly gave up His life to pay the price for our sin.
  • This is where true love and peace are found.  Romans 5:8 proclaims, But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  And 1 John 4:10: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the wrath satisfier (my word) for our sins.  And Romans 5:1 so marvelously declares, Since we have justified by faith, we have peace with God.  There is no other way to find peace deep down inside than to get this straight.

This is the message of the cross.  1 Corinthians 1 goes on to say that God entrusted the foolish, the weak, the low and despised to carry this message to shame the strong, the wise and the mighty so that none might boast in the presence of God.  God picked me, and for that I am eternally grateful.  And I get to tell others this simple, yet powerful message, not with eloquent words of wisdom lest I empty the cross of its power.

Jesus, use me.

*Image by ‘Faithlife Sermons’


Exchanging the lies in our life for God’s truth

divine-exchange-by-amy-pape

For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.  Romans 1:21, 25

 

A couple of posts ago I mentioned Jeff Vanderstelt’s videos on Gospel Fluency.  In his third video he talks about the more fluent we get as believers in speaking the gospel to one another and to ourselves, the more it overflows to others and into more areas of our lives.  It’s about taking our thoughts captive and applying the truths of the gospel to every area of our lives.

When we worship the wrong thing in our own life, we’re just like unbelievers.  We exchange truth for a lie and we pay the price.  We are all idolators in certain areas.  We worship the wrong things until somehow, some way it gets revealed and then we get it straightened out and repent of it. Then we bring it to Jesus to show us a different way to deal with it.

For example, let’s say someone starts grumbling about their boss.  That’s the example that Jeff used in his teaching.  If we jump on the bandwagon and talk about a time our boss was a jerk too, we’re reflecting the same wrong belief–that our hope is in the wrong person to find our fulfillment and accolades.

So instead of agreeing and saying, “That’s right, your boss sounds like an ego maniac,” you could instead say graciously, “You know, she’s not meant to be your all in all, God is.” Supposing this person is a Christian, we can go on to point to how in Colossians 3 we’re told to work for the Lord and not for man and what that looks like.  If they’re not a Christian, perhaps you could say something about how since you’ve become a Christian, God has shifted your perspective to what really matters and where you get your affirmation from.

His next example really hit home.  It was about taking a look at a time (or times) when we revert to a false view of God, believing that He has done things that aren’t really true, then believing things about ourselves that aren’t really true and acting out of those false beliefs.  For example we may get anxious in certain situations because we believe we have to be in control.  This might be driven by a false belief that God has lost control and abandoned us, or that He is absent, impotent or unloving.

Turning this around involves giving myself the Gospel, if I’m the one that holds to this false belief, or to another person that is struggling with anxiety, control issues, or other related problems.  Part of this has to do with looking at Scriptures that show that God is loving, powerful, present, etc.  Another part would be pointing at times in my own life or in the other person’s life when God has shown Himself to be loving, trustworthy, present and powerful.

You would think that once we hear and experience these truths once that we would get it.  But no, we need to hear the truths of the Gospel over and over in all different ways spoken into those areas where we doubt and fear and relapse.  And we need to speak them to each other.  I need to repent in my heart from the false truths that have caused me to be an idolater, exchanging the truth of God for a lie.  I need to exchange the lies for truth, claim the truths of Scripture and write my name on them like on the bottom of a check.  And I need to graciously help others do the same.

It’s funny.  I think I have it all figured out.  And then I get around people who drive me nuts and I start muttering and becoming less kind and gracious than someone who knows Jesus should be.  Or when other weaknesses come popping up like prairie dogs, then it’s time to go back to what lies I’m believing about myself or about God and start over again.  Or if I sit and listen to someone whose weaknesses poke out quickly as well, then I can help them sort through the same process.

Let us not become futile in our thinking and let our foolish hearts be darkened, exchanging the truth of God for a lie.  Instead, let us exchange those devious lies for the truth of God and be changed by them.  Let us speak the good news of Jesus to ourselves and to others so that He sinks deep down into the crevices of our hearts and lives.

 

*Image by Amy Pape


Gospel Fluency

Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves…instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow up in every way into Him who is the head, that is, Christ.  Ephesians 4:13-15

JD Greear talked about growing in our knowledge of the gospel to become more intimate Gospel Fluencywith the Spirit in his book, Jesus Continued.  His intent is to call us to grow deeper in our knowledge of the gospel to experience the fullness of the Spirit.    Almost four years ago I watched a series of videos on Vimeo by Jeff Vanderstelt that takes JD Greear’s thoughts about growing in the knowledge of the gospel to another level.  Vanderstelt’s videos were on “Gospel Fluency.”  Finally in 2017 he put out a book with that title.  The videos are much better than the book.  I’ll put a link at the bottom of my post to his videos.

I’ve been thinking about Vanderstelt’s thoughts on ‘Gospel Fluency’ since I read the chapter about growing in the knowledge of the gospel to become more intimate and full in the Spirit.  I will summarize some of Vanderstelt’s thoughts because he puts things in ways I have not heard them before I watched his videos, or since:

  • Gospel fluency is speaking the truths of Jesus into the everyday stuff of life, so that we are changed in our marriages, relationships, spending and living because Jesus is in our life.
  • ‘Speaking the truth in love’ is more than just saying hard words to each other, like addressing character flaws or sin issues.  It is speaking the knowledge of the faith that builds people into maturity in Christ.
  • Ephesians 4: 21 tells us what the truth is that we’re supposed to be speaking: “the truth is in Jesus.”  Speak Jesus to one another.  Another way to say it is, ‘Speak the gospel, or the good news, to one another.’  You don’t just share the gospel to nonbelievers and then stop once they become Christians.  We should keep speaking the good news of Jesus to each other all the time to grow each other up to maturity.
  • Don’t ever drift away from Jesus to something else!  Jesus is what grows us up.  Don’t get to like our Bibles or our Bible studies better than Jesus.  Don’t lead people to church rather than leading them to Jesus.  Don’t just ask for prayer requests, ask for Jesus to work.   **Our prayer lives are about getting Jesus to live His life through us to empower us to live a new life.  The goal of our prayer time is that the Spirit would reveal the truths of God through Jesus and that we would cling to  Jesus as we pray.

**Make Jesus the solution, the everything!!  We lead people to Jesus and then we take them to something else.  We get to Jesus and then move on to something else.  Don’t do that.

So we must keep proclaiming Christ, the good news, the gospel.  We must be resolved to let nothing else be our good news.  We must become so versed in the gospel that we realize that it does answer everything in our existence.  This involves getting a bigger view of the gospel and letting it sink into more areas of our life.

How do you grow in gospel fluency?

  1.  Part of it has to do with making Jesus the center of everything in your life and the rest will fall into place.
  2. Being a part of a fellowship of believers where you are around others that live that out certainly helps.  It’s like getting better at bowling–it’s best worked out at a bowling alley and in a league.  Same thing with a church.
  3. For me, studying the Bible has been a big part of growing in learning more about this life of following Jesus.  But, as Vanderstelt so aptly put it: I can’t love studying the Bible, or my Bible, more than I love Jesus.  My quiet time has to lead me to Jesus each and every day.
  4. Sharing the good news with myself and those around me, applying it to the stuff of life, is the guts of growing up into maturity in Christ.   I need to ask myself “so what?” at the end of my quiet time, and let the Holy Spirit apply His convicting and probing work in my heart.  And then I need to do it.  As the Spirit leads, I also must share with those around me the good news of grace and freedom that applies to the everyday things of life.

Here is the link to Jeff Vanderstelt’s video’s:  Take the time to watch them.  They are well worth your time!

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/jeff-vanderstelt-on-gospel-fluency/

 


The Word Became Flesh

word-became-flesh.jpg

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.  1 Timothy 3:16

I was looking back in one of my old journals, and read this entry from July of 2015.  It captures the Christmas message in such a poignant way, that I thought it fitting to share it again today:

I was up at the County jail for a Bible study, which I host 2-3 times a month with whatever women will come.  Sometimes they come just to get out of their cell, but I’ll take that.  As long as they’re not disruptive, they get a chance to hear the Gospel.  Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Anyway, this particular evening in July brought out three Native American women.  Though they are from my community, they have a world view that is miles apart from my own.  I’ve learned that from the years of jail ministry.  I was to learn more this evening.  Two out of the three were women that I had known for years.  The third had come one other time, maybe a year before.  She seemed agitated from the start.  She sat flipping through another book until we got switched out of the library to another room.

My Bible study was on three different responses to Jesus–mad, sad and glad.  Mad, the people from Nazareth that tried to push Jesus off the cliff (furious); Sad, the rich young ruler in Luke 18; and I didn’t even get to glad and Zacchaeus in Luke 19.  I was still explaining what sin was.  I had already gone into a bit of detail about who Jesus was, that He was God himself who came from Heaven and took on human form as a baby and grew up and began His public ministry and then began His public ministry, doing miracles, announcing that He was the Promised One who came to save them from their sin.

I could see the one gal’s face get more and more angry, read to launch into an argument.  Wait for it, wait for it.  It was right around the sin explanation that she jumped in.  She said that Natives don’t have sin and Hell.  She said she knew a Catholic who just did what she wanted and then went to confessional and she thought that was lame.  I explained that that’s not repentance, which is turning from your sin.  “I get why you think that’s lame.”

I told her the Zacchaeus story was a good example of repentance.  We just started to read it when she yelled, “I would never place my trust in someone who put on a meat suit.”  I quietly said, “Come again?”  I wanted to make sure I heard that right.  She said firmly, “A dude that would take on a human form.  I would never let him be my God.”

I quickly answered, “That’s exactly what He had to do to pay the price for our sins, otherwise we would all face the death penalty and be sentenced an eternity in Hell.”  She countered, “We don’t have a Hell.”  I came back, “Oh yes, we all face that.”  I picked up my Bible and said, “This is the truth and Jesus declared, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life–no one comes to the Father, except through Me.’  One day we will all stand before this Jesus to give an account of what we have done.”

Her answer was, “That’s disrespectful.  That’s hateful.”  I answered, “Actually, in me telling you that, it’s the most loving thing I could do so you could have a chance to hear it and to ponder it.  The choice is then up to you.”  Then she backed down.

We both took a breath, and I said, “I like that ‘dude in a meat suit’ thing.  You’ve hit the nail on the head.  We went off on to a different point and kind of relaxed to move away from the intensity.  At the end of the night I said to her, “I hope I see you again some place, just not here.”  We both smiled in mutual respect.  I haven’t seen her since, but I still pray for her.

 


Depth of the Gospel, Fullness of the Spirit

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love if Christ–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

But when the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us.  Titus 3:4

Fullness of the Spirit and depth in the gospel are inseparable, and one always leads you to the others.  The more you grow in your knowledge of the gospel the more intimate you become with the Spirit.  JD Greear, from Jesus Continued…Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than the Jesus Beside You

gospel-changes-everything-1-300x168

Another thought provoking chapter to chew on.  Greear’s point is that we grow in fullness of the Spirit not by asking for Him, but by believing the gospel.  If we want to grow in the Spirit, we don’t just plead for more of the Spirit, we put more renewed faith in the gospel.  Fullness of the Spirit is a by product of believing the gospel (p. 107).

In Galatians 3:1-5, Paul reminded them that they received the Spirit by hearing with faith, not by any kind of work.  It was by believing the gospel.  But they had slipped back into a works based system.  Isn’t that what we do?  When we first come to Jesus we get that it is by grace we are saved through faith and that He’s thrown our sins away as far as the east is from the west.

But then we think we have to work after that to prove things.  We have to work to prove to God that we really mean it, or to prove to others that we have a better faith than them…or to prove to ourselves that our past is really behind us…or to make up for the sins that we’ve committed since we turned our lives over to Jesus that we really shouldn’t do anymore.  And then we miss the fullness of the Spirit because we’re operating in the flesh trying to strive and control and to just live life on our own.

So how do we really get to know how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is so we can experience more fullness in the Spirit?

My thought: In Matthew 22 Sadducees came to Jesus with a question.  They were probably trying to trap Him, because they didn’t believe in a resurrection and were asking about Heaven.  “What would happen if a woman’s husband died and she married his brother and he died and she married the next brother and he died and she married the next one–who would she be married to at the resurrection?”

Jesus’ answer in 22:29, You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  In other words, you don’t really know the Bible and you don’t know God’s power.  I was sharing about that in a church that I was once in, that Jesus might say the same thing to us if we don’t really know Him through the Word in a real relationship and haven’t gotten to know His power through our faith walk.

The pastor asked a real question, something like this, “How do you answer your kids when you try to tell them Bible stories and they say they’ve heard it all before and they won’t listen?”  My quick answer was, I believe it was from the Spirit because I couldn’t be that profound was this: Go out as a family and find people who have never heard of Jesus and His love and find a way to share the Gospel with them.  Then it will become alive to your kids.  That was over fifteen years ago and I believe it more strongly today.

For me, the way you grow in your knowledge of the gospel, and thus become more intimate with the Spirit, is to share the good news of it with people who have never heard it, or who need to hear it again and again and again.

I was talking to some boys who had carried a grudge for months now.  “Meet me in the bathroom at 2:30,” was one boy’s challenge.  The teacher had caught wind of it, and she was unable to convince them of why they shouldn’t fight out their issue.  In she marched them to my office.  “I need to know when this started.  One at a time, no interruptions.”  They talked of surface conflicts, then it came out.  Months ago the one boy had insulted another boy’s mom, who was dead.  He was new, he didn’t know it.  He had apologized many times, but the boy and his friends wouldn’t listen.  He had crossed a line and had to pay.

This was one of the friends.  It’s a week before Christmas.  I’ve been pondering the line from Titus 3:4, But when the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, throughout most of the month.  I guess it’s become part of me now.    I began to talk about forgiveness, and how it is a gift that the other person doesn’t deserve.  It is based on kindness and goodness.  But one day the shoe will be on the other foot and you’ll need someone to forgive you for a debt that you can’t repay.  I said that there’s no better time than Christmas to extend the gift of forgiveness.  I don’t think the teacher had tried this line of reasoning…

I didn’t talk about Jesus, but I did talk about the Grinch, whose heart was two times too small and how it grew three times.  Unforgiveness makes your heart two times two times smaller and forgiveness is what makes it grow three times in a day.  The offending boy turned and apologized one last time and the other boy then was faced with the choice to forgive or not and chose to forgive rather than to fight him at 2:30 and to pay the consequences.

Maybe one day he will get the Gospel, maybe he won’t.  But I am struck still with the depth of the gospel.  Maybe I grew a little more in the fullness of the Spirit this week because of realizing a bit more of the kindness and goodness of God our Savior who appeared and saved us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Extravagant generosity compels an extravagant response

I am under obligation both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.  So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome, for I am not ashamed of the gospel.  Romans 1:14-16

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  John 12:3

I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.  2 Samuel 24:24

Paul realized that he owed a great debt to God.  He often called himself a servant, a slave, or a bondservant.  In the Greek, it is “doulos”: somebody who is forced to work for somebody else for no payment and is regarded as the property of that person.” (Encarta Dictionary)

If grace is free, why should we operate from the concept of owing God, or of being His slave?  There is a difference between a slave of God, and a bondservant.  A bondservant served out his or her time as a slave and could go free, but instead chose to stay with his or her master and to serve for the rest of his or her life.  It is done willingly.  So we are God’s bondservants.  We serve Him willingly.

As for sharing the gospel eagerly like Paul, we should do it out of obedience, out of love, and out  of understanding the gospel.  This involves grasping the depth of our own sin and the depth of the love of God displayed by Jesus on the cross.

perfumeSomehow the two women that washed Jesus’ feet with their hair, tears, and perfume got this while the onlookers didn’t.  In the Luke 7:36-50 account, it was the Pharisees who scoffed while the “sinner” poured out her extravagant response to Jesus.  In John 12:1-7 it was Judas who sneered at Mary that the expensive perfume could be used for the poor.  What catches me with Mary was that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  Mary’s generous sacrifice wasn’t just a beautiful odor to Jesus, but to everyone there.

  • Am I willing to pour out my most expensive possession to wash Jesus’ feet because He washed me with His blood?
  • What is my most expensive possession that I need to hold on to more loosely to give to Jesus as a thank offering?

JD Greear: “God wants us to be consumed with His glory and filled with compassion, just as He is, moving instinctively to a world of need around us.” (Jesus Continued, pg. 89)

When Jesus said “Follow Me,” He bids us first to come and die, like in Romans 12:1-2 and John 12:24, Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

No one wants to die.  They want their cake–

I want to be near my family…I want cute kids…I want a comfortable job…I want a nice husband…I want a 9-5 job…I want a good income with money to spare…I want good neighbors…I, I, I

It is the death of “I”: The Village of Me: Population 1    Welcome to ME

When I chop down that sign, then that’s when God really begins to work.  I surrender, God takes over and He moves my heart with gratitude just like the two women with hair and perfume.  I think gratitude triggers compassion

I sat across the table this week from a dad at school.  His hands were dirty from trying to start his car in almost below zero weather for two days and the car wouldn’t cooperate.  He was early for the meeting, so we had time to talk.  I made him coffee and we chatted.  I’ve known him for years.

His wife died at her own hands several years before, leaving him to raise three boys on his own.  He was severely burned in a welding accident since then, leaving him with just a knob of a nose and no eye lids.  He explained how he should have asked them to give him eyelids because when he goes out in the sun it’s like rivers of water, but he wasn’t complaining.

My heart wells up with compassion for him and his boys, thinking about Christmas, about what life looks like for them, telling him that I was sorry to hear that his dad died just a couple of weeks ago.  How can I bring Jesus into his world?  Oh God, tell me.

Use my life, Lord, to the greatest extent, to bring salvation to those around me.  You used great people to pour the gospel into me, so use me to pour the gospel into others.  I am obligated because of what You have done for me, I am eager because the great news of Jesus, and I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for whoever hears it.

 

 

 


A Christmas Message from 1 Chronicles

David provided great quantities of iron for nails for the doors of the gates and for camps, as well as bronze in quantities for weighing, and cedar timbers without number, for the Sidonians and Tyrians brought great quantities of cedar to David.  For David said, “Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the Lord must be exceeding magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands.  I will therefore make preparation for it.”  So David provided materials in great quantity before his death.  1 Chronicles 22:3-5

With great pains I have provided for the house of the Lord 100,000 talents of good, a million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weighing, for is so much of it; timber and stone, too, I have provided.  1 Chronicles 22:14

JD Greear writes in his book, Jesus Continued…Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than Jesus Beside You, A heart that truly understands the gospel overflows with gratefulness to God.  Extravagant grace produces extravagant givers.  (Pg. 88)  David was so overwhelmed with what God had done for him that his heart overflowed with a desire to give back to God.  God had told David that he couldn’t build His temple, but God did allow him to provide the materials for the temple.

Did you catch that in the 1 Chronicles verses?  He provided so many materials they were beyond weighing.  So why was it such a big deal to David to see the Temple get built?  Maybe it was like what Prince Ea from You Tube said in one of his clips, “Martin Luther Jr. didn’t have a dream, the dream had him.”

I would say maybe David wasn’t so much a man after God’s own heart as He was a man whose heart God was after.  And He got His heart.

Isn’t that what God wants?  Our hearts?  And when He gets it, He takes it and runs with it.   And God overflows it with so much stuff that it can’t be weighed.  It’s like the Grinch’s heart that grows three times bigger after hearing the Who’s sing when he took all their presents.  In Psalm 119:32 David wrote, I will run in the way of Your commandments when You enlarge my heart!  There it is.

Jabez prayed for it in 1 Chronicles 4:10.  Jabez called upon God saying, ‘O God that You would bless me and enlarge my border.’

So what does this have to do with Christmas?  If we truly understand Christmas and the gospel, that God gave us Jesus to save us from our sin, or as my favorite Titus 3:4 simply tells, when the good and kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us.  If we get that, then our hearts should be enlarged three times bigger, and we should be caught with a dream like David that consumes us.

extravagant grace.jpg

It might not be a Temple, or an enlarged border, but if our hearts overflow with gratitude then we become extravagant givers because of God’s extravagant grace.  That is what has caught me over this last week.  I have spied the people around me with new eyes thinking, “how can I bless them this Christmas?”  I have prayed that God would speak to me to give me His eyes and then to tell me what to do for those He puts on my heart.

There are at least two families that I am hoping to bless with God’s grace, as well as some individuals.  I would like to say that it will be so much that it can’t be weighed, but it’s a start.  Enlarge my heart O God.  Pour your extravagant grace through me to others so that they can come to know You.

*Image from Bethel Bible Church, Winimac IN


A flannel board and flannel Jesus

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel not with words of human wisdom, let the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:17

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  I Corinthians 1:18

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…the lowly things and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him.  It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus.  1 Corinthians 1:27-30

I got a flier in the mail this week from a Bible study company and flipped through it.  One page was an ad for a cruise with “your favorite Bible teacher.”  Another page, ads for an event in several cities with a dozen or so attractive thirty something women on a pretty topic.  No older women, less attractive, handicapped ones could speak?  “Stop it,” I thought.

flannel JesusThen in my reading through the Bible in a year chronologically I sat down to these verses in 1 Corinthians.  It took me back to the two ladies that I became a Christian through in the tiny country Vacation Bible School fifty some years ago.  They used a flannel board, a flannel Jesus and song lyrics written on tag board.  They persistently talked about Jesus with no other props.  They came to my community with no other Gospel witness for over 35 years, armed with the love of Jesus and a commitment to serve Him like no other I have seen.

They wrote to me every month from the time I was 13 until I was almost 30.  They discipled me in the faith and would call me “their Timothy.”  They probably wouldn’t have made it as headliners at a women’s weekend.  Nor would I.  That’s not how God made me and that’s not where God has planted me.  And somehow, that’s how He has made the message of the cross to be.  It’s not to be glitzy or glamorous, lest it be emptied of its power.

It is not to be bedazzled, though we want to pretty it up.  A friend of mine told how she had a mentor named Ethyl who had the gift of faith.  She would go fishing with Ethyl and Ethyl would know where to fish because God would tell her.   Ethyl would do more big things than just bring home big catches of fish, she would allow God to use that gift of faith all over the place to do big things through her.  Only thing was, she never drew attention to herself.

When she was old, she wrote a little book about all of the things that God did and she called it, “Ethyl Nobody.”  This was years before self publishing and marketing, so I haven’t been able to find that book.  I wish I could.  I’ve thought about that title, and have thought that one day I’d like to write a book like that before I die and title it, “Martha Nobody.”  God has done so many things in and through me, just like He did with the dear old ladies with the flannel board, a flannel Jesus, and cardboard song lyrics.

Better than that, they were armed with the message of the Gospel, the love of Jesus, and the conviction that if they kept telling it that God would change lives and eventually it would change the world.  It has changed my world.

*Image from Feltark