Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

You Don't Have to go to Hell

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. (2nd Thessalonians 1:6-10)

Gospel means "good news." It is the most wonderful news in the history of mankind. Because of His great love God has poured out His grace on us in Christ Jesus and paid for us to have eternal life with Him forever. It is a gift -- we can't earn it -- all we have to do is receive it by faith. It requires some humility to be able to receive the gift, but that's pretty much all. Once we become born again and start walking with the Lord then He works in our lives to change and transform us. Our walk with Him then becomes a relational proposition. We have responsibility to do certain things to grow and the Lord helps us in ways we sometimes see and sometimes don't. Our walk with the Lord is the pinnacle of the human experience. We can now truly love Him, but only because He loved us first (1st John 4:19).

One thing we don't like to talk about too much anymore is that the Gospel is good news because there is bad news. Paul speaks to judgement in 2nd Thessalonians 1 that leaves little room for debate. People argue about Hell and what it may or may not be. I even saw an article by a Universalist titled, "What in the Hell is Hell?" It was basically a mocking critique on the concepts of Hell and eternal judgement. There is little debate that the New Testament writers (in accordance with the Lord Jesus) all viewed judgement as a real event. There is very little else you can do with a Paul's statements like "
dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord." I'm not sure how else you take that. I'm amazed how Universalists cherry pick Paul. The intellectual inconsistency is staggering.

For some reason we lose sight of the fact that we are just messengers. Unbelievers get really offended if you believe the historical tenets of the Christian faith. We don't create the doctrine and we have no vested interest in seeing someone go to Hell. I find it somewhat ironic that people who reject Christianity get offended by believers who actually ascribe to historical, Biblical Christian beliefs. I'm not sure they are always quite as confident in their beliefs as they pretend to be.

Somewhere deep down that God spark sure seems to gnaw at people. That is the love of God that woos and calls to them. God is full of mercy and compassion and it is His desire that no one perish. And yet, people do when they refuse to accept the wonderful free gift that is laid out for them. The gospel is the best news in the history of mankind, but part of what makes it such great news is that there is truly bad news for those who reject Jesus.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Delight Yourself in the Lord

"Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)

Sometimes when we read a verse like this we can almost let ourselves be stymied by the second half. We get hung up on thoughts like, "I can't seek God with such an impure motive" or "How can God really bless me if I seek Him so He will give me the desires of my heart?" Those thoughts aren't bad and actually reveal a heart that wants to honor the Lord, but we do need to get past them.

There are some things that we can consider that will help. The first is that we rarely seek God with a perfectly pure heart. Being human, we have issues, and we bring our issues wherever we go. The good news is that God is the fix for our issues. Seek the Lord and let Him deal with the issues. As you press into Him the impurities of your heart will begin to melt away. The Lord wouldn't have given us such a wonderful promise to hang us up in its application.

The other thing that helps is just to get after the first part of the verse. Delight yourself in the Lord. The second comes because of the first -- it really is a sowing and reaping in our walk with Him. Ask Him to help you do it. Press in and spend time with the Lord. Spend time in worship and prayer and in the Word. As you spend time with Him you will begin to delight in Him.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

By Him All Things Consist

"Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." (Luke 24:27)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)

What we believe about Jesus Christ is absolutely central to the Christian faith and our walk with God. Jehovah Witnesses believe that He is was the son of God, but not God Himself. Mormons offer up a pretty convoluted view of Jesus where Jesus is a son of God along with Satan, and earned deity status through righteous works. Islam teaches that He was a great prophet. A lot of people believe that he was some sort of sage or good teacher or revolutionary. All those beliefs, while containing a portion of the truth, are false because they deny the full power and glory of Jesus Christ.

The challenge before us in rightly interpreting and understanding the Word of God is always in dealing with the sections that challenge us. The books of the Bible were not written as large collections of individual sayings. Context, continuity, and consistency matter. Some understanding of the Old and New Covenants will help us to understand the whole. Grasping the whole truth of Jesus Christ will help us to see the Word and God's pursuit of mankind in all its fullness.

I love Colossians 1 and the statement Paul makes about Jesus Christ--

He is the image of the invisible God.
All things were created by Him and for Him.
He is before all things.
By Him all things consist.

Paul makes a powerful case for the deity of Christ. Jesus is more than a good man or teacher. He is the very one who created all that we see and by Him all things consist. That word consist in the Greek means placed or banded together. He came to redeem His very creation that He holds together. That is powerful!

In Luke 24 the resurrected Jesus encountered two men on the road the Emmaus. They spent some time together in conversation and in verse 27 we read how "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." I would have loved to have been a part of that conversation.

Philippians 2:11 tells us that one day "every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

I find it interesting that one common thread of false teachers is that while they claim to honor and respect Him they always deny the full reality of who He is. It's easy to like the partial Jesus. Find the verses where Jesus said things we like (Judge not seems to be a favorite) and ignore the ones that make us uncomfortable. That one about denying yourself and taking up your cross and following Him seems to be particularly onerous to some people. We want Jesus the lamb, but not Jesus the judge. We want the Jesus who ate with tax collectors and sinners, but not the Jesus who said, "Go and sin no more." We want a Jesus who makes us feel better about ourselves without actually challenging us.

The real Jesus is far more awesome than we can often conceive. He is worthy of our worship and worthy of our lives. Knowing and walking with Him is the pinnacle of human achievement. He changes everything. He is Lord and He is God!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Humble Heart

"O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion." (Daniel 9:18)

There are a number of common threads that run through both the Old and New Testament and testify to God's love and pursuit of mankind. Even though we know that grace and truth culminate in Jesus (John 1:17) we find shadows throughout the Old Testament of what was to come. In Daniel 9 we find Daniel praying for his people. Daniel offers up a prayer of repentance, hope and restoration.

Daniel approaches the Lord in the only way we can -- with humbleness of heart and trust in God's compassion. One of the issues we have in the Church today is our struggle to balance the love of God without making an idol of humanity. In doing so we too often embrace a subtle form of humanism where God can only be good if His chief aim is to please man. We raise our belief and sin above God and above His Word. Universalism is a great example of this. Judgment is such a terrible concept that we can't reconcile it with a loving God, so we declare all men saved, whether they realize it or not. We pick and choose Bible verses to back our point and ignore the rest. Paul becomes totally schizophrenic and his writings are now totally inconsistent, but we feel better. Another example is homosexuality. People generally want to be nice so they go along with the argument that God must have made some people that way, ignoring what both scripture and science say about the matter. Homosexuality is no longer an act, but an identity, but what it really has become is an idol -- something held higher than God and what He has said.

But back to Daniel. Daniel approaches the Lord with no excuses and no justification. Man is subservient to God. God is the one who is holy and righteous and full of mercy and compassion. Man is the one who has sinned against God and ignored his long suffering kindness and ongoing warnings. God is on the throne, not man. Just as it can truly only be. Daniel prayed, "
we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion." That is how we approach God and we can do so boldly, as His children, if we are born again. We don't approach God through our good works and we don't have to hold back because of our shortcomings, and yet we do have to approach humbly.

Humility means we lay our lives before Him -- not my way but yours O Lord. We don't approach God in our own righteousness, neither do we presume upon Him to accept what He has said is wrong. Both ways are idolatry because both attempt to raise man above God. Faith in Jesus is rooted in humility before God. It's not about getting everything right, but there ought to be a desire to want what God wants, regardless of how we personally feel, or even our ability to live up to it. That's a heart God can work with. Anything else is pride and vanity.

What attitudes and beliefs have you held above God's Word? There is no problem or sin that is too great for Him. It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever I want. That will only lead to bondage. True freedom is found in God. He is, after all, the only truly free being.