If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Helping Others into the Lake of Fire

As I read through Ephesians this morning, I stopped at this text:

“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Ephesians 5:5-7)

Then the Holy Spirit reminded me of this one in 1 Corinthians:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

In the not too distant past, a church leader told me he doesn’t speak of sins such as abortion, fornication, or active homosexuality lest he offend someone in the congregation.

Others in church hierarchy have told me it is for the same reason they do not counsel congregants how to vote according to Biblical principles and the tenets spelled out in historical church teaching.

How has it happened that so many church leaders are NOT guiding their flock toward righteous choices? God commands pastors and deacons and others in church leadership – AS WELL AS the person in the pew – God commands us all to speak the truth in love to those living in sin and to those who routinely make sinful choices.

Refusing to speak God’s word to such people is not ‘love.’ It is moral cowardice at worst. It is delinquency in our Christian duty at best. By refusing to counsel or warn others is to do nothing else but help the sinner on his or her way to the eternal Lake of Fire.

There is what ought to be frightening texts in Ezekiel’s prophecy. God says the same thing twice: once in chapter three and again in chapter thirty-three. Every Christian leader and laity ought to pay close attention. God is serious about speaking His truth to others – including to those we do not want to offend:


“Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” (Ezekiel 3:17b-19, NLT)

Oh, Holy Spirit, raise up bold laborers to work in your fields that are ready to harvest. Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Who Will You Believe?

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3, NIV) How long is everlasting? Your answer to that question could be an important exercise, so contemplate your response for a few moments. Come up with some synonyms. Then think a few more moments of the implications of those words. God promises to love you with an everlasting love. He promises to draw you to Himself with unfailing kindness. Let me repeat that for emphasis: God *PROMISES* to love you and to draw you to Himself with an everlasting love and with unfailing kindness. How often in your life have you failed God? And how often in the recent past have you failed Him? Listen, Satan wants you to define yourself by your failures. But God says your failures DO NOT have to define you. Instead, He wants your failures to open your eyes to how much you need His everlasting love and His unfailing kindness. “Yes, but . . . .” The devil will quickly counter God’s promise: “How many times do you think God’s going to forgive you of the same sin? And God’s answer? He will forgive you as often as you truly repent and humbly approach His throne (for example, see Matthew 18:21-22; 1 John 1:9). Satan wants you to define yourself by your failures. But God says your failures DO NOT have to define you -- if you allow your failures to lead you to repentance and a new direction. Who will you believe?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Immanuel


Seven hundred years before the birth of the promised Messiah, Isaiah prophesied about a virgin who would “conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel” (7:14).

When the St. Matthew referred to Isaiah’s prophecy in 7:14, he reminded his readers of the Hebrew meaning of that name: “God with us.”

In other words, Immanuel was not to be the child’s ‘birth’ name. It was to indicate his ‘nature.’ The prophet used the same literary technique two chapters later, in chapter 9, in which he described Messiah’s NATURE this way: “And His name shall be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 

Immanuel. God is with us. Never to leave us. Here is how the apostle John tells it in the first chapter of his gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God . . . And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I have never closed my eyes to the brutality that life sometimes throws at us. But I must remind myself, and everyone who asks, God remains with us at all times and in all situations, despite the pound of flesh some of those situations gouge from our hearts. 

God is with us.

He has never left our side in the past, and He will never leave us in the future. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Most of us remember the poem, “Footprints.” I repeat it now because it drives home the point of this message about Immanuel:

One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord, across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord. 
After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. "Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You'd walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me." 
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and I never left you. Never, ever. During your trials and tests, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I was carrying you."
Immanuel. God with us. Even in the valley. But – if God is with us, then why then does He permit bad things happen to His people, His children? 
When I was 12 or 13 I prayed a nightly prayer as I prepared to go to sleep: “Oh, God, please God. Don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea (my sister), my father or my mother.” Night after night. For two or three years, if my memory is reliable.
 I don’t know how I came up with that prayer, how I formulated it in my pre-adolescent mind, or why I prayed it each night. I never heard my mother pray, other than once a year during Rosh Hashonna when she prayed over the Yahrtzeit candles for her deceased mother.  
"Oh God, please God, don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea, my father or my mother.”
In recent years I’ve wondered what might have happened to my childhood faith if something bad DID happen to me, Andrea, my father, or my mother. As a child who, at the time, thought like a child and reasoned as a child, would I have put aside my childish faith? Would I have been angry at God, thought Him impotent, or uncaring, or absent, for permitting something serious to fall over us? I’ve talked with many people in the last 47 years of my walk with the Savior to whom exactly that had happened. They’d prayed fervently, sometimes day after day for years for a loved one, or for themselves, for good to happen – and the opposite occurred. Death. Divorce. Chronic illness . . . . Most people can come up with their own list of deep sorrows.
Although this is speculation on my part – I like to think if something bad had happened to me, Andrea, my father or my mother, and I laid aside my youthful faith, I like to think that when I became a man I would have recovered from my earlier rejection of God. I like to think I would have grown to know God for who He really is: Not impotent, but All Mighty. Not uncaring, but the very essence of love. Not absent, but always with me, never leaving me, never forsaking me. 
So, I ask it again, why do prayers go unanswered? Why do loved ones – even children – die in accidents, or by illness, or murder, or suicide? Why do once-lovers separate? Where is Immanuel, the God who promises to always be with us – when bad things happen to His children? 
Once upon a time, I thought I knew why. I could cite a dozen reasons and come up with as many scriptures to explain God’s actions or inactions. But now, after so long walking with Jesus, I confess I am no longer sure why He does what He does – or why He does not do what He does not do. 
St. Paul wrote in his 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, [But] then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
After decades of unanswered prayers – some of them desperate prayers, I now believe the kind of faith in God that abides despite dead loved ones, or divorce, or long and arduous sickness, or any other terrible trial that falls so often over so many of God’s children – I now believe a stick-to-it faith in God is nothing less than a supernatural gift He gives to those who choose to still seek Him, even after terrible and unyielding tragedy, heartbreak and distress.  
We find in Luke’s gospel the Lord speaks to His disciples: “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials.”  But I can't help but think the Lord also turns to you and me and says to us: “You are those who have stood by me in YOUR trials.” 
Not everyone stands by the Lord in their own trials. Many get disillusioned, disappointed, and frustrated with their trials – and they just give up and walk away. You may know people like that. 
I love Job’s comment in the sixth chapter of that book. I suspect you all know the story of Job’s agonizing trials of financial ruin, of the throbbing boils and sores all over his body, and the death of his seven sons and three daughters. 
Feel the man’s utter, shattering grief in the first several verses of chapter 6: “Oh that my grief were actually weighed  and laid in the balances together with my calamity! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the seas; . . . . For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, Their poison my spirit drinks; The terrors of God are arrayed against me . . . .Oh that my request might come to pass, and that God would grant my longing!  “Would that God were willing to crush me, that He would loose His hand and cut me off!” 
But don’t stop reading. Continue one more verse, to verse ten where Job proclaims: But it is still my consolation, and I rejoice in unsparing pain, That I have not denied the words of the Holy One.”
If the Holy Spirit has taught me anything in the last 47 years of my walk with Immanuel it is this: THAT kind of faith—the faith that says with Job: It is still my consolation, and I rejoice in unsparing pain, that I have not denied my God – that kind of faith is as much a supernatural gift, as is the supernatural gift of being healed of a deadly sickness, or the reconciliation of a shattered marriage, or the resurrection of the dead itself.

It’s the kind of gift that enables us to put childhood thoughts and reasoning behind us and fix adult eyes on things unseen, or unknown – And to simply be content with that. 

I wish I had a better answer for myself, and for those who ask me the often-unanswerable question, “Why do bad things happen to God’s children?” We simply do not fully know the ‘whys’.  We simply know now in part, and only in His presence will we fully know.  

But – and please hear me say this -- In the part that we DO know about Immanuel, we know enough to seek and to find the supernatural strength that will sustain us like Job – or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or Saints Paul, or Peter, or James, and any of the millions of martyrs who have suffered unspeakable anguish, and yet found supernatural strength to still trust in the God-who-is-with-us and who sustains us.  

For more than 50 years Mother Theresa worked in the slums of Calcutta with orphans and lepers, the diseased and the dying. During her missionary work she wrote letters to her local priest and spiritual advisor. Her letters were published after her death. It is from those letters we learn that Mother Theresa did not sense the presence of God with her for those 50 years. Half a century. Day after day. 

Yet, despite the spiritual loneliness she suffered for those five decades – she persisted in following her Immanuel as best she knew how. For those many years she demonstrated what it is like to be a Christian – to live by FAITH in God’s promises and NOT by feelings. 

Our text today reminds us of the Christmas story.  “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 

As we look forward to the celebration of that miraculous birth, I want to reiterate what the Holy Spirit tells us again and again – God is with us. In the light and on the mountaintops, and in the valleys of death and loss and pain and despair. He remains always by our side. He never blinks, and nothing that happens to us or around us takes Him in any way by surprise. 

All He asks of us – all He ever asks of us – is to trust Him. Oh, God – help us to do that better.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Between the Garden and the Cross


I’ve often wondered how Jesus remained so calm during His trial, His scourging, and finally His torturous crucifixion. He was anything BUT calm in the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Luke tells us: And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:44) 

So, what happened between the Garden and the Cross that He remained at peace through it all? 

I think I found the answer in St. Matthew’s eleventh chapter. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Would the Lord ask of us anything He Himself was unwilling to do? Of course not. Notice what Matthew tells us happened in that Garden: “He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

It was in that Gethsemane Garden, when the Lord chose to take His Father’s yoke, that He found rest for His soul. Because of His complete trust in the Father, Jesus found the yoke was easy, and the burden was light.

Trust is a choice. Jesus could have called 12 legions of angels to His rescue (Matthew 26:53). But He chose not to. He chose instead to trust His Father – through the trial, the scourging, onto the cross, even to the bitter end. That’s why the Lord tells us to take upon ourselves the yoke and the burden He give us; for only then will we find rest and peace amid the varied and often serious agonies of life.

Holy Spirit, please help us in our every circumstance to say to the Father, as the Lord Jesus said to Him: “If this cup cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.

Dirty Faces and Eternal Life

I published this in 2015. I thought this a good time to bring it forward once again.
---------------

“. . . but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence . . .” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
It was only a casual glance at the mirror as I walked passed -- a moment when my eye stole a glimpse at my reflection.  But what a moment it was! The whole of nature stopped, turned in my direction and waited for my response to that . . . that little white and grey thing hanging from my left nostril.  

"Yikes! Who’s seen me like this?"

I yanked a tissue from my pocket and attacked my nose, cocking and twisting my head to make sure I removed every last trace of that horrible sight. But then the knot in my stomach tightened. How long had I walked around totally ignorant of my desperate plight? When did I last blow my nose?  Just before I left the house? Three hours ago!

I tossed the tissue into a trash can and hurried off, wondering why no one had told me.  Surely they’d seen it.  Anyone looking in my direction from the next state could have seen it!

But the more I thought about it, the more I understood why they remained silent. They were as embarrassed to mention it as I was to discover it. They thought, "Maybe he'll scratch his nose and discover it without my having to bring up the subject."  Or, "Maybe someone else will tell him."
How do I know that's what they probably thought?  Because I have made those same dumb excuses when I've looked at someone's face and wondered "How do I tell him about his dirty nose?"

Well, believe it or not, there is a spiritual point in all this, because in dealing with my own embarrassment I learned two important things about dirty faces – and eternal life.

First, mirrors are very important. Had I not seen my reflection in the mirror, I might have continued through the rest of the day with that thing dangling on my nose. But that common looking glass reminds me of another mirror – the Bible. That is why the Holy Spirit tells us in the New Testament book of Hebrews:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

When I read the pages of God's "mirror" much more serious blemishes catch my eye. Like the piece of mucous stuck to the end of my nose, those cursed spots (God calls them sin) sometimes cling stubbornly to my life. And although discovering those blights are not among my favorite moments, without His mirror, my spiritual "nose-slime" would remain stuck to me, unclean, unconfessed and – consequently - unforgiven.  The embarrassment of discovering that thing dangling from my nose cannot compare to the shame I would eventually experience if I stood unclean before the Lord.

Which brings me to the second point: Walking around all morning with a dirty nose is not the worst thing that will ever happen to someone. But dying unclean in sin definitely is.

Yes, I wished someone had told me my nose was dirty, but I am forever thankful someone told me my life was dirty.  I am forever grateful that person pointed me to God's word where I learned not only of sin's stain on my life, but also of Christ’s blood which can cleanse me.

My dirty nose reminded me again how badly people need someone willing to risk embarrassment and tell them, kindly and with humility, their lives are dirty. They need someone - like you and like me - to tell them they need a savior.

If we don't tell them about Jesus Christ, who will?

Monday, December 2, 2019

What 76% of Americans Believe

I just received a Christmas solicitation for a donation to their radio ministry. One of the inserts surprised me. It didn't shock me, but it did surprise me. It read: "76% of all Americans believe that an individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation." In other words, 76% of Americans believe God requires them to add their part to His Son's death on Calvary. They believe Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice for humanity is not sufficient atonement for their sins. If you are among that 76% -- Oh, please hear me. You are very mistaken. God sent His Son to die for you, thereby paying the full penalty your sins and mine deserve. Here's only one of God's immutable promises about the all-sufficiency of Christ's atonement for us. It's from Romans 5:8-9 -- "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." The word, 'justified" in Greek means that God declares the penitent sinner to be 'without guilt.' To paraphrase that promise: "God declares the penitent to be 'guiltless' because of Jesus' blood atonement. Therefore, we are saved from God's wrath by our obedient faith in Jesus' death for us." Here is yet another promise (there are dozens and dozens of them): It's from Ephesians 2:8-9 - "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." I hope you caught those two important words in the above text: 'Grace' and 'Gift.'  'Grace' means God gave us something we don't deserve -- that being a GIFT of eternal life through our obedient faith in Jesus. A gift is not earned. Otherwise, it is not a gift. I hope you are not among that 76% who erroneously believe you have to earn eternal life. If you are, you don't have to remain in that error. Ask me how to receive God's gift.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Season of Light

The winter solstice – the darkest day of the year –begins on the east coast on December 21, at 11:19 pm. Today, December 1, is the first day of the church season called Advent. The four weeks of Advent (from the Latin, which means, ‘coming’) is an opportunity to pause amidst the frenetic and frantic ‘buying-cooking-decorating” season, and reflect on the reason God invaded this world ruled by the Prince of Darkness. He invaded us to be Light to those living in the emptiness of life lived under the dominion of sin. So, at the beginning of this Advent season, here is a question we should ask ourselves: What gives my life meaning? Certainly, it is not any of the things holiday commercials seduce us into thinking. Nothing we can ever buy can bring enduring meaning to our life. No; The deepest and most meaningful thing in life is not anything we can purchase. And our heart will ever remain restless until we recognize – and sadly, some will never recognize it, even to their death bed – our hearts will ever remain restless until we recognize that our heart can only find meaning and purpose when it finds the One who invaded darkness to give us light . . . and eternal life. Come, Lord Jesus. As this season of Light begins, and even through the rest of my days, be my only Light. Be the only Lord of my life.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Flow of His Mercy

God’s love is demonstrated in many ways, not the least of which is His forgiveness. When you repent of your sin – whatever the sin – God always forgives you. It’s very important to not set yourself up as a higher judge than He. Receive His promise of forgiveness. Don’t waste time beating yourself up over sin which is now forgiven. The flow of God’s mercy into your life is slowed when you continue to ruminate over things He has forgiven and cast into the deepest sea.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Remember Manasseh

The Bible gives many examples of God’s incomprehensible and superabundant mercy. King Manasseh ranks toward the top of the list. Maybe even at the very top. You’ll find his story in Second Kings and Second Chronicles. Both delineate his monstrous and murderous sins against his nation and against God. Even if you are familiar with his story, please carefully read the following text. Otherwise the point I hope to make at the end of this essay will not have as great an impact as I hope it will. “[Manasseh] erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He built altars in the house of the Lord . . . He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God . . . Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.” “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, [God] was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. . ..” (2 Chronicles 33:1-13) I hope you caught that phrase toward the end of the last paragraph: “When he prayed to [God].” When God restored him to his throne in Jerusalem, Manasseh demonstrated evidence of his conversion. The king did his best to right the terrible wrongs he’d done. I’ve linked here to the entire vignette for your convenience. (2 Chronicles 33:1-18 Manasseh’s prayer is not found in our Bibles, but a bit of internet research quickly locates it. His prayer is only 15 verses, but O! It is hard to miss the soul-wrenching remorse of the man: The Prayer of Manasseh (NRSV Apocrypha) “O Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous offspring; you who made heaven and earth with all their order; who shackled the sea by your word of command, who confined the deep and sealed it with your terrible and glorious name; At whom all things shudder, and tremble before your power, for your glorious splendor cannot be borne, and the wrath of your threat to sinners is unendurable; Yet immeasurable and unsearchable is your promised mercy, for you are the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful, and you relent at human suffering.” “O Lord, according to your great goodness you have promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in the multitude of your mercies you have appointed repentance for sinners, so that they may be saved. Therefore you, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against you, but you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner.” “For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied! I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities. I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; For I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offences.” “And now I bend the knee of my heart, imploring you for your kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions. I earnestly implore you, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!” “Do not destroy me with my transgressions! Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me; Do not condemn me to the depths of the earth. For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, and in me you will manifest your goodness; For, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy, and I will praise you continually all the days of my life. For all the host of heaven sings your praise, and yours is the glory forever. Amen.” Now my point: What is in your past that has convinced you that you are beyond God’s mercy? What have you done that causes you to believe there is no longer room at the foot of the cross for someone such as you? Remember Manasseh. God forgave him of everything – everything – he had done: The murders of his own children, the heinous idolatries and the sexual immoralities associated with them, the egregious blasphemies, the ruination of his nation, and who-knows-what-else the king committed against God and his people. But when Manasseh fell on his face in humility, remorse, and deep repentance – God wiped away all of his sins. All of them. All of them. So, what is YOUR story? I’ll ask it again: Do you still fear that you are beyond the reach of the blood of Jesus? Do you still listen to the demonic lies that seduce you to think Jesus’ blood cannot cleanse every last stain of your sins, regardless of the depth, breadth, and stench of those sins? Don’t believe everything you think. Remember God’s promise of utter and complete forgiveness to the penitent: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:11-14) Remember God's promise: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:8-9) And – Remember Manasseh.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Wounds of our High Priest


St. Augustine remarked, “The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.” 

The following texts from Exodus can be tedious for our 21st century minds to read through. But please read them carefully. The symbolism, as it applies to Jesus our High Priest, will not mean as much if you skim the texts. 

Along with the pattern for the Tabernacle and its furnishings, God also gave Moses the design for the High Priest’s clothing. One of the pieces of clothing was the ephod – a breastpiece worn over his chest. Here is a portion of the description from Exodus 28:16-21. Notice especially the stones: 

"It shall be square and folded double, a span in length and a span in width. You shall mount on it four rows of stones; the first row shall be a row of ruby, topaz and emerald; and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl and an onyx and a jasper; they shall be set in gold filigree. The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, according to their names; they shall be like the engravings of a seal, each according to his name for the twelve tribes." 

God then told Moses: “Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.” Ex 28:29 

I’m coming to the point. Give me another moment or two.

We know that even in His resurrected body, Jesus bore the wounds of His scourging and His crucifixion. “Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) 

The New Testament identifies Jesus as our High Priest. For example:

Therefore, He [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation [sacrificial atonement] for the sins of the people.”  (Hebrews 2:17) 

And again in chapter nine: But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11-12) 

Now the application: 

Just as the Old Testament High Priest wore precious stones over his heart when he met with God – the stones representing the names of the tribes of Israel – even so, when Jesus our High Priest intercedes for us to the Father, He always wears those precious wounds – not only on His chest, but over His entire body from the scourging and crucifixion. 

Think of that! Jesus forever wears those wounds -- across His back, His chest, His sides, His hands and feet and forehead -- wounds that represent YOUR name, my name, and the names of every other precious soul for whom He died. 

God asks us a question through Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands . . . (Isaiah 49:15-16).

As far back as Moses – even to the first chapters of Genesis – God set in place the message of His love and His offer of redemption for all who want to be remembered before God’s throne.

Thanks be to God for His most precious gift!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Redemption, Ransom, Rescue (part one)


Paul writes to the church at Corinth: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) 

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus uses the word ‘ransom.’ We’ve watched enough crime shows to know about ransom notes kidnappers demand for the return of the person kidnapped: Here is what the Lord said: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Paul uses the same root word in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 where he writes: For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all . . .” (Matthew 20:28)

Jesus ransomed us from the family of Satan, whose children we were before we were born again into God’s family. You are of your father the devil,” Jesus said to the religious leaders harassing Him (John 8:44). And John identifies the children of Satan this way: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God . . . .” (1 John 3:10) 

Jesus’s blood also ransomed us from captivity to the devil. Paul tells us: The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome . . . with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance . . . and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.  (2 Timothy 2:24-26) 

But the reach of Jesus’ ransom did not stop with changing our family from Satan’s to God’s. Nor did it stop at rescuing us from his captivity. Jesus blood ransom also delivered us from the domain of Satan’s darkness: Colossians 1:13-14  “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

Redemption. Ransom. Rescue. 

On Calvary’s cross Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice ransomed us, He redeemed us from sin and the devil, and gave all who want it, eternal life. 

His redemption is the reason we are not our own. His ransom is why we don’t belong to ourselves any longer. We were bought with a most precious and costly price. We were purchased from the thief whose job description is to steal, kill, and destroy. 

And because we belong to God, we are now His bondservants. Yes, we are God’s slaves – slaves of a loving, merciful, and gracious MASTER. 

Now listen: Because we are God’s slaves, because we belong to Him, we therefore have no freedom to believe anything that the godless world tells us to believe. We have no right to follow the philosophies and values and standards promoted by educators, the media, politicians, and even some clergy in the church. 

We have no freedom to believe anything to be true and good without confirmation by the inerrant, timeless, and transcultural word of God. We have no right to hold views, for example, about any area of sexuality, unless Jesus taught it. Because we are slaves of God, we are not free to decide, "My Body, My Choice." We have no business adhering to our own opinions about marriage, or relationships, or finances, or what books to read, or church to attend, or movies to watch – even what candidates and policies we vote for – unless those things align with the word of God and the historic teaching of the Church. 

When I say the ‘historic’ teaching of the Church, I mean what the church has taught since the first century – and NOT how some modern theologians and clergy pervert and twist that historic teaching.

It is not enough for Christians to KNOW the truth. We must obey the truth. As Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you DO them.” (John 13:17)

If we are to have an impact on our culture, then we must reflect Jesus in our lifestyles. People don’t care about your doctrinal views. They want to know if our faith has changed our life for the better. 

I heard a poem the other day that speaks to this point about walking the talk. I don’t know who originally wrote the poem titled, The Gospel According to You. It has gone through several iterations over the years. My favorite version is this: 

There’s a Gospel according to Matthew; 
To Mark, Luke, and John too. 
But there’s another gospel many are reading,
It’s the Gospel according to You.

Many won't read the words of the Bible; 
But I tell you what many will do, 
They are reading the book you are writing, 
It’s the Gospel according to you. 

You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day,
By the things that you do, and words that you say. 
They read what you write whether faithless or true; 
So – what is the gospel according to you? 

Our text for today tells us we have been bought with a price. But Paul continues with the next clause, “Therefore, glorify God in your body.”

But what does that mean – to glorify God in our body? 

We will look at that in part two of this message.

Friday, November 22, 2019

To Encourage You


I think about my mom quite often. Virtually every day since she died a year and a half ago.

This morning during my time with the Lord, I read again these texts in Revelation. They encouraged me because I could see in my mind’s eye Mom standing around the throne of her Savior, doing just what it says here. 

Have you lost to death someone you love? If they died in Christ, having all their sins washed in His blood, then your loved one is in the same crowd as my mom, worshipping the Lord Jesus. I hope these texts will encourage you and lift your spirit:
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“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

"And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Revelation 5:9-13)
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“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

"And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)

I hope you are encouraged.