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Monthly Archives: January 2015

What the Top Two Commandments Teach Us About God

rulesWhat would you say is the most important item of obedience that parents can teach their children? Think back to what you were taught as a child. Maybe it was, “Wash your hands before you eat”? How about, “Don’t speak unless spoken to.” Then there was the ever important, “Never talk to strangers.” Or what decent house could live without this one: “Don’t talk back to (a.k.a. ‘sass’) me.”

I suppose there are a myriad of different possibilities. What was the number one commandment in your house growing up? Though I’m asking the question, I’m not sure what I would come up with, but some people would definitely know – their parents drilled it into them all of their days. And when a commandment rises to the top like that, call me crazy, but I think it says something about the parent.

We are known by our commandments, aren’t we?

And so, when Jesus was tested by a lawyer as to the greatest commandment of God, it’s fascinating that the Lord answered with two different commandments…of love.

First, love God.

And second, love each other.

How simple…and how beautiful. And surely it says a lot about Who God is, for the Apostle John wrote in his first letter: “God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

Think about it this way, when you get right down to the basis of Who our God is, what do you come up with? If you say he is the Creator, you’re right on the nose, but you do know that He wasn’t always that, right? Go back 20 trillion years – He was no Creator then. Well, then, what was He? He was Love. And here we begin to see the incredible importance of the Trinity.

Many Christians are under the unfortunate opinion that the doctrine of the Trinity is one of those things you’ve got to agree to when teaching about God; but when you do, you sort of cough and cover it up, like needing to admit that the strange man in the corner is your crazy uncle. Oh, but how sad this is, for the truth that God is Trinity is one of the most wonderful things about Him. The doctrine of the Trinity says that first, God is one, second, He exists in three persons (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and third, each person is fully God. Hard to understand? Undoubtedly…but most gloriously wonderful also. Here’s why:

You see, 20 trillion years ago the Father was still the Father, and do you know what He was doing? He was loving the Son through the Spirit. And the Son, of course, was loving the other two persons of the Trinity also.  And so on…  In fact, though we cannot say that God has always been creating, He has always been loving.

Compare the True God Yahweh to another god called Allah. Allah is considered eternal by Muslims, so we might ask what was he doing 20 trillion years ago? Well, it’s an imaginative question and I don’t know what Muslims would say, but they certainly can’t say he was loving. How could he have been? There was no one to love. Muslims, in fact, denounce the doctrine of the Trinity. So Allah cannot be love like the true God, and if you wonder what that would do to His followers, the Psalmist gives us a clue:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands…Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them. Psalm 135:15-18 (ESV)

And what about those of us who follow the true God…the God who is love? Well, the One we worship in truth should change everything about us…

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (ESV)

 

(For more on this topic, consider picking up one of my favorite books in recent years, Delighting in the Trinity, by Michael Reeves.  It’s not stuffy at all, and will bring great joy to your soul.)

For Monday, February 2nd: Matthew 23 

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A House of Prayer?

When we think of the temple in ancient Israel, prayer isn’t the first thing that comes to our minds. The Lord Jesus, however, was different: “My House,” he said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “shall be called a house of prayer.” (Matthew 21:13) But the question is why – why did Jesus (and Isaiah) identify prayer as the central focus of this place?

If you’ve been a Christian for some time and have read the Bible through at least once or twice, then you know what this meticulously constructed building was used for in ancient Israel:

It was for sacrifice…not prayer.

  • It was the place that Jesus’ parents brought a pair of turtle doves as a sacrifice for their firstborn.
  • It was the place where the drama of the Day of Atonement happened once a year.
  • And it was the place where throughout the year lambs and goats and bulls were brought to be offered for the sin of God’s people.

The temple was a place of blood, a place of substitution, where one would die so another would not need to.

And all for what?  For forgiveness of sins, of course – the punishment for sins placed on the innocent so the guilty would go free.  And yet, why did sin need to be forgiven?  Answer: because without forgiveness of sins, man could not approach God. Without forgiveness of sins, man could have no fellowship with Yahweh.  Without forgiveness of sins, man was guilty before God and there could be no…prayer.

Musing on this truth leads us to consider the great purpose of life: We are not forgiven simply so we can go to heaven and live in paradise.  We are not forgiven simply so we can spend eternity with loved ones.  No. We are forgiven so that we might come into His presence.  We are forgiven…so that we might experience the joy of prayer. “The chief end of man,” wrote the Westminster divines, “is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And according to Jesus in John 17:3, Eternal life is not a great fiesta in the sky, but is to know the Father, and His Son whom He had sent.

And so it is no surprise that when our Lord looked at the temple, he called it the “House of Prayer.”  Prayer is what the temple was meant to bring about.

One last thought: There is no temple today, because the temple and the activities therein were never really able to do what many hoped they might finally do.  The writer of Hebrews explains why:

…In these sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:3, 4 (ESV)

Repeatedly coming again and again to offer the various sacrifices, Israelites had a picture of the cleansing of a Substitute, without any final and complete cleansing.  What they really had was a constant reminder of their sinful lives.  And then Jesus went to the cross…

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:12, 14 (ESV)

And now, praise God, perfected once and for all by His single sacrifice at Calvary…we truly can enjoy God.

And we truly can pray.

 

Tomorrow, Friday, January 30th: Matthew 22

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Road to Greatness is the Road to Joy

High Or Low Road Directions On A SignpostMy Grandmother Irene thought I was destined for greatness, the Presidency, to be exact. Now admittedly, she died when I was four, so she didn’t have much to work with when making such predictions of high accomplishment. But she loved me, and sometimes that’s all it takes to imagine great things for our progeny.

Salome (see Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40) had similar visions of grandeur for the two disciples James and John, but we can forgive her, for she was their mother. And we can also be thankful to her, because her question in Matthew 20 led Jesus to describe His ministry and in the process, to tell us one of the great secrets of life.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Matthew 20:20-21 (ESV)

Why do you suppose she asked this? I can only imagine that she felt these high positions would be the road to happiness for her boys, and isn’t that what all mothers want for their children? Yet her question launches Jesus into a long discussion of what it means to be great in His Kingdom, and leads Him finally, to this:

“…But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28 (ESV)

Jesus said the way to greatness is service, but servanthood is more than the way to greatness – it is also the way to joy and peace. Some years ago I read a little tract entitled, “What made you cross?” which explained this phenomenon. “Cross” happens to be an old word that my mom used for me when I was upset or angry. And that’s what it meant in this little reading. The idea was this – oftentimes we find ourselves frustrated and out of sorts, and the reason is that we have entered into a particular situation with the goal not to serve, but…to be served. And many of our problems in life come about because we’re so caught up in ourselves; we don’t approach life as Jesus did.

For instance, you’re invited to a party where you don’t know very many people, and you find yourself worrying about who you will talk to and whether you will fit in. You are worried and fretful because you are coming to be served. Instead, go into the situation resolving to find and draw out people who themselves are having trouble fitting in, and you will find your concerns melting away. One of the great secrets of life and joy is…coming to serve. Living life with such a mindset changes everything.

And of course, there is only one way we can successfully adopt such a mindset – it is in knowing deep down that we have a Savior who at every turn lived and died…for us. Knowing such love gives us security to cease worrying about ourselves and frees us to live the same way, which in the end results…in our joy.

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

Tomorrow, Thursday, January 29th: Matthew 21

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Jesus Taught About Marriage

Rog and Di wedding

A joyous day, May 30, 1992

After 10 years of marriage and two children, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin (not pictured 🙂 ) announced in March of 2014 that they were divorcing, only they didn’t call it that; the phrase they used was “conscious uncoupling.”

The (former) Hollywood power couple was guided by the husband and wife team of doctor and dentist Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, who believe that divorce can have benefits.

From a Today.com article:

“High divorce rates, the doctors write, should be viewed in the context of our ‘skyrocketing life expectancy.’ ‘Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four, five, or six decades,’ they write, though noting that couples who do reach those milestones are to be envied, and also writing that just because a marriage is long doesn’t mean it’s happy and fulfilling.”

Well, who knew?  According to the expert dentist on marriage and her doctor husband, we weren’t meant to be in long commitments. Well, some may turn to a dentist for wisdom on matrimony, but I would rather turn to the Lord Jesus, who clarified the truth about marriage in Matthew 19…

Here are 4 truths about marriage we find from the Lord in this passage:

1. God is the one who joins two people together. To the individuals who are married, it always feels like they have made the decision to tie the knot (and thus they feel they can make the decision to “uncouple”), but Jesus assumes that when two people are married, it is because God joined them together (vs. 6), and because that is true, no man or woman (either inside or outside the union) should try to separate them. In other words, to seek to separate a married couple, or to seek divorce from within a marriage, is to seek to undo the very work of God. The phrase Jesus uses from Genesis 2 is, “Hold fast.”  Let not man separate.

2. When God joins two together, they become one flesh. One reason that divorce is so incredibly painful is that it is spiritually ripping the one flesh bond apart. This ripping is one of the many spiritual things that we cannot physically see in life, but ask anyone who has been divorced or who has watched one up close.  It actually feels like you are being sawn in two.

3. Marriage is always between one male and one female. Into our sexually confused world, Jesus, the Author of Life, says that God made them male and female. And according to this Author Jesus, marriage is always between a man who leaves his father and mother, and his wife. Therefore, Jesus assumed what civilizations have assumed for thousands of years: marriage is always and only heterosexual.  Even more than that, twice in the passage he calls them “two”, not “three” or “four” or more, as might be the case for polygamous relationships.

4. A hard heart will drive people to seek divorce. Not always, of course. Divorce and the desire for it arise for a myriad of reasons. For instance, in this passage, Jesus gives the reason that divorce is warranted (sexual immorality), and Paul said divorce was permissible when an unbeliever had deserted (1 Corinthians 7), but many times, a man or a woman seeks divorce because they have a hard and calloused heart.  I remember meeting with a young woman many years ago who told me she had fallen out of love with her husband, but that she still considered him a good friend.  Maybe she didn’t know it, but she had just driven a dagger into her good friend’s heart.

And while we’re on the topic, this 2 minute video from Tim Keller gives a grace-filled and biblical Christian response to the question of homosexuality:

Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 28th: Matthew 20

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Doesn’t God Just Forgive Everyone?

Have you ever wondered why doesn’t God just wave a cosmic hand over the universe and forgive everyone? Well, Jesus tells a story in Matthew 18 that helps to answer this question that many have asked…

The story begins with a King who wishes to settle accounts. If you have ever borrowed anything from the King, if he has ever been gracious to you with resources, he now wants to be paid back, and one servant apparently owes him an astronomical amount: 10,000 talents. A talent was equivalent to 20 years of wages, so just assume a very modest salary of $20,000 a year – a talent would therefore be worth $400,000, and 10,000 talents would be worth…$4 billion dollars.

Even if scholars are off on the exact amount of a talent, however you slice it, when Jesus tells this parable, he means for us to understand that it is a huge amount of money, impossible for any lowly servant to pay back.

So the king does what you do in a world of slavery and debtor’s prison – he orders the man and his wife and kids to be sold on the auction block. At least he will receive something from him.

And this brings on the begging… 

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

Matthew 18:26, 27 (ESV)

Now we often talk about the huge debt that was forgiven and what that meant for the servant; what we don’t often talk about is who absorbs the loss: the King, the master of the servant. As they say in financial circles – the King takes a bath. Because, you see, in forgiving the servant, the King actually loses 4 billion dollars.

So let me rephrase the question once again: why doesn’t the King of kings just wave his hand and forgive everyone? And the answer is this: because, as the parable illustrates, forgiveness is never free to the one who grants it. In fact, true forgiveness is always very costly.

You might put it like this: true forgiveness always involves suffering. Because Sin always demands a price that someone, either the offender or the offended…must pay.

If you loan your friend your car, and they crash it, someone has to pay. Another may say that you should just forgive them. Okay, sure. But it will cost you.

If someone tells a lie that defames your character, and you confront them and they ashamedly admit that they did it, then there are two options: either you absorb the sin, giving you a lesser reputation, or they admit to everyone that they lied, and their reputation is ruined. Someone might say that you should just forgive them, in the same way that they say God should just forgive everyone. The problem is that the world doesn’t work like that. Someone always has to pay.

And here we begin to understand why God does not simply wave his hand over all creation and simply say, “FORGIVEN!” Because a price must be paid…always.

And praise God…it was.

 

For more reading on Matthew 18, see My Favorite Prayer Partner

Tomorrow, Tuesday January 27th: Matthew 19

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Day to Remember

We’ve all thought how glorious it would have been to be a disciple, walking and talking with Jesus of Nazareth; but you’ve got to think, how confusing also. After all…Who is this man? (A question they undoubtedly asked more than once). Put yourself in their shoes: Jesus is being revealed as someone incredibly special over the three years that you walk with him, forgiving sins, calming storms, healing lepers, calling Himself the Great I AM, but still there is…well, lack of clarity. After all, you would think, “He looks like us. He talks like us. He laughs like us and sweats and gets tired and hungry like us,” which of course he would because He was fully man. And surely along the way you would be scratching your head with questions.

But then one day Jesus leads the lucky ducks Peter, James and John up a mountain, and it all becomes so very clear. In a flash, before their very eyes, Jesus the one-time carpenter is transforming…changing…transfiguring. His face begins to shine like a spotlight, in fact like the sun, and you can’t even look Him in the eyes anymore. And then his clothes start to change too, from dust-covered brown…to dazzling white, or like Mark joyfully describes, “whiter than any launderer on earth could whiten them.”

Something incredible is happening here: Peter, James and John are seeing Jesus…as God.

And then suddenly two other men show up out of the blue, Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets. Now, they weren’t wearing nametags, and somehow I doubt that Jesus offered introductions, but who can say? For my part, I think somehow they all just knew. And this was the craziest thing – their leader Jesus was talking to these two guys – as if they were old friends, and I mean old. Did they hug because they hadn’t seen each other for a while? I wouldn’t be surprised. And so the disciples would be thinking, “Wait a second…how is this all possible?” But wait, that’s not all, for to boot, there can be no doubt who the leader was amongst this august group of three old friends. You see, if Moses and Elijah showed up at my house, I would just humble myself like a Hobbit and say, “Roger at your service, sirs.” But it’s the opposite here – Moses and Elijah are there to serve Jesus. He is absolutely calling the shots, as the Heavenly Father makes clear who the One is with ultimate authority: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”

And when that voice came from that bright cloud, the clarity of it all was just too clear, and they cowered in terror. But the simultaneously dazzling and caring Jesus laid his hand on the three frightened men, telling them to “Rise, and have no fear.”

And looking up, the men saw that all was restored as if it they had awakened from a magnificent dream. But it was no dream at all. It was reality. In fact, it is the reality we will know one day also, when we see those dazzling white robes and look into the face like the sun, and when, as that transfiguration witness John once said, “…we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)

 

Monday, January 26th: Matthew 18

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Day Peter Did Good

Talk about moments of highs and lows – the disciple Peter had them both.  In his lesser moments, sometimes he’s almost a comical figure, as in Matthew 17 where on the Mount of Transfiguration he starts babbling about setting up tents, and God the Father has to tell him to zip it.  But there are other good ones too.   The “command me to come to you on the water” from Matthew 14 comes to mind.  And then there is the time in Matthew 16:22, where he takes Jesus aside…and begins to rebuke Him.  I’ll bet he still gets teased for that in heaven.

And yet sometimes, he also did really well, didn’t he?  Matthew 16 not only tells the story of Peter’s foolish correction of Jesus, it also tells the story of his greatest triumph – recognizing Who Jesus of Nazareth was:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:13 – 16 (ESV)

It was a glorious moment for Simon Peter, and yet Jesus says something very instructive for all of us immediately after his confession:

 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 16:13-17 (ESV)

Let’s not miss this, because sometimes a cursory reading of this section makes us think that Peter had quite the spiritual foresight. Nope. That’s not quite right.  Apparently, Simon Peter was not to be praised for his incredible insight.  Nor was he to be patted on the back for his surpassing knowledge of spiritual things.  No, Jesus just says he was…blessed.  Not blessed because he was so darn smart – but blessed because the Father had chosen to reveal Jesus’ identity to him.

Sorry Peter, you do need to own your failures, but even your greatest moment…was a total gift from God.  Kind of like all of our greatest moments too.

Tomorrow, Friday, January 23rd: Matthew 17

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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