The Way In

“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Mark 15:38

“by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,” Heb. 10:20
The way into the Holy of Holies was through a curtain. It was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and 4 inches thick. The writer of Hebrews informs us that the curtain represented Christ. Makes sense… the only way into the presence of God is through Jesus. And as Jesus’ fleshly body was torn, the temple curtain was torn as well… from top to bottom. That means God did it. No human endeavor would be able to tear a 60 foot curtain from top to bottom.

In the Old Testament, only the high priest could go through that veil, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The annual Day of Atonement was but a foreshadowing of Good Friday. Once Good Friday had come, there was no longer a need for additional atoning. Christ had done it all. His exclamation from the cross—tetelestai (it is finished)—was an accounting term that meant “paid in full.” No more need of a high priest. No more need of a Day of Atonement. No more need of a curtain separating the people from the presence of God.

And yet, the way into the presence of God is, in a sense, still the same. It’s through Christ. Unregenerate man still has a wall of sin that separates him from the presence of God. It is a curtain that only Christ can tear. When the physical curtain to the physical temple was torn, it was replaced with a spiritual curtain (belief in Christ) to the spiritual temple (the Church).

Bottom line: the old is gone; the new has come. Christ, once for all, became our High Priest, entered the Holy of Holies, atoned for our sins, and removed the veil that separated us from the grace of God. When we confess our sins and receive the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ, we have constant unhindered access to the Father. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

I’m so looking forward to celebrating another Good Friday and Easter Sunday with you. He is risen!

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The Sweetest Words

“How sweet are your words to my taste,

sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Through your precepts I get understanding;

therefore I hate every false way.”

Psalm 119:103-4

 

Whether you agree or disagree with the referees’ calls in a game, no one denies that referees play an important role in any sports competition. Without rules and those to enforce those rules, a game becomes a free-for-all that is not fun for anyone. If you’ve ever played a game with a child, you know there comes a moment when the rules of the game cause them to lose the advantage, and they immediately try their best to convince you “that’s not the way we play it!” In sports, we can all cite examples of players that didn’t compete by the rules, and the end result was devastating. Think of Pete Rose or Mark McGuire. Or Lance Armstrong.

There are many false ways in life. To stay within God’s bounds, you have to know God’s Word. Without a taste for the Word of God, you will chase after the taste of the world. You may think you are making your way to the Celestial City, but unless you are taking the God-ordained path—which can only be known through his word—you are actually headed for disqualification. Paul said, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). When we develop a taste for God’s Word, what the world serves up becomes putrid, bland, bitter, or tasteless. Compared to how the Word tastes, the false ways are garbage!

Is your life governed by a taste for the Word of God, or a taste for the world’s ways? Saturate your mind in the Word. Make God’s thoughts your thoughts. Then you will discern the ways that are true from the ways that are false, and you can compete without hearing the referee’s whistle announcing your disqualification. Run so you may obtain the prize—the great prize of hearing the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Going Through Troubles

“‘Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.’ And the people of Israel said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.” Judges 10:15-16

You know the pattern. The Israelites turned from the Lord and started worshiping other gods. God’s anger brought troubles upon them. They cried out to the Lord. God took pity on them and delivered them. With no more troubles, they began to forget the Lord. Then the cycle started all over again.

Two observations. One, the issue at hand is always related to worship. The Ten Commandments tell us that our God is a jealous God. He will not share his glory with another. Worshiping another god is spiritual adultery. Nothing grieves the Lord more. When I read these stories in the Old Testament, after I shake my head at the unfaithfulness of Israel, I’m immediately confronted with the ways in which I am unfaithful to the Lord. I don’t have any carved images on my mantle that I bow down to before I go to bed each night. But I do have things—including myself—that take the place of God in my life from time to time.

Two, the last phrase of the passage is interesting. It says that God “became impatient over the misery of Israel.” Another translation says “His soul could no longer bear the misery of Israel.” God allowed troubles to do their work. If there had been no troubles, Israel would have continued in their sin. The troubles brought them to a place of seeking the Lord and true repentance. They did more than cry out to him—they put away the foreign gods and served the Lord. That’s repentance. When that occurred, God said to Trouble: “No more.” His patience with trouble ran out.

We don’t always go through troubles because of our sin. But we never go through troubles for no good reason. God allows trouble into our lives with a purpose. There is always something we need to learn. We may never get an answer to the “why” question, but God is always showing us something about himself that he wants us to know. In the midst of trials, don’t be looking so much for a way out. Be looking instead to what God wants you to learn—about him, about you, about people, about life. And know that when the troubles have completed their work, he will remove them. But not until then. Deliverance rarely occurs before dependence has been developed.

Trust God’s Timing

 

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:15

 

Most biblical scholars agree that this verse, which is part of God’s curse of the serpent immediately following the first sin of Adam and Eve, is the promise of a Messiah. Have you ever stopped to ponder that this promise wasn’t fulfilled for 4,000 years? And it won’t be completely fulfilled till the end of time.

God’s promises are certainties, because they come from One who is eternal in his purposes and sovereign in his power. If I promise to do something, there is still a small chance it won’t get done (don’t ask my wife for examples!). My promise means that I will do everything within my means to do what I’ve said I would do, but my means have limitations. Because I am not eternal or sovereign, I cannot guarantee that nothing will hinder the fulfillment of my promise. Every human promise comes with that disclaimer. God’s do not. The second God’s promise is uttered, it is as good as done. For instance, there is not a single wicked person that has ever lived who will go unpunished. He may slip through the legal system on earth, but he will not miss his court date at the Lord’s judgment after his death. It’s as certain as death itself.

The other thing about God’s promises to remember is that they are fulfilled on God’s timetable, not ours. I would imagine that Adam and Eve needed comfort as God was confronting all the players involved in that first act of rebellion. But I doubt they heard these words with the thought that the promise of restoration would not be fulfilled for 4,000 years! Why so long? Only God knows. He has written the drama of human history, and he chose for Jesus to come “at just the right time” (Rom. 5:6).

God’s timing is what necessitates trust. If we don’t learn to trust the Lord, we come to all kinds of wrong conclusions. Maybe God didn’t mean what he said. Maybe he is unaware of me and my troubles. Peter said, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (2 Peter 3:9). Learning to trust God’s timing is one of the greatest lessons in life. Only he can know the perfect time to fulfill his promises. Be patient.

In His Own Words

I have been amazed to see how much “In His Own Words” has impacted us as we have prepared for this Sunday. Certainly the music is excellent, but the power of words of Christ when coupled with well-crafted music is truly phenomenal! My prayer is that Sunday night would have the same kind of impact on the listeners.

 

I have thought and prayed about adding in a gospel presentation, but the more I have pondered Sunday evening, the more I’m reminded that the message of the gospel is Christ himself. And what better presentation of the gospel could there be than his own words? Sometimes we get so caught up in the language of sin, repentance and salvation, that we forget salvation is first and foremost coming to Christ and receiving Christ. We don’t need salvation as much as we need Christ who saves us.

 

If someone asked me what I liked most about being married, the wrong answer would be, “because marriage gives me someone who cooks my meals, cleans my house, and keeps me warm.” Those are all great things, but what I like most about being married is Sherrell. I get to be with her and do life with her. I get to love her and receive her love. The side-benefits don’t compare to her. And so it is with the gospel. A gospel without Christ—not just information about Christ and his salvific work—is no gospel at all. He is salvation. He is eternal life. He is the forgiver of sins. He is our righteousness. The words we will sing are his words, and in them there is eternal life. Peter got it right when he said, “’Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69) Pray that all who hear this wonderful music would see the wonderful Savior.

Faith or Feelings?

“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Psalm 10:1

In life, you will at some point encounter the feeling that God is far away. You pray and pray about a situation and all you hear is crickets. You look at the ceiling and think your prayers are not getting through. Injustice continues. Pain remains. Abuse goes on unabated. When you’re living in verse 1, it’s hard to think you will ever get to verses 16-18:

“The Lord is king forever and ever;

the nations perish from the land.

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;

you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,

so that the man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

Here’s where we are called on to separate fact from feelings. Feelings tell us our cry is unheard; our praying is useless. God is far away. He’s not interested in what’s going on in my life. Maybe he’s mad at me for something I did wrong. Fact (Scripture) tells us God hears and answers prayer. He “is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

Faith will anchor us in fact. Feelings often deceive us, but faith never will. Trust that God is who he says he is. He is always just. He is always good. He is always kind. He is always forgiving and loving. He is always near. And nothing you have done or will do will ever change that. Faith tells you this is true. Cling to it.

 

Resting in God

“So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord.”

Joshua 9:14 (NLT)

 

This section of scripture is known as the Gibeonite Deception. Joshua and Israel—by the Lord’s hand—had just defeated Jericho and Ai, and all the surrounding towns were scared witless! Some Gibeonites, to protect their nearby town, decided they would approach Joshua and make it appear they had come from a galaxy far far away because they had heard of the greatness of Yahweh and wanted to make a treaty with them. They showed Joshua and his men their bread that was stale and dry, and told them it had been fresh and hot when they had left their distant home. The Israelites bought the story. When they saw the stale bread and the broken wineskins, they believed the lie. The last phrase of verse 14 was their downfall. They did not consult the Lord. Joshua made a treaty with them and three days later they discovered they had been duped.

Most of us remember making a bad decision because someone deceived us and we didn’t consult the Lord. To us “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” but when 20/20 hindsight kicked in, we saw it for what it really was. One way in which the Christian’s spiritual life is not like physical life, is that we shouldn’t grow less dependent on the Lord as we mature. When a 30-year-old still lives at home and plays video games all day, waiting for his mom to wash his clothes, make his bed, and fix his meals, most of us think something’s wrong. But a person who has been spiritually alive for 30 years should have developed a greater dependence on the Lord. Here’s the reason. When we mature in the faith, we trust ourselves less. We are more wary of our own reasoning and logic, and more keenly aware of the depth of our own sinfulness (depravity). We develop a track record of failure when we try to do spiritually good things in our own strength, and we learn through failure that remaining like a child in complete trust of the wisdom and providence of our good Father is a sign of maturity, not immaturity. Immaturity is trusting in yourself. Maturity is resting in God.

The Israelites made a grave error by trusting their own reasoning ability and not asking for the Lord’s wisdom. May we learn from their mistake and not follow in their footsteps. Beware the deceiver who is with you at all times—the one that occupies the gray matter between your ears! (Jer. 17:9)