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What is good biblical leadership? This is a question I've been asking myself lately. Oftentimes, I see Christian leaders referencing boo...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Believing the Gospel is our Greatest Challenge (Judah Smith Sermon Jam)

Saving ourselves and setting ourselves free is a complete illusion and lie. Though we wish we had this kind of power, the reality is that we don't have this kind of power and we never will, apart from Jesus that is. 
"It's always been Jesus. It will always be Jesus. It will never stop being the power of Jesus. His blood is sufficient for your salvation. His blood is sufficient to sustain you through every challenge, through every sin and every temptation. Jesus is enough." 
If you call yourself a Christian, a Jesus follower, than we need to be continually checking ourselves in and when we are relying on ourselves, rather than in Jesus. 
"I got saved by grace, but now that I'm in this deep dark place of bondage I better work hard to get myself out. What? That's the opposite of the Gospel....There's no answer within yourself." 
"The greatest challenge is not your discipline, your devotion, your focus. Your greatest challenge is believing the Gospel." 
Hands down, the Gospel is the greatest news of all time, period. There has been and will never be any greater news, ever. Do you believe this? 

What I've come across time and time again is when we end up relying on ourselves in anyway, where we start thinking that our freedom, healing, deliverance, restoration, redemption, even salvation is dependent on something we need to do or on us working harder, than the Greatest News of all time will slowly becomes just OK News. The more we think it's about us, the less we allow the Good News to be Good News. 
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG) 
Is the Gospel the Greatest News ever or is it just OK News?  When talking to people about the Gospel, the response we should be hearing from people is "Wow! This is too good to be true" because when it comes to the Gospel, it is too good too be true because Jesus has done it all. 
"For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him." John 3:16-17 (NLT)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Simple Truths about the Gospel: "Punisher or Savior?"

For most of my early Christian life, something that has always bothered me was this idea that God the Father was punishing Jesus on the Cross. To be honest, it made me fearful of God in the sense that if He could do that to Jesus, what will He do to me? Ever have that thought?

Ever read Romans 8:32? This verse used to always rub me the wrong way. I mean if God could give up Jesus, then what chance did I have because who am I compared to Jesus? 

Romans 8:32 "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 

I read it (as I think most do) as God abandoning Jesus. But, I've begun to see this passage a bit differently. Something that I've come to understand during my time on this earth so far is that we live in a broken world with broken systems filled with internally broken people who are influenced by evil principalities and powers that are doing all they can to confuse us and blind us from knowing the true loving nature of God. And because of all these things, our understanding of the heart and character of God becomes distorted, so we end up seeing God wrongly and attributing actions to God which aren't really God at all.

What I have come to understand is that on the Cross, the Father never actually left Jesus because Scripture says that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself..." (2 Corinthians 5:19). Today, in my renewed thinking, what I've come to see is that the Father didn't abandon Jesus in anger, but with a sad and grieving heart "gave Jesus up/over" to the consequences of Sin which included at the time all the people who were being influenced by evil principalities and powers who were more then ready and eager to deliver unto Jesus the "wages of sin which is death" (Romans 6:23).

You may be thinking to yourself, "well, isn't that still abandoning someone?" Not if that was the plan all along. I don't believe the Father ever abandoned Jesus because before Jesus became a human being, the Godhead (Father, Son and Spirit) agreed upon the events of the Cross, that Jesus would become "Sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21) and "our Curse" (Galatians 3:13) and take the "punishment for Sin" (Romans 3:25). This means there could be no "so called" abandonment because this was the plan from the very beginning. You could I guess, if you are so inclined, call it a planned agreed upon abandonment. But, I believe that's a stretch because though the Father handed Jesus over, He was essentially still with Him.

1 Peter 1:19-20 "but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake."

To expand on this further, I would add that 1) Jesus went to the Cross of His own free will and 2) Jesus was/is equal to the Father. Though the terminology Father and Son does bring to mind specific images, the way that God the Father and Jesus the Son relate to one another is far far different than how we do in our earthly parent/child relationships because there is an equality and unity between them that is so perfect that even in our best and most brilliant moments have a hard time grasping.

To take this yet another step, I would even go so far as to say (as I alluded to earlier) that I don't believe it was the Father who was exacting out His anger and wrath upon Jesus. Because if that were the case then Jesus actually came to save us from God which is kind of messed up if you really think about it. This creates some pretty inconsistent thinking in terms of the character and unity of God. It also makes the Father as the Punisher and the Son as the Savior which at best creates a fragmented Godhead. 

Jesus wasn't saving us from the Father, but was saving us from Sin.

This is the Gospel. Sin is punishment enough. God knew this and it was His plan from the very beginning to save us from Sin (Genesis 3:15), period.

Something I've been hearing around these days is this "If you don't see it in the Son, don't call it the Father." What this statement is inferring is that in the person of Jesus Christ we find perfect theology about God, because as Hebrews 1:3-4 says:

"The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs."

The Father and the Son are one (John 10:30) to the point that the Son only does what He sees the Father doing (John 5:19). So, if what we believe about God does not match up with the life and ministry of Jesus, then we need to question that belief and ask Holy Spirit to give us clearer revelation and breakthrough in our understanding.

One example would be to attribute sickness to God, now when I read the Gospels what I read is Jesus establishing His Kingdom by healing all sickness, yet if we attribute sickness as a vehicle that the Father uses in people's lives for whatever reason we end up with a fragmented Godhead where the Father is actually working against the Son? Do you see where I'm going with this?

Jesus never caused sickness, pain, suffering and death to people, He actually did the opposite and brought healing, comfort, relief, redemption, restoration and life to people. And remember, Jesus is only doing what He sees the Father doing. Is it clicking yet? More Holy Spirit.

It's Sin, Evil and the Enemies of God that are very eager, ready and able to mete out sickness, pain, suffering and death. This is the line in the sand so to speak that separates Good from Evil, Life from Death, God from Satan.

Along these same lines, I don't see how the Father could be the Punisher of Sin while Jesus is the Savior from Sin because Scripture says that they are always in perfect unity. This means that as One does, so the Other. So how could the Father be Punisher and Jesus Savior? No at the Cross we must accept that Father, Son and Spirit are unified as Savior. We must always understand that God has gone through great lengths to save us from Sin, not from Himself.

Something which has helped me along the way has been starting from the understanding that God is love (1 John 4:16). Love being a noun as in who God is, rather than a verb in which God does.

This means that everything that God does is from a place of love because God's very nature is love and He cannot do anything contrary to His nature.

Now of course God is much more than only Love, He has more attributes that make Him who He is, but I would argue that these attributes (Holy, Just, Good, Gracious and Merciful to name a few) all flow from His nature of Love. This means He isn't Just or Holy apart from Love, but His justice and holiness flows out of His Love. Dare I say that they are expressions of His Love. Where I think people get off track is when they compartmentalize the attributes of God, rather then seeing them deeply interconnected. But, most tragically when they see the attribute of Love as just one of the many, rather than seeing Love as the one in which all flow.

Are you tracking with me?

Without going into great detail here, there is this theological term called "progressive revelation" which is best described in Hebrews 1:1-2 "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds"

Wikipedia defines it as: 
Progressive revelation in Christianity is the concept that the sections of the Bible that were written later contain a fuller revelation of God compared to the earlier sections. For instance, the theologian Charles Hodge wrote, "The progressive character of divine revelation is recognized in relation to all the great doctrines of the Bible... What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fullness."[1] The ultimate revelation of God is understood to be found in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels. For example, the New Testament is to be used to better understand and interpret the Old Testament. 

What this means for us is that when we read through the Old Testament what we need to accept is that God was progressively revealing Himself to His people. Which means that what we may read at times may not be the clearest picture or portrait of God. What this also means is that Jesus Christ is the clearest and greatest revelation of God and so we must use His life and ministry as the filter in which we read the Bible. This means His whole life from His birth to His ministry to His passion that lead Him to His death to His resurrection and His ascension and then ultimately to His return.

So, back to the beginning of this post, my misunderstanding of the heart and character of God led to the sowing of an unbiblical seed of fearing God into my heart. And with it came a religious spirit who poked and prodded this fear whispering to me, "You'd better watch out, God is just waiting to get you." And so this unbiblical fear grew in power and influence and I became a dutiful Christian. Trying my best to do everything a Christian was supposed to do (read the bible, go to church, pray, serve in church, etc). Don't get me wrong I believe I was still genuine in most of what I was doing, but inwardly I had this lurking distorted lie about the heart and character of God. 

You may be thinking to yourself, yeah so what, don't we all have distorted views about God? This maybe true, but it doesn't make these distortions harmless. On the contrary, I would argue that it is probably these distorted lies that are hindering our faith from growing and stunting the growth of our relationship with God because in a very real sense these beliefs influence how we approach and interact (or don't interact) with God. What I've come to understand is that these lies (including this one) make our relationship with the Father shaky and unstable. But, in all of this I believe the most dangerous place to be is in a place of blindness where we are oblivious and unaware of the distorted views and lies that we hold. 

To be fair to myself, I was pretty messed up and broken when I came to the Lord (see a short video of my testimony). So, this unbiblical fear of God only added more fuel to my already intact inferiority complex. Ever feel like that, when someone in authority contacts you, and you immediately think to yourself "uh oh, what have I done wrong?" There is freedom from this. Come Holy Spirit! 

For a long time, deep within my heart I just couldn't shake this underlying sense that I was always some how in trouble with God. There was always this underlying insecurity that never allowed me to feel fully secure in God's love for me. So, I become more and more religious (following God out of the fear of being punished). Again, don't get me wrong I still loved God very much, the problem was not giving God love, but receiving His love. So, our relationship was more like a master/slave type, rather than a healthy father/child one. 

Now, Jesus does tell us that we shouldn't fear man who can only kill our body, but not our soul. Rather, we should only fear God, who can kill both body and soul (Matthew 10:28). Now I believe Jesus is not saying that we need to be in fear of God killing us (which I don't believe He ever would, I know there are passage in the Old Testament that may describe this, but I believe there maybe something else happening there... I will probably end up writing a much longer post on this).

Rather, He is pointing out that God and not Man is ultimately in control over what happens to His disciples. This is His point. He is helping His disciples see that when they are on mission for Him, we will come up against resistance, opposition and hostility. But, we need not fear because God loves us and values us which is why He says a couple verses later "...the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrow" (Matthew 10:31)

We mustn't allow our brokenness define who God is, rather we must allow the Word of God to do that, and I would add that we must do our very best while asking Holy Spirit to help us grow in greater clarity on the heart and character of God. And when we come across Scripture that is in contradiction with the revelation we have in Jesus Christ, then we need to all the more press into the Holy Spirit and ask Him to bring the clarity and revelation we need.

Here are some foundational Truths that we must believe first and foremost about God:
  • that He is good (Mark 10:18)
  • that He is love (1 John 4:16)
  • that He is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31)
  • that He has a good and perfect plan for us (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • that He is a good Father who waits for us to return home (Luke 15:10)
  • that He is not like any earthly Father (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13) 
  • that we are safe within His almighty Hands (John 10:28-30).
These are the Truths that the foundation of our faith must rest in and be built on. So when we get tossed about in the storms of life, we must cling to these Truths or we run the risk of any distorted lie or view of God that we hold causing more turbulence, even shipwrecking our faith which is what I believe is the goal and purpose of all lies.

When things don't make sense, I believe we must always start from these Truths about God and work from there. These Truths are like the anchor that will keep us steady in the storm. 

I will pause here. I think I've given you a lot to think about. But know this, you are deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply loved by God. His is our Savior and never our Punisher. Sin, Evil and the Enemies of God already have that covered.

Be Encouraged! Embrace the Truth of the Gospel and Stand Free! 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Simple Truths about the Gospel: "The way to the Father is open"

Something that I've been reflecting on lately has been, looking to see what Scripture means for God in His relation to people. Christians are very good at understanding Scripture in what is means for us in relation to God which is right and good. But, what has really brought me even greater breakthrough and understanding has been the former, in understanding God's perspective towards people in light of Jesus' death and resurrection. At first glance, they may seem the same, but in reality are actually two different sides of the same coin. Gaining an understanding of both sides will truly help bring even greater clarity and understanding of what it means to be in relationship with God.

As a qualifying statement before I get into this blog today, I want to say that I am still in process, ever growing in greater revelation of the Gospel and Christ. These are my thoughts and rumblings as I engage with Holy Spirit and the Word of God. But hear my heart, my starting point in all of this is Christ. He is the ultimate revelation of God and my conviction is that we must look to Him first and allow His life and ministry to be the lens we use when reading Scripture because He is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3).

Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

I used to only understand this verse from the perspective of man looking up towards God, meaning we now have access to God through Christ's sacrifice on a Cross for sin which I still think is right and true. But, on the flip side, this also means that from God's perspective: Right now God the Father is actually looking to the earth and what He sees is Christ's sacrifice for sin and is calling people home.

Understanding God's current perspective brings another dimension to our understanding of the Cross and has some important implications which I will expand on.

Now, what started me down this path was a Holy Spirit inspired revelation to simply ask a couple questions (because questions are always good, but asking the right questions in the right moment/season is crucial): 
  • When did Christ actually die for sin? 
  • Did Jesus actually die for all sin, for all time?
These simply questions have helped me to begin to see this verse and others from God's perspective because if Jesus paid the price for all sin, for all time 2000 years ago, this means that the sin barrier that blocked the way to the Father was opened and unblocked the day Christ died. I think this is the significance of the veil in the Temple that blocked the way into the Holy of Holies which represented the place where God's Presence dwelt was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). 

This means that since this time way back when, from God's perspective there has been no barrier between Him and Man. 

Pause and think about that for a moment. Come Holy Spirit!

Yes, we all still need to put our faith and trust in believing the Gospel because this reality is not automatically imparted to us. This only happens through believing in the Truth. And rather than the traditional understanding, that when we believe in Jesus the gates of Heaven are opened for us to enter; what I am starting to see is that from God's perspective, after Jesus became sin on the Cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), He died, was resurrected and then ascended into Heaven. In so doing He has opened up the gates to Heaven and has since left these gates open. Are you tracking with me? The way to the Father is open. 

If this is true, than the ramifications of this are huge because this means that since Christ's sacrifice (for roughly the last 2000 years) God has stopped being the "so called" Punisher of Sin because all of God's wrath towards Sin has been propitiated or atoned for. Let me pause here and give you a little food for thought. There is a line of thinking that actually relates the wrath of God to the built in consequences of sin (kind of like reaping and sowing) in which God allows to happen (some may call this the passive wrath of God), rather than a direct emotional response from God Himself. Hmm, interesting thought eh?

1 John 4:10 "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (NKJV). 

I would also add here that the wrath of God was never directed towards Christ Himself, but only at Sin, in which Jesus became (2 Corinthians 5:21). This again changes our understanding of the goodness of God. On the Cross, the Father was not punishing the Son, but rather Sin alone. Maybe He was even allowing the built in consequences of Sin to happen where He redemptively withdrew and in so doing opened the way for evil and the Enemies of God to mete out their punishment because the "wages of Sin is death" (Romans 6:23). 

2 Corinthians 5:21 "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."

I mean think about, if you believe that God is still punishing people for sin, than what you are implying is that God is both Punisher and Savior. It's like me punishing my daughter Seraphina, so that she would cry out to me to save her. That's kind of twisted, a whole lot manipulative and quite frankly not a very good father. No, God the Father can genuinely call and invite people to Himself because He was never the "so called" Punisher of Sin, but is and has always been our Savior from Sin, who is continually showing us love, grace and mercy, especially if and when we do sin. I will probably also blog on this because it is quite the dichotomy: is God the Punisher of Sin or our Savior from Sin? Can He be both? 

What we need to understand is that there is enough sin and evil running rampant in the world to bring about more than enough pain, suffering, sickness and punishment to people. We must fully believe that God is the author of life and not death; and that we can have complete confidence in the Truth that the death and resurrection of Jesus has fully paid the price for all sin, for all time and that His sacrifice is enough, and we don't need to go on paying for the price of sin with our lives. Is God our Savior or not? Sometimes, is not good enough. He either is or He isn't.

On the Cross Jesus said "it was finished" (John 19:30) and quite frankly I believe Him! Jesus is our Savior always and forever.

Be Encouraged! Embrace the Truth of the Gospel and Stand Free! You are deeply, deeply loved by God. 

Leeland: Where You are (acoustic)

Do you have a song you go to because it resonates so deeply within you? This is that song for me. The words are the cry of my heart to Jesus. I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do!

I can't get enough 
No  I can't get enough 
Of Your amazing love
I can't get enough 

I can't walk away 
No I can't walk away 
From where I've seen Your face
And I can't walk away 

And I just wanna be where You are
I just wanna be near Your heart 
There is nothing like Your love
Jesus, there is nothing like Your love

Jesus I love You...

And all Your children singing
Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy 
Jesus I love You
Jesus I love You