Ascension Day

www.bible.com/1713/act.1.9.csb

A little celebrated day on the church calendar probably deserves more attention that we give it. It’s called Ascension Day, and it is the day 40 days after Easter (Resurrection Sunday) that we remember the last day of Jesus. For forty days after His resurrection, our Lord made several appearances to His disciples, and while only a few are recorded in the final pages of the gospels, we are led to believe that there were longer visits in Galilee after the first couple of weeks. During these extended visits, we might surmise that he offered additional teaching to them, teaching which they then explained to us. For example, the sacrificial purposes of His crucifixion were probably explained to them, something which He had only touched on before. He might have explained the Scriptures to them showing them (like the disciples on the way to Emmaus) how the Old Testament and His new revelation fit together, which explains how Peter and the others so readily quoted Old Testament passages in Acts. Of course this is all speculation, because all we really know is that He spent that time with His disciples. But I have no doubt that would have been a master class of preparation for them as they were prepared to build the church on Jesus’ message and life.

For us, most of us anyway, have had to spend these 40 days in quarantine, and only this month have started to see some things open up. So I hope you all have had plenty of time preparing your heart and soul for when things open back up again. There is a sense in which the church itself is going to be reborn, rebirthed from its cocoon of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. In the coming weeks we will need to do some ascending, rising from our homes on Sunday mornings and making our way to the churches to rejoin one another in spirit and song.

My hope for you is that you have been healthy, and that you have been working on your spirit as much as your flesh. We all want to be healthy in body, but it will have been for nothing if our spirit is not also healthy. I want to encourage you, if you haven’t already, get into the word. Get into prayer. Get into a local church where you are fed. Please don’t depend solely on the dollup of truth you get in these blogs. Pursue truth. Pursue God’s Work in your life and others. Never be content with what you already know, but always be seeking.

One day I hope we all ascend to meet Him in the air. Until then, always be ready. God bless you today!

Open Door Policy

www.bible.com/1713/rev.3.20.csb

When I was in college, I stayed in the dorm. Two guys to a room, down a long hallway lined with similar doors. I felt like a sardine in a can. I hated having the door closed, because it made the confined space feel so much smaller, so I left the door open as much as possible. I liked being able to see who was walking past, just to let me know that my world was a little bigger.

I still like to keep the door open. I like my privacy, but I like feeling part of that larger world, that I am not alone. It also reminds me that if I even think about being up to no good, someone could walk in at any moment. And that keeps me safe, knowing that I am accountable to others for my behavior. A lot of bad things happen behind closed doors.

So when Jesus comes and knocks on the door, what do you do? Inherent in the question is that the door is closed. As good a person as I may be, there are some things I don’t want Jesus to find. Like unexpected visitors, you have to quickly clean and hide stuff to allow them inside. I don’t keep the cleanest of houses, and there’s always something that needs cleaning. To have an unexpected visitor drop by is challenging. To have Jesus knock on the door is downright terrifying.

But knock He does. Behind your closed door, what do you do? Do you tell Him to come back later when you have time? Do you tell Him to wait a minute while you get your life cleaned up so He has a place to sit? Do you crack the door open and ask Him, “What do you want?” Do you let Him in?

Because Jesus walks in, He will not be content to stay in your front room. He will want not only to clean, but also make improvements. He will want to see every room in the house, including the closets. Jesus is a carpenter. He will be taking your measure. He has plans for your house than you cannot imagine. But only if you let Him in.

Jesus I hear you knocking at my door. I know that opening at door and letting You in will change my life. Help me have the courage to open. I need you in my house. In Your Name, Amen.

One Way

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.3.18.csb

The Authority of the Universe has declared there is only One Way to Him. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The narrow way offered by Christ is the only way God has offered as a way to come to Him. Now you may remember there was another way through the Jews, but with Christ that way was completed and abrogated in favor of this One Way.

Is God unfair? Shouldn’t He offer at least an alternative? As a matter of fact, He does, but you aren’t going to like it. There is one alternative hinted at throughout Scripture, and it is based on the idea of “age of accountability” or the idea that one has to mature sufficiently to be able to have faith in God. We know there is an age when children grow up and can grasp abstract concepts like faith, God, sin, and sacrifice. There is the suggestion in Scripture that children who die before this age, or people who never attain this kind of abstract reasoning (i.e, the invalid, the incompetent, the mentally challenged) are all excused. We reason this out because we believe God is a gracious God and would extend grace to those who cannot accept Him by faith.

Of course, this flies in the face of those who insist on original sin. To some extent, we all receive the consequences of sin from our parents, as our bodies are still able to die, even in utero. Even Jesus, who knew no sin, still died on the cross. But I also believe in original grace. I don’t believe God sends someone to hell who never consciously and willingly sinned against Him. So the alternative suggested by theology and the Scriptures to belief in Jesus as the one way to Heaven is to have never been able to believe in Him and thus be excused from this requirement. I imagine all of my readers have passed this point.

So that leaves faith in Jesus (and baptism in Him) as the only way to be free from condemnation and enjoy everlasting life with God.

This is the point I hear about the “what about’s”, those possible exceptions to the rule that people have come up with over the years. The most popular by far is the scenario where someone in “deepest darkest Africa” (it’s usually Africa, but it could be anywhere) has never heard about Jesus. What about him? Would he still need Jesus to get into heaven? The short answer is “Yes.” But how could God judge him if he never heard about Jesus? The answer is that God judges everyone based on the Law. For the Jews, it was the law of Moses. For everyone else, it is the Law of their own conscience. Within everyone is written a set of laws, written deep down in their soul’s code, that prohibits certain behaviors. For example, everyone, regardless of culture, upbringing, or social history, knows it is wrong to murder another human being in cold blood. Everyone knows, regardless of where they live, knows it is wrong to steal another person’s property. We usually recognize something is wrong when we have to practice secrecy or concealment to do it. Some cultures do stretch the limits on each of what we usually refer to as the Ten Commandments (refer to my Source Code series for more info about this), but every culture at some level knows these things are wrong. And this is the basis for God’s judgment. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3)

So what is the man in darkest Africa to do? Travel five miles to the nearest missionary? Honestly, there are few places in this world where the gospel, at the very least the basics of the gospel story, has not reached. The people groups who have not yet been reached are still significant, but fewer now than they were. And the work is still ongoing. I encourage you if you are interested to pursue this topic as you can. There is still much work to do. For if you care about that man in darkest Africa, you will make every effort to see that he receives the gospel and that he’s not just a hypothetical exception for you. For if anyone is to be saved from judgment, even by their own conscience, it is only through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus saves us from the unbearable burden of our own sins.

Another stated exception to this rule, one which I still struggle with, is the number of people who lived after the resurrection who still died, but long before the gospel could ever reach them. My son and I were talking about this a few months ago. What about the person who died in China in AD 33 mere minutes after the Resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem? Was that person subject to the New Covenant rules? Did that person need salvation through the name of Jesus, because he just happened to die a few minutes after Jesus rose again? This is more of an historical take on the hypothetical noted before. But I believe it is far less hypothetical. It took some time for the gospel to reach the known world, maybe about 40 years. What about the world outside the Roman Empire? What about your African soul in AD 40? What if the gospel had not reached you yet, and you still died?

This is why I struggle with this second one: I have both a gracious God and a holy God. He extends grace through His Son Christ Jesus, but He is also holy, and will not tolerate any sin in His presence. Our souls need to be covered in the blood of Jesus to be able to stand in God’s presence in heaven. We cannot get there on our own. All of us have sinned. That’s an axiom in Scripture. All of us need Jesus. That too is a constant. So how do we consider both God’s grace and God’s holiness in the interim between Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem in AD 30 and the time it takes for the gospel to reach the ears of men and women all over the world?

I wish I knew the answer to this question. I know God’s nature hasn’t changed, and He still judges people based on the Law He has imprinted in their souls. But I have to think God still engages in the same process we see illustrated in Acts 10, where Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, has a dream about going and getting Peter so that Peter can tell him the gospel. I believe people in far-off people groups, if they have responded in faith to what they have already received (the testimony of Natural Revelation, i.e., the world around them) that there is a God and He cares about them, then God sends them a similar dream or vision or motivation to seek out His missionaries because, in the end, the gospel is only transmitted through the lips of His people (both past, the Bible, and present, Christians). We are His ambassadors, not the trees or the earth or the universe. God is far more creative and inventive than we are. I give Him the credit to come up with ways of inviting people to His truth that we would never come up with.

I hope this has been helpful. Don’t give up praying, because often stories of people in far-off people groups coming to faith in Jesus has been coupled with stories of faithful Christians praying for them. If you care whether Timbuktu receives the gospel, then be praying today for those people. God made them too. He loves them. As he said to Jonah, “Shouldn’t I care for those people in Nineveh?”

Heavenly Father, though I have not been very good at mission work and spreading the gospel outside my humble place here, I know You are working even now on some lost soul in a place I’ve never heard of. Father, I pray for that man or woman even now who has an inkling of faith, a mustard seed-sized faith that there is a God who loves them. I pray that a way is found that the gospel finds its way to them so that they can be saved and rescued from death. Please, Lord, I pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Frenetic

www.bible.com/1713/isa.26.3.csb

That word describes the pace of life these days. No, it’s not because life is moving so fast. In fast, life is much slower now than it used to be. No, rather this word describes the state of living today. Every day we are given new rules, new rules for COVID, new rules for work, play, even worship. Unless your eyes are glued to the news, you will something, usually something important. It is to keep one’s ear to rail, knowing the train is coming, and waiting until the last second to move, because they don’t want to miss it. It is that tense.

But it doesn’t have to be. Regardless of how deadly you think this virus is, or how important it is to social distance or wear a mask, there’s really nothing in this world that can save you. I mean, according to some, this virus escaped from a lab. It brings to mind the idea of a prison break or something, but a lab like the one this virus was in is designed to keep the little beasts inside. Yet this virus escaped containment from the most secure place viruses like this are kept. I don’t live in a virus lab. I doubt you do either. Is there anything you can do better than a lab to protect yourself?

Do we have reason to be afraid? Probably. Should we take precautions? What could we do better than a lab to protect ourselves? So, ought we to worry? Why?

There are thousand things that could kill me every time I go out my door. And yet I have a God that protects me from all of them. I don’t worry about it. He gives me peace and shelter under His wings. Trust in the Lord isn’t for the fearful or the worriers. You can’t save yourself by worrying. You can call upon the One who can save you and protect you. With God, the only thing to fear is Him.

If you are a lion tamer, the only thing you worry about it the lion. You don’t worry about your blood pressure or your heart rate. Your mind is focused on the one thing that could kill you at any moment, the imminent threat. All your other worries fade into the background.

If you are a God-feared, all of your other worries ought to fade, because you have only one concern, to please the King of the Universe who watches your every move.

Heavenly Father, though perfect love casts out all fear, I pray my fear of You eclipse any other fears I have. I pray that my chief goal be to please You, and that all other concerns and worries of life will fade away. I know You control the future. You control the tiniest of particles to the largest stars. No virus escapes Your attention. I pray for You protection today as I work and serve to please you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Ashamed

www.bible.com/1713/rom.1.16.csb

What does shame look like? Is shame quiet in the face of mocking and persecution? Is it going along with a joke when it is convenient? Or is it quietly agreeing with someone mocking our Savior because you can’t or you won’t disagree? Have you ever been ashamed to share the gospel?

I know I’ve been in those situations. It is uncomfortable, not only because its awkward, but because this verse is running through your mind. It is one feeling I hate, I dread, because it happens just often enough to remind me of who I am supposed to be.

Yes there are times I feel bullied, and feel I have to shut up lest I endure mocking and ridicule I don’t think anyone enjoys that. I freely admit that I have been less that I should be. Often. And yes, there have been times I have been ashamed to speak His name. My only prayer is that the Lord will understand my circumstances and forgive me.

Thanks for reading today.

Dwell Richly

www.bible.com/1713/col.3.16.csb

What do you do to get your worship groove on? Some folks like to put on worship music on their radio or their music player. Other folks like to open up a hymnal and sing with abandon. But let us not forget that other great style of worship, singing together.

What most seem to forget when it comes to the biblical instruction for worship is that it is to be done together with other believers. This is usually where we run into problems. Whereas you and I have our preferences as to the type of worship we enjoy individually, it gets a little tiresome to have to sing with others who do not share your worship style. For myself, I’m all for singing together with others, as long as it is songs that I am familiar with. But where I attend, that is usually not the case. I will grumble I suppose, since our worship team is dedicated to the idea of singing a new song every week. Now I suppose that if I listen to Christian music radio more than I do, I probably would hear all the latest from Hlllsong and Elevation worship which our church favors. But who has time for that? I have always believed that you should always a mix of new and old, familiar and new. That way everyone can worship at least once.

I also believe you ought to sing as much as you teach. For everyone, this is probably the one time all week we will all get together and worship. If so, then it ought to include songs we can all sing. This may mean singing the same song every week or every few weeks just to get everyone on the same page. The more we can sing together, the more we can worship together. And that’s kind of the point regardless of how old or young your congregation is.

I may just be set in my ways, but there are good ways and bad ways to put together a worship service. Just my two cents.

Brokenhearted

www.bible.com/1713/psa.34.18.csb

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “broken-hearted” was a diagnosable medical condition. About a year ago I was talking to a doctor at the hospital where I work and they were discussing a case where a woman had a verifiable heart condition. She had recently suffered the loss of her husband, and her health now was in jeopardy. The doctor said she was dying of a “broken heart”. I was astonished. But this confirmed for me the close connection between the our emotional life and our phsyical life, or I might add, the connection between our body and our spirit. I suspect her soul was in pain because it had been sheared in half by the loss of her husband. What was so normal for so long, their constant companionship, now was broken by death. It was hard to see, and losses like that take a long time to heal, if there is any desire to heal.

It is not uncommon for couple that have been married many years, and had great marriages, to die within hours, days, or even months of each other. The situation varies by case, but sometime the diagnosis is a “broken heart.”

I take some comfort in the fact that when we form a relationship with the Lord, He will never leave us. In the Lord, we have hope for a constant connection. We will never be grieved by a broken heart with God, because He is always present with us. The promises of scripture are certain. He is close to the broken -hearted.

If you are feeling far away from God today, may I reming you it is rare for God to leave you, but that you have pushed Him away, either through sin, indifference, or a conscience that is insensitive. I want to caution you not to let this last too long, or you might get used to God being “far” from you. Don’t let that happen. Repent of your sins, draw close to God, and He will draw near to you.

Dear God, sometimes I lose my way. I am thankful that You are never far from me. Be My ever-present Companion, my Guide, my God. Thank You Jesus for relieving me of my burden of sin. May I serve You ever. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.