Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The UN-Shopping List - Part 4

Thursday, January 1, 2015
Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies.  So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.  Exodus 32:25-26 (NLT)
The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain.  Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.”  So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed.  They have made gods of gold for themselves.  But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!”  But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me.                                 Exodus 32:30-33 (NLT)
This week we are creating an “UN-Shopping List” – things we should throw out of our life’s shopping basket.  So far we’ve tossed weak faith, stubbornness, and excusesToday, as we close this series, and open a new year, we want to remember to “not forget”!

Does it ever seem to you that your life can be described as running wild - out of control? It may not be noticeable to the other people in your life, but you know it deep inside.  You can feel that you don't have solid ground to walk on.  You know if something doesn't happen to bring things down you're just going to explode. 

Well, don't forget who you are, and Whose you are! 

Those Israelites, God's people, were becoming the laughingstock of the world.  Much like the church of today with all the infighting, doctrinal wars and petty disagreements, the Israelites had forgotten from whence they'd come.  At a time when they needed it most, Moses, God's under-shepherd, spoke a simple message:  Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.  They'd forgotten; they simply needed to be reminded.    

And so, I remind you today - remember who (and Whose) you are!  Don't forget.  Take all your forgetfulness and toss it!

The really important reason to “not forget” is that God remembers.  In ancient times kings kept a register of their citizens.  When a man committed a crime against the state, or when he died, his name was erased from that register. 

There is a message of personal responsibility in this passage.  Moses prayed and received a momentary stay for his people.  My parents were like Moses for me.  As a disobedient teen and young man, I am convinced it was only the prayers of my Mother and Dad that kept me alive. 

But ultimately God's mind will never be changed about the personal nature of our sin.  We bear personal responsibility for what we are, and what we have done.

Beloved, there is a register that the King of Kings keeps.  It is called the Lamb's Book of Life.  On its pages are recorded the names of every citizen of earth who has applied for, and received citizenship of heaven!  You may well ask, "How does one apply?"  You simply ask God, trusting in the promise of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross in your behalf.

You might also ask, "What does it cost?"  Nothing you could ever pay.  The price is already paid.  It happened when Jesus went to the cross for you and me. 

A third question is in order:  "When should I do this?"  Right this moment!  "Why?"  Because if you're not listed on the King's register, you are listed on the King's enemy's register....HELL! 

Don't take hell with you this year.  Put it on the UN-shopping list - toss it!

For You Today:

This year - No forgetting!  Nothing but Heaven!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The UN-Shopping List - Part 3

Wednesday, December 31, 2014
When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger.  He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain.  He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it.  Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?”  “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied.  “You yourself know how evil these people are.  They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us.  We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’  So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’  When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”    Exodus 32:19-24 (NLT)
This week we are creating an “UN-Shopping List” – things we should throw out of our life’s shopping basket.  So far we’ve tossed “weak faith” and “stubbornness.

Today the text identifies another common hindrance to growing in Christ; an issue that must be tossed if you want to be Christ’s disciple - excuses

Rafael Septien had the most classic of excuses.  He was the field goal kicker for the Dallas Cowboys.  It was 1985 in a game at Texas Stadium.  He missed the kick badly.  It was among the poorest attempts at offering an excuse by mankind...ever!  His excuse?  The grass was too long.  Texas Stadium doesn't have grass, it has artificial turf. 

Aaron didn't have a reason for making the golden calf idol, but he did have an excuse. 

One of the things that keep us from being forgiven (either by God or our fellow humans) is thinking an excuse can take the place of confession.  Very seldom will you hear someone say, "I was wrong."  As a society we are so into offering excuses for our behavior - we call it syndromes, maladies, adjustment aberrations -- we call it anything but SIN! 

The one thing you will note about the end of this chapter is that God eventually punished Israel with a plague, because they sinned and did not repent.  By contrast, when King David sinned, it was his confession that saved him (see Psalm 51). 

We sing the song, "Christ Receiveth Sinful Men."  It should be noted by this that the sinful people Christ receives are those who are willing to admit it, and come to Him, filthy, undeserving, and admittedly lost -- not those who simply have had an "unfortunate time and circumstance" and need a blessing. 

To believe in Jesus, and follow Him as a disciple means you accept the fact that you need Him, and can't be saved without Him.  And then you confess that without excuse, and trust Him to receive you just like He said He would.

For You Today:

This year - No excuses!  Get them out of your basket; Toss  'em.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The UN-Shopping List - Part 2

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are.  Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them.  Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”  But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God.  “O Lord!” he said.  “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand?  Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’?  Turn away from your fierce anger.  Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people!  Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven.  And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”  So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.  Exodus 32:9-14 (NLT)
This week we are creating an “UN-Shopping List” – things we should throw out of our life’s shopping basket.  Yesterday we threw out “unbelief” or “weak faith”.
Today the text identifies quickly an item everyone ought to take care to eliminate from their basket….stubbornness and rebelliousness. 
Stiffnecked is the King James word!  Boy, God doesn’t pull any punches! 
That word appropriately describes these people.  They were supernaturally delivered   (they had been slaves for 400 years, so they didn't have weapons or expertise in warfare, yet they triumphed over the best trained and equipped army of Pharaoh.  Egypt's best troops were slaughtered, and the children of Israel didn't suffer so much as a hangnail! 
Supernatural deliverance, and all they can do is bellyache! 
As a preteen I said "up" whenever Dad said "down."  One time when we were out for a drive we were coming to our favorite "dip" in the road.  We boys always considered it fun to close our eyes and have our hearts leap into our throats when Dad went over that dip.  I hadn't been paying attention, so I didn't know we were near that part of the road.  Dad spoke to my brother and me over his shoulder, "Close your eyes, boys."  I asked, "Why?"  Dad said, "Just do it, you'll be real surprised." 
"I don't want to."  "Do it, Russell."  (When he said "Russell" I was close to the edge). 
"Do I have to?"  It was days later before I stopped arguing.  Needless to say, I missed the surprise. 
Are you that way with God's will? 
Has God spoken to your heart about some things, but all you'll do is turn a deaf ear? 
Has He asked you to make Him your priority, but you've got other fish to fry? 
Are you stiffnecked about the Lord's tithe, the Lord's Day?  Have you been stiffnecked about the Lord's “Lordship” in your life?                                                                               
For You Today:
Stubbornness?  Toss it out of your new years’ basket!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The UN-Shopping List - Part 1

Monday, December 29, 2014
When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron.  “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us.  We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”  So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”  All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron.  Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf.  When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”  Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf.  Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”  The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings.  After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.  The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain!  Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.  How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live!  They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it.  They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”   Exodus 32:1-8 (NLT)
When I was a preschooler I used to go shopping with Mom.  And when I was old enough to walk I would tag along behind her and look for familiar packages (chocolate, gooey things and Pop Tarts, of course!).  Mom and I each had our job in that store; I would throw stuff I wanted in the basket whenever I thought she wasn't looking; Mom would pick out all the unhealthy stuff, put it back on the shelf, and say aloud to nobody in particular, Hmmm, now I wonder how that got in there; it's on my UN-shopping list!" 

For the days until the new year arrives, I’d like for us to create an UN-shopping list based on the experience of the Exodus people, Israel.  If you will, let’s think of the approaching new year as a grocery store.  You have just walked-in, gotten your basket, and you’re about to enter the first aisle.
A new year is a clean slate aisle; you can choose what you will from the shelves.  That can be a refreshing thought, with the outlook of forgetting last year's mistakes and trials; it can also be intimidating.  The people of God had a new chance; they'd been held prisoner for 400 years in Egypt, and now they were camped at Mt. Sinai, free.  The question was, "What do we do with this freedom, this clean new slate?"  Their leader Moses had been up on the mountain speaking to this God with no name, no face; he'd been gone for weeks. 
They chose to get nervous.  

We also have that choice; we can be nervous about the economy or our government.  We might worry about our jobs or kids.  Maybe your relationship with your husband or wife is shaky. 

What will happen this year? 

Considering the only certainty about this new year is its' uncertainty, it’s a good idea to decide early on what belongs in your life’s basket and what doesn’t. 

Today’s item that doesn’t make the cut:

Unbelief - Weak Faith

God told Moses the people were unbelieving.  He said they had corrupted themselves; they were "quick to turn away."  Literally, the word means go to ruin.  The nervous Israelites had turned away from the presence of a God they couldn’t see, in favor of a hand-crafted idol, a bull statue covered with gold plate.  Up to this point, the people had been following the Lord by faith.  Now they wanted something of substance. 

We are not altogether so different.  For some folks to attend church there must be all the outward physical signs of God's approval – TV cameras, vast programs, famous personalities.  (You wonder at times just who it is people come to worship under those conditions.) 

Sometimes I get nervous about following the Lord by faith.  I would like for God to drop a few miracles in my direction so I can believe better.  Then the Father speaks to my heart, "Russell, what is this puny faith you’re walking with?”

Sometimes things happen in our lives that shake what little faith we may have.  There is a Bible-word for that:  TEMPTATION! 

If you're going to toss unbelief out of your cart for this year, put in some time preparing to do just that.  You do that by becoming better acquainted with the author of faith. 

Remember, faith comes by hearing...the Word of God Romans 10.17.  

Make time this year for Bible Study, fellowship and prayer, both at home and with your church family.  Make it a priority. 

J. Wilbur Chapman said, "My life is governed by this rule:  Anything that dims my vison of Christ or takes away my taste for Bible study or cramps my prayer life or makes Christian work difficult is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it." 

For you, today

Unbelief?  Weak Faith?

Toss it!

The Fullness of Time

But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.      Galatians 4:4-5 (KJV)
One day years ago on the way home from church I spotted a bumper sticker that simply said, "I HATE YOU". 
Christmas was God, finding a way to give a gift with a whisper that simply says, "I love you." 
What kind of gift is this child of the manger?


Paul said that it was “in the fullness of time" that Jesus came into this world.  That expression points more to our need than our progress.  At the PRECISE moment of our greatest need, according to God's plan, Jesus entered time and space to be our gift. 
From an historical view, all the conditions for the reception of the gospel were in place.  Several important circumstances show how God was working to move mankind into a "ready" position. 
The conquests of Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language throughout the known world.  Thus, the path was paved for the spread of God's written word. 
The Roman Empire and its "law and order" made travel between cities safe.  Evangelists like Paul could spread the good news quickly. 
Pagan religion was at its' height, leaving people empty and "thirsty" for something that satisfied.
There are times I do not understand what the Father is doing.  Things happen in my life which cause me to question His care; yet He is moving me in the course of His plan. 
In preparing to give my son a surprise for his birthday, we had to keep him in the dark for a while.  Then, on that precise moment, when the surprise would be most effective, and good for him, we turned on the light!  God is moving history towards His own conclusion.  He is precise, and so was the gift of Jesus. 
I would have done it differently.  Had I been God, I'd have shown-up in person, called a meeting and said, "Ok, everyone who wants to be in my family - step over here."  And those who didn't - ZAP! - gone forever!  But God didn't consult me....He gently broke into history, on a bed of straw.  He lived and died, and rose again, and He said I could too! 
God knew PRECISELY what gift we needed.


God sent His Son.  A literal translation would expand the meaning of this verse:  "God sent forth FROM HIMSELF His son."  This points to the fact that Jesus existed in heaven long before He was born on earth.  The fact that God is Father presupposes the existence of a son.  God knew we would need a sacrifice to pay the price for our sin.  Jesus became that sacrificially-prepared gift. 
The Bible (Hebrews 1.1-2) says:
That speaks of a pre-incarnate Jesus.  Before He became Mary's son, he was the creator of this earth.  In Revelation (13.8) Jesus is described as the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth."  Isn't that something?  You and I prepare Christmas lists - God did too!


A little boy was looking for the "perfect Christmas gift" for his mother.  He asked the sales clerk to see some cookie jars.  At a counter with a large selection of jars, he carefully lifted and replaced each lid.  When he came to the last one he seemed dejected, and asked the clerk, "Don't you have any that don't make noise when you lift the lid?"
Jesus didn't make a lot of noise when He came the first time.  He came in an ordinary way ("born of a woman, born under law").  He was just like you and me in that sense, fully human.  He had to go through childhood like I did; and struggle with young adulthood, like I did; and die like I must, so He could save me like I can't. 
His whole purpose was to "redeem" us.  That word is from the marketplace, meaning to buy back something that was lost to another.  Jesus was the perfect gift, in that, He accomplished exactly that which was His purpose.     


Those who've accepted the gift have been redeemed, adopted.  Paul calls it "full rights of sons."  This points out the grisly fact that there is something wrong with each of us.  We are not natural sons of God.  We may be of His creation, but because of sin, we are not God's children. 
It takes adoption for a stranger to be part of the family.  Dr. Richard Selzer wrote a book entitled, "Mortal Lessons, Notes on the Art of Surgery."  He shares an experience that speaks so powerfully of how God has personalized the gift of Christ toward each of us...
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face post-operative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish.  The tiny twig of a facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. 
She will be thus from now on.  The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that!  Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek I had to cut the little nerve. 
Her young husband is in the room; he stands on the opposite side of the bed.  And together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private.
“Who are they?”  I ask myself, “he and this wry-mouth I have made” gaze at and touch each other so generously. 
The young woman speaks, “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.”  “Yes,” I say, “it will; it’s because the nerve’s been cut.”
She nods, and is silent.  But the young man smiles, “I kind of like it,” he says; “It’s kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is.  I understand; and I lower my gaze.  One is not bold in an encounter with God.  Unmindful, he bends to kiss the crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show that the kiss still works.
The kiss does still work, beloved. 
Sin twisted everything we are.  It has mangled what God created.  Yet, in Christ, God has reached down to where we are - twisted homes, marriages severed like cut nerves.  He has reached down to touch lives that are crooked with the emptiness of life in darkness.  Like the husband accommodating his own lips to the scars of his wife, the Lord came to a twisted world. 
And He loved us. 
What shall we do?  Say thank you! 
That's all He's waiting for.   

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Light of the Gospel

Friday, December 26, 2014
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.  That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.  They were terrified, but the angel reassured them.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign:  You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!  Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph.  And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.  The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.  It was just as the angel had told them.  Luke 2:6-20 (NLT)
The Gospel story – simple enough for a preschooler; yet the word “profound” hardly keeps up with all the implications for our personal lives and the fate of the universe.

We read the Gospel, hear it preached, see it in Christmas and Easter plays, how the angels delivered their carol, of a babe in a cradle; he would grow up for the cross, win the crown, and is coming again.

It is a marvelous story we want to hear over and again.  We echo the songwriter’s thought, I love to tell the story, for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.[1]  The story is so marvelous that we never get tired of hearing and thinking about it!

The story is full of joy, wonder and light as the angels descend on the Judean hillside to make the announcement to humble shepherds.  Sometimes you get a little glimpse of that Judean hillside experience:

The day before Thanksgiving this year we had some electrical work done at the house.  The technician arrived late and had to work in the dark on the side of our house where the outside bulb had expired.  He didn’t have a flashlight, so I shined my little, dim flashlight for him.  Suddenly the whole area was lit up like daylight.  Shannon, our son-in-law had come up behind me with his “Stinger”, a police/military-grade flashlight. 

Whoa!  You cannot hide when that baby’s on!  I’ve got to confess – I now have one of those; Merry Christmas to me!

But, even the brightest spotlight cannot compare with all the heavenly hosts come down, straight from the throne of God to announce the greatest news for man since the dawn of our sins – A Savior is born!  The big fisherman Peter would later call it joy unspeakable, and full of glory![2]

For you, today

Our prayer is that you truly were able to experience amongst the hurried schedules and activities of the Advent and Christmas season, the inexpressible joy and glory of Christ’s presence.

By the way…it’s not too late; take time right now to bow in his presence and thank him for loving you and saving you.  See if the light doesn’t come on!

[1] Words, Katherine Hankey, Tune HANKY, William G. Fischer, 1869, The Baptist Hymnal, (Nashville, Convention Press), 1975.
[2] 1 Peter 1.8

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The New Theology; Having Faith

Wednesday, December 24, 2014
But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves.   2 Peter 2:1 (NLT)
Close to forty years ago Francis Schaeffer wrote about the heresy 21st century false teachers of the new theology….faith in faith itself hold up as the way to having your cake and eating it too!  Schaeffer wrote:

Probably the best way to describe this concept of modern theology is to say that it is faith in faith, rather than faith directed to an object which is actually there….The same word, faith, is used, but has an opposite meaning.  Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself.  So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its size as it exists against all reason, but that is all.  Modern man’s faith turns inward.[1]

Have you ever prayed for a pony?  A child that prays for a pony to be standing next to the tree on Christmas morning, silver-buckled saddle and bridle, all ride-ready and waiting is generally going to be disappointed that inward-turned “faith” doesn’t work.

Francis Schaeffer makes the point of the Apostle Peter’s warning about false teachers and preachers who want us to swallow that “genuine” faith is all about believing like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; if you click the heels of your ruby red slippers together three times and believe hard enough, you’ll be back in Kansas when you open your eyes.  Or that pony will be there.  Or the cancer will not have happened.  Or…or…

The main problem is that God isn’t even a consideration in that kind of “faith”.  That’s having faith in faith – not faith in God.  Faith in God, by comparison, is a childlike trust that a prayer, once offered TO God (not flung in space in spite of God)…is then released into the care and better decision-making ability OF God. 

In truly Christian faith, our prayers are a matter of placing our trust in God’s ability as Creator, Sustainer of Life, Lover of All Persons, His ability as GOD, to straighten-out our crooked prayers and give us what is best…not what we crave.  This is the essence of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden:  nevertheless…not my will…your will, Father.  (Matthew 26:39)

Francis Schaeffer makes the point with clarity that this is the primary difference between what passes for Christianity at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, and what Jude(1:3) calls the genuine faith, once-delivered to the saints:

In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed.  So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time.[2]

The “new theology” suggests (over and over again) that we can have what we want, when we want it, so long as we build our faith.  That new Cadillac, new house and any pony you can imagine is our right!  This is so opposite of what Scripture actually says about faith…that it is our gift from God to trust-in and rely-on God (see Mark 11:22)

So, really…the “new theology” isn’t really that new.  It’s been around since Adam and Eve decided they wanted what God had (and we know how badly THAT turned-out). 

For you, today

When you pray, it would be a good thing to begin with, “Our Father”, and let that set the tone for what you’re going to ask. 

Forget the Ruby Red Slippers, Dorothy, have faith in God; leave the keys to the new house and Cadillac in His hands. 

That’s real faith!

[1] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, (1968 Intervarsity Press – here quoted in Trilogy, 1990 Crossway), 64,65
[2] Schaeffer, ibid.