Sunday, November 17, 2019

Citizenship



Where is your citizenship? As Americans we know we are citizens of this great country, and that entitles us to the full rights that all Americans enjoy. The Constitution and Bill of Rights recognize that we are all created equal, and we are endowed with these inalienable rights by our sovereign God, and those rights have been protected by every person who has worn the uniform over the years. We are also residents of our state and most local municipalities. 

For the Christian, though, we have dual citizenship. We are very much American citizens, and yet our citizenship is simultaneously in heaven. In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul wrote, ““But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

The Greek word for citizenship (conversation in the KJV) is unique and appears only hear in the Bible. The word refers to the locality where one’s name is listed among the official register of citizens. In other words, there is a place somewhere where each person’s vital records are on file; birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage licenses are stored in a building somewhere, and that place is where the person is an official citizen. This was a great analogy for Paul to use for the Philippians for one important reason: Rome had adopted Philippi as an official Roman province. 

Because of its location Philippi was prime real estate, and it generated a lot of tax revenue for the Roman Empire. The famous Roman Road called the Ignation Way ran through Philippi, and traders from around the world came through to do business. Rome was so grateful for the profits that they made the Philippians official Roman citizens, giving them the full rights of those born in Rome, and they didn’t even have to pay taxes. 

So go back to Paul’s analogy. The Philippians lived in Philippi, but their names were written down in Rome. They lived in one place, but their citizenship was in another. The same is true for Christians. We live here, but our names are written down in heaven (Luke 10:20). We live on earth, but we have the full rights of those who already live in heaven. We are just strangers and pilgrims passing through this land on our way to heaven. In the meantime, we can go boldly before the throne of the King of Heaven while our mansion is being prepared just over the hilltop. When we get there, Paul said, we will get to exchange these earthly bodies for ones that match our new heavenly residence. 


I am proud to be an American, and am thankful for the ones who died to give these rights to me. But I am ecstatic that I am a Christian, and am thankful for the one who died—my Lord Jesus Christ—to make my salvation possible. Where is your citizenship? Is your name written down in heaven? 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Leaning Tower of Pisa



Back in December of 2001 the world-famous “Leaning Tower of Pisa” was finally reopened to the public. The landmark had been closed for close to a dozen years while major repairs were made. During that time a construction crew completed a 25 million dollar renovation project that was designed specifically to stabilize the tower. Part of the project called for the removal of 110 tons of dirt, and they reduced its famous “lean” by around sixteen inches. Why did they have to do that? The reason is the tower had been tilting further and further away from vertical for centuries, to the point that the top of the 185-foot tower had become an incredible seventeen feet further south than the bottom, and authorities in Italy were concerned that if nothing was done, the tower would soon collapse. 

What was the problem with the tower? Was it poor design? Was it faulty workmanship? Was it built using an inferior grade of marble? No. The problem was what was underneath. The sandy soil on which the city of Pisa was built was just not stable enough to support this monument; it had no firm foundation.

A strong foundation is imperative for any structure, and Jesus used that concept as an analogy for the believer’s life. In His conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of the wise and foolish believers. In context, Jesus was saying that a wise person would hear what He just said—the Beatitudes, His teaching on anger, lust, honesty, revenge, love, prayer, fasting, and the Golden Rule—and then apply that to his life. A person who does that is building his life on a firm foundation, and when the storms come, he will be able to stand firm.  

Some people hear the truth, but instead of heeding it, they choose to reject it. That is like building a house on shifting sand instead of a reliable rock. That is what foolish people do. John MacArthur defined the sand as the “self-will, self-fulfillment, self-purpose, self-sufficiency, self-satisfaction, and self-righteousness,” which is insufficient as a foundation. When the storms come, the person who builds his life on himself will crumble. 

What are the storms? Some see them as the storms of life: you get sick, you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, you become an empty-nester. We all face these storms, and a firm foundation is the only way we can withstand them. We have to build our lives on the teachings of Jesus. The storms may also refer to the judgment at the end of a person’s life. The wise person who is obedient to the teachings of Jesus will be just fine, but the one who lived in opposition to Christ will see his fate sealed. 

Maybe, like with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, your foundation is shaky and you are headed for a collapse. Maybe today you need to begin a renovation and start building your life on the Word of God.  

Sunday, November 3, 2019

That's too Easy



Do you use those store bought mixes to make your cakes or cookies? Sometimes I bake desserts from scratch, but the majority of the time, if I baked it, I used a mix. We use those because of the convenience factor; it is much easier to buy the box and add water or vegetable oil, eggs, or butter than to measure and mix all of the other ingredients. 

Several years ago one of cake mix companies developed a product they thought was going to be a big hit: a cake mix that said just add water. To the surprise of the company, their new product was a big flop. No one was buying it. It seemed like a good thing, but it wasn’t selling. After doing some internal polling they realized that the buying public was skeptical of a cake that only needed water. It seemed too easy. That company went back to the drawing board and tweaked their recipe; the new box said, “Just add water and one egg!” Sales immediately picked up, even though the new recipe required more work and more money for the costumer. 

Many people view salvation that way. We tell people it is a free gift, and all they have to do is trust in what Jesus has already done. That seems too easy. It seems too good to be true. We feel like we have to do more. I have to earn it. I have to work hard, or give more money, or get baptized, or say enough prayers, or read the Bible through in a year. But the Bible teaches salvation cannot be earned because it is a free gift, “not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:9).” 

In Philippians 3 Paul gives many reasons he could have boasted if salvation were earned: he was an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the law, a Pharisee who was zealous for the law, a persecutor of those deemed as heretics, and one who was blameless. In his younger days Paul was banking on those things getting him God’s favor and a spot in heaven. However, after he learned that Jesus is the only way, he came to look down on the very things he once gloried in. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (v.7-8).” He went on to say he viewed all his accomplishments as “rubbish,” which was a strong word for excrement. 

Paul hated the things which he once trusted in because they would deem the cross of Christ as worthless. If our accomplishments could save us, then Jesus died in vain. It really is that easy. Like Paul, we need to despise anything that we could trust in instead of Jesus because our righteous deeds are but filthy rags in the sight of a holy God. There is no need to add anything because Jesus Himself has done all the work. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Living Skeletons



Q: Who is the most famous French skeleton?
A: Napoleon Bone-apart

Q: Why can’t skeletons be church musicians?
A: The don’t have any organs

Q: Why are skeletons so relaxed?
A: Nothing gets under their skin

Q: What do you call a skeleton who stays in the snow too long?
A: A numbskull

Q: Who is the most famous skeleton detective?
A: Sherlock Bones

This time of year we see skeletons used in decorating, advertising, or coming to our door looking for candy. Part of the appeal of skeletons is knowing they are not real in that they are not living things. Seeing a skeleton walking around is fantasy, not reality. However, in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, walking skeletons were a reality, not a fantasy.

To be fair, in Ezekiel 37:1 the prophet said the Spirit of the Lord brought him into the valley of dry bones, so this was most likely a vision he saw. The Lord told Ezekiel to look around and see the bones of a slain army, and notice that they were very dry. These brittle bones were not going to be making a comeback on their own, but God told His prophet to prophesy to the bones and the wind; once he did, the brittle bones were brought back together, connected by sinews, and covered with skin. Then they were filled with the breath of life and became a standing army ready for orders.

This vision was about ancient Israel, which had split during a civil war. God told the prophet to take two sticks to symbolize the two kingdoms, and like a magic trick, he joined them together. Taken together, the valley of dry bones and the two sticks showed that Israel, though divided and defeated, would be brought back to life, so to speak, and reunited into one kingdom again (this will be fully accomplished during the Millennial Kingdom).

We are like those skeletons in that we were dead in our sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1), but through the power of God are brought to life. Those skeletons were not alive until the wind blew the breath of life into them, and we are not alive spiritually until the Spirit of God enters us (breath, wind, and spirit are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek). Are you a walking skeleton with no life, or have you been given eternal life by the Spirit of God? 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Absorbing the Bible



LifeWay Research recently conducted a survey that found only thirty-seven percent of regular churchgoers said reading the Bible has made a significant impact on their lives. This was not a survey of people who merely identified as being Christian and attend church on Easter and Christmas; by regular churchgoers they mean people who attend multiple times a month. In other words, two-thirds of the people who attend on an average Sunday morning are reading their Bible, but they do not see a benefit from it. 

That number is troubling. It isn’t the Bible’s fault if people are reading it and not gaining from it. The Word of God is living and powerful, sharper than a double-edged sword; it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. It contains the answers to life’s dilemmas; it introduces us to God, and like a mirror, it reflects who we really are. The Bible should be read, but those who read it should find that it is always making a difference in the lives of the readers. 

I believe the problem is that many people merely read the Bible. That is important, but it is not enough. Reading gives us exposure. That which we have not been exposed to cannot impact us. However, I propose that we need to move from exposure to absorption. We do this through meditation, not just reading. 

I could give you a paper with the words to something familiar, like the pledge of allegiance, and you can read the words in your head while your mind wanders. If we can do that with the pledge, can we not do that with the Twenty-third Psalm? In some cases we have the “problem” of over-exposure, so we need to force our minds to engage the text through meditation. Ask questions: Who said that? Who is he talking to? How can I avoid that mistake? Am I guilty of that same sin? Is that a promise for me too, or just that person? These types of questions move us from mundane reading to beneficial meditation. We must continue to read God’s Word, but we should also take a verse, thought, or phrase and meditate on it throughout the day. Chew on it. Mull it over. Become intimately familiar with the idea, and you will find that reading the Bible does make a significant impact because you remember it longer, understand it better, and apply it properly. 

The Bible never says to read it, but we often see the idea of meditation:

“Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).”

“I will also meditate on all your work, and talk of your deeds (Psalm 77:12).”

“I will meditate on your precepts, and contemplate your ways…for your testimonies are my meditation (Psalm 119:15, 99).”

If you want the Bible to impact your life, then don’t just read it, but absorb it. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Big Picture



A college freshman wanted to please his father by following in his steps. His father had been a star on the track team, so even though the son had no athletic ability, he tried out for track. At the tryout that freshman was put in a two-man race against the fastest returning runner from the previous season. The poor boy got smoked, but when he sat down to write his father a note about the experience, he said, “Dad, you will be happy to know that I was in a race with the fastest guy in school. He came in next to last, and I finished in second place.”

Much of life is about perspective. We can see the glass as half empty or half full. We can view ourselves as losing a two-man race, or as finishing second place. Paul had his ups and downs in life, but he was always able to keep the big picture in mind. We frequently see him beaten and imprisoned for his faithfulness to the Gospel, but he was always able to rejoice because people were being saved, and he knew that was more important than his own comfort in life. In the first chapter of Philippians Paul wrote a classic paragraph, saying he was determined to honor Christ, whether through his life or by his death. He concluded, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (v.21).” Paul said he was hard pressed between the two, having a desire to live his life and share the gospel, but acknowledging that it is “far better” to die and be with the Lord in heaven. 

As Christians we find ourselves in that same position. We want to live. We want to watch our grandchildren grow up, and we want to be there for our children. We want to serve in our church and pursue our hobbies. But when this life comes to an end we understand that it is far better for us to be with the Lord. That is why Christians are able to stare down death and never flinch: we have the right perspective. We see the big picture. 

In verse nineteen of the same chapter Paul says something that seems a little odd. He said he knew that, “this will turn out for my deliverance.” Many people miss this as an Old Testament quotation because that phrase does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. However, Paul was quoting the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) verbatim, so the Philippians would have understood the reference. The quote comes from Job 13:16, and Paul was identifying with Job.  

We know that Job’s suffering was for the glory of God, and Job seemed to have a knowledge of that as well. Although he maintained his innocence, Job’s friends tried to convince him that God was punishing him. His friend Zophar had the nerve to tell Job he was getting off easy, and he actually deserved worse that what he was enduring. In 13:16 Job told Zophar that he knew his suffering would turn out for his deliverance. He knew that God would either deliver him from his suffering by healing his body, or else God would deliver him by taking his spirit to Paradise. Either way, Job was good because he trusted in God. 

In the previous verse (v.15) Job seemed to realize that God was behind Job’s suffering, so he said, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him.” Even if God took Job’s life, Job was going to rejoice because he would go to heaven. Similarly, Paul knew that he may lose his life for the Gospel (he would soon lose his head for the 
Gospel), but he was still going to serve God with what time he had left. 

That is a good perspective. Paul and Job had the big picture in mind. Many think that death is the worst thing that can ever happen to someone, but when we keep eternity in mind we understand that death has no sting. We do not need to worry or stress about the temporary because we know what is in store in eternity. In the meantime, as long as we are here, there is work for us to do, so let’s keep working for the Lord until He calls us home. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Most Expensive Meal



In October of 1971 the Shah of Iran hosted a banquet for sixty kings, queens, and heads of state. The purpose of the event was to celebrate the 2,500thyear of the Persian Empire, and the price tag for the celebration was an estimated $100 million. It has been suggested that this was perhaps the costliest table ever spread.

I would disagree with that assessment, however. I believe the Lord’s Supper is the costliest table ever spread. No, the ingredients do not surpass the $100 million that the Iranian shah spent; we only spend a few bucks on grape juice and crackers. The Lord’s Supper is the costliest table ever spread because the meal cost Jesus His life. The greatest Man who ever lived had to lay down His life. The only perfect Person in history would have to pour out His life’s blood so that we may have a seat at the table. 

When we gather together to take communion we share in one of the richest rites in history. Our Lord took the bread and cup from the Passover Seder and greatly changed the meaning that had stood for centuries. The bread was called the Affikomen,which means “The Coming One.” It was eaten each year at Passover in anticipation of the coming Messiah, and all who ate it did so in hopes that soon God would send the Rescuer. Jesus told them the bread represented His body. The Coming One had arrived. In other words Jesus was saying, “The Messiah you have been looking for is now before your very eyes. I am He.”

The cup He took was the third cup of the Passover, called the Cup of Redemption, and it followed the Affikomen.This cup was about looking back to the Exodus, when God redeemed Israel out of Egyptian slavery. In Exodus 6:6 God said to Moses, “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.’”

Jesus changed the meaning of this cup to the redemption that would be made available through the new covenant cut in His blood. Peter, who was in the Upper Room that night, would later write, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold, …but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish or without spot (I Peter 1:18-19).” 

In other words Jesus was saying, “No longer drink this third cup simply looking back to redemption from Egypt. From now on drink this cup thinking about the redemption of your souls made possible by my shed blood.” 

When we sit down to the Lord’s table we partake of simple ingredients available at any grocery store, but it is a costly meal in that it required the body of Jesus to be broken, and the blood of Jesus to be shed. As often as we eat it, we pause and give thanks to Jesus for the redemption that only He could make possible.