Yes, what you believe matters

Yes, what you believe matters
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Yes, what you believe matters

One of the most important take-aways from the Christmas story in the gospel of Luke is that yes, what you believe matters.

This past Sunday, I finished up my Christmas series from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. There in my church with very few people over the age of 45 and a rock band, I got to teach about the hypostatic union. Wait! Don’t leave! This is important!

You can listen to Sunday’s message here.

Don’t worry, we’re not going too far into the theological weeds, but the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology describes the Hypostatic Union this way:

In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion, so that the one person, Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man.

When Jesus was twelve, he knew he was God…

I taught about Jesus’ trip at the temple at age 12. In that story, we see that from the time Jesus was a boy, he knew his place with his heavenly Father.

After a trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus’ family headed home to Nazareth. At the end of their first day of travel, they realized Jesus was missing. Luke describes three days (Yes, parents, THREE DAYS!) of searching before they found Jesus. He was in the temple.

When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, Mary asked him how he could do this to them! Jesus’ simple reply was:

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV)

Pretty simple question, right? But, it has HUGE implications. From twelve years old, Jesus understood who his Father is. In his question, Jesus implied that he understood his deity — he understood himself to be God!

Even though Jesus was not considered an adult at twelve years old, his family was devout enough he would have understood that to claim God to be his Father was a claim that he, himself, is God. In John 5:17-18, John writes about Jesus:

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him… he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (ESV)

Jesus didn’t become God. He was God…

One of the misunderstandings many people have about Jesus is that he didn’t become God or understand his God-ness until much later in life. (Most people point to his baptism when God spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.) I recently saw a cable program — sorry, I can’t remember what show or network — where John the Baptist had to talk Jesus into believing he was the Christ at his baptism.

Instead, we see here in Luke 2 that Jesus knew who his Father is and, subsequently, his own God-ness nearly eighteen years before his baptism. We also see in Luke 2 that his God-ness is not simply an idea his parents had taught him along the way. Jesus’ understanding amazed everyone as he was being taught in the temple. (Yes, the religious leaders taught him.)

For a long time, I believed Jesus was teaching the religious leaders in the temple. However, Luke very clearly described the religious leaders teaching and Jesus listening and asking questions. Jesus learned from the religious leaders. Just a few verses later Luke wrapped up the second chapter of his gospel by writing:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52 ESV)

And, Jesus was completely human, too…

Jesus learned. Jesus grew up. Jesus’ life displayed not only his God-ness but his human-ness as well. So, it’s also important for us to understand Jesus’ humanity. He experienced everything we experience. Jesus felt, hurt, laughed and loved. He understood what if felt like to bring his parents joy as well as frustration. With the exception of sin, Jesus lived as we live. That’s why the writer of Hebrews could write about him:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)

Then, Jesus died…

Then, of course, he died. I don’t know about you, but dying kind of scares me to death. When I think about exhaling my last breath, I get a little weak in the knees. Jesus knows that feeling. But, he also knows the feeling of what comes next. After Jesus died like we will all die, he experienced resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote about Jesus’ resurrection. He told us that because Jesus rose, everyone who trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection will share in his resurrection:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? …But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20 ESV)

So, believers, Jesus understands you. He feels what you are feeling. He knows what dreams and fears feel like. Jesus even knows what it feels like to draw his last breath. He also knows what it will feel like to draw the next resurrected breath.

We serve an incredible God. He came to earth and became human — while remaining completely God — for us. He understands our humanity. And, when we trust in him, we share in the victory his death purchased for us. We receive the gift of eternal life by believing he died on the cross in our place and rose from the grave. Then, we follow him who purchased salvation for us.

So, yes, what you believe matters!

If you are ready to trust in Jesus, send me a note. I would love to talk with you about it!

Have questions? Send our pastor a note

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When the Bible is hard to understand

When the Bible is hard to understand
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What do you do when the Bible is hard to understand?

What do you do when the Bible is hard to understand?

This week — actually for the past 2 weeks — I’ve been working on writing a lesson for Daniel 9. Daniel 9 is a chapter that contains some prophecies that make it kind of tricky to understand. As I worked on this lesson this week, I thought I would share 3 tips with you to help you understand the Bible when it gets hard to understand.

Tip 1: It’s all about Jesus

All of it is about Jesus

The most important overarching principle of reading the Bible is that it’s all about Jesus. All of the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — tell us about Christ. The Old Testament tells us why we need Christ an what he will be like when he comes.

When the religious leaders were trying to entrap and kill Jesus he told them:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me
John 5:39 ESV

From the very beginning of the Bible we see foreshadowing of Jesus. Following Adam and Eve’s first sin, God told serpent:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Genesis 3:15 ESV

Then, he covered the first family’s nakedness by executing an animal and covering them with its skin. This anticipates the principle from Hebrews 9:22:

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22 ESV

It also demonstrates that the failure of the man and woman to cover their nakedness with the clothing they tried to make from fig leaves was because they needed a covering for their sin that came from the sacrifice just as our righteousness is the gift of God purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…
Isaiah 61:10 ESV

This thread of Christ and his deliverance is echoed throughout the Old Testament. For instance, when the nation of Israel needed a hero, David arrived on the scene and killed the giant while the other warriors cowered nearby. Jesus is the Savior who slew the giants of sin and death when all we could do was cower on the sidelines.

About Jesus, not me (or you)

The challenge we face as 21st Century readers is that we often try to find ourselves, rather than Jesus, as we read the Bible. The Bible is about Jesus. He is the main character of the Bible. Every story in the Bible primarily teaches us about him. Every other character in the Bible was a supporting Character whose arc was devised to tell us about Jesus. We have a similar role in redemptive history. Our own stories are brief interactions with Jesus that continue to show him and his glory to others.

Always begin reading the Bible by looking for Jesus.

Tip 2: Genre matters

We all read different types of books, but we don’t read them all the same way. Great fiction authors and historians are both trying to teach us something about our world, but they do it very differently.

Some people talk about reading the Bible literally. That’s exactly how the Bible should be read if, by literally, you mean according to a passage’s type of literature. Different books and passages from the Bible have to be understood differently.

Much of the Bible is narrative. God uses joy and heartbreak in the lives of his people to show us what he is like. Some of the Bible is poetry that proclaims the greatness of God. It often uses metaphors and allusions to show us who God is and how he has revealed himself to us. Some of the Bible is wisdom literature full of insights how to live in a way that allows our lives to point to Jesus. Some of the Bible teaches us very directly who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Much of the Apostles’ writings clearly tell us who Jesus was and what he was like.

Always try to understand what genre you are reading when you read the Bible.

Tip 3: Look for law and gospel

When many people think of God’s law, they think of The Ten Commandments or the first five books of the Old Testament. Those are full of God’s law, but there’s more to it than that. When many people think of the gospel, they think of the first four books of the New Testament or the passages in the New Testament letters that tell us about how Jesus died receiving the punishment for our sin and rose from the grave. That, of course, is the gospel. But, did you know that you can use the law and gospel as a tool for understanding all of the Bible?

Thou shalt…

When you read the Bible, always keep your eyes open for commands. Commands or imperatives are the law of God in both the Old and New Testaments. When Moses or David or Jesus or Paul or Peter gives us a command, that command is law. Law usually pretty easy to identify because it has a verb that involves doing something like: “Thou shalt,” “you must,” “you should,” “do this,” or “do that.” Back in the 16th Century theologians understood that these commands that make up the law of God exist for three big reasons (I used Ligonier Ministries web site to refresh my memory on these):

  1. To show us our sin — all of us.
    When God gives us a command, if we are honest, we realize we don’t measure up to it. God’s law demands perfection, and we all break all the laws all the time. That’s why in the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes adultery as looking with lust and murder as being angry with someone. (No, not all anger is murder or every look at a woman is adultery, but we have all crossed those lines.) God’s law first shows us how we fall short, so we will look to Jesus for our salvation.
  2. To restrain us.
    God’s law given through scripture and through civil authorities gives all of us a sense of right and wrong throughout all history and in every culture. We all understand that taking from others is wrong even though different cultures draw the lines a little differently.
  3. To tell us God’s will.
    How do we know God’s will? The law tells us how God wants us to live. When we are obedient to God’s law, we are doing God’s will. When we have a decision that is not guided by God’s law, we act in wisdom and freedom. (More on that another time.)

You are…

What about the gospel? Whenever you see in the Bible a statement that tells you who you are in Christ, you are reading an announcement of who God has made you in Christ. Throughout the Bible, we see statements about us that tell us we are healed, resurrected, forgiven, righteous and children of God among many, many other promises in Christ. All of these promises find their “yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

No, I’m not talking about prosperity gospel because the fulfillment of these promises is in our resurrection in Christ — the completion of which we will not experience in this life. But, we do receive the firstfruits of our resurrection in this life as the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer as the seal of our salvation as well as Christ’s presence with us in the Spirit as we go about the task of making disciples.

So, as you read the Bible always keep your eye open for commands and promises that teach us our shortcomings and God’s will for our obedience as well as God’s promises to us in Christ.

What if you need a little more help?

Well, I guess it’s time for me to finish my lesson on Daniel 9. Say a prayer for me that I get it right. That leads me to the last tool we have when we need to know what the Bible says: commentaries.

Just about any time I write a lesson or a sermon, I find a good commentary to help me correctly understand the passage I am teaching. I like to think of commentaries like having another believer (who is way smarter than I am) to guide me through the text I am teaching.

When I’m reading a passage in order to teach through it, I often have insights that bring the passage to life. Those are really exciting moments because I know the people I will be teaching will be wowed by something about God or what he has done for us. Commentaries are very important to me in these moments because I want to make sure that insight is not something new.

I know you’re probably thinking: “Wait a minute! Don’t you want to share something new?” Yes. I want to share an insight that is new to the people I am teaching. However, I don’t want to share a completely new idea. Because the Bible has been studied for over two thousand years, someone has had just about all the correct understandings of the Bible. Any new understanding I have about a biblical text is probably wrong. So, when I’m studying a passage, and I come up with an idea I can’t find in a commentary, I check another commentary. If I can’t find it after checking a couple, I move on. As much as I want to share new ideas with the people I teach, I want to get it right.

The problem for most people is that commentaries can be kind of expensive. Here are a couple solutions:

First, John Calvin has written commentaries on just about every book of the Bible. His commentaries are available online for free. They are not super easy to understand, but they are a great place to start if you don’t have another option available to you. You can find them here: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/commentaries.i.html

Warren Wiersbe has also written a commentary on just about every book of the Bible. These are available individually or together in two volumes. You can probably find them wherever your order books. Here is a link to the set at lifeway.com. The lifeway version comes with a CD ROM I assume is searchable:
https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/wiersbe-bible-commentary-2-vol-set-w-cd-rom-P005106932

Another great solution is to simply make sure the commentaries you are purchasing are worth having. Before I buy just about any commentary, I check bestcommentaries.com. There you can find a list of commentaries for every book of the Bible. Each commentary is rated with info on how helpful it is to people with different purposes.

Because the Bible is worth getting right, I would encourage you to begin investing in commentaries as you work to understand the Bible.

And pray

Oh yeah. And pray. Maybe, we should have started there. God’s Spirit who dwells inside every believer works in us, so we can understand God’s word. Jesus is God’s revelation to us — he is all the revelation we need (Hebrews 1:1-3). The Bible about 1,500 years of God-breathed words telling us about Jesus. God’s Spirit illuminates that revelation, so we can understand who Jesus is and how to follow him at the deepest part of who we are. So, anytime you open your Bible, pray. Ask God to cause his Spirit to use those words to change you at your very core, so you can be a disciple of Jesus and a disciple-maker.

And, as you pray, please pray for me. When I read the Bible God uses his words not just to instruct me, but to instruct hundreds of other people.

God’s word is rich. It is active in every believer by his Spirit, so read it, understand it and let God’s Spirit change you.

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God is great and we are busy

God is great and we are busy
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As we get ready to begin a new year at CrossRoads, we are going to take some time to reflect on the reality that God is great. Today, I want you to think about our challenge to being witnesses to his greatness: We are busy.

God is great…

One of the questions I ask followers of Jesus all the time is: “How have you been a witness to the greatness of Christ this week?” Do you know what answer I usually get? “I don’t know.”

How can a follower of Jesus answer that question: “I don’t know”?!?

We are busy…

I think the answer is pretty simple: We are busy.

I don’t think there’s a single follower of Jesus who says to themselves: “I don’t want to be a witness to Jesus’ greatness today.” But, it’s hard to look back on a day, a week or a year and try to figure out how you have been a witness to the greatness of Christ. Seriously, most mornings I wake up, and yesterday is a blur. I can’t usually tell you what in the world I spent my time doing. I can remember a few important things I did, but the rest is just a spatter of activity. I even take time every morning to reflect on yesterday and think about what I have on my plate today, and I just can’t remember!

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time working on how to be more productive. One of the productivity gurus I’ve been learning from is Michael Hyatt. He is a high-level performer. He knows how to get things done, and he’s great at helping other people how to get things done, too. You can find his resources at his website or on Amazon. As I have read Hyatt’s books and used his planner, there is one super-important principle I have found over and over again.

Simplify.

We are creatures who thrive on simplicity. In a world where God is great and we are busy, we need goals, objectives, systems and habits that simplify and declutter our lives.

One of the principles Hyatt teaches is to spend time each week and every day deciding what will be your Big Three: What are the three most important things you will get done? These are the three things that take us out of the rat race into the world of accomplishing something — and knowing what it is we accomplished! Every day you begin by consciously deciding what your Big Three will be. Every week, you spend some time thinking about what you want to accomplish this week and decide on a Big Three for the week as well. What Hyatt points out in his books and planner is that we often don’t get more than three things accomplished each day, so we should simplify our plan for each day to three big things that will make our day or week a success. That way, we can look back at yesterday or last week and celebrate that we really got something done to make our lives, our work, our families and the world a better place.

One of the keys to making sure we are being witnesses to the greatness of Christ every day is to make one of our Big Three items reflect that goal. Take a few minutes to reflect on these ideas as you think about life in a world where God is great and we are busy:

  • What are the Big Three things you want to get done today?
  • How will those Big Three things give you something to celebrate that you made your life, your work, your family and the world a better place?
  • How will one of the Big Three things you are going to accomplish be a testimony to the greatness of Christ?

Share your thoughts…

  • What is one way you are going to be a witness to the greatness of Christ today?
  • What is one thing you will do to simplify your life this year?
  • What’s one of your Big Three things you are going to accomplish today or this week?

Have questions? Send our pastor a note

Find out what to expect your first Sunday at CrossRoads

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New Year Clean Slate

new year clean slate

The new year with a clean slate is almost here. This week begins one of my favorite times of the year. I just began setting up my new planner. Except for a vacation and a few holidays, my plan for the new year is completely clean. There’s something great about a clean slate! One of the beautiful things about our faith. We have a God who is all about clean slates.

In Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV), Jeremiah writes of God:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God truly gives is a clean slate. Always! You just read it from Lamentations: his mercies never come to an end. Every day — every moment — is an opportunity for a clean slate because of what Jesus has done for us. John, of course, puts it this way:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)

A clean slate.

So, if you have a clean slate, what do you do with it? Psalm 19 has some great answers to that question:

What do we do with a clean slate?

Start with God’s greatness

Psalm 19:1-6 ESV
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork…

Creation gets it right. The sky, the stars, the mountains, the ocean — they all proclaim God’s greatness. What would your clean slate or calendar look like if you were to fill it up with meetings, appointments and events that make God’s name great? What would you add to your 2020 planner that wasn’t there in 2019? What would you leave out?

You were created alongside the rest of creation to make the Creator’s name great. And, now that Creator has become your Savior and your Father.

Follow God’s Law

I know. We all hate rules. And sometimes that’s exactly what God’s Law can feel like sometimes. But, it’s so much more.

Psalm 19:7
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…

God’s law is the words of our Father who loves us more than we love ourselves. His law is the words of our Savior who gave his own life for us. He won’t keep any good thing from us. The psalmist tells us to follow God’s law because it revives the deepest part of who we are.

What does your blank slate planner look like if you decide to fill it with loving God and meeting needs the way God’s teaches? Do you trust God to make it worth it?

Let your words and heart center on Christ

Psalm 19:14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus said something that changed everything for me:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jesus promises that when our hearts are focused on our Father’s kingdom, we can rest that he will meet all the needs in our lives. What does it look like for you to fill up your conversations and your heart’s meditations with thoughts about your Father’s kingdom? How does that change what fills up your calendar next year?

It’s time to start your new planner. It’s pretty close to a clean slate at the moment. How are you going to fill it up the next 366 days?

Have questions? Send our pastor a note

Find out what to expect your first Sunday at CrossRoads

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