Is It Still True That All Publicity Is Good Publicity?

They used to say that all publicity is good publicity, but is that still true?

Phineas T. Barnum is famous for the phrase, “All publicity is good publicity.” In this line of thinking, the only thing worse than being talked about badly is not being talked about at all. But is this true?

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is jam packed with believers who are “famous” for their faith. They are held up as examples of faith, but also as reminders of the faithfulness of God throughout the generations. But not all the examples that are listed are positive.

In a closely related passage in Hebrews 12:14-17, we read about the negative example of Esau. This is the guy who sold his birthright for bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). He was more interested in his next meal than honoring his family as the firstborn son. Rather than being famous, He is infamous in the book of Hebrews for all the wrong reasons.

How can we avoid Esau’s negative example? The verses that introduce him contain two clues.

  1. We must pursue peace. Instead of peace, Esau and Jacob were bitter rivals. They let their personal conflict interrupt God’s overarching plan for their family and His people. Verse 15 intensifies this instruction from a negative angle – by avoid a growing spirit of bitterness.
  2. We must pursue holiness. The record of Esau in Genesis doesn’t mention immorality, but Hebrews sure does. His moral impurity led him toward godlessness and away from holiness.

Even though Esau begged for forgiveness his birthright was lost and his blessing was lost. Believers today have similar opportunity to live as children of the Heavenly Father by faith. To fail is to follow the wrong example in Hebrews and to generate the wrong kind of publicity.

Distancing Yourself From Deliberate Sin

Sin is a common struggle, but God gives us the power to overcome. How can we distance ourselves from deliberate sin?

“Social distancing” is new term now in our common vocabulary. We are encouraged to keep our distance from others so that we don’t share germs. A few weeks ago, I shared a sermon from Hebrews 10:26-39 which included the idea of distancing ourselves from sin. Believers will never outrun sin completely this side of heaven, but with God’s help they should create as much distance as they can here on earth. Here are four ways to do that.

  1. Call it what it is and repent. We like to use pet names for our sin like a “white lie” or a “lapse in judgement.” These euphemisms shift blame around and help us to feel better about ourselves. Instead, we need to own our offensive attitudes and actions and ask God to forgives us.
  2. Receive God’s power to overcome. One of the most powerful pictures of salvation is to be free from the slavery of sin. When we embrace “willful sin” we put ourselves back into bondage. God wants to share His power with us to live free, if we’ll only receive it.
  3. Change the habits that encourage sin. One of the best predictors of the future is to study the past. Our previous patterns of behavior can show us where our weak spots are. Figure out a way to change your habit if that habit leads you into rebellion against God.
  4. Invite others to hold you accountable. The book of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes the importance of Christian community. One of the ways that believers can build this kind of community is by supporting one another in their struggles and their joys.

Sinful attitudes and actions bring guilt, shame, and fear into our lives. In turn, this creates distance between us and God. But God wants to have a close personal relationship with each one of us.

What over steps have you taken to distance yourself from sin? Please leave your answers in the comment section below.

Three Ways That Christ’s Sacrifice Changed the Way We Relate to God

A representation of the Israelite tabernacle

Some moments in time are so significant they shape the course of human history. These turning points are events, eras, and/or developments that bring about significant social, cultural, ecological, political, or economic change. One of the most important turning points, from an eternal perspective, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The writer of Hebrews uses the phrase “once for all” three times to describe the decisive nature of Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10). This stands in sharp contrast to the repetitive and ongoing work of the Levitical priest in the Old Testament. Christ’s sacrifice changed the way we relate to God in at least three ways.

1. It changed the focus from who we are to who Jesus is. The Bible is clear about who we are as human beings – we are hopelessly flawed sinners. Despite our best intentions, the stories of our lives always end up in pain, brokenness, tragedy when we try to make ourselves the main character. But Jesus Christ has the power to rewrite the story of our lives if we let Him become the main character.

2. It changed the focus from what we are doing to what He did. The book of Hebrews highlights the dangerous temptation of self-made righteous, even for those who know about faith. We may want the new life Christ has to offer, but we want to pay for it somehow through our good deeds and good works. But this the whole purpose behind Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice for us.

3. It changed the focus from the strength of our words to the strength of God’s Word. The Old Testament Law is chock-full of instructions, commands, and promises. These messages all point to the one final statement that God would make in and through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). His words and actions trump everything else. We must lean on and lean into God’s faithfulness when our faithfulness comes up short.

Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection was a turning point in human history. In one moment, He changed the way we relate to God forever. That deserves to be celebrated in the history books and in our hearts.

An Anchor for the Soul

Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. One of the three, Horseshoe Falls, is the largest and most powerful waterfall in North America. Just before the falls the water is turbulent and violent, but father upstream the river’s current is gentle and easy to navigate. At one point a small bridge spans the river holding the following warning:”Do you have an anchor?” followed by, “Do you know how to use it?”

An anchor was a familiar site for the seafaring people in and around the Mediterranean basin. Because of its usefulness, it became a symbol of strength, stability, and hope.

In Hebrew 6:19-20, the writer describes the nature and promises of God as “an anchor for the soul.” God’s nature came into view when He promised to bless “all the families of the earth” through Abraham. That promised was confirmed and developed throughout the Old Testament as God interacted with His people, the Israelites, through the priesthood and the sacrificial system. That promise came into shaper focus when Jesus Christ fulfilled the priesthood and the entire sacrificial system single-handedly.

As Jesus Christ emerged from behind “the veil” of the heavenly temple, he inaugurated a new era of hope. This hope serves as an anchor for those who are tossed about by the waves of doubt, suffering, or even persecution. The chains that fasten us to this anchor are forced by God’s unchangeable nature and His unbreakable promises. We can trust Him and plan even when we are flooded by the storms of life.

Photo by Kevin Woblick on Unsplash

Could Jesus Have Sinned?

Matthew 4:1-11 records the temptation of Jesus Christ. After fasting for forty days in the wilderness, the Devil came to Jesus to tempt Him. Every time the Devil offered Jesus a shortcut to the Heavenly Father’s plan, Jesus quoted Scripture and refused the offer.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NASB). In this context the term “tempted” means “to be tried, tested, and put to the test.” Like us, Jesus was tempted to sin, but how genuine was that temptation?

Generations of Bible teachers, seminary students, and theologians have debated the question, “Could Jesus have sinned?” We know He didn’t sin, but was sin even a possibility? Those who argue for the “peccability” Christ usually point out His humanity, His temptability (which implies sin), and His free will. Those who advocate the “impeccability” of Christ emphasize His deity, His divine attributes, and the Heavenly Father’s unchangeable plan for salvation.

A key part of this debate is identifying the nature of Christ’s humanity. Is Jesus human is like Adam was human before the fall, after the fall, or glorified in eternity. If Christ’s nature is human like Adam was before the fall then it was possible for Him to sin. If Jesus is like humanity glorified in the heavenly state, then He could not sin.

There is no clear cut answer to this perplexing question based on evidence that we have in God’s Word. If forced to choose, I would lean towards Christ’s deity and say, “No, He could not have sinned, even if He wanted to.” While this answer may be unsatisfactory to those who lean the other way, it underscores the bottom line – that Christ didn’t sin so that He could be our Savior.

At some point, this question should drive us to confront sin in our own lives. We have already given in to temptation, so what’s next? The next verse in Hebrews 4 urges us “…draw near to with confidence to the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4;16, NSAB). Jesus overcame sin and temptation so that He could help those who could not overcome on their own.

A Prayer List for Leaders

Psalm 101 describes the king’s commitment to lead in a faithful and godly manner. It was probably used at coronations or other celebration of the king in ancient Israel. A quick reading reveals principles that can be applied to political, business, or even church leaders in any age.

Dr. Daniel Estes turns these principles into a verse-by-verse prayer list for leaders in his excellent New American Commentary on Psalm 73-150. This list can be a series of prompts for prayer or a template for evaluating current and potential leaders.

  • May they maintain a genuine, humble commitment to live by the values of God (v. 1).
  • May they demonstrate integrity in their personal lives (v. 2).
  • May they have discernment to see through issues and people (v. 3).
  • May they be committed to godly standards of right and wrong (v. 4).
  • May they exercise wisdom in their choice of associates (v. 5-6).
  • May they take a courageous stand against evil, even at personal cost (v. 7).
  • May they be just in exerting active moral influence in their sphere of responsibility (v. 8).

Be sure to pray for yourself as you pray for others. Faithful and godly leadership is meant to set an example we all can follow.

Dr. Daniel J. Estes serves as the Distinguished Professor of OT at Cedarville University. While I was a student at Cedarville he was my academic advisor. He is an expert in the poetic books of the Bible and his writing encourages and challenges my soul.

The Freedom to Forgive

This is a guest post from my friend, Clay Woford. Clay is a husband, Seminary student, Director for Business Development for Coastal Wealth Management, and an Engineer for Marathon Petroleum.

You have been wronged, maybe small – maybe large – maybe for the last time? You feel you deserve justice, or revenge – that you need it. You seek counsel from friends and they support you that you deserve better, you deserve justice, that you don’t need to forgive this person who has wronged you. When you are wronged, you can lose an endless amount of time dwelling on what happened. Yet, your faith calls for different and there is freedom found in Christ from this bondage.

Your faith in Jesus Christ leads you to 1. Delayed Justice and 2. Unconditional Forgiveness.

Delayed Justice

Hebrews 10:30 – “For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Our Christian worldview guides us to not seek out our own justice through revenge or disparage someone. Our ultimate justice is coming in that God will judge all according to their deeds.

Unconditional Forgiveness

The idea that forgiveness might have limits or that at some point it isn’t deserved is not a new thought. Peter asked Jesus this question to find out when forgiveness was exhausted. Jesus responded to him with a parable comparing what we have been forgiven, and how we should respond to this grace.

Matthew 18:21-35 – “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents (60 million days work) was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii (100 days work); and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way, that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Matthew 6:12 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Unconditional Forgiveness is given by those who have been unconditionally forgiven. Our view, as Christians, on forgiveness is from a place of grace. Understanding that the forgiveness we find in Christ is of such magnitude that it should lead our hearts to forgive others. God has forgiven us of a debt we could never pay, we owed far more than 60 million days of labor, and that it should be our pursuit to forgive people who hurt us. You are “Paying It Forward” or paying your grace forward. That we are responding to our hurt or adversity, with generosity.

Forgiveness is baked into the essentials of faith with forgiveness being in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. Forgiveness is essential to our Christian living, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. That in life if forgiveness does not come quickly, resentment can set in and weigh heavy on your life for years, if you let it. If you find yourself struggling with forgiveness, lean on God to strengthen you for this task. I encourage you to not struggle alone if you are wrestling with forgiveness or resentment, that you share your burden with another Christian to walk together. That in Christ, you find forgiveness and the power to forgive others.

Clay can be contacted at rcwoford@gmail.com

A Clash of Worldviews

The increase in conflict and hostility in America is due, in part, to a growing divide between the secular and the Christian worldviews. Christian author, James Sire, defines a worldview as “a fundamental orientation of the heart.” A worldview answers the all-important questions of, “Who are we?” “Where are we?” “What’s wrong?” and, “Where are we going?” Everyone has a particular way in which they view the world even if they don’t know it, or their approach is inconsistent.

The clash of worldviews finds its basis in Scripture. In Romans 8:5-8, the Apostle Paul refers to minds set on the flesh and minds set on the Spirit. The Greek nouns behind the word for mind(s) means “a fixed disposition or an orientation towards something.” In context, Paul is describing two approaches to life: one that is focused on the flesh and materials things (as if that is all that exists) and another that is focused on the Spirit and the things of God. These two worldviews are diametrically opposed to one another.

Many of the morals, values, and traditions in American have grown out of a Christian worldview. As unbelieving American’s distance themselves from these practices (intentionally and unintentionally), they are also distancing themselves from the principles of a Christian worldview. The growing divide between these two basic worldviews has become the breeding ground for wide-spread animosity and distrust.

To be clear, this isn’t the only reason for our disunity, but it’s one of the more fundamental reasons that doesn’t get talked about very much. A Christian response to this situation includes three components. First, Christians should should work to bring their fundamental assumptions in line with each other as well as Scripture. Internal consistency and the authority of the Bible are two of features that make the Christian worldview so attractive.

Second, Believers must work to uncover the fundamental assumptions of their unbelieving co-workers and neighbors so they can share the hope and joy that that comes from a God-centered worldview. The expectation in 1 Peter 3:15, is that this activity is to be done in a spirit of gentleness and respect. This is the part that seems to be missing these days. Harshness and disrespect seem to be on the rise on both side of the cultural divide.

Third and finally, Christian parents and Church leaders should work to pass on the principles of a Christian worldview, not just the practices that have grown out of it over time. The next generation needs to embrace the answers to the all-important questions (see above), instead of just going through the motions. This is harder work, but it’s essential work.

The clash of worldviews in American is a wakeup call and an opportunity. Its an invitation to reflect more intentionally and more deeply about what we believe and how those beliefs impact our lives. Its also an invitation to engage with others who may believe differently and to share the truth with them.

Why I Love VBS

Here’s why I love VBS…

The church where I serve is getting ready to put on VBS this next week (That’s Vacation Bible School for the uninformed). I’ve been participating in VBS since I was a child and I love it. Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. VBS brings the church together around something positive. Summers tend to be a down time in church life when people are pursing other interests. But the weeks leading up to VBS are full of energy and excitement. People come together to get the job done.
  2. VBS forces the church to focus on the next generation. There are all kinds of activities that can happen in church, but you can’t have VBS without children. Children and youth are the future and they need to be prioritized.
  3. VBS allows the church to look outward. VBS is a simple, nonthreatening introduction. It’s so easy to invite families from the community to participate, even a kid can do it.
  4. VBS encourages the church to think about the gospel. VBS is full of a lot of actives , but it’s always organized around a central message – the good news of Jesus Christ. VBS provides church leaders with an opportunity to think creatively and succinctly about the message they want to share.
  5. VBS requires a variety of volunteers. People who enjoy working with their hands and building can help. People that like to teach and organize can help. People that enjoy music and crafts can help. Even athletic types can help with VBS. Men, women, teenagers, and senior can all find their place volunteering at a Vacation Bible School.

These are my top 5 reasons why I love VBS. I know there are more reasons and I’m sure you have your own. Please feel free to share the reasons why you love VBS in the comment section below.

Stuck in a Rut?

I grew up in southwest Michigan where corn and soybean field were plentiful. Whenever a particular part of a field was used too much, especially after a rain, a large deep muddy rut would develop. These ruts were difficult to navigate, even for the best four-wheel drive vehicle.

The writer of Hebrews warns us about a spiritual rut that keep us from reaching our destination. In Hebrews 3:7-11, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7b-11, which itself is a reference to the rebellion of the Israelites when the demanded fresh waster in Meribah (Exodus 17:7). The first half of Psalm 95 is an invitation to worship God as the King and Creator of all there is. The second half of Psalm 95 is a warning about ignoring the invitation to worship in reverence and obedience.

The overlap of these timelines is instructive in itself. This a perpetual problem for God’s people – a rut if you will. The rut is formed when believers trust in God to rescue them from their sins, but fail to rest in the abundance of His grace. They embrace God’s activity in the past, but fail to see His activity in the present.

The writer of Hebrews offers three solutions for those stuck in this kind of rut.

1.Pay attention to the state of your heart. The human heart is prone to wander off course. It must be recalibrated regularly to the “true north” of God’s Word.

2. Push one another toward faithfulness. It’s easier to get out out a rut if you have help. The Christian life was never met to be lived alone.

3. Persist in your confession and convictions. This may seem blatantly obvious, but it’s a crucial addition. You can’t get out a rut unless you try. Those who give up will stay where they are.

The spiritual rut of separating faith from our obedience is nothing new. It has been tripping up believers for generations. But there is a solution for those who find it!