Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 3)

How should God’s mercy and love impact your prayer life?

Earlier this week I started a three-part mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This is the third and final post in that series.

One of the most descriptive passages of God in the New Testament is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This parable is more than a story, it’s a picture of the Heavenly Father.

A loving father of two sons experienced great heartbreak. The youngest son demanded his inheritance early so that he could waste it all on himself. After his money was gone, the younger son got a job feeding pig and dreamed about the comforts of home.

Every day, the loving father would go out to the road and look for his son’s return. As soon as he saw him, the father ran to meet his son, greeted him, and embraced him. Instead of punishing the son, he called for a celebration.

This vivid parable teaches us that the Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you. Love includes a group of virtues like benevolence, graciousness, mercy, and persistence. When we read that “God is love” in 1 John 4:7, it means that He is all of those things.

Jesus included this character quality in His model prayer along with the holiness and trustworthiness of the Heavenly Father. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus urges us to call out to God to “forgive us our debts.”

Here are three tips for receiving God’s forgives through prayer

1. Cultivate a healthy view of your sin. We have a tendency to go to extremes in our understanding of sin. On one hand, we can blow sin out of proportion, making it impossible to to deal with. On the other hand, we can minimize sin to such an extent that it doesn’t really matter.

2. Take Him at His Word – He will forgive. 1 John 1:9 states that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)” This is a promise.

3. Confess your sin audibly if possible, to make it more definite. We can pray silently to ourselves or out loud for others to hear. Sometimes, praying out loud makes our prayer more focused and more definite.

The Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you We can receive that forgiveness and make it our own through prayer. Thanks for join for this three-part mini-series on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. Feel free to add one of your own tips for receiving God’s forgiveness in prayer in the comment section below.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 2)

What does God’s truthfulness mean for our prayer life?

Yesterday I started a mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This material is based on breakout session I shared recently at a conference. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer.

The prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites numerous times throughout the Old Testament book that bears his name, but one of the most colorful warnings is recorded in Jeremiah 10:1-10. The nations that surrounded Israel studied astronomical phenomena like eclipses and comets so they could worship the sun, moon, and stars as gods. In order to make their worship more tangible, they made idols out of wood and decorated them with precious metal.

Jeremiah described the deceptive nature of these worthless gods with a heavy dose of sarcasm. They looked impressive but they were fake. They were seen as powerful, but they had to be carried around like an infant. They were feared but the idols couldn’t do anything, good or evil, to enforce their will.

Jeremiah presents a sharp contrast in verse 6. Rather than being deceptive, God is trustworthy and lives up to His reputation. He stands above any other supposed god. He is great and mighty. He is real and alive, not fabricated. Jeremiah’s God was a real and truthful so He can be trusted.

Once again, Jesus brings out this aspect of the Heavenly Father’s character in his model prayer in Matthew 6:11. After acknowledging God’s holiness, Jesus asks the Father to “give us this day our daily bread.” This simple request is an expression of dependance and trust in the Heavenly Father.

Here are three tips for building your trust in God through prayer:

1. Focus on God, not just His blessings. Some folks only pray when they need or want something. God the Father loves to bless and provide for His children, but He also loves to spend time with them. Try to set aside time to pray even if you don’t need anything.

2. Be persistent, which is a sign of dependence. When you do make a request, repeat yourself often and be consistent. Not in a ritualistic way, but as a way to express your dependence on God.

3. Write out your prayer requests so that you can document His faithfulness. I tend to be forgetful. When I forget what I prayed for in the past, I miss an opportunity to praise God for His faithfulness in the present. Writing down you prayer petitions make it easier to trace out the trustworthiness of God.

God is real and truthful so He can be trusted. We can build our trust in God through prayer. Join me again tomorrow as I trace out another silhouette of the Heavenly Father. Feel free to add one of your own tips for expressing reverence in prayer in the comment section below.

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.

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.

Your Confession and Convictions Are the Most Important Thing About You

Photo by Kate Kalvach on Unsplash

Conversations and concerns about diversity dominate our cultural conversation right now. It seems like everywhere you go there is a caring neighbor, a socially-minded company, or a concerned politician trying to fix our short-comings. Even school board meetings are making the news as parents and school board members debate the use of certain theories and tactics in our public schools.

For the most part, these concerns are good. We are a long way from overcoming prejudice and discrimination in our country. But the current cultural conversation does have a couple downsides. One downside is that we are pushed to think in unbiblical categories. God is the one who created us, diversity and all. We must not color outside of the boundaries He has given us in Scripture.

Another downside is that we will loosing site of the one inward reality that matters more than any other. In Romans 10, Apostle Paul shares his deep burden for his fellow Jews who have not accepted Jesus Christ yet. In verses 9, 10 and 11, Paul explains that a person’s outward verbal confession combines with their inward personal conviction to activate their salvation. A renewed relationship with God springs from this singular expression of faith. In verse 12), we learn that this new connection to Christ is more important than the religious or ethnic identity of a Jew or a Gentile. In other words, the label of being “in Christ” through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection is more important than any other label someone may claim.

In Hebrews 3:6, readers are urged to maintain their verbal confession and personal convictions about Jesus Christ. This one thing matters more than the color of one’s skin, their ethnic background, or their gender. As we work to overcome prejudice and discrimination, believers must not be shy out the one identity that defines all other identities.

How Should We Relate to Angels?

This past Sunday we started a sermon series in the book of Hebrews titled, Jesus is Greater. In the very first sermon we learned that Jesus Christ is God’s supreme revelation to mankind. As such, Jesus Christ is superior to the angels.

Angels are mentioned frequently in the teaching portions as well as the narrative portions of Scripture. They are mentioned 12 times in the book of Hebrews alone alone with one reference to the devil. This brings up the question of how believers are supposed to relate to these mighty spiritual beings? What does the book of Hebrews add to our understanding of angels?

1. We should not obsess over them (Hebrews 1:5-13, 2:1-9). Angels are created beings just like humans. They may have supernatural powers, but they are not to be worshipped. When John encountered an angel in the book of Revelation, the angel refused to be worshipped (Revelation 19:10). Instead, we should view them as agents working to advance God’s will.

2. We should be aware of them (Hebrews 12:18-24). Angels inhabit the heavenly realm. As God’s redemption story unfolds in real time, we are all moving towards a place where angels are common place. They are part of the created world and part of God’s plan. We should not treat them like myths or relics of the past.

3. We should “entertain” them (Hebrew 13:2). There were a number of people in the Old Testament who interacted with angels in human form without realizing it (Genesis 18 and 19). This possibility is used in Hebrews as motivation for hospitality. We should welcome and care for others as if they were a representative of God.

A biblical view of the world includes a biblical view of angels and demons. They are supernatural beings made for our benefit and God’s glory. We would do well to treat them accordingly.

Portraits of Discipleship

lili-popper-29472-unsplashThe term “discipleship” means different things to different people. Some people think of discipleship as a specific kind of bible study curriculum or an optional class at their church that is focused on discipleship. Other people imagine a person – one of the original twelve disciples that Jesus Christ called to follow him. Another group of people may get stuck on the root of the word which is “discipline.” These understandings aren’t wrong, they are just incomplete.

Discipleship is more than an idea, or a person, or class. Discipleship is a process in which people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and learn to serve him more effectively. In John 1:29-51, John the Apostle (one of the original twelve disciples) shared three short stories about Jesus and his interactions with his first followers. You could call these short stories portraits of discipleship.

Each one of the three stories in this passage answers two questions: Who is Jesus? And what does it mean to follow Jesus?

  • THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD (v. 29-34)

John the Baptist told his followers that Jesus Christ was “the Lamb of God” while John was baptizing and preaching by the Jordan river. Lambs were very important in Jewish thinking. A lamb was killed at Passover and its blood was spread on the doorposts of the home to symbolizes God’s pardon. This teaches us that sin can only be wiped away by the blood of a sacrificial lamb.

  • THE RABBI WHO TEACHES US ABOUT OURSELVES (v. 35-42)

John the Baptist passed on two his disciples to Jesus: Andrew and either Philip or John. Andrew went and found his brother, Simon, and introduced him to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus took the opportunity to teach Simon something about himself. Even though Simon was impulsive and outspoken, he would become as solid as rock through his time with Jesus. Jesus gave him a new nickname, Peter, as a promise of the transformation that would happen in his life.

  • THE TRUE KING WHO RULES OVER GOD’S PEOPLE (v. 43-51)

Jesus went into Galilee and found another disciple named Philip. Like Andrew, Philip found his brother, Nathaniel, and introduced him to Jesus. Jesus explained to his growing band of followers he already knew Nathaniel. Jesus knew Nathaniel while studied the Scriptures under a fig tree. Jesus also knew that Nathaniel was truthful and authentic

Nathaniel immediately recognized Jesus as the True King of Israel. The Jewish Messiah was God’s chosen reprehensive to lead his people according to God’s promise to King David (2 Sam. 7). As such, Jesus Christ bridged the gap between heaven and earth, reintroducing God’s activity among his people.

These three portraits of discipleship present one compelling truth: The things we learn about Jesus should lead us to follow him.

This passage is more than a list of titles and descriptions. It contains a series of experiences and interactions with Jesus. It teaches us to balance our knowledge about  God with our knowledge of God. It invites us to have a similar experience with Jesus as his first followers: Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathaniel.

Each one of these portraits of discipleship highlights a different “first step” of discipleship. Some disciples come to Jesus for forgiveness, others for transformation, and others are encouraged to surrender their lives. As you assess your connection to Christ, make sure that the things you are learning are leading you to follow Him.

Lost in Translation

sharon-mccutcheon-532782-unsplashHave you ever played the game called “telephone”? One person whispers a message to the person next to them and it travels down the line until the last person announces what they heard. I’ve played “telephone” dozens of times in my life, maybe more, and the message original message always gets lost somewhere in the translation.

When God speaks, he speaks clearly. God created the universe through the power of his spoken word. God revealed his plan to redeem mankind through his inspired and authoritative written word, the Bible. But God went even further to communicate and connect with mankind so his magnificent character and intentions were not “lost in translation.” God sent His Son, Jesus Christ – the Living Word – into the world to reveal Himself to us.

As we read John 1:1-18, we find four truths about Jesus Christ. The Apostle John gives us these four truths so that we might know God, not just know about Him. Notice what these verses tell us about Jesus.

First, He is a divine person (1:1-2). John introduces “the Word” as a person, not an idea or an impersonal force. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is distinct but equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This is absolutely foundational to the rest of the things we read about Jesus Christ in John’s Gospel.

Second, He was present at creation (1:3-5). John connects his Gospel to the creation story in Genesis by starting it out the same way: “in the beginning.” In Genesis 1:26, we read about God’s conversation with himself about creating mankind in his image (“Let us create man in our image.”) The Apostel Paul declares that Jesus has always existed and “all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16).

Third, He is the power of redemption (1:6-13). Although Jesus Christ created humans and became a human, he was dismissed and rejected. But by God’s grace, some have responded faith and believe. Those who do are redeemed and adopted as children of God. This spiritual “rebirth” is brought about by the power of God.

Fourth, He is a picture of God (1:14-18). The Second Commandment prohibited God’s people from making an “idol” or likeness” of God as a part of their worship (Exodus 20:4-6). This commandment was to keep the Hebrews from settling for a disappointing substitute for God. Jesus was is so much more than a disappointing substitute – he is God is the flesh.

John’s testimony is designed to introduce others to Jesus Christ, not just tell them about him.  Theologian J. I. Packer once said, There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have the energy to serve Him, boldness to share, and contentment in Him.” Knowing about someone is not the same as having a personal relationship with that person.

Every relationship starts with a decision. You can start a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by deciding two things. First, that you personally believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that he died for you and your sins. Second, that you personally accept his offer of a new life. The new life that God offers comes forgiveness and a home in heaven.

Some things get lost in translation, but Jesus Christ did not. He reveals such a clear and compelling picture of God and his love for us that we must respond. Have you responded to his message for you?

Share Your Joy

person-110305_1280What brings you joy? Do you find joy in your achievements and accomplishments? Does your joy come from those around you?  Do your circumstances control your level of joy?

The Prophet Isaiah ministered during a stormy time in his nation’s history. The Assyrian Empire was growing in strength and taking over the many of the nations in Fertile Crescent. The Jewish nation and Isaiah’s personal situation was about to get worse.

Even though Isaiah’s circumstances looked bleak, he pointed his people to a time of intense joy and celebration. In Isaiah chapter 11, the prophet predicts the eventual the eventual redemption and restoration of his people, the Jews, through Jesus Christ the Messiah. In chapter 12, he describes the emotions and activities associated with the day of salvation. As the Jews rejoiced over their salvation, they were moved to share their joy with other people.

Even though our cultural and political situation in the church today is much different than in Isaiah’s day, we can learn from him. In Isaiah chapter 12, we learn that when a church is full of joy over the gospel something spills out and that something is evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those who don’t know him yet. If a church is full of joy over the good news about Jesus Christ, they will share it with others outside the church. If there is limited joy in a church, or it comes from the wrong things, then evangelism will disappear.

A brief reading of Isaiah 12 reveals three ways that all believers can find in Jesus Christ and express it to others. First, you can share your joy with others because is present everywhere you go (verse 6). God is always with his people. Second, you can share your joy through praise and worship (verse 5). Music and singing reveal what hidden in the human heart. Third, you can share your joy with all people (verse 4). True joy is contagious, spreading from person to person.

Let’s all take a lesson from the Prophet Isaiah. Enduring joy only comes from God, who sent Jesus to save us from ourselves. If believers and the churches they attend are full of joy it will not only change the atmosphere in the church, it will change their activity. If you’ve found your joy in God, then find someone to share that joy with this week.

That You May Believe

john-sermon-ppt-title-bEveryone has a story to tell.

The Apostle John told his story about Jesus Christ. From everything we know, John was the only one of Christ’s original disciples that who lived into old age. John used his time to minister in the church and write Scripture. John wrote three Epistles, the book of Revelation, and the Gospel that bears his name.

Recently, we started a new sermon series at the church where I serve as pastor on the Gospel of John. Instead of starting at the beginning of the book, we started near the end where John reveals the purpose of his writing. In John 20:30-31, John identifies the keys unlocking his story about Jesus Christ. He writes first about his himself, and then about his mission.

1. The Man: John wrote from his own personal experience (v. 30).

John was transformed by his time with Jesus. He learned to balance and spiritual maturity. In his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, Pastor John MacArthur outlines three ways that John changed. First, John learned the balance of love and truth. Second, he learned to balance ambition with humility. Third, he learned the balance of suffering and glory. The old adage is “a leopard can’t change its spots,” but that wasn’t true for John. He grew from one of the “Sons of Thunder” into the Apostel of love (Mark 3:17).

John also witnessed Jesus perform many signs and wonders. John describes seven of those miracles in the first half of his Gospel. He focuses last half of his Gospel on Christ’s most incredible miracle, his resurrection from the dead. John tells us that Jesus did many more signs and wonders than were recorded in the pages of Scripture.

The only other place in the Bible where signs and wonders are so widespread is in the story of the Exodus. In Exodus 10:1-2, we read that God performed many signs through Moses so that the people would recognize God as God and come to know Him. John was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was God in the flesh because he saw him perform so many signs and wonders.

2. The Mission: John wrote for a special purpose (v. 31).

He wrote his story about Jesus so that his readers would exercise faith in Jesus. John uses some form of the verb “believe” 10 times more often than any of the other Gospel writers. In John’s story about Jesus, almost everyone that comes in contact with Jesus is faced with a choice to either believe in or not believe in Jesus.

He also wrote so that his readers would experience eternal life. Eternal life is a gift we receive from God by faith. is the gift we receive in return. Eternal life is a quality of life as well as a quantity of life. It describes life walking with Jesus day by day, either on this earth or in heaven.

In summary, John wrote his Gospel so that you would believe in Jesus Christ and eternal life.

John was the only disciple that we know that was present at Christ’s crucifixion. In John 19, we read about him standing by the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women. As Jesus was about to die, he asked John to take his mom into his home and take care of her. This tender moment paints a beautiful picture of belief and discipleship. John identified with Jesus at great risk to himself. John dedicated his life to caring for the people that Jesus cared about – His mom as well other disciples in the church. John also told his story of transformation with Jesus.

Just like the characters in John’s story about Jesus, you have a decision to make – what will you do with Jesus?

  • Will you identify with Jesus through repentance and faith?
  • Will you dedicate your life to caring for the people Jesus cares about?
  • Will you tell your story of transformation in Christ with others?

(Special thanks goes to Thearon Landrum for making a graphic for this post!)

Listen to the whole sermon at:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-01-15T05_33_43-08_00