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

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!

Why Small Groups?

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to rethink a lot of things, including church. For the first time in our lifetimes, we were unable to gather in-person as a church for months as a time. When we did come back together, we had to alter some of our habits to accommodate increased health concerns.

Now that we are meeting together regularly, we are asking ourselves a whole new set of questions. What about bible study classes and small groups? How do these smaller assemblies relate to our worship services? What schedule and format would work best for our church? Are these ministries even necessary?

As our Sunday morning, Small Groups and through-the-week Life Groups resume in-person meetings, I wanted to address the question of groups. Here are 3 of the top reasons why small groups are important to the local church.

  1. The biblical reason: Jesus used groups. Not only did Jesus mandate that we make disciples in His name, but He also modeled disciple-making. In Rediscovering Discipleship, Robby Gallaty points out five different types of groups that Jesus used in His earthly ministry. Jesus ministered to crowds numbering in the thousand, but He also focused on a “congregation” of 70 to 150 self-identified followers. Beyond that, He spent significant time with a small community of 12 men. Three of those men were singled out for additional interaction and training. The point is that if Jesus utilized small groups, so should we.
  • The personal reason: groups are an avenue for care and shepherding. Small groups can provide a level of personal interaction that is not possible in a worship service. Prayer requests and concerns can be shared in more detail. Questions can be asked and answered. Group members can be encouraged and cared for. Unbelievers can be led to faith in the context of a group and believers can be equipped for spiritual growth in a group. Small groups invite people of all ages to get more personally involved in the life of the church.
  • The practical reason: groups encourage people to stay. Thom Rainer has quoted multiple studies that indicate that people who attend groups are five times more likely to stay connected to the church than those who only attend the worship service. People stay in a church because of relationships and involvement. Small groups are an excellent place to develop both. 

If someone were to ask me why we should restart our small groups ministry in-person or why they should be personally involved, I would start with these 3 top reasons. Small groups allow us to make disciples for Christ in ways that other types of gatherings cannot and that should be enough to move us to action.

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 to Celebrate Fathers When Yours Was Absent

This past Sunday was Father’s Day, a holiday to celebrate fathers and honor fatherhood. Our church leaned into Father’s Day by applauding fathers and urging them to use their influence in a godly way. Our family leaned into Father’s Day as well. We got together with some of our extended family for meal. My wife and kids got me some great gifts (my favorite was some new shaving supplies) and let me set the agenda for the afternoon and evening.

I am well aware that Father’s Day can be awkward for those who’s fathers were absent. My father abandoned me and my mother when I was young. A few years later he passed away, closing the door on any possible reunion.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 children grow up without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. But fathers can be absent in other ways. Some fathers are physically present, but emotionally unavailable. Some fathers give up their role through or mistreatment or abuse. Dads are taken out of the home through no fault of their own through accidents and sickness.

This brings up the question of how to celebrate Father’s Day when your father was absent. Is it possible to appreciate God’s design for the family and to honor fatherhood when your experience was or is less than ideal? I think it is and here are 3 suggestions for how to do it.

1. Emphasize what you had over what you miss. Even the best dads have weak spots. Rather than focusing on your dad’s flaws, try to focus on their strengths. In some cases, you may have to adjust you sights so low that you are just thankful they helped give you life – that’s all. Those with present, but unavailable dad’s might have to praise God for a roof over their heads and shoes on their feet. A caring father-like figure is much better than no one at all.

2. Decide to do better. This is for those in a position to make a positive change. You might not have had the best experience with your father, but you can make sure the next generation grows up differently. This mentality has pushed me to be the best dad I can be even if I didn’t have the best dad. You can’t change the past, but with God’s help you can change the future.

3. Focus on your Heavenly Father. The Bible presents God as a Heavenly Father to all who exercise faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. My favorite verse on God as Heavenly Father is found in John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB). God’s fatherly influence should be more than enough to compensate for an absentee earthly father.

Celebrating Father’s day can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. You can honor the fatherhood and appreciate your family (as imperfect as it may be) by focusing on what you have rather than on what you don’t have – and that is worth celebrating!

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.