From Luke 23

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

That passage from Luke is one of my favorite because it speaks to the immeasurable love of Jesus Christ, that even in the midst of His own pain and suffering, as He was dying on the cross, He answered the one who called on His name and saved him from eternal condemnation.

I’m sure many sermons have been preached about the criminal who Jesus saved that day. But so there’s no confusion, this isn’t about him. This is about the criminal who was not saved, the one who said to Jesus, “You’re the Messiah? Then get us down off these crosses!”  He’s the one I’m referring to here as the “other criminal.” 

Very little is known about the other criminal and in fact, we don’t very much about either of them. We don’t know either of their names. We only that both men were under a sentence of death. They were getting what their deeds deserved. The one who said, “Jesus, remember me.” said so. One day we will know his name. We will meet him in Heaven. He is with Jesus at this very moment. He was very close to being eternally separated from God but in the final hours of his life, he discovered grace. He knows the saving power of Jesus first hand.

But what about the other criminal? We tend to dismiss him and focus more on the one who cried out to Jesus for salvation. But have you ever wondered about that other criminal? Have you ever wondered who he was?  I have. And I’ve discovered who he was. He was me. Just like his partner in crime, the other criminal cried out to Jesus too, but for different reasons. All he wanted was for Jesus to get them out of the jam they were in. He just wanted to save his own skin. I’ve done the exact same thing. I’ve cried out to God on more than one occasion to get me out of some mess I had gotten myself into. For years I only prayed when I wanted something. I was just like the other criminal. And according to the Bible, we’re all just like the other criminal. In Romans 3, God’s word says:

There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

And just a little further down, in verse 23, Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now we’re all very familiar with Romans 3:23. But if you read that one single verse and stop right there, it almost paints a portrait of hopelessness. It very aptly describes who the other criminal was, and it also describes who we are. We are fallen sinners who can never be right in the eyes God, not on our own. You can’t read Romans 3:23 and stop there though. You have to read on, because in the following verse is found the message of hope. Verse 24: “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

It’s almost tempting to say that on one side of Jesus hung the criminal represented by Romans 3:23, and on the other side hung the criminal represented by Romans 3:24. But the truth is, verse 23 is an accurate depiction of both criminals. Just like all of us, both men sinned and fell short of the glory of God. Both were condemned to death, not just by the Roman authorities, but also by God. They both cried out to Jesus and asked to be spared. But that’s where the similarities end. One cried out to be spared from the cross, the other cried out to be spared from eternal condemnation. One cried out because he wanted  a little more time in this world. The other cried out for eternal life. And He was the one who was justified, who was made right, by grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

On one side of Jesus then, we see redemption. On the other side, rejection. On one side of Jesus we see eternal salvation. On the other, eternal condemnation. Like those two criminals, everyone has a choice to make. To paraphrase the word of God spoken through Moses to the people of Israel: Set before us is life and death, blessings and curses. Choose Life!

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Strengthening the Shield

The pastor of my church has been preaching a sermon series on the Armor of God (Ephesians 6), and he recently focused on the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. The shield shown in the picture is a replica that might be used for ceremonial purposes, while an authentic, period correct knight’s shield like this would likely be found in a museum. Notice how nice and shiny and pristine this shield is.

A real shield that’s seen combat looks nothing like the one in the picture. A shield that was used in warfare by an ancient foot soldier is going to have creases, dents, dings, scratches, gouges. I say this because if my own shield of faith was an actual metal shield right now, it would probably more closely resemble the hood of a car after a north Texas hail storm.

Jesus taught in John 15,“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” And He finished that teaching with a reference to Psalms 35 and 69 that speak of one who is hated for no reason. I’ve experienced some of that recently along with some other things I just don’t understand. I’ve experience hatred from people I hardly know. I’ve been blamed for things I had no hand in. And we’ve had to deal with some pain within our family. My shield of faith and helmet of salvation have taken a beating the past few months, and I ask you to pray and ask God to hammer out some of the dents.

As I’ve come to learn, the very things that attack our spiritual shield of faith are the things that make our faith stronger. How so? With an actual metal shield, dents and creases do not weaken the metal. They make it stronger (though aesthetically, it may not be much to look at after a couple of battles). The dents and dings and creases caused by repeated blows from swords and hammers and axes and clubs would actually increase the strength of the metal through a process called work hardening. It’s a process that’s still used today, though with much more modern  tooling. The more a piece of metal is bent and creased and hammered on, the harder and stronger it becomes. Over time, ancient metal smiths learned how to work harden metal using hammers and dollies and anvils as a means of adding strength to objects like…….shields, and helmets, and swords.

The same principle apples to our spiritual shield of faith. As we go through the battles of trials and adversity, our faith in God is made stronger. Bad news from your doctor, a betrayal by a friend, the loss of a job, an adult child who no longer speaks to you; all of these can feel like hammer blows to your shield of faith and let there be no doubt, Satan tries to use these kinds of trials to get you to drop your shield, to throw away your faith. Remember, the stresses that bend and stretch and compress a piece of metal make it stronger and in the same way – so long as we hold onto the shield of faith – God can use the stresses in our lives life to draw us closer to Him and to strengthen our relationship with Him. The trials of life increase our dependence on His mercies and grace, and they teach us to rely on His strength instead of our own.

James wrote that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or patience as other translations state. A knight’s shield in a museum on static display is representative of a faith that has never been put to the test. It looks good but it’s never been battle tested. Likewise, a shield used for ceremonial purposes is like faith that is for appearance’s sake only. It’s all for show and like a museum piece, it really has no function. God allows trials and adversity to come into our lives NOT because he wants to hurt us or punish us. He allows them in order to test us. And ultimately, He allows them in order to strengthen us. Men and women of strong faith, in the power of God, use that bad news from the doctor to minister to others. People of strong faith pray for the friend who betrayed them. People of strong faith turn to God for provision when their jobs end suddenly. People of strong faith give grace to an adult child who has cut off all contact.

James went on to write, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The hammer blows against the shield of faith come by way of trials and adversity and hardships. Sometimes we may wish there weren’t so many or that they could come a little less often. But when they do come, we can be assured it’s not because God has left our side, or because He has abandoned us. The scripture is very clear on that. God will never leave us or abandon us. No. For the faithful, committed Christian, when the hammer blows come against the shield of faith, it’s a sure sign that God is by our side!


Living Without Hope

In 1916, a college football game between tiny Cumberland College (located in Lebanon, Tennessee) and Georgia Tech resulted in the most lopsided score in college football history. Georgia Tech won the game 222 – 0. That is not a typo. Two-hundred and twenty-two to nothing. There’s more to the story though.

You see, just prior to the beginning of the 1916 season, Cumberland College discontinued its football program. However, just as colleges and universities still do today, Cumberland had signed an agreement to play Georgia Tech a few years prior to the 1916 season. But Georgia Tech’s athletic director and head coach John Heisman (yes, THAT John Heisman as in….Heisman Trophy), would not allow Cumberland to cancel its game, threatening a lawsuit if they did, even though the football team had been disbanded and the coaching staff had dispersed.

Heisman not only coached Georgia Tech’s football team, he was also the baseball coach and it’s generally believed that Heisman wanted to pay Cumberland back for a 22 – 0 defeat that Georgia Tech’s baseball team had suffered at the hands of the Cumberland College baseball team the year before. Heisman, along with several sports writers, accused Cumberland of using professional baseball players as ringers and he was eager to settle the score. He even offered to pay all the expenses of the Cumberland players out of his own pocket. In that day and time, even large colleges operated on a shoe string budget and could ill afford the expenses associated with a lawsuit. A lawsuit would have certainly forced a small school like Cumberland to close its doors. So rather than face off against Georgia Tech in a court of law, one of the students was persuaded by Cumberland administrators to put together a team and head off to Atlanta and face Georgia Tech on the football field.

And so this student, a young man by the name of George E. Allen (no relation to the NFL coach George Allen of later years), put together a team of scrubs who had absolutely no experience playing, or knowledge of, the game of football whatsoever. All told, Allen, who was both player and coach, was only able to round up 14 men, most of whom were members of his fraternity. That same Georgia Tech team would go on to win the national championship the following year, so it’s not difficult to imagine how one sided the game was.

What the Cumberland students did might seem insane to us; they committed themselves to something that was completely hopeless. They didn’t stand a chance and they knew it going in. It might seem insane and we might think we’d never make a commitment to a hopeless cause. But here’s the reality: People do it every day.

In Isaiah chapter 55, God poses this question: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy?” This doesn’t mean that God is saying that we should only spend money on the most basic necessities. Within the context of Isaiah 55, it’s a question that asks why we pursue things that offer no hope, no hope for an empty soul, no hope for redemption, no hope for reconciliation with God. There are things that matter in this world, and things that don’t. Why waste time and energy on the things that don’t matter? That’s what God is really asking.

Centuries before Isaiah lived, Solomon came to realize that the pursuit of anything not done for the glory of God is meaningless and he summed it all up in Ecclesiastes: If we are living apart from God, nothing we do on this earth matters, regardless of what we do or how much we have. Apart from God, all earthly pursuits are but hopeless causes.

Think about it like this: If you were stuck in a dead end job with no hope for a raise or promotion, if there was never a chance for any sort of advancement, you’d look for another job. No one would deliberately remain in a hopeless situation if they had to the power to do something about it. But here’s something else to think about. How many people in the world today don’t realize they are in a hopeless situation? We might be tempted to think that all of this only applies to those who are neck deep in sinful living. And that is true. If they do not turn away from their sin, they are without hope. They will be separated from God for all eternity. But just as hopeless are all the good and decent people who live good lives, who go to work and pay their taxes, who teach their kids right from wrong, who treat their mates with love and respect, but yet they’ve failed to do the one thing that matters most; they have not accepted Jesus Christ. No matter how good and moral and decent they are, if they willfully turn away from Christ, they are as hopelessly lost as the worst sinners we can imagine. As Solomon pointed out, all that they do is meaningless.

That’s not what the world wants to hear, but it is what the world needs to hear. People need to hear that a life without God is a life without hope. They may not like it, but they need to hear the truth. And they need to hear the message of hope found in Jesus Christ.

In John 5 verse 24, Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. To turn from death to life, from condemnation to salvation, that is the message of hope. Only Jesus can offer that. He takes away hopelessness, and replaces it with hope!

In the battle between the flesh and the spirit, we ask Jesus to step into the gap between the flesh and the spirit so the spirit of God within us may prevail.

The Consistency of Scripture

“Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 

Those two paragraphs are a compilation of scripture verses from the New Testament. But notice how it all flows together in to a central theme, faith, even though the passages were lifted from six different New Testament books. Granted, four of the passages are from letters written by the Apostle Paul (and perhaps five since it’s possible that Paul may have also written Hebrews), and there is a consistent content in all his letters, but still, you cannot do this with any other body of literature that I’m aware of. You cannot lift a paragraph from a chapter of a book written by Hemingway or Shakespeare and stitch it into another chapter of the same book and have it make any sense. It would be noticeable that something is out of place.

In his Forward to the most recent reprint of W.A. Criswell’s book, The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible, The Gospel Project’s managing editor Trevin Wax wrote, “The Bible is not simply a collection of interesting stories about morality but one overarching story about salvation found only in Jesus Christ.” This is not to say you can do this with every single passage or verse in the Bible. But because the Bible is the revelation of God to humanity from Genesis to Revelation, it is possible to select certain passages and group them with other passages and verses in a way that still flows together in a meaningful way as if what you’re reading was originally written that way to begin with.

These are the passages that were compiled to create the opening paragraphs:

“Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-23)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)

 The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:6-7)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Here’s another example, picking up where that last verse from Romans 5 leaves off:

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. And now these three remain, faith, hope, love. But the greatest of these is love. Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

That was a blend of Psalms and New Testament passages.

To be clear,  I’m not attempting to reorder the word of God. In the last chapter of the book of Revelation, we’re warned about taking away from or adding to God’s word. The scarlet thread that Criswell used to illustrate the consistency of the message of salvation in scripture is a thread that is unbroken. A piece of thread can be balled up in the hand, coiled, or tied in a knot, but it is still an unbroken thread. And so it is with scripture. You can take certain select passages of scripture and arrange them with other verses and passages and the message being conveyed remains unbroken. No, I’m not trying to rearrange the word of God or take anything out of context. I’m simply pointing out the beauty that is God’s word. I’m highlighting the consistency of the message of salvation. Even when you take parts of passages and group them with others parts of scripture, the message is still unmistakable and undeniable.

Only God could write have written a book like that!

 
http://storage.cloversites.com/firstchurchofchrist1/documents/The%20Scarlet%20Thread.pdf

Jesus, Light of the World

From Daniel chapter 10:

On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

From Revelation chapter 1:

I saw someone among the lampstands who was “like a Son of Man.” He was dressed in a long robe. He had a gold band around his chest.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like bronze that glows hot in a furnace. His voice was like the noise of flooding water.

In those passages, the man described by Daniel and John was none other than Jesus Christ. Though their lives were separated by hundreds of years, the descriptions of the “man” they saw in their visions  were, for all intents and purposes, identical, and are consistent with Ezekiel’s description of a man who “looked like fire from the waist down and like glowing hot metal from the waist up”.  (Ezekiel 8:2-3)

Daniel said His face was like lightning. John said His head and hair were “white like wool, as white as snow.” Both men noted that His eyes were like flames of fire. In their accounts of the Transfiguration (presumably as told to them by Peter, James and John), the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke gave these descriptions of Jesus’ appearance: “His face became as bright as the sun.”“His clothes were dazzling white as no one on earth could bleach them.” – “ Apparently, in His glory, Jesus’ physical appearance is so intensely bright and so radiant that it almost defies description.

So hold that thought and that imagery in your mind and let me ask you this: Have you ever looked at a bright light and then looked away and noticed how everything goes dark for a few moments? That’s the effect of the light acting on the pupils of your eyes. It’s the same thing that happens when you walk into your house on a bright sunny day. The house looks dark. It takes your eyes a little while to adjust.

Jesus said in John chapter 8, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Light overcomes darkness, never the other way around. As John wrote, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In His glory, Jesus’s physical appearance is intensely bright. But when He said, “I am the light of the world.”, he wasn’t just talking about his physical appearance. He was declaring Himself to be the spiritual light for those who are trapped in the darkness of sin and He affirms this for us in the 12th chapter of John in verse 46: I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

It’s easy for us to hide from another human being in darkness. Not so with Christ. We can’t hide from Him. We can’t hide our sins from Him. We can’t hide our guilt. We might try. Some may even prefer the darkness as Jesus said in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:  Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear their deeds will be exposed.

Biblically speaking then, the words light and truth are synonymous: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible-and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. In that paragraph from his letter to the Ephesians, not only did Paul proclaim sin to be darkness, he also proclaimed that sin causes us to become darkness. He did not say “You once lived in darkness.” He said “You were darkness.” It makes perfect sense because the opposite of light is darkness, and the opposite of truth is falsehood, deceit, lies. You don’t just practice it, Paul exclaimed, you become it.

But in Christ, darkness is overcome. Again, Paul proclaimed to the Ephesians, “…now you are light.” You don’t just practice being a Christian, you become one. That’s the essence of what Paul was saying. It was what Jesus preached. He said to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” Following Christ is not something you do, it’s who you are. That’s something worth remembering as we watch what’s going on in our culture. The world seems to be growing darker every day, but remember this; no matter how dark it gets, light always overcomes darkness. Or as one pastor put it, “It’s always the darkest just before the dawn.” Revelation 21:23 tells us, “The city (the new Jerusalem) will need neither the sun or the light of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Jesus will come again in glory. And when all is said and done, there will be no darkness ever again.

Only 11,000 to go!

I was driving to church this past Sunday with my seven year old granddaughter in the passenger seat. We were listening to First Baptist Dallas’ broadcast on the radio and she happened to ask exactly where First Baptist Dallas is located. I explained to her that it is in the middle of downtown Dallas, and to help her better understand that some churches are bigger than others, I also mentioned that First Baptist Dallas has 12,000 members.

She got that wide eyed expression on her face and said “WOW!” , and after thinking about it for a few seconds, she asked, “How many people are in our church?”

“About a thousand.” I answered.

Then she pumped her fist in the air and said, “YES! Only 11,000 more to go! 

That’s what I call optimism!

Now, I don’t know if it’s God’s plan to add 11,000 more members to our church. That’s up to Him. That’s not my point. The point is, to a wide eyed seven year old, growing the church by 11,000 people presents no challenge at all. And her bright eyed optimism opened my eyes to something Jesus said: In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we’re told how the people were bringing their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them, but his disciples tried to chase them away. When Jesus saw that, He became very upset with the disciples and said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As we get older, our problems get bigger and more complex. We’re tempted to think, probably more often than we care to admit, that our problems have become too big for God, or that we shouldn’t burden God with our problems by bringing them before Him in prayer. Jesus wasn’t saying we’re to be childlike or immature in our behavior. He was saying we need to view God and our relationship with God from the same perspective as a child.

I’m sure you all noticed how the world around you seemed to get smaller as you grew up. I’ve gone back to look at some of the houses I lived in as a small child. Those houses looked really big when I was five or six. But now they seem so small. What changed? The houses didn’t get smaller. Neither did the world around us. It was our perception and perspective that changed. In the same way, God did not become smaller when we got bigger. For many of us though, our perspective changed. Our perception of God changed. At one point in my life I thought I was no longer loved by God because from my grown up perspective, I thought I had slipped and slid so far back that God just didn’t have any love left to give me. Viewing God through the eyes of an adult, I could not see nor understand the vastness and limitless supply of God’s love. Children don’t have that problem. That’s why we need to see God as a child sees Him.

I’ve always understood that passage I quoted to mean that we’re to view God as our father and ourselves as God’s children, and that is an accurate interpretation. But now, thanks to my granddaughter’s comment, I have a deeper understanding of what Jesus meant when He said we must receive the kingdom of God like a little child. In the eyes of a child, nothing is too big for God. There is no obstacle that God cannot overcome. There’s nothing He can’t handle. When we receive the kingdom of God like a little child, it serves as a reminder of just how big our God really is. We’re to be no less confident in the power of God as adults than we were as children. God is to be just as great in our eyes as adults as He was when we were kids. I believe that’s what Jesus was really trying to teach us!

 

Thoughts From Last Sunday’s Sermon

When God instructed Moses to take up a collection for the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25, God specified exactly what was needed.

Exodus 25

“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 

But before Moses was able to take up this collection, the people of Israel took up a collection of their own and made an idol for themselves, a golden calf. As we know from scripture, this made God so angry that He was determined to destroy all the people, and would have had Moses not intervened on their behalf. Afterwards, Moses told the people what God had said to him on Mount Sinai regarding the collection for the tabernacle.

Exodus 35

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.

The people’s response is recorded for us later in the 35th chapter,

And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

So here’s the question that came to mind during the sermon last Sunday: Where did the people get all the brooches and earrings and signet rings? Where did all the gold objects come from? Stop and think about this for a moment. The Israelites had just come out of Egypt, where they had been slaves. They were not employees of the Egyptians. They were slaves who had been whipped and beaten repeatedly, and subjected to hard labor. They were just barely able to survive in Egypt. They certainly weren’t accumulating any wealth.

So where did the gold come from? The Bible answers this question in the 12th chapter of Exodus. As the Israelite people were leaving Egypt, the scriptures says:

 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people (the Israelites) took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

That’s where all the gold and precious stones and other material came from! So in reality, it came from God because it was God who caused the Egyptians to give the Israelites everything they asked for as they left Egypt. All the gold and silver and other material that God asked for never belonged to the Israelites in the first place and in truth, it never really belonged to the Egyptians either. It was all God’s to begin with. Yet God didn’t ask for all of it back. All He asked in return was for enough to build a small tabernacle, along with whatever material was needed to make all the furnishings and garments for the priests. And even then, God did not demand a contribution from everyone. He only asked for contributions from those whose hearts moved them to give. Perhaps the Apostle Paul was thinking about this time in Israel’s history when he wrote these words recorded in 2 Corinthians 9:

 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Do you not think the Creator of the universe couldn’t have whipped up a small tabernacle? The One who created the heavens and earth out of nothing (and also created us) could have very easily made a few pieces of furniture and some utensils. God did not need gold and silver and brooches and earrings and signet rings to get the job done. What God really wanted was the people’s hearts! He wanted their devotion. He did not want them to give reluctantly or because they thought they had to give. He wanted them to give freely. He wanted them to give out of generosity!

God still wants this from us today. He does not need a single thing from us, but He does want our hearts! He wants our devotion. He wants us to be cheerful givers, whether we’re giving of our time, gifts, skills, or our money. Remember, it all came from Him, just as all the gold and silver and jewelry that the Israelites acquired on their way out of Egypt came from God. And He’s not so concerned about what we give or how much, as He is about what’s in our hearts. What prompts us to give? What is the attitude of our hearts? That’s what God sees. Our hearts need to be right with God.

Of the Macedonian churches who had taken up a collection for believers in Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul wrote, “their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Where does such overflowing joy come from? Again, the answer is in scripture: “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:5) The kind of overflowing joy that prompted the impoverished Macedonians to give beyond their means can only come from once source, from a heart that’s right with God through faith in Jesus Christ!

Today is the Day

In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote these words that are recorded at the beginning of the sixth chapter:

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

“Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”

I am very grateful to God that my life did not end before I came to know Jesus Christ as my savior. Looking back on my life, it gives me chills to think what would have happened if I had lost my life in a car crash or as the result of illness or of an accident of some kind. It gives me chills because when I was young, I was one of those people who said, “I’ll wait until I’m older before I dedicate my life to Jesus.”  Had my life ended prematurely, I would have ended up condemned to hell for all eternity.

Mind you, I wasn’t living wild like the prodigal son or anything like that. In fact, I lived a fairly quiet life. I was one of those people who said to himself, “I’m a good person. I’ll be okay” So it was really more a matter or procrastination. “I will follow Jesus wholeheartedly……..someday……..but not now. I’ll read the Bible……….someday………. but not now.” That was me. I regret that now and that’s a regret I’ll have to live with.

I heard a pastor tell the story one time of a man with whom he was sharing the gospel, trying to win him to faith in Christ. After he had finished telling this man all about Jesus and God’s plan of salvation, the man said to him, “Pastor, I believe everything you said. I believe God is real and that Jesus is real. But I plan to wait until the 11th hour before I accept Jesus as my savior.” The pastor replied, “What if you die at 10:30?” 

I’m glad God didn’t take me at 10:30. Like I said, inviting Jesus to come live in my heart was something I was going to do………someday. And it pains me now when I realize that there are many people who still think that way. Accepting Christ is something they plan to do……….someday. It’s something they’ll get around to when they’re older. One of the most damning lies that Satan tells people is, “There’s no hurry.”

And of course, there are those people who ARE indulging in a lifestyle of wild living, and they don’t want to give it up. They live for pleasure, and you all know what I’m talking about. I don’t need to go into graphic detail. To them, Christianity is something that’s dull, boring, and unexciting. Being a Christian would spoil their fun. I know of a young man who said  that he wanted to get all that out of his system first, and once he had done that, then he’d follow Christ. I hope his lifestyle doesn’t kill him first and I don’t mean that facetiously in any way.

I’ve also heard people say they have to get their lives right before coming to Jesus. “I have to get cleaned up first.”   I mentioned the prodigal son and that story gives us a clear picture of God’s unconditional love. When father and son finally came face to face, the father gave orders for his son to be dressed in his finest robe. Remember, the boy had been living in a pig pen and he must have stunk to high heavens. He had to have been covered with filth. That didn’t matter to the father. He didn’t make his son take a bath before putting on the robe. Likewise, it doesn’t matter to God if a person is dirty. It doesn’t matter how a person looks when he or she humbly enters into His presence. God gives His finest robe, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

I heard someone say not long ago that he had to get past some crisis he was going through before giving his life to Christ. Listen, if anyone waits until they get some crisis resolved before coming to Christ, they will never come to Christ because the next crisis is always lurking around the corner. Our lives are a series of challenges, some good, some bad. The good ones are the goals we set for ourselves. The bad ones are the trials we face in life. There will rarely be a time when we we’re not faced with some sort of challenge and it’s really counter intuitive for someone to suggest that they have get past a crisis before turning to Christ. If only we could get such people to understand that Jesus wants to walk with them THROUGH that crisis. He wants us to bring our burdens to Him and lay them at the foot of the cross.

Those are just few of the reasons that people put off their salvation until……someday; for waiting until some unknown day in the future that they may never see. Of course some of them are just making excuses. They don’t have any intention of embracing Jesus, ever. Others believe their reasons are legit. Twice in the book of Proverbs the Bible tells us there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Waiting till someday to follow Jesus might seem right to some, but if they die while they’re waiting, their fate is sealed. Eternity is an awful long time to have to pay for that mistake.

We’re not guaranteed tomorrow. We’re not even guaranteed our next breath, or next heartbeat.  The day of salvation is today. That someday…..is now!

There is an answer

I live in the Dallas Fort Worth area and actually work near downtown Dallas at Love Field. I’ve watched the news all evening as the evil and violence in downtown Dallas continued to unfold. Several reporters from the local news stations got caught up in all of this tonight. They interviewed many of the witnesses who were on the scene and I was struck by one comment I heard time and again. “We don’t know what the answers are.”…”There are no answers.”…”I don’t know what the answer is.”

I do know what the answer is: The answer is Jesus Christ. For the past 50 years, our nation has slowly but steadily turned away from God. America has been telling God to go take a hike. We have told God, “We don’t want you. We don’t need you. We can take care of ourselves. We’re just fine without You.” We’re reaping the consequences. God will honor the request of any nation that tells Him to shove off.

What happened tonight in Dallas is nothing but pure evil. But this evil did not start tonight and it did not start here in Dallas. However, this will only get worse unless this country gets on its knees and returns to Jesus Christ. America must acknowledge its need for Christ.

I’m well aware of what took place in Louisiana and Minnesota. I’m not ignoring that. I understand there’s anger and outrage over what happened in those places. But the answer for the anger and outrage is the same as the answer for the evil that drove these thugs to shoot 11 Dallas Police Officers, killing 4. It’s the answer for all the evil in the world. The answer is Jesus Christ.  As a nation, we must return to following Jesus Christ. This nation is under judgement, and tonight’s display of evil serves as a reminder that God is removing His blessing and His hand of protection. God will not protect a nation that spits in His face. The history of judgement upon nations that’s recorded in the Bible bears witness to that.

God is faithful. His promises are true. And God has promised us this:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Pray tonight for all the officers and their families. This is absolutely heartbreaking.

Pray for our nation. America’s repentance and restoration as a nation begins with prayer, one person at a time.

Don’t tell me there’s no answer.