Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Filling the Empty Chair

Maybe you’ve experienced something like this: You are talking with someone when suddenly they openly yawn and look at their watch. How did you interpret those actions? Can you remember how you felt at that moment? Were you hurt? insulted? enraged? How did you react? How do you wish you had reacted?
What about this: You’re discussing ideas with a colleague and while you’re speaking you think you see them just barely roll their eyes in response to something you’ve said? How do you go on from there – as co-workers?

As a teacher I knew that seeing a student do something like that in class made me angry, but I usually assigned the actions to rudeness and generally poor upbringing, did my best to ignore it and move on. This week, however, I learned that in many cases it’s not just rudeness, it’s actually an expression of contempt for the other person.

These psychologist watched the interactions of married couples as they talked to each other and then predicted the success of the marriages. The psychologists were able to make correct predictions after just three to five minutes. It turns out it had very little to do with what the couples talked about or even their tone of voice. The predictions were based on minute, seemingly incidental signs of contempt – a little, almost imperceptible eye roll, or a mostly concealed yawn, for example.

Now think of our own behavior during worship and Bible study, sometimes…what kind of prognosis would those psychologists be able to make about the health of our relationship with God? Have we forgotten why we come to church? What does it mean if we’re bored in church or if we keep putting off Bible study?

How can we excuse those behaviors, especially when the Bible tells us to “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”? Revelation 14:7

OK, we know that none of the behaviors we’ve talked about so far demonstrate fearing or glorifying God, what would fearing and glorifying God look like? I found what I think is an excellent picture:
“To live in fear of God means that we live before God and the rest of reality in such a way that there is never contempt within us. We take nothing for granted, everything as a gift. We have respect. We are always poised for surprise before the mystery of God, others, and ourselves.
“All boredom and contempt is an infallible sign that we have fallen out of a healthy fear of God.”[1]
What do you think? Is living in fear of God a good thing? Is it the same as being afraid of God? I don’t believe it is.
“Jerry Bridges, in his book The Joy of Fearing God, describes the healthy tension between loving and fearing God:
“In the physical realm there are two opposing forces called ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal.’ Centrifugal force tends to pull away from a center of rotation, while centripetal force pulls toward the center.
“A stone whirled about on the end of a string exerts centrifugal force on the string, while the string exerts centripetal force on the stone. Take away one and the other immediately disappears.
“These two opposing forces can help us understand something of the fear of God. The centrifugal force represents the attributes of God such as his holiness and sovereignty that cause us to bow in awe and self-abasement before him. They hold us reverently distant from the one who, by the simple power of his word, created the universe out of nothing. The centripetal force represents the love of God. It surrounds us with grace and mercy and draws us with cords of love into the Father's warm embrace. To exercise a proper fear of God we must understand and respond to both these forces.”[2]
How do those opposing forces play out in our relationship to God?
“To grow in wisdom and love is not to lose all fear of God; it is to change our fear of God. It is to pass from the servile fear of the slave, the fear of punishment, to the loving reverence of the son, fearing to offend his father, and in the end to the purely selfless fear of the lover, the fear of hurting what you love.”[3]
Most of us will agree that God is always with us, but sometimes I believe this becomes more of a theory than a reality. Our picture of God becomes skewed by our interactions with the world around us. We begin to see God as distant and uninvolved with the everyday details of our lives. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. God wants to be included and involved in every aspect of our lives.

So, with that in mind, let’s do an experiment this week: Try to do things that will help you imagine Jesus’ physical presence with you. Can you think of concrete things you can do to help?

If you eat around the dinner table, maybe you could set a place for Jesus. When you sit down to watch TV or use the computer, maybe you could pull a chair near where you are sitting. If you’re reading something, maybe you could read it out loud and imagine that Jesus is right there listening. Is there something you could do at work to help you imagine that Jesus is right there with you?

How do you think your actions will change during this experiment? Would you feel comfortable watching some of the things you watch on TV if Jesus was sitting next to you? Would you visit the same websites if Jesus was looking over your shoulder? Would your reading material change if Jesus was listening to you read? If you imagined Jesus working beside you, would your behavior at work be the same? Would you treat the people with whom you work any differently? Would your conversations be any different?

Remember the song we learned in Cradle Roll and Kindergarten – “Oh be careful little hands what you do. Oh be careful little feet where you go. Oh be careful little ears what you hear. Oh be careful little eyes what you see. Oh be careful little lips what you say. For our Father up above is looking down in love.”

God isn’t distant or disinterested. He wants to eat with us, sit with us while we’re relaxing, be included in our work, our play, and our relationships, our laughter and crying, our heartbreaks and joys.

Let’s make sure we leave room for Jesus in our lives.

[1] Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004), p. 117; submitted by Kevin Miller, vice president, Christianity Today International
[2] Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God (Waterbrook Press, 1997)
[3] Gerald Vann, The Divine Pity (Scepter Publishers, 2007)


Have you thought about the story of Job lately? Some people don’t like his story because it reminds them that following God doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes following God (being a Christian) finds us experiencing excruciating physical and/or mental distress, for which there is no logical explanation – surrounded by family and friends who say exactly the wrong things.

Here’s the thing, we want the “happily ever after” part of the story without having to go through the messy parts of the story to get there. Remember, before Cinderella rode off to the palace with her prince, she was orphaned and treated like a servant; Hansel and Gretel were abandoned by their parents and kidnapped by the owner of the gingerbread house; and Snow White was put into a 100 year coma while everyone she had ever known grew old and died before she woke up. Be careful when you wish for a fairy tale life, the unpleasant parts take up most of the story.

Anyway, we get caught up in looking for that happy ending, and when we not only don’t find it, but end up in often seemingly hopeless situations, we want to ask God, “Why?” 

That question will never have an answer that is going to help us in any way. The only answer to “Why” is “because there is sin.” The only explanation for bad things happening in this world is that we not only live on the battleground of the Great Controversy between God and Satan, we are the battleground. Once we’ve committed to God’s side, Satan is going to do everything in his power to change our minds. We have to be ready for that.

In one predominantly Hindu South Asian country, a Christian mission agency has a list of seven questions that they ask new believers to think about as they consider being baptized. These questions help them to think through the possible consequences of living openly as a Christian.
1.    Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
2.    Are you willing to lose your job?
3.    Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
4.    Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
5.    Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?
6.    Are you willing to go to prison?
7.    Are you willing to die for Jesus?[1]
Those are some serious questions, and those of us who live in, what we consider, Christian countries, may think those questions aren’t realistic. But at some point, they will be real for all of us – our examples are the believers in the Bible, not to mention Jesus, Himself.

We are not promised a peaceful, easy existence as Christians, in fact, we are guaranteed the opposite:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” Matthew 24:9
There it is – from Jesus’ own lips – just one of the many verses that make us wriggle in our seats just a little bit when we are reminded of them.

Look at those seven questions again … are you still willing to openly live your life so that the universe can see the truth about God, even if it means that you will most likely, at some point, be persecuted for it? Are you willing to be surrounded by well-meaning, but completely wrong-thinking friends and family who, instead of offering support, tell you all the ways what you’re going through is your own fault? What if the persecution doesn’t come from humans? What if it’s like Job’s trials that looked like random tragedies?
“Schutt Sports, a major supplier of football helmets for the National Football League, issues the following warning label on all their helmets and on their website's homepage: WARNING …. NO HELMET SYSTEM CAN PREVENT CONCUSSIONS OR ELIMINATE THE RISK OF SERIOUS HEAD OR NECK INJURIES WHILE PLAYING FOOTBALL.
The warning label continues with some information about the symptoms for concussions and concludes by repeating the original warning: ‘TO AVOID THESE RISKS [OF PLAYING FOOTBALL], DO NOT ENGAGE IN THE SPORT OF FOOTBALL.’[2]
By the same token, the only way to eliminate the risk of becoming a Christian, is NOT to become a Christian. What are you willing to go through to be associated with Jesus Christ?

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Amy Carmichael, she was from Ireland, but spent 55 years of her life working as a missionary in India. Her life was rarely smooth or easy, but she did amazing things for God. She had quite a lot to say about her experiences but one of my favorite quotes is this one.
“Certain it is that the reason there is so much shallow living—much talk but little obedience—is that so few are prepared to be, like the pine on the hilltop, alone in the wind for God.”[3]
I have to ask myself, am I willing to stand “alone in the wind for God?” As we come closer and closer to Jesus’ return, Satan is working harder and harder to make following Jesus more and more unpleasant. He wants us to give up, to take the broad road that leads to destruction. Whether he uses persecution, our own health, or our friends against us, we have to be willing to say with Job, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth;  And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27

“In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet,God leads His dear children along;Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet,God leads His dear children along.Refrain:Some through the waters, some through the flood,Some through the fire, but all through the blood;Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,In the night season and all the day long.Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright,God leads His dear children along;Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night,God leads His dear children along.Though sorrows befall us and evils oppose,God leads His dear children along;Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,God leads His dear children along.Away from the mire, and away from the clay,God leads His dear children along;Away up in glory, eternity’s day,God leads His dear children along.”[4]

[1] South Asian nation struggles to shape itself, Mission Network News (1-17-12)
[2] Schutt Sports,, last accessed August 23, 2013
[3] Amy Carmichael, Irish missionary to India (1867–1951)
[4] George A. Young, God Leads Us Along 1903

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It’s A Good Thing

“In his book By Grace Alone, Sinclair Ferguson identifies four major ‘fiery darts’ Satan uses to unsettle believers and rob them of their assurance and peace in the gospel:
·   Fiery Dart 1: ‘God is against you,’ Satan says. ‘He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?’
·   Fiery Dart 2: ‘I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins,’ Satan argues. ‘What can you say in defense? Nothing.’
·   Fiery Dart 3: ‘You can say you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day,’ Satan insinuates. ‘How will you defend yourself then?’
·   Fiery Dart 4: ‘Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?’ Satan asks.”[1]
The enemy uses every trick in his effort to get us to doubt our Salvation. One of his most successful lies is fiery dart number one. Haven’t you heard people talk about God as though He is just waiting for us to screw up so He can keep us out of Heaven? It’s almost like the heathen practices where, if we want God’s blessing, we have to appease Him in some way.

Thankfully, because of Jesus’ life and death, we know that’s just not true.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17
Now, fiery dart number two, on the other hand, is 100% true – he has a record of every sin we’ve ever committed. And without Jesus, we have absolutely no defense. Without Jesus we are doomed.
“Satan has an accurate knowledge of the sins that he has tempted God’s people to commit, and he urges his accusations against them, declaring that by their sins they have forfeited divine protection, and claiming that he has the right to destroy them. He pronounces them just as deserving as himself of exclusion from the favor of God. . .  But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves up to be controlled by the satanic agencies. They have repented of their sins and have sought the Lord in humility and contrition, and the divine Advocate pleads in their behalf. He who has been most abused by their ingratitude, who knows their sin and also their penitence, declares: ‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. I gave My life for these souls. They are graven upon the palms of My hands.
They may have imperfections of character; they may have failed in their endeavors; but they have repented, and I have forgiven and accepted them.’” (Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 588, 589)
Fiery dart number three is not far from number two, but Satan brings in the threat of a condemnation or judgment day to up everyone’s anxiety. He has made sure that when most of us, even those of us who claim to rest our assurance of salvation in Jesus, experience some sense of foreboding when we think about a day of judgment. The enemy has twisted and clouded the purpose of the judgment so much that most of us don’t see the promise of freedom within it.

The pre-Advent Judgment, something that is going on right now, is described by Daniel.
“I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” Daniel 7:21-22
“A judgment was made in favor of the saints…” Does that sound like condemnation? It doesn’t to me. It sounds like Jesus showing God each of our records wiped clean because we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in payment for the wages of our sins.
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had pass over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
As for the last fiery dart, well, we know that Jesus will ensure that anyone who loves Him will spend eternity with Him. He has paid the price for us to enter God’s Kingdom.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:1-3
“For many Americans, the college admissions process is an oppressive and extraordinarily stressful area of life. A number of years ago, I watched as two best friends, Wayne and Dave, applied for early admission at the same college. That December, Wayne was accepted and Dave was deferred. The next four months, during which Dave waited for the final ruling, looked very different—and very similar—for each of them. … No longer under the watchful eye of the all-important transcript, Wayne decided to branch out in his extracurricular activities. He started a band and got into rock-climbing. He even pioneered a program teaching underprivileged kids in the community how to climb. … Meanwhile, Dave got involved in a bunch of extracurriculars … that he thought might boost his chances at getting into his dream college.
“By the end of the semester, Dave was exhausted, and Wayne was full of energy. Although Dave did well and kept up his GPA, Wayne got the best grades of his high school career! Freed from having to play it safe, he wrote his papers about topics he was genuinely interested in, rather than the ones he thought the teacher would appreciate, and it showed on the page. Their paths may not have looked very different to the outside eye, but one of these guys was carrying a burden of expectation and one wasn't. No wonder it felt like such a slog.
“The fruit of assurance in Wayne's life was not laziness but creativity, charity and fun. Set free from the imperative to perform, his performance shot off the charts. Set free from having to earn his future, he enjoyed his present. Set free from the burden of self-focus, he was inspired to serve others—and without being told he needed to do so!"[2]
Because of the pre-Advent judgment, we can live like Wayne, free in the assurance of God’s love for us.

[1] Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone (Reformation Trust, 2010), p. 68
[2] Tullian Tchividjian, "Grace and the Summer of George," Liberate: Tullian Tchividjian blog (4-19-13)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In My Place

“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’ ” (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 25)
I believe those are some of the most profound, powerful and potentially life-changing words ever written, outside of the Bible. In a very clear and succinct way they explain the sacrifice Jesus made so that we could spend eternity with Him.

My question is, then, what stops most of us from completely accepting our already bought and paid for salvation? Well, here’s what I think … I think we tend to gloss over the “what we deserve” part. We jump right to the “what He deserves” part. We don’t spend much time considering what we actually deserve.
We are surrounded by with messages that tell us that we deserve the good stuff – that we’ve earned it. Messages like “You deserve a break today,” “…because you deserve the very best,” and “go ahead, you’ve earned it.”

Even if we accept that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23, our human minds aren’t really capable, without the help of the Holy Spirit, of understanding the true weight of sin and what it actually cost Jesus to redeem us.

Sometimes we just take Christ’s sacrifice for granted. We kind of get to the point that we say or read the words without actually thinking about them anymore. Paul describes it in Romans as drifting away.
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,” Romans 2:1-3
Many years ago, I lived in Germany in an apartment that had several strikes against it – it was above a bar and the last building before the train tracks. Many of you will already know that trains in Europe are much more important for both carrying people and freight than they are in the United States. The German train system is really pretty spectacular, unless your bedroom window is three feet away from one of its busy tracks.

Thinking back on it now, I really can’t tell you how often trains came by. There were travel trains that came as often as buses do in big cities. There were also freight trains that came by several times each day and night.

When I first moved in, I thought I would go insane! I woke up every time a train passed in the night and was often startled by them during the day. Add to that the bar/night club sounds from the floor below, and I really didn’t get much sleep at first.

But with an amazing quickness, I became deaf to all of those sounds. They didn’t wake me up at night or disturb me during the day. I almost forgot they were there. I think that sometimes, as Christians, we get almost deaf to the story of Jesus and what He’s done for us. Is it any wonder, then, that Mrs. White encourages us to spend time thinking about Him?
“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.” (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 83)
The church I attend has, for the past several years, done a large reenactment of the last week of Jesus life on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. It’s outside and the audience moves from place to place and watches different scenes … the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in Jerusalem, his interacting with the scribes and Pharisees, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, His trial at the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, His crucifixion and resurrection.

Those who come to view the performance are reminded of the reality of Jesus’ last days. For several years, I have helped prepare the scene where Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate. Logistically it’s difficult because it’s one of the only scenes that requires make up and a costume change – the actor who portrays Jesus receives make up so that he looks like he’s been beaten as well as the robe and crown of thorns.

Emotionally, though, it is difficult because of the angry mob that calls for Jesus’ death. Being part of that mob is not something people want to do … it’s hard to find people who are willing to play those parts. The first couple of years I helped, I was part of the mob and I can hardly explain how deeply and profoundly I was effected.

The next day, as I replayed the scene in my mind, my heart was broken when I thought of what Jesus had borne for me – what Jesus had suffered in my place.

A devastating earthquake hit Iran in 2003. It was described as the deadliest earthquake in a decade, and it “filled the nation of Iran with sadness. But in the midst of despair, one story gave people hope. Cradled in her dead mother's arms, surrounded by the crumbled remnant of a collapsed building, a baby girl was found alive.
“The mother shielded six-month-old Nassim from the falling debris and saved her life. Rescuers found the girl 37 hours after the earthquake.
“Hessamoddin Farrokhyar, Red Crescent public relations deputy director in Tehran, said: ‘She is alive because of her mother's embrace. The baby girl is in good condition considering the circumstances.’
“Christ was ‘crushed for our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:5, NIV). Those who take refuge in Jesus' embrace are shielded from sin's devastating impact, saved through his sacrifice.”[1]
“He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him    the sins of us all.” Isaiah 53:3-6

[1] MSNBC (12-29-03) and The Herald (12-29-03)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Above and Beyond

I spent some time looking for a good example of atonement, this week. It was more difficult than I expected because so many of the examples I found equate atonement with forgiveness – synonyms. I have to admit, that I have thought of them as the same as well. But when I look at the description of the things that happened on the Day of Atonement, there’s something more going on there above and beyond forgiveness.

See, all the rest of the year (and even throughout the Day of Atonement) sacrifices were happening to forgive individuals of their individual sins – a person would bring his lamb to the tabernacle, lay his hand on the head of the lamb and confess his sin, kill the lamb and then the priest would carry the blood of that sacrifice into the Holy Place. Symbolically then, that’s where the sin of that person stayed, until the Day of Atonement.

On that day, the High Priest would offer a sacrifice to forgive his own sins and then he would do something very different.

 He would take two goats, present them both to the Lord at the entrance to the Tabernacle and then draw lots to tell which goat would be the Lord’s goat (the sin offering) and which one would be the scapegoat.
“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil … and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel. And he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.
“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.” Leviticus 16:15-22
What I learned this week is that the goat that becomes the Lord’s goat has not had any sins confessed over it and no hands laid upon it, so it is “sinless.” That way it’s blood symbolically cleanses away all of the sins that have been "piling up” in the sanctuary all year long.

Then all of those sins are confessed over the scapegoat, who is not killed but led out into the wilderness never to be seen again – essentially carrying with it all of those sins that had been in the sanctuary. So now, the sanctuary is cleansed of those sins for another year.

Atonement is not about forgiveness because those sins were already forgiven when the individual made his sacrifice. Atonement is something more. It’s erasing the evidence of those sins.

Here’s an example of what I’m trying to say from a book called, Temptations Men Face by Tom Eisenmann.
“Several years ago I heard Bob Sheffield of the Navigators tell a moving story … Before he became a Christian, Bob played professional hockey in Canada. He was tough, loved to fight, and found himself in jail one night after a barroom brawl. Later, Bob and his wife became Christians. They…accepted a temporary assignment with The Navigators…in the States.
“Bob had to apply for landed immigrant status, which would allow him and his wife to continue in ministry in the United States. But because he had a criminal record, his request was denied….They decided to apply in Canada for what is called the ‘Queen's Pardon.’ Following thorough investigation, the pardon was granted. Bob Sheffield received the following notice in the mail:
“Whereas we have since been implored on behalf of the said Robert Jones Sheffield to extend a pardon to him in respect to the convictions against him, and whereas the solicitor general here submitted a report to us, now know ye therefore, having taken these things into consideration, that we are willing to extend the royal clemency on him, the said Robert J. Sheffield. We have pardoned, remitted, and released him of every penalty to which he was liable in pursuance thereof.
“On any document from that time forward on which Bob was asked if he had a criminal record, he could honestly answer no. The pardon meant he was released from any possible punishment for the crimes, and the record of the crimes themselves was completely erased.
That is the kind of pardon we have in Jesus Christ. We are set free from any penalty or punishment. When asked, the answer is, ‘no record, pardoned by the blood of Christ.’[1]
So, since Adam and Eve believe the serpents lie and sinned in the Garden of Eden, the sins that Jesus died to forgive have been piling up in the heavenly sanctuary. But since 1844, Jesus has been going through the heavenly sanctuary and putting those sins right where they belong, on the head of Satan. Then during the thousand years when we’re in heaven, Satan will be wandering this empty earth, carrying the ultimate blame for all the sins in the entire history of the world.

What that means for each of us who have given our hearts to Jesus is, when our name is called and our file taken before the great Judge, instead of being so big it has to be brought in by the truckload, it contains one pristinely blank page to which God adds a giant WELCOME HOME stamp.
“For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

RefrainOh! precious is the flowThat makes me white as snow;No other fount I know,Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”[2]

You and I only have one responsibility in this process – accept Jesus’ sacrifice to cover our sin. I do – do you?

[1] Tom L. Eisenman, Temptations Men Face (Intervarsity, 1992), pp. 21-22
[2] Words & Music: Robert Lowry, in Gos­pel Mu­sic, by William Doane and Robert Lowry (New York: Biglow & Main, 1876)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Holiness 101

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:13-16
Peter doesn’t mess around, does he? He says exactly what he means and doesn’t leave any room for misunderstanding – “Be holy.” Isn’t it weird, then, that in this day and age, when somebody says someone is holy, it usually doesn’t sound like a compliment. “Look at him. Doesn’t he think he’s all holy?”

The problem is, as will everything else in this sinful world, the enemy has worked hard to make sure that the qualities that God asks for have been twisted and misused until they don’t resemble their true definition any more.

Thankfully, God prepared for that and made sure we had some examples. One of the best of which is His relationship with the Israelites through His sanctuary.

Every part of the Sanctuary was a symbol for God’s desire to be in the midst of His children and to be involved in their daily lives.

If you had asked the Israelites of Moses’ time, David’s time, or even Jesus’ time, what percentage of their lives was “religious,” they probably would have looked at you like you didn’t have any idea what you were talking about. Religion wasn’t just a percentage of their lives. Being a Jew was their whole existence. It was their national identity, their religious identity, what they ate, where they lived, and who they married. It was even part of how they washed their hands. The problem is, with a few notable exceptions, the Jews became bogged down in their own rules and traditions instead of allowing God to set them free.

One of those exceptions was King David. Over and over again, in the Psalms, we can read David’s desire to meet with God in His Sanctuary. Psalm 27 encapsulates how David feels about the Sanctuary, specifically in verses 4-13:
“One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek:That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’ Do not hide Your face from me; Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me. Teach me Your way, O Lord, And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies. Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living.”
David’s desire to experience that closeness with God that the Sanctuary represented consumed his life. Yes, we all know that David made some horrific mistakes, but He never lost his hunger for God. And God recognized and honored David for that – being called a man after God’s own heart should be something for which we all strive.

So, how can we find and maintain that “sanctuary relationship” with God? How can we “be holy?”

Well, we have to decide whether we’re going to admire Jesus or are we going to follow Him. Although those two things may sound similar, in this context, they are quite different.
“If you have any knowledge at all of human nature, you know that those who only admire the truth will, when danger appears, become traitors. The admirer is infatuated with the false security of greatness; but if there is any inconvenience or trouble, he pulls back. Admiring the truth, instead of following it, is just as dubious a fire as the fire of erotic love, which at the turn of the hand can be changed into exactly the opposite—to hate, jealousy, and revenge. Christ, however, never asked for admirers, worshipers, or adherents. He consistently spoke of ‘followers’ and ‘disciples.’”[1]
Many of the people who came after Jesus turned out to be admirers – they left Him when things weren’t easy anymore. David didn’t turn back from his love of God, even when he spent years hiding from King Saul or when some of his own sons turned against him and his family was torn apart.

Many of us want to experience the feel good times with Jesus but aren’t committed to sticking around when things get rough.
“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross.”[2]
 Being holy isn’t just being a Christian, going to church on a certain day or however many times a week. It isn’t praying before meals or reading our Bibles for a certain number of minutes every day. We can’t be holy sometimes and then sometimes not. Being holy is not about a particular denomination or how religious you are. Being holy isn’t a part of our lives, it has to be our identity in Jesus Christ. 

Does that mean we are exempt from making, sometimes, horrific mistakes? Afraid not. But we will, like David, center our lives on our God, our Savior and Redeemer, and our Best Friend.
“Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’”[3]
That is my prayer. Is it yours?

[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and theologian (1813–1855)
[2] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ; found in: Tony Lane, Timeless Witness (Hendrickson, 2004), p. 188
[3] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperOne, 2001), p. 196-197 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’” (E.G. White, Desire of Ages, p 25)
Go back and read that quote again…slowly…really think about what it means. Can you feel the weight of it? It is probably the best and clearest description of the plan of salvation that I know. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin, instead of me. Can you wrap your imagination around the enormity of it?

There’s a popular Christian song on the radio these days called, “Should’ve Been Me” and the chorus reminds us of that we haven’t been paying the consequences of our own sinful actions.
“It should've been meIt should've been usShould've been there hanging on a crossAll of this shameAll of these scarsShould've been stains that were never washedWhy do I hideWhy do you tryOver and over and over againI guess it just leaves saying thank GodIt leaves me saying thank God, thank GodFor the should've been”[1]
From the very first sin in the Garden of Eden, God has been covering our sins with the blood of a sacrificed Lamb so that instead of being permanently separated from God, we can live with Him for eternity. Instead of getting what we deserve, we get what He deserved. Instead of being a subject of Satan, we can be a friend of God.

I’ve been trying to think about the Old Testament sacrificial system, and I have to admit that it’s really hard for me to imagine. I’m thinking that if, like me, you live in a western culture, it’s probably hard for you too. Many of us live in a society that is mostly “sanitized for [our] protection.” The closest most of us get to actual blood shed is our own if we happen to accidently cut ourselves. Those few drops of blood are nothing compared to what the priests in the Jewish Tabernacle must have been exposed to on a daily basis. Killing an animal is not a neat process. The animal is struggling, probably making distressed (and distressing) sounds, and once the animal’s neck is cut, watching the animal die as it bleeds out must be horrifying.

Several times in my life, I’ve had to look into the eyes of a pet and make the decision to have it put to sleep. It has been absolutely heart-rending every single time even though I know that the death will be painless. I cannot imagine holding a terrified squirming animal down and cutting its throat.

As nightmarish as the whole process sounds, though, the Bible tells us that even the most horrible things can become routine. That’s what happened to the Jewish nation. They forgot that the sacrifices were not an end in themselves, there were object lessons to demonstrate that the price of sin is death. And if we don’t want to pay with our own blood, we must accept the payment of someone who is willing to take our place.
Amazingly, Jesus was willing.
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:6-8(NLT)
Jesus died instead of us.

I read an amazing story this week from the book, Hidden in Plain Sight, written by Mark Buchanan. The story is about a woman named Regine. She was from Rwanda and became a Christian as she read her sister’s Bible. Later she moved to Canada because of the genocide that was happening in Rwanda at that time.

In Canada, she met Gordon and they got married and then decided that they needed to go back to Rwanda to show Jesus’ love to people who had been her enemies.
It was in Rwanda that she met a woman whose only son had been murdered.
"She was consumed with grief and hate and bitterness. ‘God,’ she prayed, ‘reveal my son's killer.’“One night she dreamed she was going to heaven. But there was a complication: in order to get to heaven she had to pass through a certain house. She had to walk down the street, enter the house through the front door, go through its rooms, up the stairs, and exit through the back door.She asked God whose house this was.‘It's the house,’ he told her, ‘of your son's killer.’“The road to heaven passed through the house of her enemy.“Two nights later, there was a knock at her door. She opened it, and there stood a young man. He was about her son's age.“‘Yes?’“He hesitated. Then he said, ‘I am the one who killed your son. Since that day, I have had no life. No peace. So here I am. I am placing my life in your hands. Kill me. I am dead already. Throw me in jail. I am in prison already. Torture me. I am in torment already. Do with me as you wish.’“The woman had prayed for this day. Now it had arrived, and she didn't know what to do. She found, to her own surprise, that she did not want to kill him. Or throw him in jail. Or torture him. In that moment of reckoning, she found she only wanted one thing: a son.“‘I ask this of you. Come into my home and live with me. Eat the food I would have prepared for my son. Wear the clothes I would have made for my son. Become the son I lost.’“And so he did.”[2]
Could you do it? Could I? That’s exactly what God has done for each of us. Except He didn’t wait for us to come to Him, He came looking for us! “While we were yet sinners…” He put a plan in action before the foundation of the world so that, if we choose to, we can go into His home, live with Him, eat His food, wear the robes that He has prepared for us, and become His children.

What God did for humanity is unfathomable to the sinful, human mind. It’s not logical – it doesn’t make sense.
“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.” (E.G. White, Desire of Ages, p.83)

[1] Should've Been Me, Citizen Way, Love Is The Evidence, Fair Trade Music Publishing (ASCAP)
[2] Mark Buchanan, Hidden in Plain Sight (Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 187-189

Monday, October 7, 2013

God’s Hands

If you were a high school student in the United States anytime in the last 100 years, you were probably assigned the reading of a sermon preached in 1741 by Jonathan Edwards, called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s not a warm and fuzzy, feel good sermon. Edwards describes God as angry and anxious to dole out justice to all who deserve it.
“So that thus it is, that natural Men are held in the Hand of God over the Pit of Hell; they have deserved the fiery Pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his Anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the Executions of the fierceness of his Wrath in Hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that Anger, neither is God in the least bound by any Promise to hold 'em up one moment; the Devil is waiting for them, Hell is gaping for them, the Flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the Fire pent up in their own Hearts is struggling to break out; and they have no Interest in any Mediator, there are no Means within Reach that can be any Security to them. In short, they have no Refuge, nothing to take hold of, all that preserves them every Moment is the meer arbitrary Will, and uncovenanted unobliged Forbearance of an incensed God.”[1]

“An incensed God” is terrifying, isn’t it? Combined with the statement that “they have done nothing … to appease or abate that Anger,” we see a belief system that is based on works and fear rather than grace and love. It’s a pity that every year, millions of public school students read this sermon and won’t learn that God is not “an angry God.”
 Before Adam and Eve ever fell for Satan’s lie and ate the fruit, God had made a plan to keep us out of Satan’s reach, a plan that would ensure that anybody who wanted to could live with God forever.

“Ever since the fall of man, Satan has been sowing the seeds of error. It was by a lie that he first gained control over men, and thus he still works to overthrow God’s kingdom in the earth and to bring men under his power. A sower from a higher world, Christ came to sow the seeds of truth. He who had stood in the councils of God, who had dwelt in the innermost sanctuary of the Eternal, could bring to men the pure principles of truth. Ever since the fall of man, Christ had been the Revealer of truth to the world. By Him the incorruptible seed, ‘the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever,’ is communicated to men. 1 Peter 1:23. In that first promise spoken to our fallen race in Eden, Christ was sowing the gospel seed.” (E.G. White, A Call to Stand Apart, p. 19)
God never wanted His children to be confused about His plan. He gave Adam and Eve the first object lesson. It showed them that sin required that blood be shed through the sacrifice of a perfect lamb.

At Sinai, God gave Moses specific plans for a tabernacle – a constant reminder that God wants to live in the midst of His people. Every part of the tabernacle and the sacrificial system was to point to the coming Messiah, of the plan of salvation and of the original, heavenly sanctuary.

Everywhere that God abides with His people is a form of that sanctuary. Eden was the first earthly version of it – God dwelling with His people. When that wasn’t possible anymore because sin separates people from God, God gave instructions to, first Moses and then Solomon, for a sanctuary that was a model of the one in heaven, where God’s could live with His people.

When Jesus came to earth, He came as Emanuel – God with us. He became our Sanctuary. He was God living among His people.

None of that sounds like an angry God who can hardly wait to throw us over the edge. In fact, we know that Jesus is right now, standing before God, pleading for each of us who have accepted His sacrifice as payment for our sins.
“As the sins of the people were anciently transferred, in figure, to the earthly sanctuary by the blood of the sin offering, so our sins are, in fact, transferred to the heavenly sanctuary by the blood of Christ. And as the typical cleansing of the earthly was accomplished by the removal of the sins by which it had been polluted, so the actual cleansing of the heavenly is to be accomplished by the removal, or blotting out, of the sins which are there recorded. This necessitates an examination of the books of record to determine who, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of His atonement.
“Then [in the great day of final award] by virtue of the atoning blood of Christ, the sins of all the truly penitent will be blotted from the books of heaven.
“He [Christ] asks for His people not only pardon and justification, full and complete, but a share in His glory and a seat upon His throne.” (E.G. White, The Faith I Live By, p 206)

“As Jesus once prayed for Peter, now he prays for us… In fact, the New Testament's only glimpse of what Jesus is doing right now depicts him at the right hand of God 'interceding for us.' In three years of active ministry, Jesus changed the moral landscape of the planet. For nearly two thousand years since, he has been using another tactic: prayer.”[2]
Jesus is praying for you and me right now, in the heavenly sanctuary. And we have nothing to fear! There is no angry God totally up every misstep trying to keep as many people as possible out of Heaven. In the heavenly sanctuary is where justice and mercy meet and salvation becomes reality.

God’s hands aren’t holding us over the abyss just waiting to throw us in, they carry the scars of His crucifixion – His death in our place. God’s hands are folded in prayer for each and every one of us.
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him. He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation—he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name.]” John 3:16-18 (AMP)

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, A Sermon
Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741.
[2] Philip Yancey, Prayer (Zondervan, 2006), p. 88