Thursday, April 26, 2012

Not Ashamed: My Test-i-mon-y

So, beyond the name, just who is the author of this blog? For starters, I am a son, husband, father, pastor, and disciple who is not ashamed of the Gospel. And for good reason -- it saved and changed my life. Let me reminisce briefly in testimonial fashion.

I grew up in a very Christian home. I mean very Christian. God blessed me with a mom and dad that were -- and are --  committed believers. So the Bible, God, church, and all that goes with that was a regular part of my life from before I can remember. And I am very thankful for that.

But it wasn't until I was 14 that God revealed to me that, even though all that "stuff" was good, it would never save me. Frankly, it only left me short, just like everybody else. When I realized that truth — that in God's eyes I was in the same predicament as even the most hated criminal or terrorist — I began to see just how necessary the Gospel was. Without it — the truth that Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended back to the Father in order that I might be made righteous before God — I was never going to see God. No matter how good I tried to be, or how great my parents actually were, it didn't matter. I needed something way more powerful and perfect than even really good parents and a really good home. I needed God and his gospel.

So on that April day in 1978, when God opened my eyes to my pitifully self-righteous state, I let go of all my goodness that was actually going to damn me and by faith believed the truth about who Jesus was and what he did. After all, he was the only One who could save me. Yes, I repented of my sin, asked God to forgive me, and took my stand on Gospel as the only way to be saved. And that day God did exactly that — he saved me from hell and for heaven, and is living in me today in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Though my testimony isn't very dramatic from a human point of view, I know the torment of hell would have been just as excruciating for me as for any other "really bad" sinner. Maybe worse. After all, Jesus spoke very intensely and pointedly against the self-righteousness of religious people. So I am very grateful that the grace of God and the power of the Gospel has rescued me from myself, and has given me a brand new way of life, a life free from the rage of an uncontrollable temper, the lusts of uncontrollable appetites, and the trap of man's approval at all costs.

Without a doubt I know God has saved me and is changing me, and that's why I'm not ashamed of the Gospel.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Reflections from Our Seder Dinner (2)

*Below is a copy of what I briefly shared with our church at our recent Seder Dinner, which we held for FFC families as a way to bring some meaning and insight to the Jewish Passover meal. My role was to twice highlight the New Testament parallels found in Jesus as the ultimate Passover Lamb, and show how certain elements of the meal were now fulfilled in him.

No doubt the bitter herbs of each Passover meal reminded the Hebrews that, though they were free from Egypt’s penalty – i.e., they wouldn’t die under Pharaoh – they still weren’t completely rid of Egypt’s presence. The effects of their rebellion and wanderings lingered. Their old desires to “go back” at times haunted and hunted them. Life still pressed in on them, and their enemies still sought to “drown” them.

In other words, even in their deliverance, there was still a longing for an even deeper freedom. Not just from the penalty of their oppressors, but also from the presence of their oppressors. This is why the prophets were so important to the Jewish nation – they spoke of a future when God would ultimately fulfill his promise of deliverance and bring about his kingdom in which there would be no unrighteousness.

Sadly, they thought this is what Jesus, in his first coming, came to do. They didn’t understand he came the first time to deal with sin’s penalty. It is in his second coming that he will deal with sin’s presence. This is why the bitter herbs are still an important part of the Passover meal – they remind them – and us – that things still aren't as they will be. Our souls, irritated by the enemy, are engaged in a fight with the flesh, and at times, unfortunately, we sin. Our bodies experience the debilitating effects of the curse brought about by sin. And so we eventually break down. Decay. See what I mean? Things just aren’t what they will be when sin is no longer even around. For sure, at every Passover, as they remembered the bitterness of their past and present, they no doubt looked forward to the future day of final freedom and deliverance – from sin’s very presence.

Not surprising, Jesus fulfills this as well, and he stands is the ultimate end of God’s promises of deliverance. But this specific fulfillment is still yet to come. And not just for them, but us too – we are all waiting for the day when Jesus will forever free us from sin’s presence. And this will occur when he comes again, this time to save us from the very presence and power of the enemy who is deep-down mad that he can’t penalize us!

Again, Hebrews says it like this – “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (9:28)

On that day, Jesus will rescue us, not from a penalty, for that has been accomplished. He will actually deliver us from sin’s very presence. Wow, what a day when we receive a glorified body and no longer battle our sinful flesh, externally or internally.

Till then, we endure through the power of the Holy Spirit, and we work and wait with the comfort of the Holy Spirit. All the while looking for the true Passover Lamb of God to come and fulfill these final promises of deliverance – rescue from the irritating and debilitating presence of our enemy.

Reflections from Our Seder Dinner (1)

*Below is a copy of what I briefly shared with our church at our recent Seder Dinner, which we held for FFC families as a way to bring some meaning and insight to the Jewish Passover meal. My role was to twice highlight the New Testament parallels found in Jesus as the ultimate Passover Lamb, and show how certain elements of the meal were now fulfilled in him.

On the night of the original Passover, when the Israelites left Egypt after slaying the lamb and painting the doorposts with its blood, one thing was clear to all who were ‘exodus-ing’ – they were no longer under the PENALTY of Egypt! And rightly so – God, through the blood of the lamb, had freed them. Delivered them. And Egypt would no longer make them pay through their sweat and tears. They wouldn’t be punished any longer. No more bondage!

Ironically, what they thought was a death trap actually became for them the birthing room of new life. That’s why, in the Passover meal, we take things like salt water and green parsley and remember the toil associated with it, knowing that it was exactly in their salty tears that they were granted new – “green” – life! They were not penalized with death in Egypt under Pharaoh; they were granted new life through Yahweh! Deliverance! Freedom!

Fast forward more than 2000 years to the night Jesus was arrested in the garden. His sweat, blood and tears on that road to, and including, the cross – his death trap – became our birthing room! Supernaturally, we have new life through his death. The result? We don’t have to die! Oh, you may enter eternal life via the door way of physical death, but those in Christ will not die a forever death in hell because Jesus took our hell for us. He drank our salt water, and we burst forth with new "green" life!

This is exactly what he was telling Mary and Martha about their brother Lazarus in John 11 when he said, “He that believes in me shall never die!” Wonderfully, once you are in Christ, you are not under the penalty of sin, which is death (Eph. 2:8). God delivers you from it through Jesus, the ultimate Passover Lamb!

This is just one of the ways Christ fulfills in the New Testament the promises God gave in the Old Testament. Until Christ, God did this perpetually. He promised new life through the death of the lamb; they got initially at the Exodus, perpetually it at the Passover. He promised no penalty once the blood was applied; they got it initially at the Exodus, perpetually at the Passover. It was an annual thing, you see. No doubt a good thing, but still a perpetual thing.

But when Christ died at that final Passover as the Lamb of God, God fulfilled the promise of deliverance from sin’s penalty permanently. He was the final sacrifice who went through the agony of punishment and death so we could experience the thrill of freedom. This is what his death was all about – deliverance from the penalty of sin (1 John 3:8)

The author of Hebrews says it this way – “…as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (9:26)

Jesus went through sin’s penalty -- death -- so you wouldn’t have to. Jesus endured the cross so you wouldn't have to. Jesus paid the price so you wouldn’t have to. He is our Passover Lamb, and as a result, we have new life!