Hope Amidst Iniquity

Have you ever been so far down in sin that you wondered if the Lord could or would forgive you? Have you ever wondered if you could ever get past something awful you did in the past? Are you dealing with the consequences of such a sin and you’ve seen those who called your friend or family fall away? Have you ever been this bad?

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

– Isaiah 1:2-3, ESV

The good news is that God’s grace and forgiveness are simply unbelievable. The ox is not known for its intelligence. Neither is the donkey. That’s why God, through Isaiah, compared Judah to the ox and the donkey. God’s people were acting so awful that they made an ox or a donkey look smart by comparison. Most of the rest of chapter 1 of Isaiah is a litany of what Judah had done wrong. It’s bad enough that most of us would say, “I’m bad, but I’m not that bad.”

The truth of the matter is that iniquity, any iniquity, is unacceptable to God. We may call it big or we may call it small, but God calls it sin and that’s not okay by Him. Yet even as He condemned Judah, here’s what He offered:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
– Isaiah 1:18-20, ESV

Simply amazing, isn’t it? Why does Judah deserve a second chance? It didn’t. None of us do. God’s standard is perfection and that was made clear in the Garden. Yet God repeatedly gives us chance after chance after chance. Why? God does it because He has chosen to do so. It’s not because of anything about us. It’s because He has chosen to offer grace.

This offer we see in verses 18-20 was made to the nation of Judah. However, forgiveness is presented to us as individuals time and time again. So while we can’t ascribe all the good things that God offered the nation, we can take the part about our sins being removed from us. Other passages of Scripture make that clear. God removes our iniquity from us and restores our fellowship with Him.

It doesn’t matter how bad your past is. It doesn’t matter what you’re involved in right now. If you’re willing to walk away from that iniquity, if you’re willing to put God first, He will cleanse you. Note the Scripture says, “Let us reason together.” God wants to talk about it. He’s not pushing away; He’s calling home. We don’t deserve it, but still He offers. If there’s something you’re struggling with, something you wonder if it can be forgiven, give God a chance. Answer His call. Come (back) to Him. Let Him restore you. Let Him remove that sin. Let Him present you with that full and abundant life the Son has promised if we would just seek after Him first. Let go, and let Him.

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Review: Advent in Narnia

I get asked all the time about book recommendations, whether I liked this book or that, so I’m adding reviews of Christian books/products. However, I am limiting these to ones I think highly of which I would definitely recommend to friend and family. 

Note: I received a pre-release copy of this book for review.

I love Advent. However, I’ve struggled to find a good Advent study that is meaningful across the range of ages for my family (toddler to 40+). A few years ago I wrote one for my family, but it still didn’t hit the mark. However, I think I have found the Advent study that will work for us. It’s called Advent in Narnia.

AdventInNarniaYes, an Advent study which references the Chronicles of Narnia! Each day references some aspect of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In general, the devotionals are in order with the book, though day 8 refers back to chapters 1-2. The neat thing about this parallel is that we can read the book, which will enamor the smaller children, and then complete the devotional, which will the older children, my wife, and I to think and meditate on the message for the day. Speaking of which, each day’s devotional ends on Questions for Reflection, which are great for further thought and discussion. Therefore, there are three levels with this Advent study and that’s why I think it’ll do a good job covering the entire family. One note: the Advent devotionals only take you through chapter 11 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, meaning there is still some of the book to read if you go that route.

Beyond the devotionals, there is a section for small group study which looks useful, consisting of a leader’s guide and notes for four sessions. The sessions reference the various movies of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in case you would like to use them as part of the small group time. However, the movies aren’t necessary, but nowadays a lot of small group studies consist of some sort of visual aspect as part of the study, so I understand their inclusion.

Finally, there is a section on putting on a Narnia Night for families. This is interesting and has a lot of good ideas which can be scaled down to the family level. However, you can definitely see the author’s work in building this study as something an entire church can do with the Narnia Night as the kick-off, the devotionals as the individual study, and the small group sessions to bring those studies together. It’s all put together nicely.

Therefore, given all of these things, I recommend this book for an Advent study, whether you’re talking about a family or a larger group like a church.

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There’s a Place for You

Have you ever been with a group of people and felt like you didn’t have a place within that group? I have. I’ve felt that way in the midst of a congregation and it’s a lonely, depressing feeling. Talking with others, I know I’m not alone. Of all the places where it would seem there should be a role for each of us is, the Church should definitely be such a place. Doesn’t God want to include us in His work? Why do we feel excluded?

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  – Ephesians 4:11-12, ESV

If you think about the pastoral role in a church, these are all possible names for the pastor or church elder. Paul sums them all up and indicates all the roles serve to equip the saints for the work of ministry. In other words, there is work for all of us. If we are called by Christ, we are given the title saint. We are not saints by the worldly definition, that of a person who is just about perfect, but the Church definition of a sinner who is saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are to be equipped, trained, prepared, and made ready for ministry. We are to be built up. We are to be given what we need to do God’s will, to be part of His family, to take our place and role in the Church. This is God’s intent. This is His desire. You and I have a place. We may not sense it, but there is something for each of us to do. And some people within the Church are called to help other Christians understand that and be prepared for their roles.

I say all this to encourage you if you haven’t found your place in God’s Church. Note that I use Church with a capital C. If you are attending a congregation, there may or may not be a place for you there. If you are currently filling roles in ministry but get a sense that you are misplaced, that most certainly is possible. A lot of folks volunteer for roles in order to be helpful or because it’s easier not to say, “No,” (note I didn’t write say, “Yes”). Then again, you could be in the correct role in the correct church at the correct time. The key thing to remember is if you don’t have a place or if you feel you are in the wrong place, don’t despair. There is a correct spot for each of us.

How do we know when and where and how and what? We’ll look at that shortly. Just remember that if you have been called by Jesus Christ to be His, you belong. You have a place. You are part of the family. You are important. You are necessary. You are needed. So many people in the Church today struggle because they don’t get a sense of community, of belonging, of unity. Trust in God. It is His intent that you are a key part of the one body. Don’t let the loneliness and despair overcome you. God has something for you. Trust Him!

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A catholic Church

I am constantly amazed at how we let little things divide us. Rather than coming together over our commonalities, we instead find reason to exclude and push away because of our differences. The most common dividers seem to be race, gender, money, and religion. Unfortunately, we allow these differences to carry over into our churches. This is against Scripture.
When I read the Old Testament, I gain a sense of God’s people being used to reach others, to be a blessing to the people around them who would embrace God and worship Him. We see God including foreigners into the line of Messiah. How else do you explain a prostitute from Jericho (Rahab) or a Moabitess who had lost everything, including her husband (Ruth) as ancestors to King David and therefore to Jesus? Also, there are passages in the Torah (Deuteronomy) about accepting the alien/sojourner and treating him or her well. Fast forward to the New Testament and we see Jesus ministering to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. If that’s not enough, we have powerful words like the following:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith,one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  – Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV
The idea Paul was writing about was a catholic Church. I use the lowercase to differentiate from the denomination we call Catholicism. I mean the universal Church underneath Jesus Christ, the one body Paul wrote of in his letter to the Ephesians. In this passage of three verses there are two important words repeated: one and all. That repetition is intentional. Paul was drawing attention to this idea of unity. Our catholic Church is centered in Jesus Christ. Our faith is placed in Him. We were baptized to identify with Him. He came from the Father. And we are all to tie back through these core beliefs.
We all know that a lot of what goes on in churches today does not follow this idea of unity. There are agendas. People play politics. Power struggles happen too often between deacons and pastors. Business meetings can devolve into contentious affairs. The ideal of one body being led by one Spirit isn’t seen. This has given quite a few people an easy excuse as to why they choose to avoid any and every body of Christ.
The reality is that the folks who act contrary to a catholic Church under Jesus Christ will have to answer for their behavior. If we are among those people, we will have to stand before the Great White Throne and give an accounting for our resistance to what God expected of us. How far better would it be for us to be congratulated by God for trying to live the vision of one body and one Spirit believing in the one hope that we have in Jesus Christ! And we can!
When you were called by God to be part of His family, He gave you the ability to be part of the one body. It wasn’t up to you. It was His task, His responsibility, and He does not fail. Part of seeing that through is giving you Someone who could help you move past your barriers and limits. You see, He gave each of us the one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to guide us. You were designed to be part of a unified body whose headship is Jesus Christ. We’re not talking extended family, but close family, immediate family. This is how God designed you. This is how the Spirit wants to lead you. There’s an important part for you to play within the family that He has established.
This all comes back to where your vision is. Is your vision on those who choose not to participate as members of the one body? Are you letting them discourage you or cause you to believe that you’ll never be part of the family? Or is your vision on what God has set aside for you to do as part of His family? I hope it’s the latter. After all, this is the life God would have you live. This is the calling for every Christian. Let us answer that call. Let us please Him because we love Him. Let us enter into His joy as part of His family.


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Brokenness is Necessary

Do you like being wrong? Do you enjoy knowing you made a mistake? Do you live for disappointing someone you love and cherish? Most of us would answer all three questions with a simple, “No.” Spiritual brokenness means coming to the realization that we’ve done all three. It’s heart rending. We don’t just come to an intellectual understanding that we’ve sinned. We actually hurt over it. Maybe we don’t ache physically, though that’s possible, but we do feel pain emotionally and mentally. We are more than just uncomfortable. We want to reverse the situation, to no longer feel the trauma that is affecting us. 

So why do I say brokenness is necessary? Brokenness is a starting step for true repentance. Without brokenness, there is no turning away from sin. There is no chance at revival. There is no ability to restore our estranged relationship with Jesus. 

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.  – 2 Kings 22:11, ESV


The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  – Jonah 3:6, ESV

Two separate examples from Scripture show us how people react when they are confronted and understand the depth of their sin. In the first case, Josiah heard the Law read after it was rediscovered in the Temple. Upon hearing the truth and realizing just how sinful he and the rest of the kingdom was, he reacted in sorrow and anguish. In the second case, the king of Assyria heard the message from God preached by Jonah. The king realized just how wicked he and the rest of his kingdom was (see a theme?), and he threw off his royal robes, covered himself in harsh sackcloth, and sat down in ashes – a symbol of pain and suffering. 

Then, out of both of these suffering situations came repentance. And then came forgiveness. In Josiah’s case, the kingdom experienced revival. In the Assyrians’ case, that kingdom experienced revival. Those who did not know God came to worship Him and love Him. Those who did know Him found themselves back in fellowship with the King of kings. Relationships were established and/or restored. God moved among His people, whether Jew or Gentile. It all started with their brokenness.

If you’re praying for revival, pray also for brokenness. Pray that brokenness starts within the Church, with the saints. Pray that God reveals to us the depth of our sin, and allows us a glimpse of how He views that sin. While brokenness may be painful, it is necessary. We must undergo it if we are ever to see revival. We must endure that well-deserved suffering if we want to see God move in a mghty way again.

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Music: At the Cross

Chris Tomlin has a new worship song called At the Cross. The words are powerful. This particular video also includes the chords for guitar. 

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Coming to God First

When I was younger, I made the mistake of thinking I had to have everything right before coming to God in prayer. I felt that if I didn’t have my act together, there was no point. As I’ve matured, I’ve learned how wrong this view was. 

From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.  – Ezra 3:6, ESV

The first thing the returnees to Jerusalem did was build an altar. Once that altar was built, they began to offer sacrifices. Note that the foundation of the temple, much less the whole structure, wasn’t started. These were people, led by God, who had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Yet they didn’t wait on the temple.

When I was looking to have everything right in my life, I was looking to have the temple complete, swept out, dusted, and shined up. That differs greatly from how these folks acted. They began connecting with God according to the ways they had been taught as soon as they could. They didn’t wait. The situation didn’t have to be perfect. They just needed to connect. 

The reality is that no matter how clean we think we have our lives, there is still trash and refuse in it. On our own we can’t completely clean it. So waiting until everything in my life was lined up was me lying to myself. The right approach is the one the returnees took: get connected to God as soon as possible. 

It doesn’t matter where you are today. Maybe you don’t have any relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t worry about trying to get everything right. What is more important is starting that relationship. Perhaps you’ve drifted away. It is amazing how a phone call can pull people back together again and erase the years of disconnectedness. Prayer with God can do the same thing. It is just a matter of deciding to reconnect in such a manner. Or perhaps you are struggling with some sin. If you want to be done with it, if you are truly desiring repentance and forgiveness, He isn’t going to turn you away. And it may be you need His help to overcome the sin in the first place. You only get that by reconnecting with Jesus in prayer. 

Don’t wait on anything else. Come to God first. If you are earnest in your desire to do so, He will take care of the rest. Don’t stress over trying to clean yourself up. The truth is that we can’t ever be clean enough for God without His help. There will be time for cleaning once you are connected to Him. 

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