The Altar

Exodus 27:2
“You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with bronze.”

One of the key furnishings of the Tabernacle was the Altar. It was a large wooden structure overlaid with bronze. It was located within the gate of the courtyard, and outside the entrance of the Tabernacle, itself. It was on the Altar, where all of Israel’s sacrifices were offered. After the construction of the Tabernacle was completed, the nation gathered around and dedicated it to the Lord; concentrating on the Altar, with its sin offerings. This dedication included placing blood on the four horns of the Altar. These horns were more than decorative attachments to the Altar, the Psalmist wrote, “God is the Lord, and He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” (Psalm 118:27). This Psalm is Messianic, meaning it looks forward to the Christ, and His death upon the cross. In a figurative sense, Jesus was bound with chords to the Altar when He was bound with nails to the cross. These horns were on the four corners of the Altar, pointing outward in the four directions of the compass. Again, in a figurative sense, the Altar alluded to the fact that salvation was available to all men through the shed blood of the innocent. After rising from the dead, Jesus sent His disciples out to the uttermost parts of the earth with the simple message of salvation, available to all who would put their trust in Christ.

Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, . . .” The word translated “nations,” is the Greek word “ethnos,” from which the word ethnicity is derived. Jesus is declaring that salvation is the same for all people, everywhere. No matter who we are, if we want eternal life, all we need do is come to the cross and receive Christ.

Pastor Jim

Giving Up To Gain

Mark 8:35
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory or opposed to common sense, but is true. The statement Jesus reveals is one of life’s greatest paradoxes. Man was created to know God. Jesus said that He came to “give us life and that more abundantly” (John 10:10). When our lives are lived in complete obedience to the Lord, we experience the height of living. When we hold back, unwilling to give ourselves, our time, or some sinful activity, we think we are gaining, we think we are better off. However, that very thing we are holding onto, is the very thing keeping us from the abundant life Jesus created for us.

Knowing this, Jesus asks two questions; first, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

If true life is found in surrender to Christ, then what would be the benefit of holding onto all the world offers? Imagine if your phone was to ring this morning, and on the other end of the call were all the world leaders. They had decided the best thing for mankind was to make you king of the world. You get the title, the robe, the crown, the chair, and all the world’s goods are now yours. You possess all the wealth and all the power of the whole world. There is nothing you cannot have. The catch… you must deny Jesus. You can have this life but not eternal life. That my friends is a losing proposition. The right response is to hang up the phone.

Knowing that will not happen; knowing that no man has ever gained the whole world, Jesus asks a second question,

“What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

You cannot have everything, so is there anything you are holding onto that is robbing you from the life Jesus has for you?Perhaps a relationship you thought would satisfy you, so you began to compromise your walk with the Lord; only to find that it is robbing you of the life found in Christ. Whatever it may be, anything you are holding onto, lay it all down and follow Christ.

Pastor Jim

Feeling Special

Ezekiel 25:8
“Thus says the Lord God: ‘Because Moab and Seir say, “Look! The house of Judah is like all the nations…”‘

Moab and Israel had a long and sorted history, dating back to Israel’s journey to Canaan. It was the king of Moab who hired the prophet Balaam to curse the people of God. Unable to curse those whom God had blessed, Balaam resorted to counseling Moab on how to put a stumbling block in the way of the people of God. They sent many of the young, attractive Moab women into the camp of Israel, with the purpose of luring the men into ungodly relationships and activity. This plan worked and many of the people of God fell into sin, and some even died for their misconduct. This animosity between the two nations continued, and almost a thousand years later, Ezekiel explains the reason Moab despised Israel. He writes

“Because Moab and Seir say, ‘Look! The house of Judah is like all the nations . . .’”

Although God considered Israel to be different than the nation’s surrounding them, Moab and Seir thought of them just as any other group of people. It is not difficult to understand their position. The Israelites looked no different than the nation’s around them; they had many of the same problems, conflicts, and personal weaknesses of their neighbors. The reality is, Israel was not special because of their strength, might, or even godliness. They were special because God, in His sovereignty, chose to place his hand of blessing upon them. Joshua tells us, it was while Abraham and his family were living in Babylon worshipping false gods that the Lord appeared to him.  God called him, gave him the promise of many defendants, of being given a land, of becoming a nation, and of being the conduit by which the Messiah would come into the world. Later, Moses would explain that Israel was chosen, not because they were the greatest of people in the world, but because God chose to put His love upon them.
The same is true of you and me. As a child of God, we are a special people above those who have not chosen to trust in Christ. Our favor is not because we are smarter, taller, stronger, or even holier, than those who have not trusted Christ. This favor comes from the simple fact that we are in a relationship with God through Christ. Mary, the mother of Jesus was called, “highly favored and blessed among women”, her favor was based upon the sovereign choice of God, and the fact that Christ dwelt in her. If you have accepted Christ, Paul refers to you as “accepted in the beloved”, which is the same phrase used of Mary. You are highly favored because of the sovereign choice of God, and the fact that Christ dwells in you.
Don’t make the same mistake Moab did by considering yourself, or others who have come to Christ, just like all other people. We are the children of God. Also, let’s be careful not to neglect the responsibility that comes with that blessing. Israel often failed to see that their position was designed by God as a means to be the light of the world, leading others to faith in Him.

Pastor Jim

 

Game Over 

Jeremiah 41:15

“But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the Ammonites.”

After conquering Judah and Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor over the people. He allowed many of the Jews to remain in the land, and gave them certain freedoms regarding their worship. Soon, those who had fled from Jerusalem, when the Babylonians forces first arrived, began to make their way back to the city. Many of them were faithful to a man named Ishmael, who secretly wanted to overthrow Gedaliah and Babylon.  He soon took action by going on a killing spree, putting to death all those he saw as faithful to the governor. His actions not only caused the death of many innocent men, but also turned Babylon against Jerusalem, and finally forced Ishmael to flee from Israel to the Ammonites.

This passage reminds me of the question Jesus asked His disciples. Recognizing that no man will ever gain the whole world, He inquired “What will a man give in exchange for His soul?” (Matthew 16:26 ) Ishmael was willing to murder to pursue his drive for power. He valued a position as more important than obedience to God. When his murderous tirade finally came to an end, he reigned for only a few short days, before he fled as a fugitive to a foreign land where he died in obscurity never to be heard from again.

The height of folly is to give up what will last forever in pursuit of what is only temporary. Like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup, Ishmael gave up eternity for a few days upon the throne. The missionary Jim Elliot once wrote “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Pastor Jim

 

The World 

Galatians 1:4
Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”

We spend a lot of time, effort, and energy, seeking to determine the will of God for our lives. Right now, many of us are facing circumstances where we are not exactly sure what God wants us to do. Should I go ahead with Plan A or is it time to implement Plan B? Should I take the new job, or wait this one out a little longer? Should we let the kids do this, or is it best to wait till they are a little older? Needless to say, we are plagued with questions that we need the will of God to answer. While this text does not address those questions specifically, it does give us some keen insight into the will of God for our lives. Paul associates the will of God to the giving of His Son and delivering us from evil.

The Bible has much to say regarding God’s relationship to the world. We are told, because of sin, the inhabitants of the world live separated from God and will die separated from Him. We also read, the love of God moved Him to send His Son to redeem us from the curse of sin, making it possible for us to have eternal life. As we walk through the Gospel stories, we find that Jesus was the friend of sinners. It is common to find Him talking, walking and eating with sinners in order to draw them out of sin and into relationship with God. We can conclude, whatever the will of God is for our lives right now, it is wrapped up in a desire to use us to declare the Gospel message to the lost. Your current circumstances are divinely ordained to reach others for the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Bible also has much to say about our relationship with the world. This verse reminds us, it is the will of God that we be delivered from this present evil age. The word delivered means to be rescued. Jesus died to set us free from sin. It is always sad when we see a brother or sister in Christ tangled in sin. Paul had a friend named Demas, who once served Christ along-side him, but later left because he fell in love with the world again. Sadly, Demas is not an isolated case. Many who begin to follow Christ, stumble along the way, getting tangled up in sin. Paul reminds us that it is the will of God for us to be set free from sin. Sometimes, we are drawn away from the Lord because of perspective. We look at sin as something harmless and enjoyable, while God declares that it is evil. Rather than looking at sin the way it is portrayed on the TV screen, we should look at it as it is described in the Word of God.

As you seek to determine what God wants you to do today, remember that He loves the world and hates sin. He desires to keep you from sin and use you to lead others to Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

Bad Things. Good people 

Job 40:8
Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?”

When Job’s counselors accused him of wrong, he began to justify himself before them. They claimed he was a sinner, so he declared his righteousness. As this argument continued to develop, Job’s justification began to cast blame upon God. If Job was innocent, then God must be wrong for allowing these things to happen to him. Perhaps this was the earliest development of the accusation we offer hear today, “how could God allow bad things to happen to good people.”

God responds to this by pointing out that Job’s defense is really a form of accusation against the nature of God. This is not uncommon. The children of Israel did it in the wilderness when they accused Moses of leading them out of Egypt to die in the wild. The apostles did it when they accused Jesus of not caring about them when the waves began to crash over the boat, and we do it whenever we complain that the circumstances we are facing are unfair.

This is not just the behavior of the new, weak or carnal Christian. This is something we all struggle with. It is often difficult to accept that an uncomfortable or even painful experience could be allowed by a God who loves us. However, when we look at the heroes of faith, we come to realize that many of them faced extremely difficult experiences, and those experiences are often what forged them into the people they became. I think immediately of Paul and Silas, who upon being arrested, beaten, shackled and placed in prison, began to sing songs of worship. It was their attitude of trust, rather than accusation, that led to others coming to faith in Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

Love And Hate 

Psalm 97:10
You who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.”

I find it striking that the Psalmist declares that hate is a necessary expression of true love. He explains that part of being in a healthy love relationship with Jesus is having a hatred for evil. Why is it necessary to hate evil? Why should we hate evil? I can think of at least three pretty strong reasons.

First, we should hate evil because of what evil does to creation. When sin entered the world, death entered and all of creation began to be in a state of decay. We observe this daily. People age and die, things deteriorate and break, everything goes from a state of useful to useless. Paul explains that creation itself even groans to be redeemed. If we could discern the voice of nature we would hear it crying out for redemption.

Second, we should hate evil because of what it does to us. Evil or sin separates man from God placing all humanity under its curse and penalty. Sin has devastated families, wreaked havoc on relationships, fueled racial prejudices, started wars, and will ultimately damn those who reject Christ to eternal separation from God. Even after we are redeemed, sin is like a cancer that eats away at the spiritual life of the believer. When we allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies, it creates distance between us and God, causing us to miss out on experiencing abundant life, for which he died. Instead of life, love, joy,  peace, we find ourselves living under the weight of guilt and fear, suffering the consequences of our personal failures.

Finally, we must hate evil because of what it has done to God. His holiness demands that sinners are separated from Him, but His love drives Him to restore our broken fellowship. The only currency valuable enough to pay the cost for the human soul is the blood of God. It was because of sin that the blood of God was shed. We have all felt the weight of individual sin. We know the guilt and pain that we have been under, as a result of one sinful action. On the cross, Jesus bore the weight of every sin that every man has or will ever commit. The darkness of that day aptly illustrate the severe suffering that Christ endured as He cried out, “My God why have You forsaken Me?” It seems to me, the proper response for the child of God is to hate evil. It has been my experience that we avoid what we hate. A true hatred of evil will cause us to avoid sin, rather than living as close to it as possible. Will you join me in praying that we would have a healthy hatred of sin, and avoid it at all costs?

Pastor Jim