Church. Does it really matter?

“Someone tell me why actual church attendance is needed. What’s wrong with me watching it on tv, my device, etc? I mean, that’s better than nothing, right?”

Yes. That’s better than nothing.

Most of the time when someone asks the very-common question, “Is going to church all that important?”, the response will include a passage out of Hebrews:

“…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…”  (10:24-25)

But, if I may offer some biblical insight and unpack this topic a little more…

Jesus was not haphazard about the metaphors he used. And, when describing us, he purposefully used sheep – who, by God’s own design, exist in flocks (community). This is the way they are hard-wired. And it’s the way we are hard-wired.

We are, by human nature, tribal.

There is a reason the apex of punishment within our prison system is isolation.

Biblically – and psychologically – we need one another.

It was Solomon who rightly said,

“Two is better than one. For when one falls the other can lift the other up. But woe to that person who has no one to lift them up.”

For this reason, Satan hates Christian fellowship, and will do everything in his power to prevent it from happening. To keep us isolated. Alone.

When is a sheep most vulnerable? When they’re separated from the flock.

Let’s take this topic one step further before I close. (Sorry – I sound like a preacher. I can’t help it. )

People can get lost in a crowd (“big church”). But we connect intimately in community (a small group).

I stumbled across the quote below on my Twitter feed. 19th century British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, is one of my favorites. Note his words here as to the vital spiritual nature of community and fellowship within the Body. Where do people find community and fellowship?

They find true believers fellowship (koinonia: κοινωνία, cf. Acts 2:42) best in the small group.

That’s where they connect with people on a deeper level.

That’s where they begin to open up and feel safe.

It’s the relationships they make within the context of the small group that keeps them coming back.

Find a church. Find a small group.

We need each other. Faults, failures and all.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

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Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Joel

Following a devastating locust invasion – unprecedented in its scope of damage – God instructed Joel to use the locusts as a living illustration of the judgment to come on Judah if they did not repent of their luke-warm, indifferent approach to God.

In Joel 2:25, God says to Judah,

“I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.”

This is an extraordinary statement because God doesn’t say he’ll restore “stuff”, but “years”.

Can God actually restore joy to our lives that pain and heartache have stolen from us over time?  What about the broken-hearted spouse who’s just ended a 20 year marriage?  Or, the guilt-ridden addict who, after spending most of their adult life in chemical bondage, has finally decided to get clean?  Or, the grieving family whose son took his own life after losing his battle with depression?

Can God “restore” the “life” we’ve lost.

God says, emphatically, “I not only can – I will.”

From the moment we put our trust and faith in Christ, the “restoration” is put into motion. 

Some of us see tangible evidence of “restoration” here on planet earth.  (Job’s livestock and wealth were restored to him twofold on earth.) Others of us won’t see restoration until we leave this planet. (Job’s children who were lost in 1:18-19 were restored to him in heaven.) But the promise of restoration remains – and is in effect.

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, our redemption and restoration is now possible.  The risen Jesus Christ – restored to glory after being broken for us on the cross – was our preview of the restoration to come.

Hallelujah!  Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Hosea

Hosea beautifully – and frighteningly – describes God’s loyal/covenant love for a stubborn, rebellious people.

Like any parent who loves their child more than anything, God uses Hosea to warn Israel of punishment to come so as to protect them from horrible pain.

They refused to listen.

Below is a beautiful quote from the 5th century theologian, Theodoret of Cyrrhus.

Always keep in mind: even God’s judgment is driven by his love to get us to snap out of our prideful behavior and return to his love and protection.

In her powerful retelling of Hosea, Francine Rivers, in her book, Redeeming Love, beautifully illustrates the loyal, patient love of God for us.  Michael (who represents Hosea) tells Sarah (who represents rebellious Israel),

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

 

Why is there Something Instead of Nothing?

The Christian graduate student organization I was a part of at Texas Tech University invited Dr. Michael Strauss to speak in 2015. I was given the privilege of sitting down with him over lunch and visiting with him personally. It was dialogue that strained my intellect, to say the least.

I continue to correspond with him from time to time, as well as subscribe to his blog.

I’m passing along his latest blog because it concerns my favorite physicist who holds to an atheistic worldview, Sean Carroll, a physicist at CalTech. Carroll is brilliant. I admire him greatly as a physicist.

During my grad studies at HBU we were required to watch one of his debates with Christian apologist, William Lane Craig. While Carroll didn’t necessarily “win”, he was quite convincing to anyone with a purely naturalistic worldview.

In Strauss’ recent blog (linked below), Strauss slowly dismantles Carroll’s arguments for “Why there is something instead of nothing,” the proverbial “Achilles heel” for naturalists.

As I visited with a young atheist a few weeks ago about my essay regarding C.S. Lewis’ and David Humes’ opposing arguments for miracles, it all comes down to one’s presuppositions. What’s alluring about Carroll’s presuppositions to naturalists is his acute intellect. But, as we know, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”

This is heady stuff. Enjoy Dr. Strauss’ blog here.

Nick

 

 

The Relationship Between the Old Testament Law & the New Testament

From time to time I am asked the following question:

What the heck is the “Old Testament Law” and how does it relate to the New Testament?

Here’s the “short” answer: (I realize the following response is not “short”, but it’s definitely shorter than it could be.  🙂 I’ll expound on this topic in a later post)

Very few believers can answer the question posited above.  And for good reason.

The Old Testament book of Leviticus is normally where folks get bogged down after attempting to read the Bible through, beginning with Genesis. Why? Because it’s packed with seemingly arbitrary rules given by God, through Moses, to Israel. (There are 613 levitical laws.)

Nonetheless, this was God’s Law. But what does that mean exactly?

The Law was never intended to be a means of salvation. Rather, as Paul states repeatedly in the New Testament, the Law served as a “guardian”, or teacher, to show Israel how sinful they were in relation to a holy God.

Or, put in a different way, the Law served as a “mirror”, of sorts, to reflect the sin of mankind i.e. our anger, bitterness, gossip, lust, pride, the list seems endless.

Simply put, if city and state governments didn’t post laws – speed limits, for instance – we would have no clue if we were breaking the law since no law existed. Through his servant Moses, God “posted the law.”

Now, to be clear – the Law is subdivided into civic laws, health laws, etc., to guide Israel in ancient times. This is why we no longer are bound by those portions of the Law.

However, the moral Law – the 10 Commandments – and other Old Testament laws referring to morality are forever in play.

Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but the fulfill it.” (More on what this means in a later post.)

Here’s the point I want to highlight in this “brief” post: keeping the Law (following the rules) not once saves us from sin – rather, it reflects our sin and exposes our complete and total failure to live up to God’s standard.

And this is precisely why we were so desperately in need of a Savior – someone who was human – yet able to satisfy the Law. This is why Jesus was able to say from the Cross, “It is finished.”

It was the religious leaders of Jesus’ day – and sadly, in modern times as well – who perpetuated the lie that only when we can “check off the boxes of keeping the rules” will we be acceptable in God’s sight.

This is nothing more than legalism, crippling mankind under the weight of a mindset that asks, “Will I ever be good enough for God?” The answer to that question is an emphatic “no.” But, that’s what makes the “good news” the “good news” – and why the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy…for to you this day is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The New Testament unveils what the Old Testament was pointing to, and preparing us for, all along:  we humbly acknowledge our depravity and joyfully profess our faith in the One who lived a perfect life, making himself the perfect, holy sacrifice to God. God confirmed his acceptance of this sacrifice by raising Christ from the dead, forever providing salvation “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.” (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10)

Parenthetically, our discussion up to this point begs the question: If salvation is by faith since the cross, how were people saved before the cross, in Old Testament times?  The short answer is: salvation has always been by faith alone (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3 – I’ll address this more in a later post.)

For those who continue to listen to Satan’s lie that we can somehow earn salvation through human effort, Paul said, among other things,

“But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.’ …But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing…”

Paul continues, “So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Galatians 3:10-13)

Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, wrote that those who continue to teach the lie that salvation is not by placing our faith in the work of Christ on the cross, and, instead, believe and/or teach salvation is received by continuing to somehow earn God’s favor through human effort are “possessed by devils and then those devils are possessed by more powerful devils.” And these devils are more than happy to imprison mankind under backbreaking legalism.

“So Christ has truly set us free,” Paul wrote. “Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (Galatians 5:1)

Author, Philip Yancey, rightly wrote,

“There’s nothing we can do to make God love us any more; and nothing we can do to make God love us any less.”

God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, due to the work of Christ Jesus on the Cross.

This, my friends, is true freedom.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

 

Silent Night? Not So Much…

Last night (Christmas Eve), before we all turned in, I shared with the family “the other side of the nativity.”

Award-winning author, Philip Yancey, in his book, “The Jesus I Never Knew” shares,

“Christmas cards of the religious genre typically depict a serene manger scene with Mary and Joseph surrounded by shepherds, animals, etc. All is calm.  But when I read the gospels i detect a much different tone.”

Yancey goes on to write, “Politically – and spiritually – Jesus was born into a scene more resembling the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan.”

In the first few verses of Revelation 12, via a series of vignettes of scenes past and future, we are given a peek behind the proverbial curtain as to what was going on that silent night.  

The dragon, Satan, has, for centuries, done all in his power to prevent the Messiah from coming by attempting to cut off the messianic bloodline.  

He fails every time. 

Then, on that silent night, John records in Revelation 12, the dragon eagerly awaited the moment of Jesus’s birth so he could immediately kill him, thus destroying the hope of mankind. 

Again, he failed.  

Some 30 years later, on the night before he would do the very thing for which he was born – die for us – he said, “The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.”

The next day, the man who was once the tiny baby we see in pictures and paintings, beaten and bloody, from a Roman cross, said, “It is finished.”

No wonder the angel announced to the shepherds, “Behold! I bring you good news of great joy! For unto you this day is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Happy Christmas, St. Nick ❤️

Joy vs. Happiness

Happiness is rooted in circumstances.  Joy, on the other hand, is rooted in biblical truth – regardless of our circumstances.

This is precisely why, incarcerated for his faith, Paul, while still languishing in prison, could write, Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

Make no mistake: the type of joy Paul writes of here is not a paper-thin, over-the-top, emotional celebration.

Biblical joy runs deep.  Deeper than our most acute pain.

Germany.  Christmas, 1942…

During the Christmas season of 1942, the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote the statement below while under severe persecution for his Christian faith. Two and a half years after this quote was penned, Bonhoeffer was executed by Hitler’s Secret Service.  He was 39:

“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye but finds life precisely within it.” Dietrich Bonheoffer (Christmas, 1942)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick