Drawing Near to God – And What It Cost Him

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Understanding what it means to be able to “draw near to God”…

There are people in important roles whose office I could call today and be told either it will be days or weeks before I can see them, or that I can’t see them at all.

Not so with the God who spoke the Cosmos into existence.

The Old Testament Law was given by God not to make us perfect but rather to show us how utterly imperfect we are in our sin.

An important part of that Law was the role of the Levitical Priests (Old Testament priests were members of the tribe of Levi). The priests were instructed by the Law to intercede for mankind. In other words, outside of God choosing to speak to an individual like Daniel or Gideon, or prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, regular people had no intimate access to God. Only priests had that privilege.

Think about that for a minute.  In Old Testament times you and I couldn’t talk to God. We had to wait our turn and go through a priest.

Additionally, only once a year, the high priest (the highest rank of all Levitical priests) – and only the high priest -had permission to enter the Holy of Holies (a designated inner room in the Old Testament tabernacle) to offer blood from an animal to atone for the sins of mankind. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin,” the author of Hebrews wrote.

This entering of the Holy of Holies was no casual or hurried experience.  Jewish tradition cites if the high priest did not keep every single required step in this process he did so at the risk of immediate death – this is how seriously God has always taken the atonement for the sin of mankind.

Bottom line: the Law kept mankind outside the intimate presence of God.

But God so loved the world…

The author of Hebrews wrote, “the Law made nothing perfect, but on the other hand, a better hope is (now) introduced through which we draw near to God.”

This was revolutionary news to first century people.

God introduced his new covenant. The need for human priests was fulfilled in the perfect life, death and resurrection of our true High Priest, Jesus Christ.

At his death, the veil in the Old Testament tabernacle that separated the designated human high priest from the Holy of Holies – which symbolized God’s intimate presence – was torn in two from top to bottom signifying the immediate arrival of the new covenant of God with man through Christ.

No longer did mankind need a human being to intercede to God on their behalf. “There is (now) one mediator between God and man,” Paul wrote, “the man, Jesus Christ.”

To the Ephesians believers, Paul encouraged them with this life-changing good news: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Now, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, you and I can approach the throne of God boldly. About anything. Anytime. Anywhere. No wait time. No line to see him.

Stop for a moment and visit with God today. He loved us so much he gave his only Son up to Roman execution so that we might have intimacy with him – and he with us.

Love you all, Nick

The Bible, the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon

I’m presently neck-deep in an outstanding 450 page tome titled, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture.

No disrespect to my Muslim and Mormon friends. This is simply an observation for the reliability of the Bible when compared to other major world religion texts by Paul Wegner (Ph.D. University of London):

“The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) was written by approximately forty different authors over a period of over 1,000 years, and yet there is a consistent and clear message throughout the book; neither the Qur’an nor The Book of Mormon has such a pedigree.

“There is extensive manuscript evidence for the Bible, including at least 300 Hebrew manuscripts and 5,800 Greek manuscripts, as well as more than 20,000 ancient manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments written in various languages, and more than 30,000 scriptural quotations in the early church fathers which help confirm the accuracy of Scriptures. Neither the Qur’an nor The Book of Mormon can make this claim.

“The OT contains specific prophecies that claim to be fulfilled in the NT (e.g., Isa 53:3–4 = Matt 8:17; Isa 53:7–8 = Acts 8:32–35; Isa 53:12 = Luke 22:37; Mic 5:2 = Matt 2:6; Joel 2:28–32 = Acts 2:16–21); neither the Qur’an nor The Book of Mormon contain anything like this.

“It is interesting that both the Qur’an and The Book of Mormon claim to be a continuation of divine revelation from the Bible through their specific prophets, and yet both works contain significant contradictions with the theology of the Bible. The book of Hebrews (1:1–2) claims that Jesus is the final revelation, implying there will be no further divine revelation.”

Sola Scriptura, Nick

“The Case for Christ” Movie Review

I admit it.  I’m a Christian, but when I see another “Christian” movie headed for the silver screen I get a little squeamish.  Why?  Because I’ve seen too many of them where the script is shallow, the plot is idealistic, Christianity is portrayed as cliche’, etc…you get the picture.  But then I saw PureFlix’s The Case for Christ.

It was the best Christian-themed movie I have seen to date. Powerfully directed and acted.

I was particularly interested in seeing it for two reasons:

Is the purpose of the movie to convince the audience that Christ did, indeed, rise from the dead? Sure – it’s a Christian-themed film.

But, not once does the movie insult the intelligence of the audience. While Strobel, using his experience as an investigate reporter for the Chicago Tribune, painstakingly investigates the evidence for Christ’s resurrection (for the sole purpose of proving Christianity to be a farce) he asks the same intelligent questions any non-believer/skeptic would ask.

Furthermore, not once does the movie make the claim that the resurrection can be 100% proven. What is clear, though, from Strobel’s investigation is that the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming. But even then, the movie makes no attempt to coerce the viewer into belief.  Instead, echoing former renowned atheist, Antony Flew, the movie simply presents the evidence and then invites the audience to “follow the evidence where it leads.”  (Prior to his death in 2010, Flew discarded his atheistic worldview confessing that, based on the evidence, God must exist.  His intriguing story can be found in his 2007 book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.)

Finally – and I’m thrilled this was stated in the movie– sure, Christianity requires faith (“For by grace are you saved through faith,” Paul wrote), but make no mistake, so does atheism.

One final thought – one nanosecond after we die we will know for certain whether or not the Bible is true. The evidence strongly argues it is. If you’ve never honestly considered the claims of Christ this movie is a good place to start

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Heaven

As a Christian, I believe in heaven. As a pastor, I’ve studied and taught about heaven. As a musician, I’ve noted that almost every single hymn written has heaven the subject of its final verse.

When my dad died I didn’t really think differently about heaven. When my sister died I didn’t really think differently about heaven.

But when my 19 year old son died…

Heaven was real to me before Jordan became a resident. But now, it’s something altogether different. How can something become “more real” than “real”? I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It’s as though, in May 2013, a part of my soul took up permanent residence in heaven.

The veil separating heaven and earth, for me, became thinner.

In his brilliant sermon, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis described heaven as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

Lewis wrote much about heaven. In Mere Christianity he observed, “If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” And in his genius Screwtape Letters, based on correspondence between two demons, the senior demon, Screwtape, wrote to his apprentice, “My dear Wormwood.., the truth is that the Enemy (God), having oddly destined these mere animals (Christians) to life in [heaven], has guarded them pretty effectively from danger of feeling at home anywhere else.”

From John Newton’s “When we’ve been there ten thousand years,” to Andre Crouch’s soulful “Soon and Very Soon” and Dallas Holms’ reverent “I Saw the Lord” to Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine”, heaven has filled the pages of Christian music.

And that brings me to what prompted this post.

I heard, for the first time this past week, Chris Tomlin’s “Home”. As I carefully listened to the lyrics of the chorus i had to grip my chest as my heart ached for “home.”

Hopefully, this reflection of mine has brought you encouragement and hope, and perhaps helped someone, for a moment, think about heaven, and that “this is not all there is.” Paul encouraged the Colossian believers, “…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians‬ ‭3:1-2‬)

Allow me to close this post with one more of my favorite quotes from Lewis:  “At the present, we are on the outside of [heaven], the wrong side of the door… But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Stop Idolizing Christian Artists: A Letter from Keith Green

NOTE: I ran across this letter from the late Christian artist, Keith Green, recently. Thought it was worth publishing here. All Christian musicians & speakers are not driven by a hunger for fame or wealth. For instance, I had the joy of youth-pastoring Christian artist, Josh Wilson, for 6 years. He, in my opinion, embodies the humility and passion of Green. So, please don’t misinterpret this post as a “one broad stroke of the brush”, judgmental sort of thing. Green’s letter simply serves as an encouraging reminder for some, and a pointed, strong warning for others. Blessings, Nick 

It was 1978.  I was 15 years old and had only recently started attending church.  A 20-something guy walked up to me one Wednesday evening and said, “Hey man, I heard you like to play the piano.  You need to check this dude out.”  He then handed me a recording of Keith Green’s album, “For Him Who Has Ears to Hear.”  My life would never be the same.

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I cannot, in mere words, emphasize how much that moment impacted my life, both, as a Christian and as a musician.  (I play and sing his “Easter Song” every Easter Sunday morning to open our worship services.)  Green was unlike anyone I had ever before experienced.  Not since Green have I heard anything similar to his “Prodigal Son Suite” or his “Sheep and the Goats.” He was every bit as much of a theologian as he was an accomplished musician.  Further, he wrote with a rawness that was – and is – all too rare:  “My eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard, my prayers are cold; and I know how I ought to be – alive to You, and dead to me.”

And his music was infectious.

The summer of that same year (1978), I worked at a Fireworks Stand to help supplement the income I received at my other part-time job.  My boss allowed me to play Green’s music as we worked.  Many folks would swing by between midnight and 2am to purchase fireworks.  They would ask, “Who is that playing the piano?”  I would tell them and then watch them dance their way back to their car. 🙂

I can still remember, after being given Green’s “For Him Who Has Ears to Hear” that day, visiting our local Christian music store and seeing a unique sticker on all of Green’s albums.  The sticker said, “If you cannot afford this album simply take it to the counter and you will receive it free of charge.”  After reading Green’s biography, “No Compromise,” I learned that when he stood up and informed the Christian music industry he wanted to give away his albums to those who could not pay they thought he was nuts.  But, Green had no interest in becoming a celebrity; rather, he wanted to be a servant and an evangelist.

While still living in southern California, Green and his wife, Melody, used the income from record sales to buy and rent homes in their neighborhood to house the homeless and help get them back on their feet.    Eventually, that led to the purchase of 140 acres just north of Tyler, TX, where Keith and Melody could expand their ministry which they called, Last Days Ministries.

And it’s there in East Texas that tragedy struck.

On July 28, 1982, Keith and two of his children, were flying in a small plane over the new property showing it to some friends.  Shortly after take-off the plane crashed and exploded upon impact.  Everyone on board perished.  Keith was 28.

There is so much more I could write about Keith Green, but I felt that this little bit of background might offer helpful insight into the following letter.  The letter, published in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) Magazine’s 35th Anniversary Issue, was, according to CCM, “birthed out of Keith’s encounters with those who approached him, usually after a concert, to ask how they too could ‘make it big’ in Christian music.”

Here’s Green’s letter:

“My dearest family in Jesus, why are we so star struck?  Why do we idolize Christian singers and speakers?  We go from glorifying musicians in the world, to glorifying Christian musicians.  It’s all idolatry!

“Can’t you see that you are hurting these ministers?  They try desperately to tell you that they don’t deserve to be praised, and because of this you squeal with delight and praise them all the more.  You’re smothering them, crushing their humility and grieving the Spirit that is trying to keep their eyes on Jesus.

“How come no one idolizes or praises the missionaries who give up everything?  How come no one exalts the ghetto and prison ministers who can never take up an offering, because if they did they would laugh or cry at what they’d receive..?

“Do you really believe we’re living in the very last times?  Then why do you spend more money on Gospel records and concerts than you give to organizations that feed the poor, or to missionaries out in the field?

“I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music – and more importantly my life – has not provoked you to sell out more completely to Jesus!

“Quit trying to make ‘gods’ out of [Christian artists], and quit desiring to become like them.  The only music minister to whom the Lord will say, ‘Well done, they good and faithful servant,’ is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying, and to whom music is the least important part of their life.

“Let’s all repent of the idolatry in our hearts and our desires for a comfortable, rewarding life when, really, the Bible tells us we are just passing through as strangers and pilgrims in this world, for our reward is in heaven.  Let us die graciously together and endure to the end like brave soldiers who give their lives, without hesitation, for our noble and glorious King of Light.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

When a Loved One Goes Home to Jesus

I’ve read Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 many times but I never noticed the insight brought out by Mark Jones in his blog, “When a Loved One Goes Home to Jesus.”  (You can read the blog here.)

Having lost my own 19 year old son in 2013, I know what it feels like to scream and cry out to God due to the pain of wanting your loved one back.  But Jones highlights a phrase in Jesus’ prayer, found in vs. 24, that I had not considered:

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

Jones continues,

And what does Jesus desire?

He desires that his people be with him. Jesus is completely happy and satisfied as he reigns from heaven, but according to his prayer in John 17, he still has a certain unfulfilled desire: that his people join him in the home he has already prepared for them.

Sure, there’s a tension to be embraced here.  Regardless of how much we come to understand that Jesus desires us to be with him in heaven, it doesn’t take away the grief that comes with losing our loved ones here on planet earth.

Still, the truth of the matter is, as Jones writes,

When a brother or sister in the Lord dies, we should remember first and foremost that the Father has answered Jesus’s prayer.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb – one day we’ll join our loved ones. Forever. No more pain. No more death. Only joy.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Reading the Bible Through, Cover-to-Cover…

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A professor once remarked to former atheist, Josh McDowell: “If you are an intelligent person, you will read the one book that has drawn more attention than any other, if you are searching for the truth.” That book, of course, is the Bible.

A common New Year’s resolution among Christians is to try and read the Bible through, cover-to-cover.  I well remember the first few times I attempted this.  I rarely made it past the first part of Leviticus.  Then, I discovered something that helped me complete the task.  I started reading about the Bible as I read through the Bible.  This discipline took me longer to read through the Bible but the payoff was priceless:  I was finally understanding what I was reading.  And this made all the difference.

While studying over the holidays I stumbled upon a wonderfully helpful blog by theologian, R.C. Sproul, on this very topic.

From the article:

“If God delivered a letter to your mailbox, I am sure you would read it. (The Bible is that letter.) But the Bible is a pretty big letter, and its sheer bulk is somewhat daunting, even to the person with the best of intentions. Therefore, few Christians actually keep a resolution to read through the Bible.”

Sproul continues,

Here’s my recommendation: begin with an overview of the Bible. Get the basic framework first… Once you understand the basic framework, you are much better equipped to read the Bible.

The entire article is, in my opinion, spot-on. In fact, I have a quote by Sproul (rhymes with “roll”) that I jotted down in the front of my Bible back in the early 90’s: “If we can identify the author, the author’s chief purpose, as well as the author’s intended audience – this goes a long way in helping us understand [each book’s/letter’s] teaching with greater accuracy.”

In addition to the resources Sproul mentions, I would highly recommend two more options: (1) “Know Your Bible: All 66 Books Explained and Applied” – 2008; Barbour Publishing;  I’ve given away a ton of these. And, (2) “The Baker Illustrated Guide to the Bible: A Book-by-Book Companion” by Hays & Duvall; 2016.

Taking time to study about the Bible while reading it will take longer than just “diving in and reading”. But, I can assure you that you will come away with a far richer understanding of what you’ve read.

(You can access R.C. Sproul’s blog by clicking the highlighted phrase in paragraph three, or by simply clicking here.)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick